Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Higher Criticism is not the work of Satan

In this weeks Lesson Study Guide on the reliability of the Bible we are treated to some of the least intelligent thinking that the SDA church could provide. In fact it is so amazingly unintelligent I looked up what I could on the author of the Lesson Study Guide. Now I do realize the whole guide went through the sometimes ham fisted editing by Clifford Goldstein but after you read one of these quotes you will also, like me ask, what is the author’s education. So I looked it up.

Jonathan Kuntaraf has been it appears educated:

BA in Ministerial, Indonesia Union College MA in Religion, Far East SDA Theological Seminary (now AIIAS) MDiv, Far East SDA Theological Seminary DMin, Andrews University

He begins with some unsubstantial statements such as these from April 21:

Mark Twain once said that rumors of his death had been greatly exaggerated. One could make the same claim about the Bible. More than once people have declared that the Book one day would be deemed dead, a relic from a bygone era.

Like what? The works of Plato or Homer’s Odyssey it is not living that it could die, it is writing, its real value is placed upon it by those who are living and thinking and draw meaning from its writing. The older manuscripts are indeed relics from a bygone era, what we read are translations of those ancient manuscripts.

The Bible continues to come under attack. Interestingly enough, the critics come and go, but the Bible remains. Critical ideas about the Bible, once deemed cutting edge and revolutionary, have been long forgotten, but the Bible remains. Men deemed great scholars, whose work questioned the authenticity of the writings of Moses or Isaiah, are barely known anymore, while Moses and Isaiah are still being read all over the world.

I would love to know who the author is talking about but since it seems the critics whoever they are, are too unknown, the author to does not bother to explain. We know so little about the ancient world that the author’s statement is remarkable for its certainty of history yet offering nothing to support his statement. It also assumes that if tradition says Moses or Isaiah wrote something that that tradition is true. Those traditions have there use in identifying books but those traditions do not indicate actual authorship of the books. In most of the cases of Biblical books we don’t know who wrote the books.

So the Lesson study guide does not start off well, it then goes rapidly downhill with this amazing statement from April 22:

From the start, Satan always has hated the Bible. After all, it reveals the whole plan of salvation, from start to finish. In it everyone can find the path to eternal life. No wonder Satan hates it.

From the start? Wouldn’t the start, even by conservative traditions, be at least 1,500 years before the first recorded words of Moses, the first scriptures. Then of course it was not till about 300 A.D. that there was actually a canon of scripture containing what we call the Bible. I always wonder how it is that people are so certain about what Satan likes or hates. I would go so far as to say that the path to eternal life was not even laid until the New Testament. Certainly the Old Testament has very little information about eternal life. So to give the author (or the editor) some credit maybe they are meaning the start of the Common Era give or take a couple hundred years and assuming they have a close relation with Satan that he can tell them how he hates the Bible. Off hand I would say that Satan uses the Bible just as much as he uses anything else. As the saying goes “you can pervert anything”. Some would even say that the greatest hindrance to Christianity is the teachings of Christians themselves.

Many have been his attempts over the centuries to destroy it. When, finally, because of massive circulation, the destruction of the Bible became impossible, Satan tried a new tact: If he couldn't destroy the Scriptures themselves, then he could do the next best thing: destroy their credibility. Hence, the arrival of what's known as higher criticism, which has been very successful in destroying faith in the Bible as the Word of God. For many scholars, the Bible is just another ancient text, a Jewish version of, for instance, the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Full of historical interest, for sure, but not divinely inspired.

This is the big quote that made me look up his education. Let’s skip his idea that Satan has been trying for centuries to destroy the Bible, because it is doubtful at best. But the new tact mentioned is something that you would think any intelligent person would want to use to understand the Bible not something that is meant to destroy it. There are two forms of Biblical Criticism these are termed Lower Criticism and Higher Criticism.

Lower Criticism is defined as:

Textual criticism or lower criticism is a branch of philology or bibliography that is concerned with the identification and removal of errors from texts and manuscripts. The textual critic seeks to determine the original text of a document or a collection of documents, which the critic believes to come as close as possible to a lost original (called the archetype), or some other version of a text as it existed — or was intended to exist — in the past.[1]

"1. [...]that process which it sought to determine the original text of a document or a collection of documents, and to exhibit, freed from all the errors, corruptions, and variations which may have been accumulated in the course of its transcription by successive copyings." Vincent. A History of the Textual Criticism of the New Testament

Higher Criticism is defined as:

Higher criticism, also known as historical criticism, is a branch of literary analysis that attempts to investigate the origins of a text, especially the text of the Bible. Higher criticism, in particular, focuses on the sources of a document and tries to determine the authorship, date and place of composition of the text. This term is used in contrast with lower criticism, known as textual criticism, which is the endeavour to establish the original version of a text.

The Wikipedia article also contains an insightful bit of information that shows how those who reject higher criticism still practice higher criticism.

The questions of higher criticism are widely recognized by Orthodox Jews and many traditional Christians as legitimate questions, yet they often find the answers given by the higher critics unsatisfactory or even heretical. In particular, religious conservatives object to the rationalistic and naturalistic presuppositions of a large number of practitioners of higher criticism that lead to conclusions that conservative religionists find unacceptable. Nonetheless, conservative Bible scholars practice their own form of higher criticism within their supernaturalist and confessional frameworks. In contrast, other biblical scholars believe that the evidence uncovered by higher criticism undermines such confessional frameworks. In addition, religiously liberal Christians and religiously liberal Jews typically maintain that belief in God has nothing to do with the authorship of the Pentateuch.

So you can see just what the author’s bias produces by saying that questions about the authorship, date and place of composition are Satan’s method of destroying faith in the Bible. If you don’t ask the questions, your understanding has to be based upon the traditions someone feeds you. Those traditions become your faith, to question traditions then is to question faith.

Consider with the Biblical Research Institute says:

Historical Criticism

E. Edward Zinke
September, 1981

Historical criticism is the attempt to verify the historicity of and understand the meaning of an event that is reported to have taken place in the past. The basis for this evaluation is the tools of historical science.
The historical-critical method assumes the autonomy of the human scientist from the Bible as the word of God. It assumes that one must start with the secular world as a norm for determining meaning and for deciding what has happened in the past. This method does not accept at face value the Bible as the Word of God. It would be unscientific and unhistorical to do so. Rather its claim to be the word of God and its statements claiming to report history (and finally its statements about theology) must be verified and accepted as one would accept a statement from the documents of any other ancient national people. Such a conception implies that the Bible has come about in the same manner as has any other piece of literature…

Notice the sentence I highlighted. Now remember a week ago I delved into the meaning of the Word of God. Nowhere does the Bible make the claim that it is the word of God, individual writings in some sections of some books that today make up the Bible will say that something is the word of God or the word of the Lord but the Bible as a whole makes no such claim. It is a claim people made for the Bible after it was collected into the form we call the Bible. The Bible is in general a series of stories and these stories may or may not make up a historically accurate representation. If we can’t use higher criticism on the Bible because we claim it is the word of God, then how can we use higher criticism on the Koran or the Book of Mormon? Or should we simply accept every claim for every piece of written material? It is not really reasonable to just ignore reasoned analysis simply because it goes against something we have chosen to take on faith, often a faith that is based merely on a tradition.

A interesting example is found in 1 Chronicles 21 and 2 Samuel 24 where events recorded do not line up as well as one would expect of a literal historical documents.

(2 Sam 24:1 NIV) Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, "Go and take a census of Israel and Judah."

(1 Chr 21:1 NIV) Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

(2 Sam 24:8 NIV) After they had gone through the entire land, they came back to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.(2 Sam 24:9 NIV) Joab reported the number of the fighting men to the king: In Israel there were eight hundred thousand able-bodied men who could handle a sword, and in Judah five hundred thousand.

(1 Chr 21:5 NIV) Joab reported the number of the fighting men to David: In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who could handle a sword, including four hundred and seventy thousand in Judah.(1 Chr 21:6 NIV) But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king's command was repulsive to him.

(2 Sam 24:13 NIV) So Gad went to David and said to him, "Shall there come upon you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me."

(1 Chr 21:11 NIV) So Gad went to David and said to him, "This is what the LORD says: 'Take your choice: (1 Chr 21:12 NIV) three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the LORD--days of plague in the land, with the angel of the LORD ravaging every part of Israel.' Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me."

Here I have to note that the King James of 2 Samuel 24:13 being based more upon the Masoretic Text (MT) says 7 years of famine this is also the reading of the Septuagint. As I recall hearing on the Amazing Facts lesson studies just how much more accurate the Masoretic Text is then any other family of manuscripts I thought that might be significant. It shows that through Lower Criticism there is found numerous differences in the Biblical texts. Most of these differences are merely footnotes in modern Bibles because the translators go with the manuscript texts which tend to present a more unified view of things when they are mentioned in other books of the Bible.

(2 Sam 24:24 NIV) But the king replied to Araunah, "No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing." So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them

(1 Chr 21:24 NIV) But King David replied to Araunah, "No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing." (1 Chr 21:25 NIV) So David paid Araunah six hundred shekels of gold for the site.

While in general the stories are really very similar they do have at least large variations in the numbers involved. Possibly even theological implications between the different first verses also. Unless one understands through higher critical methods how the ancient Israelites viewed Satan and God this would be a history that has very contradictory elements. As it is we know that at that time the people thought both good and evil came from God so Satan meaning the adversary could just as easily come from God as anything else. If we assume with the Biblical Research Institute’s article above that this is history, factual and completely accurate we lose credibility in the Bible before we even apply higher criticism to the text. As a record of history it is impressive, but like every history written it has elements of personal bias, even the concept of inspiration does not remove the fact that people can distort information or insert their own ideas into the stories. Even something that is inaccurate can be used to correct, rebuke or train someone in righteousness. A good example especially for Seventh-day Adventists is the parable in Luke 16 of the rich man and Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham. Nothing in the story has to be accurate or historical for the message to be clear. Even if someone rises from the dead if people don’t listen to God they will never listen.

That is what this quarter’s lessons are really about, how we listen to God. How do we interpret the Bible, what parts are for us today and what can we learn about God from all these stories? It may not be the best thing to take from the story in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles above that because of David’s sin God killed 70,000 people by plague with his destroying angel. But if we can’t apply critical analysis we are left with a view of God that few will really be comfortable with or attracted to.

My last post which showed the statistics for Atheism in the nations of the world is important for this topic because it shows just how much different the world is today then just 50 years ago. Today we have to have a much more reasoned position to understand the messages of the Bible. Our church began by calling out other Christians from their churches and we as a denomination have stayed in that mode. Today however we have to explain the Bible and what it means to people who are far more skeptical of the Christian faith then ever before. This Lesson Study topic is very important, our Lesson Study Guide however is not taking the topic seriously though.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great analysis, Ron.

I don't know when it was that the SS quarterlies just starting seeming..."dumb", to me.

For the last several years at least, if not before, it seems as if the only intent in them is to feed the faithful with the same old information, assumptions, and mindset, with the further assumption that if the information is presented in such a way that a deviation from it would amount to a repudation of their faith, then the people will keep believing it, or at least receiving it and repeating it afterwards without questioning any of it, and thus continuing to support the institution, and to believe in the institution despite any conflicting evidence, really a form of holding one's hands over one's ears and shouting "lalalalalalalalalalala".

Sigh. The lessons have just left me very frustrated.