Chapter 4 Refutation of Modernism

These matters concerning the understanding of the Bible may be considered in the light of jurispudence, and subjected to the universally acknowledged laws of evidence.34

The case may be stated as follows: Is the Old Testament a true narrative of fact or a creation of falsehood? The decision must be the latter if the views of Criticism are correct. Documentary or written evidence is to supply the testimony by which judgment must be reached. Let our examination be conducted in accordance with the rules and principles which govern courts of justice.

The charge is that the literary prophets and the schools of Deuteronomistic and priestly writers compiled the Hexateuch, much of it their own creation, which they combined with ancient myth and legend. Their labors are supposed to have extended over at least three or four centuries.

The question is, Did they practice this piece of deception upon their nation, or did the prophets and men like Ezra and Nehemiah simply revive, freshly emphasize, and apply a body of legislation which had served from the beginning as the foundation and constitution of the Hebrew people?

The issue turns upon the character of these men, their competency, truthfulness in presenting what came under their observation, and the degree of accuracy with which they record passing events. If their credibility in these respects can be established, the greatest possible sum of probability will exist that they did not practice such deception as that in which the critical views involve them, and therefore, the Pentateuch existed from the beginning in the form in which we now possess it, and was in fact a possession of Israel from the time of their invasion of Canaan.

Now, the credibility of these witnesses is capable of ready moral demonstration, if we will put the nature and character of their testimony to the test, bearing in mind the essential marks of difference between true and false witnesses.

These writers record transactions with such detail as to persons, places, customs and circumstances that these narratives must be considered unimpeachable evidence that they possessed ability to discern and comprehend what was before them; evidence that their opportunities to observe were of the best, that a high degree of accuracy marks their records, and that their integrity in relating them cannot be questioned. The sum of evidence is competent, therefore, by reason of number and variety; it is cumulative in character, and conclusive by virtue of the unity of result, found coupled with manifest diversity.

Here, then, this rule of law may be applied:

The credit due to the testimony of witnesses depends upon the following conditions: first, their honesty; second, their ability; third, their number and the consistency of their testimony; fourth, the conformity of their testimony with experience; and fifth, the coincidence of their testimony with collateral circumstances.

First, as to their honesty. Here they are entitled to the benefit of the principle derived from the general course of human experience, that men ordinarily speak the truth, when they have no prevailing motive or inducement to the contrary. That no such motive or inducement existed with these witnesses is manifest, for their testimony was decidedly adverse to their best worldly interests. Because of it they suffered greatly and labored under constant disadvantages, for it is evident that there was an influential school of so-called prophets in Court circles which resisted them and used the powers of government to persecute them; while the people also generally scorned these men and despised their message.

These circumstances furnished them with every possible motive to review carefully and make very sure of the grounds of their faith and the evidence for the great facts and truths which they asserted. These motives were pressed upon their attention by sad and painful experience. It was not morally possible for them to be deceived. If, in company with those writers and redactors whose literary work it is considered these prophets inspired, they were actually employing deception in producing such literature as the Hexateuch, then surely there was present in their circumstances every conceivable motive for abandoning this course of falsehood and ceasing their fraudulent work. Plainly they were men of our ordinary constitution and of our common nature. They were swayed by the same motives, animated by the same hopes, affected by the same joys, subdued by the same sorrows, agitated by the same fears and subject to the same passions, temptations and infirmities as ourselves. Their writings show them to have been men of vigorous understanding. There is no motive to be found for the fabrications which Critical views make them responsible for having produced.

Again, we cannot read their writings without feeling that they were good men, of tender conscience, acting under the influence of an abiding sense of God’s presence. They abhorred falsehood. Yet if the Critical views are correct, they were producing works characterized by imposture, and known by them so to be.

From the absurdity in which these views involve the whole matter there is only one escape. It is to acknowledge that these writers were testifying in regard to an already completed work, carefully considered and accepted as the truth. If they compiled or wrote books in which they testified that Moses made speeches, performed acts, enacted laws, most of which were their own creation, they certainly were sensible of the falsity and imposture of the procedure. But all the evidence goes to prove that they were not knaves, but honest men.

Their ability is plainly established by their extant work. They were not only good men, but also men of sound mind, and quite evidently of at least average and ordinary intelligence.

As to their number and consistency. The Prophets, the Psalm writers, Ezra, Nehemiah, and the others provide a great assemblage of witnesses. In their writings they give the required “ concurrent testimony,” even though they were not contemporaries. There is consistency throughout, and its force is not lessened in a merely legal sense, even though the claim is granted that discrepancies exist in the recording of the same events.

On the next point, conformity of testimony with experience, that would, of course, at once be denied them, since they deal in the main with the supernatural and miraculous. Where inspiration and revelation are claimed, testimony proceding from such a source cannot expect to be considered in conformity with experience. The writers must either be deceivers or deceived in this matter, for criticism does not allow such things; since they are contrary to human experiences, they are, therefore, incredible. So say the radical critics.

But if we are permitted to infer from what we see and know, that there is a Supreme Being by whom this world was created, we may with equal reason certainly believe Him capable of works which we have never yet known Him to perform. It is not irrational to believe that such a God, for purposes of revelation, would depart from His ordinary course of action and thereby give necessary attestations of Himself. Nor can it be shown that the testimony in question is not in conformity with what might be expected as a result of such supernatural experiences. That these experiences were real is at least suggested by the vital difference and evident superiority of their religious testimony over that of all others of a religious nature outside the Bible.

Finally, the coincidence of their testimony with collateral facts and circumstances otherwise known cannot be successfully denied. Variety and minuteness of detail are usually regarded as certain tests of sincerity, for a false witness will not willingly detail circumstances in which his testimony will be open to contradiction, nor multiply them where there is danger of his being detected by comparison with other accounts, equally circumstantial. He will deal, rather, in general statements and make broad assertions, and will endeavor to employ or invent such names or particular circumstances as best promise to be out of the reach of all opposing proof. This is not the way of the Biblical writers.

In the testimony of true witnesses there is a visible and striking naturalness of manner and an unaffected readiness and copiousness in details of circumstances, without regard to the ease or difficulty of verification or detection. This is the manner of the Biblical writers.

Under this head there is also the growing witness of archeological discovery, to provide the needed coincidence of testimony with collateral and contemporaneous facts and circumstances. The abundant and minute references to manners, customs, and many other matters of time and environment which mark all the Scriptures, afford plenty of opportunities to apply the archeological test to the truthfulness of the whole record. There is no formality about them, preface and explanation as though introduced by design; on the contrary, there is a striking naturalness, rarely, if ever, present in creations of fiction.

Such features are also to be noted as the absence of all parade of the writers’ integrity, any anxiety to be believed, or to impress others with a good opinion of themselves, or effort to excite wonder or astonishment at the greatness of the events they record. Complete is the evident assumption that well-known events are being recorded which are undoubtedly to be believed, like any other matters of public history.

These considerations, in accord with laws of evidence universally accepted and acted upon, certainly constitute a connected argument for the acceptance of the Old Testament, and, in fact, of the entire Bible, as authentic, reliable and honest in its claims and statements. The evidence goes to prove that no such imposture as the plan of the critics involves was really practiced; in short, that the Old Testament abounds in that kind of evidence which makes the probability of its genuineness and truthfulness so strong that, after examination according to legal requirements, it must be considered sufficient to satisfy the most cautious, and enforce the assent of the most reluctant and unbelieving, unless they are unwilling to be convinced by such evidence as governs in all the common affairs of men.

In the testimony of these witnesses there is a total absence of the kind of particulars which generate suspicion. Hence, another rule of law applies to them, namely, that in such absence every witness is presumed to be credible until the contrary is shown; the burden of impeaching his credibility rests on the objector. The critics, by reason of their charges, carry this burden.

Another rule is: A proposition of fact is proved when its truth is established by competent and satisfactory evidence. The proposition of fact that these witnesses were honest, had ability, manifested truthfulness and accuracy is established by the competent and satisfactory evidence produced in the foregoing argument, so that the presumption must be considered established that they did not practice the imposture with which the critical views charge them.

Hence, we may safely conclude that the greatest possible sum of probability exists that the order of the Bible history and the authorship of its books are exactly what we find them affirmed to be as we read through from Genesis to Revelation.

There is really only one line of argument presented by the Critics against these conclusions. It is drawn chiefly from the silence of the record in the historical books— Judges through Kings—silence as to the order of things given in the Pentateuch, buttressed by the fact that prevailing conditions were manifestly contrary to that whole body of legislation and ceremony.

Now if these books of history had been written as part of the design, and with the purpose in view, which Criticism claims, that of supporting and emphasizing the Deuteronomic conception first promulgated as national law in Josiah’s reign, it is not reasonable to conceive of this history being written without its compilers’ making quite constant reference, more or less full in detail, to the fact that all the conditions described were contrary to that central and all-important conception which these Deuteronomistic writers were imposing upon the Hebrew people, commencing with the reform movement of Josiah’s day. Only in this way could it be made contributory to their general plan. This is not the case, the Critics being witness. But if both as to order of production and also of history these books follow after the Pentateuch and Joshua, there is consistency and unity in the whole series. There is none if we are to conceive that the major part of Deuteronomy, found in Hilkiah’s book, comes first, the Judges-Kings series later, and not until a century or two later still the completed Pentateuch as now in our hands.

The explanations given by the critics of these historical books is not demonstrative of their claims as to the origin and making of the Bible, for it is more reasonable to consider this history to be a record of decline from original establishments and constitution than of evolution out of pagan conditions. This will receive further consideration in Chapter 6.

34 In this chapter the line of argument employed by Prof. Simon Greenleaf, LL.D. (“a writer of the highest authority on legal subjects”) in his valuable work The Testimony of the Evangelists, is adapted to the problem under discussion here. Though used relative to another matter by him, it was one, however, very closely connected in nature and evidence with our present subject.