Thursday, May 24, 2018

Conjectural Criticism - W.G.T. Shedd

There are two views of the origin of the Bible, 1. That it is the production of a limited circle of authors mostly contemporaneous with the events, whose names are mentioned in the work itself, and who were divinely inspired for the purpose of producing a book having infallible accuracy and authority. 2. That it is the production of late and unknown editors, who gathered up oral traditions from unknown and often mythical sources, and put them in the form in which they now appear. The first is the Historical view, or that commonly held in ancient, mediaeval, and modern Christendom. The second is the Fragmentary theory, and is confined to individuals and schools in modern Christendom. According to the historical theory, the Pentateuch has Moses for its responsible and inspired author. According to the fragmentary theory, with the exception of a few parts which perhaps may be ascribed to Moses, no man knows who wrote the Pentateuch, any more than where the sepulchre of Moses is. According to the historical theory, the four Gospels are the inspired productions of four men, Matthew, Peter-Mark, Paul-Luke, and John, who received and obeyed their Lord's commission to prepare his biography for the use of the church in all time. According to the fragmentary theory, the four Gospels are the uninspired product of unauthorized persons, later than the apostles, who gathered up the traditions concerning Christ that were floating about in the church, and wrought them into their present shape. Such, briefly stated, is the substantial difference between the two theories. One ascribes the Bible to known and infallible authors; the other to unknown and fallible editors.

1. The first objection to the fragmentary theory of the origin of the Scriptures is that it is late and modern. This, to some persons, is a recommendation. But in estimating theories, if time is to be taken into account, one that has all time behind it is preferable to one that has only a fraction. To be modern and new is a good recommendation for the fashion of a hat, but not for an opinion in science. The latest intelligence from the stock market is more valuable than the latest intelligence in Hebrew. The superficiality characteristic of the present decade is due to a rage for "the last thing out," and the neglect of ancient and standard learning. If a person's reading is confined to works composed in his own time, he will become the victim of a theorist or a coterie of them. His knowledge will be narrow, while he supposes it to be omniscient.

The hypothesis that the Scriptures are a collection and combination by unknown editors is a modern conjecture. Though occasionally broached in the Ancient church, it obtained no currency. It dates from Spinoza and Hobbes, in the seven teenth century, and more particularly in the eighteenth century from Astruc (1725), who applied it to the Pentateuch, and Semler (1750), who applied it to the Gospels and the canon generally. The newness of the theory is an objection to it. For it is highly improbable that all the investigations of Biblical philologists for seventeen hundred years, which corroborate the traditional theory of the origin of the Bible, should suddenly be invalidated by the alleged discoveries of a few theorists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sudden conversions in religion, like that of St. Paul, are possible, but they suppose an Almighty Author. Such a sudden revolution in Biblical criticism as the refutation of the historical theory and the demonstration of the fragmentary, would be a phenomenon without parallel in literary history.

2. A second objection to the fragmentary theory is, that it is wholly conjectural. Conjecture has its place in all investigation, but it is a very narrow place. It must be employed cautiously and sparingly, and only by the most learned, balanced and judicial minds. That which now goes under the name of "higher criticism" was formerly known as "conjectural criticism," when those standard editions of the Greek and Roman classics were being prepared by the great scholars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which it would now be beyond the power of the nineteenth century to produce, because of its neglect of classical literature and overestimate of physical science. But when these erudite editors of the classics used the conjectural method, it was infrequently and timidly. Whoever ventured to declare a passage to be spurious, or to suggest a new reading that differed from the manuscripts, or new interpretations that departed from those of previous scholars, must furnish strong and conclusive reasons. His ipse dixit would not do. Individual opinions when contradictory to historical were looked upon with suspicion, even when there was extraordinary learning and acumen. Bentley was the most learned classical scholar of his century, and was better qualified to make use of conjecture in editing the Greek and Latin classics than any other one of his tim; but Pope, probably with some of the extravagance and injustice of satire, said of his editions of Milton and Horace:
"To Milton lending sense, and Horace wit,
He made them write what poet never writ."
But this fear of conjectural criticism, and caution in its use, is not characteristic of those modern schools of Biblical philology which are now employing it for the purpose of recasting the Scriptures, in order to force them into the service of anti-supernaturalism and infidelity. In endeavoring to disprove the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, and the Apostolic authorship of the Gospels, they rely chiefly upon the inventiveness and ingenuity of their own intellects in constructing schemes that are unsupported either by documents or testimony. The utmost rashness and recklessness characterize their work. It would be startling, and a refutation of the whole procedure, to see a Hebrew text of the Pentateuch actually edited and published in accordance with the conjectural criticism of Kuenen and Wellhausen, or a Greek text of the Gospels in accordance with that of Baur and Strauss. Critics of this class make hypothesis the substance and staple of their method, employing it excessively and almost exclusively. The Hebrew text of the Pentateuch, without regard to the manuscripts and the history of the text, and with no support from them, is arbitrarily parcelled out into sections and fractions designated by letters of the alphabet, and this fragment is assigned to the "Elohist," and that to the "Jehovist," this to Moses and that to an unknown editor after the exile, and a fifth to the time of Josiah, purely upon the individual guess of a man living three thousand years after Moses. The Greek text of the four Gospels, without regard to the authority of numerous, and some of them very ancient manuscripts, and in contradiction to the early testimony of scholars like Origen and Jerome, and the consensus of Christendom for fifteen hundred years, is declared to be spurious in all such Gospels, and also in such Epistles, as the scheme of the critic requires.

Such effrontery and dogmatism in claiming that the ipse dixit of an individual or a party outweighs the evidence of documents and historical data, and the learning of all the Christian centuries, would not be endured for a moment within the province of secular literature. Nor is such "higher criticism" as this attempted in this department. No one has endeavored to disconnect the Platonic dialogues from the name of Plato, and to prove that they are the production of later editors working over oral discourses of Socrates that were floating in fragmentary form among the circles of the Academy. No one has pretended to a knowledge of Greek literature so much superior to that of the Cudworths and Porsons, the Hermanns and Stallbaums, as to be able to reverse their judgment and demonstrate the spuriousness and late origin of large portions of the Phaedo, Symposium, and Laws. No one has composed a new life of Socrates, evincing that the traditional account of him is erroneous. The credulity that trusts such assurance as this is to be found only among students of the Bible. "The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." The only important attempt of this kind in classical literature, that of Wolf, though made by the most eminent German philologist of the eighteenth century, was a failure. He did not succeed in persuading the classical circles that the Iliad and Odyssey were not the work of Homer, but of a school of rhapsodists whose oral poems were collected and combined by later editors.

3. A third objection to the fragmentary theory of the origin of the Bible is that it is fatal to its inspiration. If, as a conjectural critic asserts, "the great body of the Old Testament was written by authors whose names are lost in oblivion" (Briggs-Inaugural, p. 33), it was written by uninspired men. Because inspiration, from the nature of the case, was always bestowed upon a particular known person, and is so represented. "God spake unto Moses." "The Lord said unto Samuel." "The word of God came to Nathan." "The word of the Lord came unto David." "The vision of Isaiah which he saw concerning Judah." "The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel." "God at sundry times spake unto the fathers by the prophets," and the names of these prophets were well known to those to whom they spoke. Inspiration is not an indiscriminate gift of God, like air and water, to anybody and everybody, in any age and every age. It is an extraordinary and rare gift to only a few persons, chosen out of the common mass for the purpose of Divine communications to mankind. The "holy men of God" who "spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" were not anonymous authors, like Walter Scott when he was the great Unknown. They belonged to the Jewish people, and their names are generally mentioned in the Bible in connection with the fact of their inspiration and the time of its occurrence. The moment therefore that inspiration is severed from known individuals, the moment it is disconnected from the college of prophets and apostles, it becomes inspiration "in the air," without locality, history, or evidence. The self consistent advocates of the fragmentary theory, like Kuenen and Wellhausen, perceive that it is incompatible with inspiration, and deny inspiration; but some who are less logical, or more under the restraints of an evangelical connection, try to retain the inspiration of the Pentateuch while denying that Moses is its author. The Pentateuch, they say, was composed long after Moses by some persons no one knows who; but whoever they were they were inspired. This is the inspiration of imaginary persons like John Doe and Richard Roe, and not of definite historical persons like Moses and David, Matthew and John, chosen of God by name and known to men.

The notion that there is an inspiration outside of the Biblical circle of the prophets and apostles, existing anywhere and at all times, and that the unknown collectors and redactors of the Scriptures partook of it, was invented by the recent latitudinarian party in the Presbyterian church who adopted the critical principles of Rationalism, but who from their ecclesiastical connection did not venture to draw the logical conclusion of all Rationalists and deny inspiration altogether. The assertion that an utterly unknown person was an inspired person is absurd on the face of it, and untenable because it is not only destitute of proof but is absolutely incapable of proof. No testimony is possible in the case. No one has ever seen an unknown man work a miracle as evidence of a divine commission; has heard him speak a prophecy or deliver a divine message while under a divine afflatus; or can attest that he was the author of a particular book of Scripture. No proof whatever on such important points as these can be furnished by eye-witnesses and contemporaries. An unknown man, virtually, has no con temporaries; for as no one knows when the man himself lived, so no one knows when his contemporaries did. The only testimony conceivable in the case is that of the conjectural critic, living two or three thousand years later, who merely asserts that the unknown author of the Pentateuch, or Psalms, or Isaiah, was inspired. This, of course, is not of the nature of testimony, because the critic "is of yesterday and knows nothing" of ancient events, and has observed nothing with any of his senses, in the case.

The absurdity of this notion is apparent, when it is considered that nothing whatever can be predicated of an utterly unknown person, any more than of a non-existent one. Attributes and characteristics of every kind are impossible in both cases alike. No one would think of asserting that an utterly unknown man, any more than a non existent man, is black, or has a large nose, or underwent a surgical operation. Such particulars as these can neither be affirmed nor denied in these instances, because nothing at all is known about the person in question, and consequently nothing can be testified to. But an inspiration that cannot be proved is worthless. Mankind demand evidence when the claim to this unique and extraordinary gift of God to the human mind is made. And in the instance of that limited circle of prophets and apostles whose names are mentioned in Scripture as the authors of most of the books, and are copied from Scripture into the catalogue of the canonical books given in the Westminster Confession (i. 2), and into all the Christian creeds that contain articles upon this point, the proof is forth coming. That Moses, Samuel, David and Isaiah were inspired, rests upon testimony of two kinds: first, that of Jesus Christ, who authoritatively indorses the inspiration of the traditional authors of the Old Testament; secondly, that of contemporaries and those who were nearest to contemporaries. These latter do not authoritatively indorse like the Son of God, but only give witness respecting the prophetical and apostolical authorship. The evidence in this last instance relates only to canonicity, and is precisely like that for the authorship of the writings of Plato and Cicero, respecting which there is no scepticism in the literary world. The evidence in the first instance is wholly unlike anything in secular literature, and infinitely higher and more trustworthy, provided that Jesus Christ was not an impostor, but God incarnate. The assertion of the critic to whom we have referred, that it is "not of great importance that we should know the names of those authors chosen by God to mediate his revelation" (Briggs-Inaugural, p. 33), overlooks the fact that in revealed religion the credibility of a doctrine depends upon its source, as well as upon its nature and contents. For example, the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, judged by its mere contents, is the same in the Egyptian Book of the Dead (Rawlinson's Egypt, I. 319) as in 1 Cor. 15:51, 52. Resurrection is resurrection. But when Egyptian priests assert a resurrection of the body, and St. Paul asserts it, the ground of belief for the doctrine is wholly different in the two instances. And the difference is due to the difference in the author ship. In case of an ipse dixit like this, it is important to know who ipse is. St. Paul is a known man, and his inspiration can be proved. The Egyptian priests are unknown men, and if they were known there is no proof that they were inspired. Hence the questions of authorship, and genuineness of authorship, have always been regarded in Christian apologetics as vital; and the endeavor from the first has been to connect every one of the books of the Old and New Testaments with some known inspired prophet or apostle. The sceptical criticism, on the contrary, has from the first endeavored to disconnect them. That the first endeavor is difficult in regard to a few of the books, is no reason why the whole position of Christian apologetics should be surrendered, and the authorship of the Bible be ascribed to utterly unknown persons, living no one knows where, and no one knows when.

A deadly thrust is given to the doctrine of infallible inspiration, by the denial that "the Scriptures were written by or under the superintendence of prophets and apostles." (Briggs-Inaugural, p. 32.) This severs them entirely from that particular circle of persons who were called of God by name, and inspired by him to receive and record his supernatural communications. The Westminster Confession, as well as the creeds of Christendom generally, teaches that the Scriptures were composed by or under the superintendence of the prophets of the Old dispensation, and the apostles of the New, and that these persons, and these only, were "the holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." One of the principal endeavors of Christian apologetics from Eusebius down, has been to present the proof of this. And there is a general consensus in Christian apologetics, respecting the authorship of the canonical books mentioned in the Westminster Confession (i. 2). Its contention is, that they were composed by the persons to whom from the first they have been ascribed by both Jewish and Christian tradition. Respecting the authorship of a few of these books, there is a difference of opinion among Christian apologetes. But the author ship in these instances is still kept within the inspired circle of prophets and apostles, and the endeavor is always made to give the name of the prophet or apostle. It is assumed that if it could be incontrovertibly proved that a particular book was not written by or under the guidance of a prophet or apostle, it is not inspired. Rationalistic criticism dissents from and combats this consensus of Christian apologetics. The reason for this constant aim and office of all the learning of evangelical as opposed to rationalistic criticism is: first, because the books themselves generally claim to be the composition of these particular persons to the exclusion of all other extraneous persons known or unknown; and second, because there were no other inspired persons but the prophets and apostles. If the Bible cannot be proved to be written by the prophets and apostles, it cannot be proved to be inspired at all; because it cannot be proved that there were ever any human beings whatever, excepting these prophets and apostles, that were "moved by the Holy Ghost." The origin of an inspired writing must therefore be brought by competent testimony within this inspired circle or nowhere. And if it is thus brought by ancient Jewish testimony in the case of the Old Testament, and by ancient Christian testimony in the case of the New, it cannot be said to be the product of an utterly unknown author even in the instances when the name of the particular prophet or apostle is debated. For this testimony connects it with a definite circle of inspired per sons whose nationality, time, and place are known. If, for illustration, there is sufficient reason for believing, from Patristic testimony, that the epistle to the Hebrews was composed under the supervision of St. Paul, the doubt whether the penman was Luke, Apollos, or Barnabas, does not make it the product of an "unknown inspired man." The maintenance of this position in apologetics is vital, and has always been so considered. In disconnecting, as the conjectural critic does, the Pentateuch from Moses as its responsible and inspired author, and connecting it with an unknown editor or editors a thousand years later than Moses, he has destroyed its inspiration, because, as we have seen, an unknown man cannot be proved to be one of the "holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." There is no testimony or tradition, either for him or against him, in regard to this point. In algebra, the value of the unknown x can be determined, but there is no assignable value to an unknown inspired man. The denial that the Pentateuch is what our Lord frequently called it, "the book of Moses " (Mark 12:26; Luke 24:27; John 7:19, 22, 23), has the same effect upon its inspired authority and credibility, which the denial that the four Gospels were composed by the four Evangelists has upon the inspiration and credibility of the only source the world has for the life of its divine Redeemer. There were no infallibly inspired persons upon earth between a.d. 33 and a.d. 100, excepting the company of the Apostles chosen by Christ to be the founders of his church, and, if we may so say, his literary executors to write his life for the church in all time; and if the four Gospels were not composed by them, or under their superintendence, they are neither inspired nor infallible. No persons but these were authorized or qualified to prepare the memoirs of his marvellous origin and generation, and of his merciful and sorrowful life (Luke 24:49; John 14:26; 15:26; Acts 1:8). Whoever denies this, and enlarges the circle of New Testament inspiration by asserting that others than the Apostles were inspired by the Holy Ghost, is bound to prove his assertion. As the four Evangelists do in the instance of the "Twelve Apostles," he must mention the names of the persons, the circumstances under which they were called to this office, and the supernatural signs of their inspiration (Matt. 10:1-5; Mark 3:14-19; Luke 6:13-16). The burden of proof is upon the affirmative, not upon the negative. The inspiration of a Biblical writing, therefore, stands or falls with its authenticity and genuineness. If its authorship is forged and spurious; if it is falsely ascribed to the prophets and apostles, and is not their work; it was not written by "holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."

W.G.T. Shedd, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (1893)

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