Chapter 3 Effects of Modernism

The effects upon our own faith of the results reached by the critics and just described at some length may be now considered.

This view of the Bible produces the following effects: (1) It asks us to ignore the Bible’s distinctive character and manifest difference, and make the history of Greece and Rome our standard in the study and interpretation of Bible history. (2) It asks us to admit that most of the Pentateuch and Joshua is of no higher order than the mythological literature of the Greeks and Romans—a little fact emmeshed in much fiction, of which the Homeric epics and such stories as that of the two sons of Mars, the war-god, named Romulus and Remus, both born of a virgin, are notable examples. (An impartial comparative study certainly shows the fallacy of this method.) (3) Since so “many of the narratives in the earliest history of Rome betray their fabulous nature by the contradictions and impossibilities they involve” (Niebuhr), and giving them credence can only result in “the prostration of the understanding and judgment” (idem), it asks us to look upon the Pentateuchal early history of Israel in the same way, giving no more credence to its narratives of the supernatural and miraculous. This puts a veto on the use of the Pentateuch, as the terminus a quo for the study of the Hebrew social group and its development. For that, we must go to Judges, for the conditions prevailing in its day are recorded there, it tells us, with a good measure of historic certainty. (4) It asks us to discard, as illegitimate, all idea that the inspiration and revelation constantly claimed by the Bible for itself throughout, does really mark it off as eminently different from any other body of literature. (5) Since the Old Testament was treated by the early Christians as unimpeachable history, its impeachment of that history poisons and devitalizes the whole body of the New Testament teaching for us, thus sapping the foundations of Christianity. (6) It insists upon our acceptance of the Christ-dishonoring doctrine of the Kenosis, vitally maiming our Lord’s unique and perfect personality, making Him, as far as His knowledge is concerned, nothing more than the product of His time. The modified view may be taken that He accommodated Himself to His time. But this would then mean giving consent by silence to ignorance, superstition, deception, speaking no word to dispel such clouds and mists so that the truth might shine out clearly, though He knew all the time that the Old Testament records He used and preached from were mythical in character and authorship. In that case the critics have outdone Him in kindness to their deluded fellowmen; they have exceeded the Lord Himself in honesty and in fearless presentation of facts which He kept hidden under the cloak of His gracious accomodation to His times, and so permitted the world to remain under delusion concerning them for over eighteen hundred years!

This question of the effects upon our own faith which the acceptance of this view of the Bible would entail is of such supreme importance that it will be well to state them over again somewhat differently.

1. Since its acceptance would revolutionize the whole order and meaning of Biblical history, such radical consequences may well raise a presumption against it in the mind of the reverent student and cause him to hesitate and seriously question its truthfulness.

2. Its acceptance would affect disastrously in a far-reaching way the authenticity of the Bible, which would thus cease to be authoritative, or to be what is claimed for it by its writers; or to be considered in many cases in accordance with facts, or to be true to its professed origin and authorship.

3. Facing the question of its acceptance produces in us a feeling that we are dealing with a deceptive set of documents, originally imposed upon the people for a “pious” purpose, in the same class with those devices which priestcraft in every nation and of every age has foisted upon mankind. In other words, its compilers seem to be portrayed as too much like religious zealots who did not scruple to use guile, prevarication, partiality, in the promotion of their one central idea, namely, a determined purpose to exalt an insignificant tribal god whose origin is as obscure as that of any other god of the ancient world into lordship over the whole earth. He is made to become in the end an all-pervading personality. Why choose him any more than a hundred others? Why should a god and a people who were by comparison such insignificant factors in the ancient world succeed in climbing to a place of such universal and abiding importance?

4. Its acceptance, carried to its logical end, would degrade the Book (for it must stand or fall as a unit, every part of it being skillfully interlocked in testimony, theme, and narrative) to the level of the religious mythological literature of pagan peoples. We would have to believe that whole speeches, codes of law, and various narratives are put by its writers into the mouths of their great hero Moses and their tribal god, either Elohim or Yahweh by name, which they knew were never uttered by them.

5. Its acceptance would constitute a peremptory demand upon us for the rejection of inspiration and revelation as set forth in what is now called the old or traditional views. If Criticism is correct, these cannot longer be entertained.

6. At the same time, its acceptance demands acquiescence in what defies logical explanation, acquiescence in a mystery which taxes human reason more than does any acquiescence in the supernatural and miraculous. It asks us to believe that those who countenanced and helped forward the “pious” fraud described above on the people of the Old Testament, and thereby confessed to an utter lack of common honesty, to say the least, were nevertheless possessed of high enough spiritual culture to evolve those lofty moral sentiments and express those sublime spiritual truths, which, it is admitted, are characteristic of so much of the Bible, making it decidedly superior to any other body of literature, no matter when or by whom humanly produced.

7. Its acceptance requires us to believe that the critics possess unparalleled literary keenness and an acumen, which, indeed, must be accounted stupendous. In fact, could anything short of the supernatural account for their mysterious, uncanny skill in dismantling documents? In recent times writers have collaborated, and yet critical inspection of their joint work, aided by close acquaintance with the authors themselves, has failed to assign to each his part in the composite production with anything like accuracy.

But the Critics of Scripture go at their task with neither doubts nor qualms. They even split up the text of a document into such minute fractions that a single word is sometimes assigned to another source than that of the rest of the verse. Resort must be had to that which their highly developed historical sense requires them to discard —the supernatural and miraculous—as wellnigh the only adequate explanation of this extraordinary ability (?) to analyze, dissect, sift, and piece together the different documents imbedded in so complex a mass of literature as the Old Testament must be, according to their views It is really too much to ask of anyone not already committed to it as a corollary of their peculiar view of the Bible.

8. Its acceptance renders the Old Testament of very doubtful spiritual worth and meaning. Indeed, it seems hardly reasonable to expect the Old Testament on this view to retain much of this element—little more, perhaps, than the Iliad and the Odyssey, or the writings of Herodotus, in fact, the Hexateuch is represented as bearing a similar relation to the life of the Hebrews as do those productions to the life of the Greeks.31

9. Its acceptance would discredit the New Testament view of the Old Testament Scriptures, and force us to admit that it makes the New Testament way of using them appear foolish and childish. The sayings of Christ Himself would be no exception.

10. It so completely disintegrates the books of Bible history that the attempt to re-arrange them in accordance with the critical scheme, or perhaps it should rather be said to take the multiplicity of documents of which they are made up, as now detected and separated apart by Criticism, and throw them into some new arrangement, can result only in a meaningless, disconnected, spiritually impoverished collection. About all that could be done is to spread them out as is done with an ancient “find” of clay tablets or papyri, dug up in Babylonia or Egypt. The historical, chronological view of the critics completely breaks up all unity of structure and theme, making anything like a synthesis from the results of their work quite impossible. Thus is revealed the barrenness that would follow the acceptance of their labors, which throws the Bible student back upon the so-called traditional view as the only reasonable and consistent arrangement.

11. The question of accepting this new view of the Bible forces upon us this direct issue: Shall we side with the critics in opposition to the testimony given in the New Testament by the Apostles, and even by the Lord Jesus Himself? Were they so circumscribed by the ignorance of the age in which they lived that they did not know the Scriptures of their people as well as the critics do? Was Jesus? To accept Modern Criticism and its legitimate results means thus that both Old and New Testaments are turned into nothing more than any other book, and possess an authority in no way above that of the literature of any other religion. Even admitting that it evidences a degree higher development now when compared with the religious literature of other peoples, in view of what the critics say may we not expect something in the future of a still higher order? In fact it is surmised that we will have a new Bible after a while. This Bible which we now have, is to be accorded only provisional acceptance.

12. Its acceptance requires us to countenance an absurdity. According to the critics, the main reliable early history of the Hebrew nation—the Judges-Kings series of books—presents nothing like conformity to such a system of history, law and ceremony as is laid down in the Pentateuch, but records much which is contrary to it. On the ground of this silence, we are asked to conclude that the Pentateuch did not exist during all that period covered by the Judges-Kings series of books; that at best only fragments of it were then to be found in brief, stray documents, and these were only gathered together into two main documents in perhaps the ninth century b.c.

It is admitted that there probably existed some simple code of law and ceremony, such as was suitable for the ordering of the social and religious life of a nomadic people, like Israel at that time, and that this afterward was incorporated in the Pentateuch. But the first considerable real body of written law is said to have been brought forth and authoritatively accepted in Josiah’s day and imposed upon the nation in connection with a startling revolution.

It is taken for granted, in the re-ordering of the history according to the critics, that the nation knew nothing of the existence of this law and its requirements until Hilkiah and Shaphan produced their “find”; but it was accepted immediately by king, court, and elders of the nation as the revealed law of Jehovah. This “find” is now supposed to constitute the major part of Deuteronomy.

Can this extraordinary adoption and installation of a national Constitution be explained except as a miracle? If it were represented to be an old document, recognized when thus restored, and therefore submitted to as of known ancient genuineness and authority, all would have been plain and simple. But that this new book, written only a short time before Josiah and hidden in the temple, should be accorded immediate acceptance, and produce such nationwide results, is impossible of reasonable human explanation either from history or from analogy. Indeed, it must remain insoluble, apart from the presence of a supernatural and miraculous element. But this, of course, the critics rule out.

After careful consideration, therefore, the historical sense must reject this fundamental proposition of the critics. If we identify this “find” as nothing less than the restoration of the lost Pentateuch written by Moses—and the contrary cannot be proved—then their position is untenable. The very title used in describing this book would lead one to think that the Pentateuch was meant. The objection sometimes raised that it could not be read at one sitting is not valid, for how long Shaphan took to read it is not stated. Days must have elapsed before its examination was complete, either when first presented to the king, or later when made known to the elders of Judah and Jerusalem.

Some general observations. If the supernatural and miraculous are for the moment eliminated from consideration, and the personages, circumstances, local color and mundane events of the Bible record are examined carefully, sufficient evidence from external sources will be found to prove the correctness of these records. Archeological discoveries have provided this outside evidence. It is rather striking to note that in the standard reference works of the Modern Critical School, whose influence has become so widespread, these results of exploration are not set forth in any connected form or treated in their relation to the Bible record. They would really prove too much to be comfortable for their theories.

The foundation of the whole critical structure is contained in the general proposition that God reveals Himself only through the medium of human history which is evolutionary in character. Therefore, only as we can lay bare the reliable history of Israel, for example, can we learn the steps of His self-disclosure. That means He must work from behind and through idolatry, using the low thoughts and symbols which appeal to primitive people, and the slow development of these to a higher plane, as the instruments or means of imparting knowledge concerning Himself—His character, will, ways and purposes. Israel, we are told, began on a pagan plane, and their god Yahweh (Jehovah) was nothing more at that time than an idol-god like those of other ancient peoples. With his worship they combined, especially when in Canaan, the Baal-worship; which must mean that the true God then used this forbidding combination to further the revelation of Himself!

God thus identified Himself with idolatry. How could He do otherwise? For supernatural or miraculous disclosures of Himself, He does not, perhaps cannot, give; certainly He should not, according to the critics, for to do so would constitute a violent infringement of the sovereign historical sense. He is restricted in the nature of the case according to the critics, to the use of the creature’s own ideas and customs as a means of revelation of Himself.

Now, see in what kind of pantheon He thus takes His place! Idolatry prevailed in Israel as in all the Gentile nations. To this the only certain historical records which criticism allows us to use, bear witness. Paul tells us that the things sacrificed to idols were sacrificed to demons (1 Cor. 10:20, 21; Acts, 17:22;32 see also Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:35-37). In other words, idolatry rested back on a strange and awful power of spiritual wickedness. Moral depravity prevailed in connection with it, and no system of spiritual ethics can be found associated with these conditions; all was sensual. But the true God, driven to it, to obtain a means of revealing Himself, takes His place in such a pantheon of demon influence, in order finally to work out for men a righteous and holy conception of Himself. He chose to identify Himself with the idol-god Yahweh.33 This is the logical issue of Criticism’s view of the Old Testament.

If it be asked: Was not this result achieved rather by the lofty and spiritual ministry of the great prophets? we answer: Admitted. But do not these prophets without qualification or distinction ascribe all that they thus reveal to the tribal idol-god with which Israel’s history began, according to Criticism, without, however, the slightest intimation that Yahweh (Jehovah) was such an idol-god?

Nor does the New Testament alter the conception and relation thus established. There is only one God held before our view throughout. According to Criticism, His record begins as an idol-god of an insignificant nomadic people, back of which, if this is true, there was a demon, according to Paul, and from this has evolved the one true God—“the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Back of all this unpromisingness, we are to suppose that His shadowy figure ever stood, gradually emerging until revealed concretely in the man Jesus.

This account of God’s history is a fit correlative to that of man’s evolution from the anthropoid apes. These theories lock arms; they are fit companions.

31 Such allusions are of frequent occurrence in critical comments. On the subject of the course of history in the book of Joshua, it is remarked: “An instructive parallel to Joshua is found in the Greek legends of the Dorian invasion of the Peloponnesus (Return of the Heracleidae), partition of the land by lot, etc.” Enc. Biblica, vol. ii, 2608.

32 In the first passage here demons should be read for devils, as given by the American Revision, the R. 5:margin, and other new translations. In the passage from Acts neither A. V., R. V., nor the American Revision gives the full and literal force of Paul’s expression. Rotherham gives, “unusually reverent of the demons;” Darby, “given up to demon worship;” Vincent says that what Paul means to say is, You are more divinity-fearing than the rest of the Greeks, but taking his own remarks on this statement and his further comments on 1 Cor. 10:20 and especially those on Mark 1:34, it would appear more correct to say demon-fearing. (See, Word Studies in the New Testament.) In the passages from Deuteronomy and Psalms it also should be demons instead of devils.

33 See pp. 22-31.