The Scientific Approach to the Old Testament Part 1 -- By: Allan A. MacRae

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 110:437 (Jan 1953)
Article: The Scientific Approach to the Old Testament Part 1
Author: Allan A. MacRae

The Scientific Approach to the Old Testament
Part 1

Allan A. MacRae

[Editor’s note: The president and professor of Old Testament in Faith Theological Seminary was responsible for the 1951 W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectureship. Now will follow the first extract from his lectures delivered in the chapel of Dallas Theological Seminary, November 13–16. Dr. MacRae encountered unavoidable delay in preparing the material for publication in Bibliotheca Sacra, otherwise it would have been forthcoming a year ago.]

There have been many attitudes taken toward the Old Testament. Some have regarded it simply as a collection of the literature of a nation, giving the ideas of its people, and showing the course of its development. Such a view soon finds itself amazed at the frequent condemnation of the very nation from whom the literature comes. In no other case has a nation preserved a body of literature which contains so much that is critical of itself.

The modern Jew quite generally thinks of the Old Testament as a book of law, giving many regulations which must be observed to the letter if he is to enjoy the favor of God. As one reads it he soon discovers that a comparatively small portion of it is made up of laws, and that these laws present an ethical standard so high that if taken as a guide to God’s favor they can only lead to despair.

The celebrated Lawrence of Arabia kept a copy of the Old Testament as one of the few books which adorned his barracks shelf. He considered it a masterpiece of literature, and reveled in its imagery, but he utterly rejected its teaching.

Some present-day critics think of the Old Testament as a record of the evolution of monotheism. To this end they divide it into small sections, and rearrange these in an assumed order of progress, so as to show a development from primitive to modern views. But no matter how they try to divide it, they always find that the sections assumed to be first contain specimens of highly spiritual teaching, and those considered last contain verses as anthropomorphic as any in the earliest parts.

Not long ago it was the fashion among so-called liberals to speak of the Old Testament as largely a collection of myths and legends, preserving little that is historically dependable. Today the school of “Neo-orthodoxy” takes an equally low view of the truthfulness of its stories, but believes that spiritual value is derived from reading them, even though their statements be considered devoid of factual content.

A truly scientific approach to the Old Testament cannot be satisfied with examining these views. It must also ask the question, “What attitude ha...

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