The Meaning of Biblical History -- By: William R. Foster

Journal: Grace Journal
Volume: GJ 04:2 (Spring 1963)
Article: The Meaning of Biblical History
Author: William R. Foster


The Meaning of Biblical History

William R. Foster

Dean of Faculty
London College of Bible and Missions

The study of history as an intellectual discipline requires far more than a mere assembling of facts. The interpretation of history must be recognized as a legitimate and necessary aspect of the historian’s task since facts in themselves have no abiding value apart from the consideration of their causes and consequences. Nor would it be possible for a historian to collect all the facts of history—a circumstance which demands a guide to the selection of the facts deemed significant. “A failure or refusal to acknowledge and deal explicitly with its philosophical implications really means that a philosophy functions surreptitiously, and that it is likely to be only by a happy accident adequate and relevant to the facts of history.”1 In the consideration of the Biblical record as history two distinct areas must be investigated. In the first place, the question of the relation of the recorded events to the actual facts of history must be considered. Are we dealing in the Scriptures with legendary story (saga), or do the recorded events actually take place in history? In the second place, the pattern of these Biblical events must be discovered since it is clearly evident that the authors of the Bible did not include all the historical details which were available (John 21:25). In the past centuries especially since the Reformation the Scriptures have been subjected to critical attack centering upon the question of their historicity.

The Older Form of Literary Criticism

The course of criticism has not always run in the same channels, and, therefore, cannot be explained by general covering statements. The past thirty years have witnessed a most striking reversal of critical opinion from that which reached its climax toward the close of the last century. The roots of this older form of criticism may be traced backward to the rationalism of the 18th century. Voltaire and Condorcet argued that “history was the story of man’s progress from ignorance and superstition to the clear day of rationality through which he would eventually reach perfection.”2 The development of scientific historiography in the following century produced a confidence “in the efficacy of the new historical method to discover the truth of history, and so the meaning of history itself.”3 The development of the evolutionary concept in the same century was regarded as providing the capstone of fully scientific naturalistic humanism. “Divine intervention…was declared to be impossible, because of...

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