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Christians on social media have argued: “Why should I depend upon other people? Don’t I have a sound mind to read and understand the Bible?”
Yes, we are responsible for what we believe. But all of us are a little dependent on each other. Not all of us can know everything about every subject. So, one good thing to do is find scholars you can trust. And even then, we always make certain of things ourselves to the best of our abilities. I will use myself as an example before moving to churchgoers. When some read my bio below, they might think I do not have to trust anyone else.
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).
However, I had to refer to dozens of sources when working on the Updated American Standard Version. I referred to many OT and NT lexicons, textual criticism books, Bible background books, etc. Yes, I knew what I thought I knew in numerous instances, and I was right in most of those cases, but I still checked. Of my 220+ books, there is not one where I did not use sources. I have beliefs written in stone, and I will not budge unless someone shows up with a mountain of evidence. But how am I to discover the mountain of evidence if I refuse to read other people’s evidence?
Now, turning to the churchgoer. You, the churchgoer, already trust more people than you know. You likely do not read biblical Hebrew and Greek, so you have to read an English Bible that 100+ other scholars put together. Those 100+ scholars had to refer to likely a couple of hundred other scholars’ sources. And those scholars who penned those sources likely have very long bibliographies that helped them with their resources. Now, think of how many scholars we have in just this small example. How did they come to the knowledge that they have? They had to go through 8 years of Bible colleges and seminaries with dozens of professors. Sorry to drag on, but where did those professors get their Bible knowledge from? And that ripple can continue until we reach a thousand scholars behind one Bible. And to think I have not even mentioned the influence of the pastors, who also have at least a bachelor’s degree.
The churchgoer might say, “Yes, but if I doubt a rendering in the Bible I use, I can always verify it.” This is true, but what are you going to verify it with? Will it be a lexicon, a Hebrew or Greek-English dictionary, a word study dictionary, a textual commentary, a Bible commentary, a Bible background commentary, etc.? Unless you are fluent in biblical Hebrew and Greek and know how the Bible came down to us, you are dependent on other people’s sources. And even if you are fluent in biblical Hebrew and Greek and know how the Bible came down to us, from whom did you learn that? It did not magically appear in your head.
When Christians wrap their hands around a Christian book, they do not likely consider how many hundreds of scholarly minds went into it. Now, not all scholars are equal. The difference between a liberal-moderate Bible scholar and a conservative Bible scholar is subjectiveness (liberal-moderate Bible scholar) and objectiveness (conservative Bible scholar). Subjective means the information is based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions. It is dependent on the mind or an individual’s perception. Objective means the information is not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts. It is factual, evidence-based, actual real empirical, and verifiable information. This is what you have in hermeneutics (biblical interpretation). The liberal-moderate historical-critical method of interpretation is subjective. The conservative historical-grammatical method of interpretation is objective.
Here is the scary part that many do not know. How many books have been written on Hermeneutics, exegesis, and biblical interpretation from 1880-2023? I cannot provide an exact number of books written on hermeneutics, exegesis, and biblical interpretation between 1880 and 2023. However, it is safe to assume that there have been thousands of books published on these subjects during that time period. The fields of hermeneutics, exegesis, and biblical interpretation have been areas of scholarly and theological study that have generated extensive literature, with contributions from various authors and perspectives. What I can say, the couple of hundred that I am aware of, only about 10, are the conservative historical-grammatical method of interpretation that is objective.
So, when I say one must immediately start forming a Bible scholar trustworthy list the moment they become a Christian, do not take that lightly. Now, we need not agree 100%, we only need to know the person is conservative, and they do objective research and generally follow the evidence wherever it goes. For example, I am a major fan of R. A Torrey, Gleason L. Archer, Norman L. Geisler, John McArthur, Philip W. Comfort, Leland Ryken, and hundreds of others. You can replace them if they drop the ball on too many things. You can also write the list like this R. A Torrey [apologetics], Gleason L. Archer [Old Testament text], Norman L. Geisler [apologetics], John McArthur [commentaries], Philip W. Comfort [NT textual studies], Leland Ryken [Bible translation philosophy].
So, we must be grateful for the many thousands of conservative Bible scholars from the second to the twenty-first centuries. Where would Christianity be without these ones working for God? However, we must be cautious as well. Since the 1950s, to be scholarly is to be liberal-moderate, skeptical, and uncertain of everything. We might want to know what they say in order to refute them but do not go down the path of reading them without first consuming the conservative objective ones first. For example, if a young Christian or a not-so-informed Christian read Bart D. Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, they could stumble out of the faith as thousands of others have.
The practice of higher criticism of the Bible began to gain momentum in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the second half of the 19th century, German Bible critic Julius Wellhausen propagated the theory that the initial six books of the Bible, including Joshua, were penned in the fifth century B.C.E., approximately a millennium after the events they portray. While he acknowledged the incorporation of earlier written material in these texts, this view was ultimately publicized in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, which posited that Genesis is an exilic composition made up of a post-exilic priestly source and non-priestly antecedent sources, differing markedly in linguistic style, religious perspectives, and standpoint.
Wellhausen, along with his followers, viewed the historical narrative in the initial part of the Hebrew Scriptures not as factual history but as “popular traditions of the past.” Consequently, they perceived earlier accounts as merely reflections of Israel’s later history. They asserted that historical conflicts, such as that between Jacob and Esau, didn’t actually transpire but rather symbolize the rivalry between the nations of Israel and Edom in subsequent times.
Consistent with this, the critics posited that Moses didn’t receive any divine command to construct the Ark of the Covenant, and the Tabernacle, the epicenter of Israelite worship during their wilderness sojourn, never existed. They also contended that the authority of the Aaronic priesthood only solidified shortly before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, a event they purportedly dated to the onset of the sixth century B.C.E.
What evidence did they put forward to support these hypotheses? Higher critics purport to segregate the text of the early books of the Bible into various distinct documents. They base this on the presumption that, typically, any biblical verse utilizing the Hebrew term for God (‘Elo·himʹ) independently would have been authored by one individual, whereas any verse referring to God by his name, Jehovah, must have been penned by another, implying that a single writer couldn’t use both terms.
Moreover, they infer multiple authors whenever an event is recounted more than once in a book, despite the commonplace occurrence of repetition in ancient Semitic literature. They also associate any stylistic change with a change of author, disregarding the fact that even contemporary writers often vary their style depending on the phase of their career or the topic at hand.
Are there any definitive proofs for these theories? The answer is unequivocally no. One commentator noted the speculative and tentative nature of criticism, prone to errors and modifications, and subjected to all the inherent uncertainties of intellectual exercises. Higher criticism of the Bible, particularly, is extremely speculative.
Gleason L. Archer Jr. highlighted another issue with the logic of higher criticism. He stated that the Wellhausen school began with the baseless assumption that Israel’s religion, like any other, originated solely from humans and was a mere product of evolution. Essentially, Wellhausen and his followers premised their theories on the presumption that the Bible was purely human in origin.
In 1909, The Jewish Encyclopedia pointed out two further weaknesses in the Wellhausian theory. The theory hinged on two suppositions: that religious ritual progressively becomes more elaborate and that older sources necessarily correspond to the earlier stages of ritual development. These assumptions, however, contradict evidence from primitive cultures and lack support from the evidence of ritual codes like those of India.
So, is there a means to verify the validity of higher criticism? The Jewish Encyclopedia suggested that Wellhausen’s views, primarily based on textual analysis, necessitated further investigation from an institutional archeology perspective. Over time, archaeological findings have tended to substantiate the historical accuracy of even the oldest periods of Bible history, contradicting the theory that the accounts of the Pentateuch are mere reflections of a much later period.
Given its flaws, why is higher criticism so appealing to intellectuals today? Because it resonates with their biases. A 19th-century scholar once mentioned how Wellhausen’s book fit well with his evolutionary worldview, as it seemed to solve the problem of the history of the Old Testament in a manner consistent with the principle of human evolution. Like the theory of evolution dismisses the necessity of a Creator, Wellhausen’s higher criticism negates the need to believe that the Bible was divinely inspired.
In the 20th/21st centuries, marked by a surge in rationalistic thought, intellectuals find it more plausible to perceive the Bible as a product of human intellect rather than a divine revelation. It’s easier for them to believe that prophecies were crafted post-fulfillment than to accept them as authentic. They’d rather debunk the Bible’s accounts of miracles as myths or folklore than contemplate their factual occurrence. However, such a viewpoint is prejudiced and offers no substantial reason to dismiss the Bible as untruthful. Higher criticism, in its significant shortcomings, fails to convincingly challenge the Bible’s authenticity as the Word of God.