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The Bible and the Critics



By Ronald L. Dart

The most serious assaults ever made on the authority of the Bible have not come from atheists, rationalists or scientists. They have come from the "Christian" ministry.

An atheist haranguing against the Bible from a soapbox on a street corner would hardly receive a hearing from most Christians. But when a minister solemnly steps into the pulpit and begins to criticize the Bible, people can be shaken!

Imagine the consternation of those who heard a rector of the Church of England say that the Old Testament contains passages of "spiritual junk" and "poison" for the people. What does it do to the faith when a former president of the Methodist Conference, Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, said he would like to go through the Bible with a blue pencil and cut out certain sections? And that in his opinion the Old Testament was out of date, completely outmoded, and that many of the Psalms were nonsense? These quotes are several years old, but the ideas are still circulating.

With so many clergymen openly challenging the authority of the Bible, is it any wonder that a man was moved to write to the editor of his Sunday newspaper and complain: "I honestly try to live the right kind of life, but, when you read that so much of what we used to think true in the Bible has been discredited, how do we know what is right?"

How indeed?

When clergymen on every side are rejecting the Bible as the standard for human behavior, where can a man look for guidance? Certainly not to the clergy-they are so deeply divided on moral issues that they are becoming confused themselves. Abortion, teenage sex experimentation, trial marriages, divorce, drug addiction, adultery, homosexuality-all these are wide-open, controversial subjects among clergymen.

Why No Agreement?

But why is it that intelligent men are unable to agree on the right or wrong of such vital issues? "Surely," we exclaim, "they must see from the fruits of these things that they are wrong!"

No, they donít. When they threw away the standard which defines right and wrong and attempted to become a law unto themselves, they lost the only wisdom they ever had.

As a desperate world looks to these men for help, all they get are opinions. "There are no absolutes," says one minister. "There are no blacks or whites where morals are concerned-only shades of gray," says another.

Meanwhile, a hopelessly confused public sinks further into moral quicksand.

But God has clearly defined what is right and wrong for men. If they would turn to the Bible and accept its authority on the vital questions pertaining to manís life, all this confusion would disappear. God says, "But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and the evil of their doings" (Jeremiah 23:22).

But too many ministers havenít done that. In the words of Jeremiah, "Lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord; and what wisdom is in them?" (Jeremiah 8:9).

It is sad but true that the Bible is no longer accepted by many religious leaders as an authoritative standard. Having rejected any biblical authority, much of the Christian ministry has sunk into a morass of doubt and agnosticism. A woman recently wrote a minister, asking, "If you reject the authority of Scripture, what authority can you speak with or appeal to? Or donít you think there is any need for authority today?

His answer is revealing: "Your own mind is the authority! Each of us must face any decisions that come our way and hear again the inner voice, something in us that whispers Ďthis is true.í There is your ultimate authority!"

But what if the "inner voice" is wrong? What if it has been the victim of miseducation, misinformation or outright falsehood? There are millions of people in the world today telling themselves "this is true" while, in fact, disagreeing with countless other people who are telling themselves "this is false." Who is right? Is anybody right? It is this sort of confusion that has led to a sort of "Christian agnosticism" in our day.

Mankind needs a guide, an authority, he can turn to with assurance. The Bible has that authority. Why have so many ministers rejected the Bible as an authoritative source? Has it come about as a result of a sincere search for the truth with an open, unbiased mind? Has it arisen as a result of a sound, logical analysis of the Scriptures?

Itís only fair to question the sincerity of some scholars and ministers. After all, some of them have called Daniel a "pious fraud" and implied that Ezekiel was a liar. Should we not at least cross-examine the accusers?

The Scholars

The very word "scholar" tends to intimidate most laymen. When we hear of the "assured results of modern biblical criticism," or that "scholars are agreed," we are expected to bow before superior wisdom.

Yet scholars are only men and are subject to human failings like the rest of us. For too long now biblical critics have hidden behind a barrier of complexity which has frightened off the average man. The Hebrew language, the mysteries of Greek, the complexities of archaeology-all these things seem beyond their comprehension.

But the critics are not all that difficult to understand. When all the window dressing is removed and the foundation laid bare, the truth is there. The critics of the Bible, their methods, their motives, their prejudices, can be seen by anyone willing to take the time.

Trust No Man

Have the critics of the Bible been honest? Can you rest assured that they have always approached the Bible with an open, unprejudiced mind, that their research has always been careful, thorough, well documented?

Unfortunately, you cannot.

Far too many of the objections raised against the Bible by its critics are firmly grounded in sheer ignorance! Scholars do not always understand everything they write about. Even "learned men" are occasionally guilty of carelessness, deceit, false assumption, or even ignorance.

Does this sound too strong?

Take Thomas Paine as an example. He launched one of the most widely read attacks ever made on the Bible with his Age of Reason in 1794. Although Paine ripped apart the contemporary philosophy of the Bible held by some churchmen, he left the Bible itself virtually untouched.

He wrote: "From whence then could arise the solitary and strange conceit that the Almighty, who had millions of worlds equally dependent on His protection, should quit the care of all the rest and come and die in our world, because they say one man and one woman had eaten an apple?" (Thomas Paine, Age of Reason, page 26, emphasis mine).

Notice that his objection is not to the Bible itself, but to what "they say" about the Bible. "They," in this case, were the "Christian" teachers whose doctrines he had sampled. The chances are he did not look any more deeply into their teachings than he did into the Bible. He admitted that, when he wrote the first part of his book, he did not even possess a Bible! (W. Neil, Cambridge History of the Bible, page 215).

We might borrow a phrase from Paine and ask: "From whence then could arise the solitary and strange conceit" that leads a man to argue so confidently from a position of ignorance?

It seems strange to hear a man admit that he doesnít know what he is talking about, but we should at least be refreshed by his honesty. A great deal of criticism of the Bible is launched from a similar lack of knowledge but without the candor to admit it.

Check the Source

It is easy to see how Paine made his mistake. After all, if the clergy did not speak for the Bible, who did? It is always risky, however, to take another manís word for something. The unwary reader might well find himself in the possession of an opinion about the Bible which completely misses the point.

Thomas Paine simply failed to check and see if the Bible really did say what he had heard that it said. A good many errors result from just such a failure.

For example, Robert Graves and Raphael Patai published a book some time ago called Hebrew Myths, the Book of Genesis in which they attempt to show the alleged mythological character of much of the Old Testament. This interesting error appears on page 13 where the writers state: "An ugaritic deity worshiped as Baalzebub or Zebul, at Ekron was insulted by King Ahaziah (II Kings 1:2ff)." It may not be terribly important, but if the reader simply accepts this without checking he is going to be completely misled. If he checks he will find the account in the Bible is clear and easy to understand. King Ahaziah sent to inquire of the god of Ekron whether he would recover from his disease. Elijah the prophet intercepted the messengers and sent them back to tell Ahaziah that he would die. There is no indication that the messengers ever got to Baalzebub and certainly no insult to Baalzebub is mentioned in the text. Not only that, but an insult to Baalzebub would hardly have offended God.

This is a particularly interesting example, because the two authors have an impressive record of scholarship in their fields and list no fewer than 70 literary works between them! As one reads through the introduction he cannot help being impressed by the obvious scholarship, learning and competence exhibited.

Yet one cannot help raising an eyebrow when he reads a reference to the "feast of Atonement" on page 15. It may be a technical point, but anyone who has presumed to write with authority about the Old Testament ought to know that the Day of Atonement is a fast day, not a feast.

If the student has become a little cautious by this time and begins to cross-check what he reads, he will find another error on the same page. Here the authors refer to the Jewish tradition of Abrahamís attempted sacrifice of Isaac. They point out that tradition says this took place on the 1st Tishri. A careful check will disclose that virtually all Jewish tradition places it on the 14th of Nisan. Since the authors do not explain themselves, it is impossible for the reader to judge whether this is a case of carelessness, ignorance, or some new interpretation of the authors.

Why am I going into all this? Because it becomes abundantly clear that we shouldnít swallow everything we see in print. It is often necessary to go to the source to see if it really does say what it is purported to say. There is no reason to be intimidated by apparent scholarship when some of the best of them can make appalling errors.

What Kind of God?

If Thomas Paine had gone to the source he could have saved himself a great deal of misunderstanding. Where did he get his concept of God? He wrote: "When we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon that the word of God" (Thomas Paine, Age of Reason, page 7).

Of course, a careful student of the Bible already knows that the cruelty, barbarism and vindictiveness which we do find in the Old Testament are not the will of God! They are the works of men contrary to the laws of God!

Nevertheless, far too many people who have read Paineís work still share his false impression of the God of the Old Testament. They look upon God as a harsh hanging judge who is all too eager to descend upon man with great wrath every time he deviates from an "impossible" law.

As one reader wrote, "I accept the ethical teaching of Jesus, but I cannot in any way reconcile the God Jehovah of the Jews as having anything in common with such a teaching. There is hardly a page in the Hebrew Scriptures which does not deal with murder, rape, pillage, etc...No loving or merciful God or being could have allowed or contributed to the acts as reported in the Hebrew Scriptures. I canít read it. It is too bloody. There is too much fear. Didnít Paul write that perfect love casts out all fear?"

Of course those who have more than a nodding acquaintance with the God of the Old Testament have encountered an entirely different God. They have found in the pages of the Bible the God who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. They have encountered the God who cried out, "Why will you die, O house of Israel?" These students of the Bible have encountered prophets whose main message was a plea to Israel not to destroy themselves.

For some reason, the reader was oblivious to this. Either he had not read the Old Testament carefully; or, like Thomas Paine, he had allowed his mind to be prejudiced against it before he ever started.

But what about you? To what extent have you allowed your opinions of the Bible to be formed by what others have told you? Have you checked the Bible to see what it really does say about God? It is a shame, but all too many of the criticisms leveled at the Bible have little or nothing to do with the real message of the Bible. They deal purely with the false concepts and philosophies of man about the Bible.

Science vs. the Bible

Thomas Paine was certainly not the only one to make the mistake of assuming that the teaching of the church was the teaching of the Bible. When the science of geology began to discover evidence in the rocks that the earth was more than 6,000 years old, many jumped to the conclusion that the book of Genesis had been discredited. However, as one writer put it, their concept of creation was not so much that of the Bible as that of Miltonís Paradise Lost.

In their minds, they had somehow developed a mental image of the creation of the earth out of nothing and the sudden shaping of the sun, moon and stars within a week of the creation of man. When this idea clashed head on with the evidence that the earth may be millions of years old, the faith of some was shaken. It was unnecessary; their faith in the Bible need not have been shaken at all. The Bible simply does not say that the earth is only 6,000 years old.

It is a fact that many of the criticisms leveled at the Bible have been made because the critic was misinformed, failed to check the source, misunderstood what the Bible said, or simply did not read it all! Yet many have read their works and supposed that the Bible couldnít be trusted.

Since the critics have taken it upon themselves to scrutinize the Bible, surely it is only fair that we scrutinize the critics.

What are they trying to prove and why? Did they have solid evidence for their conclusion? Take a hard look. You may be in for a surprise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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