Biblical Criticism

C. S. Lewis has written that, "when you turn from the New Testament to modern scholars, remember that you go among them as a sheep among wolves. Naturalistic assumptions, beggings of the question . . . will meet you on every side--even from the pens of clergymen. . . . In using the books of such people you must therefore be continually on guard. You must develop a nose like a bloodhound for those steps in the argument which depend not on historical and linguistic knowledge but on the concealed assumption that miracles are impossible, improbable, or improper."1

Of course, C. S. Lewis would have agreed that these comments could equally be applied to scholars of the Old Testament, most of whom affirm the Documentary hypothesis for the authorship of the Pentateuch, the existence of a "Deutero-Isaiah," and a late date for the authorship of Daniel.

According to the Documentary hypothesis, the Biblical claims for the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch are false. Rather, the first five books of the Bible are made up of many fragments by different authors. The earliest, the Jahwist (J), was an unknown writer who lived in the Southern Kingdom of Judah in about 850 B.C., either 440 or 600 years after the time of Moses, depending upon one's dating of the Exodus. The Elohist (E) was supposed to have been an unknown writer in the Northern Kingdom of Israel who lived around 750 B.C. The writings of J and E were combined a hundred years later by an unknown redactor. Then, according to this hypothesis, in 621 B.C., the Deuteronomic writer (D) composed the book of Deuteronomy during the reforms of King Josiah. Finally, in about 570 B.C., the Priestly writer (P) wrote various sections of the Pentateuch concerned with genealogical lists and the details of the sacrificial system.

These views, which were advocated by Julius Wellhausen, gained a strong foothold in the field of Biblical studies during the twentieth century, despite the fact that both the Pentateuch and many other parts of the Bible specifically state that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. However, there is abundant evidence disconfirming the Documentary hypothesis.2 For example, the Jewish Old Testament scholar Cyrus H. Gordon has assembled impressive evidence disconfirming Welhausen's theories. He wrote:

My conservative critics, some of whom are on the faculties of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish seminaries, find fault not because my writings run counter to any particular religious tenet, but because I am not devoted to JEDP: the badge of interconfessional academic respectability. . . .

A sane approach to scriptural (or any other) literature requires that we take it on its own terms, and not force it into an alien system.

One of the commonest grounds for positing differences of authorship are the repetitions, with variants, in the Bible. But such repetitions are typical of ancient Near East literature: Babylonian, Ugaritic, and even Greek. . . .

One of the fragile cornerstones of the JEDP hypothesis is the notion that the mention of "Jehovah" (actually "Yahweh") typifies a J document, while "Elohim" typifies an E document. A conflation of J and E sources into JE is supposed to account for the compound name Yahweh-Elohim. All this is admirably logical and for years I never questioned it. But my Ugaritic studies destroyed this kind of logic with relevant facts.3

Another very common notion in the field of Old Testament studies is that Isaiah was written by more than one author. However, there is no historical or textual evidence for this theory. According to higher critics, "Deutero-Isaiah" (chapters 40-66 of the book of Isaiah) was written after the Babylonian exile (or after 520 B.C.) rather than the time of the prophet Isaiah (about 700 B.C.). This would explain, for example, the mention of King Cyrus in Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1, as the one whose decree was to bring an end to the Babylonian captivity. It should be noted, however, that in this passage, Isaiah specifically stated that it was because of the fulfillment of this predictive prophecy that people would know that he was speaking by inspiration from God: "So that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by name" (Isaiah 45:3).

If one takes the position that miracles are impossible, then one must find explanations of this kind against all evidence to the contrary.4 Among the Dead Sea Scrolls was a complete scroll of Isaiah which contained no indication of any break between Isaiah 39 and Isaiah 40. Despite the lack of textual or historical evidence of any kind, literary critics continue to affirm the validity of the hypothesis of a second Isaiah, based upon perceived differences in theme and subject matter, language and style, and theological ideas. However, there are at least forty phrases common to both of these sections of Isaiah. There are also many similarities of theme, style, subject matter, and theology.5 Isaiah 40-66 shows little knowledge of Babylonian geography, but great familiarity with that of Palestine, and the author of "Duetero-Isaiah" assumes that the cities of Judah are still standing, which would not have been the case if the author were writing during or just after the Babylonian captivity. Also, many of the same evils which prevailed in the time of the eighth-century Isaiah were still prevalent during the generation of "second Isaiah."

Concerning higher criticism of the New Testament, C. S. Lewis has written:

The undermining of the old orthodoxy has been mainly the work of divines engaged in New Testament criticism. The authority of experts in that discipline is the authority in deference to whom we are asked to give up a huge mass of beliefs shared in common by the early Church, the Fathers, the Middle Ages, the Reformers, and even the nineteenth century.6

Lewis observed that New Testament critics base many of their conclusions upon the assumption that miracles do not occur.7 It follows that if this assumption is false, the results need not be taken seriously.

C. S. Lewis also observed that literary critics had come to many unfounded conclusions about the works that he himself had written, and that therefore the judgments of literary critics concerning the New Testament simply cannot be taken seriously:

All this sort of criticism attempts to reconstruct the genesis of the texts it studies; what vanished documents each author used, when and where he wrote, with what purposes, under what influences--the whole Sitz im Leben of the text. This is done with immense erudition and great ingenuity. And at first sight it is very convincing. I think I should be convinced by it myself, but that I carry about with me a charm--the herb moly--against it. You must excuse me if I now speak for a while of myself. . . .

What forearms me against all these Reconstructions is the fact that I have seen it all from the other end of the stick. I have watched reviewers reconstructing the genesis of my own books in just this way. . . .

Reviewers, both friendly and hostile, will dash you off such histories with great confidence; will tell you what public events had directed the author's mind to this or that, what other authors had influenced him, what his over-all intention was, what sort of audience he principally addressed, why--and when--he did everything. . . .

My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right; that the method shows a record of 100 per cent failure.8

1 C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: Macmillan, 1960), pp. 164-165.

2 See, for example, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, revised ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), pp. 91-176.

3 Cyrus H. Gordon, "Higher Critics and Forbidden Fruit," Christianity Today, November 23, 1959, in Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., A Christianity Today Reader (Westwood, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1968), pp. 91, 92, 94, 95.

4 See, for example, Oswald T. Allis, The Unity of Isaiah (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1972), and E. J. Young, Who Wrote Isaiah? (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1958).

5 Archer, pp. 332-351.

6 C. S. Lewis, Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1967), p. 153.

7 Ibid., p. 158.

8 Ibid., pp. 159-160.


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