One of the most hotly contested issues concerning Christianity for the last 150 years has been the question of biblical reliabillity. Are the texts we have to be trusted, or are they corrupted fakes? Did the attested writers author each book, or were they conglomerates pastiched much later by conspirators? Was Jesus who He said He was, or a madman, or a heretic, or a legend, and how can we know? These are some of the questions of biblical criticism.
There are two main types of criticism: textual criticism and higher criticism. Textual criticism is a perfectly legitimate scientific and historical field of study, and is mostly comparative. Textual critics look at the available manuscripts to discover and eradicate scribal errors, and to establish the historicity of original autographs which haven't been corrupted by editing, improper transposition, later additions, and so forth. Christians have been practicing textual criticism for centuries.
Higher criticism is neither legitimate nor Christian. It's not Christian because it casts doubt on and even denies the divine inspiration of the original documents of the Bible, and it's not legitimate because it relies entirely on supposition and guesswork rooted in an empirical materialist worldview. Higher critics say the Bible couldn't be divinely inspired because such things don't happen in a mechanistic universe, and so they invent documents and authors that neither the Bible itself nor history know anything of.
For instance, higher critics don't believe the Gospels could have been written by eyewitnesses because they also don't believe Jesus performed miracles, died for sins, rose from the dead, or ascended into heaven. So, they've invented another "gospel" document called "Q," a supposed manuscript back of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) from which non-eyewitness writers drew their material.
The problem with "Q" is that it's never been discovered, there's absolutely no evidence for it, no scholars agree which parts of each Gospel can be attributed to it, etc. Higher critics are always quick to come up with unverifiable theories whenever they don't like something in God's Word. In the Old Testament, they've broken the Septuagint, written by Moses, into several authors designated collectively as JEDP, a group for which again there is no evidence whatsoever.
Why do higher critics work so tirelessly to tear down the unique status of the Bible as God's written self-revelation? Because they don't believe Jesus Christ was God in the flesh, and they suppress the knowledge they do have of God in unrighteousness. For them, scholarship is of last importance; their program is to discredit what they refuse to believe, and they'd rather accept nonsense, fairy tales, and pure invention than the truth of God's Word.
The work of good textual critics dismantles the "arguments" of higher critics, and reaffirms the veracity of God's Word and the reasonableness of belief in it. As Christians, we need not fear attacks on our faith. Jesus told us they would come, but He also tells us to defend against them, and textual criticism is one of the most powerful tools we have. While we can never prove to anyone that Christ's Word is true (that's the job of the Holy Spirit), we can defend it and its reasonableness to all attacks, whether or not the attackers are convinced by our arguments.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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