The living God of our Hebrew-Christian tradition cannot possibly have been indifferent to the ways in which the biblical record took shape and became the Book we now have. Neither have there been degrees in his concern. He by whom the very hairs of our head are numbered knows and cares. He knew of the struggles of those whom he inspired to select and write. The work was theirs, but at every step he was guiding and controlling them. He had to, because they were mostly dealing with patterns of facts and assertions beyond their understanding. Surely one cannot think of the Almighty indulging in concessive pronouncements like our slovenly, “That’s good enough,” and, “That will do.” Ultimately, the work of these men was his work, with all the power and authority this implies.

The Bible is an act of God through rulers, scribes, fishermen, tax collectors, tent-makers—men belonging to every stratum of their society. God stands behind the Book and the canonical status of its parts. This accounts for its uniqueness, for its being the foundation on which a man must build or be lost. Only God can rightly speak of God and interpret the things that are God’s, even as his ways defy human speculation. In these days of disorientation of outlook, the time has come to exalt the divine factualness of the Bible.

But why this disorientation, this restlessness and loss of hope? Alas, not so much because the Bible is attacked as because it is no longer attacked. The Book has fallen into disuse in the measure it has been discredited in the minds of those who meant to take its measure.

On A False Battlefront

Generally, evangelicals have failed to detect this shift in viewpoint. They continue to take their stand on a false front, ready to repulse the attacks of an enemy who is no longer there. Even the name of “enemy” is ill-taken in this particular case. No scholar worth his salt is likely to have a malicious purpose in regard to the Scriptures. It is just that at the apex of his carefully documented, rationalizing thrust, an honest seeker after truth echoes Luther: “God help me, I cannot do otherwise.” And it is at this point that evangelicals may step forward and submit the issue to a deeper probing.

Whenever historical criticism is applied to the documents of Scripture nowadays, the methods used to test the factualness of biblical assertions are those currently accepted by secular historians. Moreover, the very first condition laid down by these methods is to leave out of consideration all presuppositions of faith. This condition applies to source material, the composition of the Gospels, the problem of their inter-relations and of their documentary value. The facts of history are accordingly considered apart from the Christian understanding of their significance. Nay, according to the proponents of historical criticism, it is the Christian way of understanding history that is the essence of faith. Faith itself, as they see it, can never be a way of learning history. No wonder a scholar like Bultmann has been led to sum up what can be known of the life and personality of Jesus “as simply nothing.” What we have here is a striking example of the conclusion’s being implied in the method.

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Far be it from me to castigate the scholar as a person, or to deny the merits of a highly developed historical method. The point is rather to ascertain whether a purely secular method is fully applicable for historical criticism of the biblical documents. For surely a basic principle of research is that every field of knowledge, if not each problem, is to be approached according to the most appropriate method. Once a problem has been formulated, the next task is to devise the strategy most likely to solve it. At this point, new features in the object of study call for innovations in methodology.

Suppose a man whose knowledge was restricted to the field of heat engines were confronted by the mechanisms of a dynamo. He might at the outset derive some satisfaction from realizing that the newly discovered wires wound in coils were made up of the same copper he had observed in kettles. But he would soon find out that furnace and steam play no part in the functioning of the new machine. This man would have to learn that the mechanisms of a dynamo cannot be accounted for by one who leaves electricity out of consideration. Or imagine a physicist at grips with the apparently unaccountable fact that living organisms function with the admirable orderliness of pure mechanisms in the midst of decay and death. While the laws that rule the physical universe apply also to the organic world, the biological realm at the same time testifies to the rule of new laws. These, let it be understood, need not be alien to physics. An order-from-order principle comes to light in their combined play, which pertains to nothing short of a transfiguration of the purely physical. These laws account for the physical order. The physical order cannot fully account for them. Truly there must be a “cheater” somewhere, as Eddington might have said. This much is sure: the classical physicist can no longer carry on business as usual, if he is to do justice to the structure of living matter. He must be prepared to look for a new type of law, for a new principle, possibly in the realm of quantum physics.

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As we proceed from these necessarily imperfect analogies to the kind of historical criticism currently applied to the Bible, we are led to wonder whether a method preoccupied with sheer historicity may not overlook the more-than-historical dimension which faith in the Living God found in the events and assertions under consideration. The plain fact is that it was in virtue of this faith that these events and assertions were held to be unique and truly decisive. Indeed, they were remembered at the historical level only because they were believed to be of such a nature that, while no less genuinely historical than the events emphasized by secular history, they were different from all other historical events and assertions.

A Critical Reversal

Surely it makes a big difference whether or not the historical critic approaches the biblical documents with an awareness of the more-than-historical dimension of the data they attest. If one is going to apply a critical method to the Bible scientifically, he must first try to find out what the Bible is about and then investigate the ways in which it is about this. The fault of much criticism is that it reverses the order. Thus a secularly minded methodology dares condition God and the things that are God’s. No wonder its naturalistically inspired ways stick in the throat of evangelicals! Indeed, the conclusions reached by means of such a methodology have all along been implied in its procedure.

The next device invited in the secularized quest for “truth” is likely to be some mechanical contrivance. Indeed, a Church of Scotland minister used computers to show that out of fourteen New Testament epistles currently attributed to Paul, five were by a single author and the rest the work of five different authors. Whereupon a conference on computers and the humanities held at Yale University was told that by applying the minister’s very method, one could prove that James Joyce’s Ulysses was the work of five authors and that none of these wrote Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. All in all, six authors could be assigned to the two novels. Concluded Dr. Sidney M. Lamb, associate professor of linguistics at Yale, a computer is merely “an instruction-following machine” that does only what it is told, or programmed, to do.

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Let us hope that the historical criticism of Bible documents will not further invite the suggestion that it is on occasion reducible to a similar status. The crying need of our day in this matter is for a reversal from a naturalistically inspired course of study to one proceeding from the more-than historical dimension of the facts and events attested in Holy Writ.

The Book is what it is because God stands behind it. Hence its genuine meaning and authority. Scholars who ignore this elementary fact in the historical method they propound may well be likened to those geometricians who were exposed by Pascal as being nothing but geometricians. Their trouble is that they fail to see what is in front of them. Only in the present case the failure may prove costly.

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