The Bible And History -- By: Merrill C. Tenney

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 14:2 (Spring 1971)
Article: The Bible And History
Author: Merrill C. Tenney


The Bible And History

Merrill C. Tenney, Ph.D.*

History is the diary of mankind. However imperfectly kept and however fragmentary it may be, we must depend upon it for our knowledge of the origins of races, cultures, and religions. For some nations or groups the data are ample, having been preserved in official records and in a literature that is full and representative. For other cultures only scanty artifacts and vague traditions remain to attest their achievements. Nevertheless these records are essential for an understanding of human life, for they enable one to analyze and to explain the causes and developments of the civilizations that have successively appeared and vanished, leaving their traces in the heritage which the successors have absorbed. Within the scope of any given discipline, history is the basis for conclusions for teaching.

In the theological world there has been in recent years a revolt against the historical approach. Relying on Lessing’s repudiation of history as a criterion of truth on the grounds that the records are scanty, contradictory, and biased, some modern theologians have assumed the attitude that the Bible, like other books, cannot be regarded as final truth. Tillich, in a foreword to the translation of Kahler’s The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ,1 stated that “One emphasis in Kahler’s answer is decisive for our situation; namely, the necessity to make the certainty of faith independent of the unavoidable incertitudes of historical research.”

If, however, historical records are completely invalidated as acceptable criteria of truth, one has no other choice than to create some subjective criterion as a substitute. The existential view places the emphasis of truth on the decision of the immediate moment. Whatever one’s prevailing judgment decides the present choice should be is truth for that person at that time; the next moment will take care of itself. Such a view inevitably results in chaos; for it permits no general concept of truth equally applicable to the moral and spiritual needs of all men, nor even within the individual life does it allow for any continuity of principle or action. In that case the Bible becomes irrelevant to the modern world. It is not the purpose of this paper to discuss the philosophical ramifications of the trend in general, but rather to deal with the relation of the Bible to history.

*Dean of the Graduate School of Theology, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.

The Relation Of The Bible To History

The Bible is inextricably connected with history both by its origin and by its content. Writ...

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