(from Baker Encyclopedia of
Christian Apologetics, Baker, 1999)
As already noted, higher criticism can be helpful
as long as critics are content with analysis based on what can be
objectively known or reasonably theorized. Real criticism doesn’t
begin its work with the intent to subvert the authority and teaching
Kinds of Criticism Contrasted.
However, much of modern biblical criticism springs
from unbiblical philosophical presuppositions exposed by Gerhard
Maier in The End of the Historical Critical Method. These
presuppositions incompatible with Christian faith include deism,
materialism, skepticism, agnosticism, Hegelian idealism, and
existentialism. Most basic is a prevailing naturalism (antisupernaturalism)
that is intuitively hostile to any document containing miracle
stories. This naturalistic bias divides negative (destructive) from
positive (constructive) higher criticism:
"innocent until proven guilty"
"guilty until proven innocent"
||Bible is wholly
||Bible is partly
||Word of God
||Mind of man
||To discover truth
||To determine truth
Some of the negative presuppositions call for
scrutiny, especially as they relate to the Gospel record. This
analysis is especially relevant to source criticism, form criticism,
and redaction criticism, as these methods challenge the genuineness,
authenticity, and consequently the divine authority of the Bible.
This kind of biblical criticism is unfounded.
It imposes its own antisupernatural bias on the
documents. The originator of modern negative criticism, Benedict
Spinoza, for example, declared that Moses did not write the
Pentateuch, nor Daniel the whole book of Daniel, nor did any miracle
recorded actually occur. Miracles, he claimed, are scientifically
and rationally impossible.
In the wake of Spinoza, negative critics concluded
that Isaiah did not write the whole book of Isaiah. That would have
involved supernatural predictions (including knowing the name of
King Cyrus) over 100 years in advance. Likewise, negative
critics concluded Daniel could not have been written until 165 B.C.
That late authorship placed it after the fulfillment of its
detailed description of world governments and rulers down to
Antiochus IV Epiphanes (d. 163 B.C.). Supernatural predictions of
coming events was not considered an option. The same naturalistic
bias was applied to the New Testament by David Strauss (1808-1874),
Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), and Bultmann, with the same
The foundations of this antisupernaturalism
crumbled with evidence that the universe began with a big bang. Even
agnostics such as Robert Jastrow (Jastrow, 18), speak of
"supernatural" forces at work (Kenny, 66), so it is
sufficient to note here that, with the demise of modern
antisupernaturalism, there is no philosophical basis for destructive
Inaccurate view of authorship.
Negative criticism either neglects or minimizes
the role of apostles and eyewitnesses who recorded the events. of
the four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, and John were definitely
eyewitnesses of the events they report. Luke was a contemporary and
careful historian (Luke 1:1-4; see Acts). Indeed, every book of the
New Testament was written by a contemporary or eyewitness of Christ.
Even such critics as the "Death-of-God" theologian John A.
T. Robinson admit that the Gospels were written between A. D. 40 and
65 (Robinson, 352), during the life of eyewitnesses.
But if the basic New Testament documents were
composed by eyewitnesses, then much of destructive criticism fails.
It assumes the passage of much time while "myths"
developed. Studies have revealed that it takes two generations for a
myth to develop (Sherwin-White, 190).
What Jesus really said.
It wrongly assumes that the New Testament writers
did not distinguish between their own words and those of Jesus. That
a clear distinction was made between Jesus’ words and those of the
Gospel writers is evident from the ease by which a "red
letter" edition of the New Testament can be made. Indeed, the
apostle Paul is clear to distinguish his own words from those of
Jesus (see Acts 20:35; 1 Cor. 7:10, 12, 25). So is John the apostle
in the Apocalypse (see Rev. 1:8, 11, 17-20; 2:1ff; 22:7,12-16, 20b).
In view of this care, the New Testament critic is unjustified in
assuming without substantive evidence that the Gospel record does
not actually report what Jesus said and did.
It incorrectly assumes that the New Testament
stories are like folklore and myth. There is a vast difference
between the simple New Testament accounts of miracles and the
embellished myths that did arise during the second and third
centuries A.D., as can be seen by comparing the accounts. New
Testament writers explicitly disavow myths. Peter declared:
"For we did not follow cleverly devised tales (mythos)
when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus
Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Peter
1:16). Paul also warned against belief in myths (1 Tim. 1:4; 4:7; 2
Tim. 4:4; Titus 1:14).
One of the most telling arguments against the myth
view was given by C. S. Lewis: