The Historical-Critical Method: Egyptian Gold Or Pagan Precipice? -- By: Alan F. Johnson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 26:1 (Mar 1983)
Article: The Historical-Critical Method: Egyptian Gold Or Pagan Precipice?
Author: Alan F. Johnson


The Historical-Critical Method: Egyptian Gold Or
Pagan Precipice?

Alan F. Johnson*

After thirty-four years the Evangelical Theological Society has decided to address in a full annual meeting the question of historical and Biblical criticism. Some feel that the more direct attention is long overdue. Others are uneasy, fearing that an unhealthy compromise borne by the winds of modernity is in the offing.

Rather than present a new theory, I want to summarize and to offer an opinion and a challenge to evangelicals in this crucial and volatile area. I want to ask a simple question. This question is not mine alone, but one that I believe is raised by this hour in the history of the Evangelical Theological Society. The way the question is answered is very important for the future of the Society as well as for evangelical Biblical scholarship in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

Before I state the question, permit me to refer to a well-known text from Augustine. In his work On Christian Doctrine he comments on the Christian use of certain ideas from pagan philosophies by drawing an analogy based on the exodus of Israel from Egypt:

If those who are called philosophers, especially the Platonists, have said things which are indeed true and are well accommodated to our faith, they should not be feared; rather, what they have said should be taken from them as from unjust possessors and converted to our use. Just as the Egyptians had not only idols and grave burdens which the people of Israel detested and avoided, so also they had vases and ornaments of gold and silver and clothing which the Israelites took with them secretly when they fled, as if to put them to a better use. They did not do this on their own authority, but at God’s commandment, while the Egyptians unwittingly supplied them with things which they themselves did not use well. In the same way all the teachings of the pagans contain not only simulated and superstitious imaginings and grave burdens of unnecessary labor, which each one of us leaving the society of pagans under the leadership of Christ ought to abominate and avoid, but also liberal disciplines more suited to the uses of truth, and some most useful precepts concerning morals … These are, as it were, their gold and silver, which they did not institute themselves, but dug up from certain mines of divine Providence, which is everywhere infused, and perversely and injuriously abused in the worship of demons. When the Christian separates himself in spirit from their miserable society, he should take this treasure with him for the just use of teaching the gospel.1

Now for my question: Is the historical-critical method of interpreting Script...

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