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It is a natural but a most mistaken idea that the critical study of the Bible is a new thing. From long before the childhood of any of us there has been sharp controversy about the Bible. It is a controversy-provoking Book. It cannot accept blind faith. It always has made men think, and it makes them think in the line of their own times. The days when no questions were raised about the Bible were the days when men had no access to it.

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There are some who take all the Bible for granted. They know that there is indifference to it among friends and in their social circle; but how real the dispute about the Bible is no one realizes until he comes where new ideas, say ideas of socialism, are in the air. There, with the breaking of other chains, is a mighty effort to break this bond also. In such circles the Bible is little read. It is discussed, and time- worn objections are bandied about, always growing as they pass. In these circles also every supposedly adverse result of critical study is welcomed and remembered. If it is said that there are unexplained contradictions in the Bible, that fact is remembered. But if it is said further that those contradictions bid fair to yield to further critical study, or to a wiser understanding of the situations in which they are involved, that fact is overlooked. The tendency in these circles is to keep alive rather the adverse phases of critical study than its favorable phases. Some of those who speak most fiercely about the study of the Bible, by what is known as higher criticism, are least intelligent as to what higher criticism actually means. Believers regret it, and unbelievers rejoice in it. As a matter of fact, in developing any strong feeling about higher criticism one only falls a prey to words; he mistakes the meaning of both the words involved.

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Criticism does not mean finding fault with the Bible.[1] It is almost an argument for total depravity that we have made the word gain an adverse meaning, so that if the average man were told that he had been "criticized" by another be would suppose that something had been said against him. Of course, intelligent people know that that is not necessarily involved. When Kant wrote The Critique of Pure Reason he was not finding fault with pure reason. He was only making careful analytical study of it. Now, critical study of the Bible is only careful study of it. It finds vastly more new beauties than unseen defects. In the same way the adjective "higher" comes in for misunderstanding. It does not mean superior; it means more difficult. Lower criticism is the study of the text itself. What word ought to be here, and exactly what does that word mean? What is the comparative value of this manuscript over against that one? If this manuscript has a certain word and that other has a slightly different one, which word ought to be used?

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[1] Jefferson, Things Fundamental, p. 90.

Take one illustration from the Old Testament and one from the New to show what lower or textual criticism does. In the ninth chapter of Isaiah the third verse reads: "Thou hast multiplied the nation and not increased the joy." That word "not" is troublesome. It disagrees with the rest of the passage. Now it happens that there are two Hebrew words pronounced "lo," just alike in sound, but spelled differently. One means "not," the other means "to him" or "his." Put the second word in, and the sentence reads: "Thou hast multiplied the nation and increased its joy." That fits the context exactly. Lower criticism declares that it is therefore the probable reading, and corrects the text in that way.

The other illustration is from the Epistle of James, where in the fourth chapter the second verse reads: "Ye lust, and have not; ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain; ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not." Now there is no commentator nor thoughtful reader who is not arrested by that word "kill." It does not seem to belong there. It is far more violent than anything else in the whole text, and it is difficult to understand in what sense the persons to whom James was writing could be said to kill. Yet there is no Greek manuscript which does not have that word. Well, it is in the field of lower criticism to observe that there is a Greek word which sounds very much like this word "kill," which means to envy; that would fit exactly into the whole text here. All that lower criticism can do is to point out such a probability.

When this form of criticism has done its part, and careful study has yielded a text which holds together and which represents the very best which scholarship can find for the original, there is still a field more difficult than that, higher in the sense that it demands a larger and broader view of the whole subject. Here one studies the meaning of the whole, the ideas in it, seeks to find how the revelation of God has progressed according to the capacities of men to receive it. Higher criticism is the careful study of the historical and original meanings of Scripture, the effort to determine dates and times and, so far as may be, the author of each writing, analyzing its ideas, the general Greek or Hebrew style, the relation of part to part. That is not a thing to be afraid of. It is a method of study used in every realm. It is true that some of the men who have followed that method have made others afraid of it, because they were afraid of these men themselves. It is possible to claim far too much for such study. But if the result of higher criticism should be to show that the latter half of the prophecy of Isaiah is much later than the earlier half, that is not a destruction of the Word of God. It is not an irreverent result of study. If the result of higher criticism is to show that by reason of its content, and the lessons which it especially urges, the Epistle to the Hebrews was not written by the Apostle Paul, as it does not at any point claim to have been, why, that is not irreverent, that is not destructive. There is a destructive form of higher criticism; against that there is reason to set up bulwarks. But there is a constructive form of it also. Scholarly opinion will tell any one who asks that criticism has not affected the fundamental values of the Bible. In the studies which have just now been made we have not instanced anything in the Bible that is subject to change. No matter what the result of critical study may be, the fundamental democracy of the Scripture remains. It continues to make its persistent moral appeal on any terms. Both those great facts continue. Other great facts abide with them. And on their account it is to our interest to know as much as we can learn about it. The Bible has not been lessened in its value, has not been weakened in itself, by anything that has taken place in critical study. On the other hand, the net result of such studies as archaeology has been the confirmation of much that was once disputed. Sir William Ramsay is authority for saying that the spade of the excavator is to-day digging the grave of many enemies of the Bible.

Take the second question, whether these times have not in them elements that weaken the hold of the Bible. There again we must distinguish between facts and judgments. There are certain things in these times which relax the hold of any authoritative book. There is a general relaxing of the sense of authority. It does not come alone from the intellectual awakening, because so far as that awakening is concerned, it has affected quite as much men who continue loyal to the authority of the Bible as others. No, this relaxing of the sense of authority is the result of the first feeling of democracy which does not know law. Democracy ought to mean that men are left independent of the control of other individuals because they realize and wish to obey the control of God or of the whole equally with their fellows. When, instead, one feels independent of others, and adds to that no sense of a higher control which he must be free to obey, the result is not democracy, but individualism. Democracy involves control; individualism does not. A vast number of people in passing from any sense of the right of another individual to control them have also passed out of the sense of the right of God or of the whole to control them. So that from a good many all sense of authority has passed. It is characteristic of our age. And it is a stage in our progress toward real democracy, toward true human liberty.

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