Has There Been A Shift In The Presuppositions Of Criticism? -- By: William W. Paul

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 03:4 (Fall 1960)
Article: Has There Been A Shift In The Presuppositions Of Criticism?
Author: William W. Paul

Has There Been A Shift In
The Presuppositions Of Criticism?

William W. Paul

Central College, Fella, Iowa

No evangelical scholar should be opposed to critical Biblical research as such. Indeed, some have made noted contributions in the area of lower, textual criticism. But when a researcher employs a naturalistic attitude in carrying out so-called higher-critical investigations, the orthodox student feels that a presuppositional bias has been introduced which is inconsistent with the faith-commitment which the very study of Biblical literature seems to demand. Nineteenth century criticism tended to approach the Bible as a body of religious literature which contained the story of the natural evolution of the Jewish-Christian faith. It certainly did not approach it as inerrant Scripture nor did it assume with orthodoxy the equal authority of its several parts. The practical results rightly alarmed the orthodox Christian: a purely evolutionary theory of religious development was propounded, the gospel stories as well as Old Testament accounts were viewed as self-contradictory, some supposed prophecies were made over into histories by the technique of late-dating of documents, the so-called “quest for the historical Jesus” assumed that the real Jesus was something less than the gospel records with all of their Jewish, Hellenistic and confessional accretions, the possibility of miracles was suspect, and so on.

William Hordern sums up the fundamentalist’s attitude toward higher criticism in his A Layman’s Guide to Protestant Theology (Macmillan, 1956, pp. 55-57) when he writes that in the fundamentalist’s opinion the theologically liberal higher critic

refused to take the Bible upon its own terms as a supernatural revelation and quite naturally missed the whole point. The higher critic assumed that his reason was sufficient to know all that one needs to know in order to understand the world, a presupposition which makes revelation unnecessary …. He searches for the naturalistic causes of the Bible and in the process distorts the Bible …So the real difference lies in two totally different world views …The higher critic assumes that the world is a self-contained unity, … the fundamentalist accepts the reality of the supernatural God and of God’s supernatural intervention among men.

Hordern’s statement in layman’s language dramatized the opposing positions of those who appeal to the divine authority of Scripture and the higher critic who retains a theologically liberal and philosophically naturalistic orientation.

With this historical estimate in mind let us return to the question, “Has there been a shift in the presuppositions of criticism?” This is really two questions in one. It c...

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