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Critique of Higher Criticism

Dr. Grant C. Richison

Questions that people ask about higher criticism may be much larger than what we realize.  This is a massive subject and requires an understanding of the philosophical presuppositions of those who hold to higher criticism.

It is important to distinguish between higher criticism and textual criticism. 

1.     Textual criticism = this is a study that determines the validity of the 5,600 Greek manuscripts.  This is a true and objective science.

2.     Higher criticism = this is the study of the origins of the Bible itself.  This approach often (most often) denies the authenticity of the Word of God.  It seeks to find who was the “true” author of Scripture.  It is a search for the genuineness of the Bible.  For example, they hypothesize that the authors of the gospels were not Matthew, Mark, Luke and John but people who lived much later than the apostles who wrote in their name.  They set forth the postulate that there is a Q document from which the so-called biblical writers got their information.  Higher criticism is not scientific in the pure sense of the word but more philosophical with massive operating presuppositions.

Higher criticism originated in German Rationalism (truth can only be found in the mind, i.e., not supernaturally).  The first German Rationalists viewed themselves as champions of the faith who were counter attacking philosophical skepticism (spread abroad from the French Enlightenment).  The key person in this movement was Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918).   Many have followed in his footsteps.  He postulated that Moses did not write the Pentateuch but that it was a group of redactors.  These redactors were summarized by JEPD.  That is, there were four different classifications of writers.  J stands for the authors that used the name “Jehovah.”  E stands for the authors that used the name of God called “Elohim.”   P stands for the priestly authors.  D stands for the Deuteronomic authors.  This theory has fallen to ashes as do all of these theories with time.  In fact, the history of higher criticism is a cyclical history of a new theory and it runs the gamut for a few years and is proven wrong only to have another theory follow in its steps.  

The main point to keep in mind is that these theories are built upon subjectivist, humanistic, rationalistic and relativistic presuppositions.  The Anchor Bible is a commentary that accepts these presuppositions.  Their presuppositions become their modus operandi (their mode of operation).  If you use a tool that has anti-supernatural presuppositions built into it you are going to end up with anti-supernaturalism.  Many people in this movement question whether there is any revelation at all.  Bultmann believed that the Bible was all myth except for a tiny core.  Many people have in modern higher criticism ended up in skepticism.  As a result many resorted to their personal experience as the only source of truth.  

Arguments against higher criticism:

1.     It imbibes the unsupported belief-system (presupposition) of antisuperanaturalism.  

The foundations of antisuperaturalism have crumbled with the discovery of quantum physics and the Big Bang theory.  According to modern physics extraordinary events (miracles) cannot be ruled out.  The problem with antisupernaturalism is that it is based on its own presuppositions.

2.     Higher criticism neglects or minimizes the role of the eyewitnesses who recorded the events.

Luke 1:1-4.  

Every book of the Bible was written by a contemporary eyewitness.  If this is true, then much of higher criticism falls for it assumes much later dates for the alleged myths and distortions to occur.

3.     In the New Testament, they assume that the NT writers did not distinguish between their own words and those of Jesus.

Note Paul distinguishes his words from Jesus:  Acts 20:35; I Cor. 7:10,12,25) for example.

4.     There is a vast difference between the simple New Testament account of miracles (for example) and the embellished myths of the second and third centuries A.D.  

The New Testament specifically disavows myths (2 Pet. 1:16; 1 Tim. 1:4; 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:4; Titus 1:14).

5.     New Testament higher criticism is based on the implausible premise that the early church had no real biographical interest.

John 21:25; I Jn 1:1-2; Lk 1:1-4

6.     Higher criticism obviates the role of the Holy Spirit in activating the memories of the eyewitnesses and guiding them to the writing of Scripture.

John 14:26