Biblical Criticism Proper: The True Critical Attitude -- By: William Marcellus McPheeters

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 080:317 (Jan 1923)
Article: Biblical Criticism Proper: The True Critical Attitude
Author: William Marcellus McPheeters

Biblical Criticism Proper: The True Critical Attitude

William M. McPheeters

In a previous issue of this Review1 the present writer submitted some observations on the critical process. The purpose of the present paper is to recur to a matter but slightly touched on in my former discussion and give it the fuller treatment that its importance demands. I refer to the spirit in which the critical process must be conducted, the subjective attitude that the critic himself must take up towards the evidence upon which the issue is to be decided, and towards the results of the decision itself. The importance of this matter lies in two considerations. One is that neither correct critical principles, nor a sound critical method, nor a just conception of the nature of the critical process, nor all three combined will be sufficient of themselves to insure valid conclusions, a really trustworthy decision of the issue to be adjudicated. The reason is obvious. Behind the principles, the method, and the process is the critic himself. Principles, method and process are after all mere instruments. The critic is the user of them. And as in all other cases the results produced in the use of instruments is largely determined by the subjective state of the person using them, by his conception of the material upon which he is engaged, his own attitude towards the outcome of his work. What, then, should be the attitude of the critic towards the evidence upon which the decision of the issue before him hinges? And what should be his attitude towards the possible results of the decision? The other thing that gives importance to the subject is the fact that very different answers have been given to these questions.

There are those, for example, that in the historical and literary criticism of the Bible claim “the Christian critic” does and should come to his task with the assumption that “the Bible contains a revelation from God, and that its

writers are inspired.” This, as I understand them, is the avowed position of a numerous body of able scholars both of the critical “center” and of the critical “right.” As I have elsewhere endeavored to show, it is untenable. In the case of scholars of the “center” its effect is to vacate the terms “revelation” and “inspiration” of all real meaning. And in that of those of the “right” its effect is needlessly, but none the less certainly, to cast the shadow of suspicion over the conclusions at which they have arrived. Without going again over ground already traversed, it will be enough here to add that by no means all scholars of the “right” are committed to this view of the true critical attitude.

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