Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 17, 1956

"Does It Endanger Faith In Christ?

J. W. McGarvey

Professor Peckham, Editor Garrison and President Jenkins, in answering the third question propounded to them by Principal MacDougall, unite in denying that the study of higher criticism has a tendency to undermine faith in the Bible, in God or in Christ. I have fully disposed of this denial as respects the Bible, and I now consider it with respect to faith in Christ. I will begin by quoting against these gentlemen the opinions of men whom they will acknowledge as their superiors in acquaintance with this subject.

Dr. A. Kuenen, acknowledged on all sides to be one of the ablest masters of modern criticism, saw such antagonism between it and the teachings of the New Testament, that he gave utterance to the following very emphatic declarations: "We must either cast aside as utterly worthless our dearly bought scientific method, or must forever cease to acknowledge the authority of the New Testament in the realm of the exegesis of the new." (Prophets and Prophecy in Israel p. 487) If this antagonism is such that to acknowledge the authority of the New Testament would render the dearly bought scientific method utterly worthless, it is because retaining the scientific method involves a rejection of the authority of the New Testament; that is, the authority of Jesus and his apostles. This consequence Kuenen accepted in its full force, being an avowed unbeliever in the New Testament, and he would have regarded as a piece of extreme folly the declaration of my three 'antagonists that the acceptance of his dearly bought scientific method does not endanger faith in Christ. This method was employed by him for the very purpose of undermining this faith. Who is the better judge of it, he or these three recent converts to it?

Prof. W. Robertson Smith, the first champion of this "dearly bought scientific" method in Great Britain, though not an unbeliever in Christ as Kuenen was, held a similar opinion as to the danger in it, and he expressed his opinion in the following words, quoted with approval by Andrew Harper, another eminent advocate of this method: "To the ordinary believer the Bible is precious as a practical rule of faith and love in which God still speaks directly to the heart. No criticism can be otherwise than hurtful to faith if it shakes the foundations with which the simple Christian turns to the Bible, sure that he can receive every message which it brings to his soul as a message from 'God himself." (Harper on Deuteronomy pp 2, 24.) Such a Christian can not possibly receive every message which the Bible brings as a message from God himself, if he is led to believe that many of these messages are from man and not from God.

Prof. Chas. A. Briggs, who, in his famous advocacy of this scientific method when on trial before the New York Presbytery and the general Assembly, did more than any other American student to bring it before the American people, expressed himself even more emphatically on this point than did Robertson Smith. As his confidence in the method was not inferior to that of either Smith or Kuenen, he had no fear that its "assured results" would be set aside; but he did fear that faith in Christ would be overturned if those opposing this method should persevere in arraying against it the testimony of Christ. He nervously exclaimed:

"Those who still insist upon opposing higher criticism with traditional views and with the supposed authority of Jesus Christ and his apostles do not realize the perils of the situation. Are they ready to risk the divinity of Christ, the authority of the Bible and the existence of the church, upon their interpretation of the words of Jesus and his apostles? Do they not see that they throw up a wall that will prevent any critic who is an unbeliever from ever becoming a believer in Christ or in the Bible." (Biblical Study p. 196)

I might pause here, and leave the reader to decide between these four masters in the realm of higher criticism. And the three "leading ministers and educators who have rallied to the defense of Principal MacDougall, and have openly assailed the views advocated by me in the "Christian Standard" for a dozen years, but I prefer to go on and show some of the reasons which have led these eminent critics to their conclusions.

It is a self-evident proposition that the belief of anything contradictory to statements made by Jesus undermines faith in him: and he who accepts the results of this form of criticism does believe a multitude of things that are thus contradictory.

Jesus says that in the beginning God made "a male and a female, and said, for this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife." Higher criticism denies that he did the former or said the latter. Jesus said to the Jews. "Moses for the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives." Higher criticism says that Moses had nothing to do with the giving of this law. Jesus says that in the days of Noah "they ate, they drank, they married and were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all." Higher criticism says that the story of the flood is untrue and self-contradictory. Jesus says that in the days of Lot "they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded: but in the day, that Lot went out of 'Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all." Higher criticism denies that this event took place. Jesus warned his disciples with the remark, "Remember Lot's wife." Higher criticism denies the truth of the story of Lot's wife. Jesus says that Moses gave Israel the law; higher criticism says that this is not true. Jesus says that the command to the healed leper that he should show himself to a priest and offer certain gifts, was given by Moses. Higher criticism says that this command was given long after Moses was dead. Jesus said, "Moses wrote of me." Higher criticism says he did no such thing. Jesus says that David by the Spirit wrote the 110th Psalm. Higher criticism says that it was not written by David. Jesus says that Jonah was three days and nights in the bowels of the great fish. Higher criticism says that this is not true. Jesus says that the Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah. Higher criticism denies that they did.

In the light of these contradictions, it is in the highest degree absurd to affirm That teaching higher criticism to young men cannot endanger their faith.

But these brethren have doubtless in mind a saving clause by which they think that the words of Jesus in these instances can be explained in such a way as to remove the contradictions. This has been tried again and again, to the disgust of such scholars as Kuenen and his compeers. Not one of them can be so explained without explaining it away; and those who make the attempt prove themselves less candid and far less logical than the radical critics who declare that it can not be done. If any man doubts this, I invite him to read what I have written on this topic in my work on Deuteronomy. Professor Briggs has made the most elaborate attempt of the kind which I have seen, and I should be glad to meet with the man who has the courage to attempt a defense of that scholar against my exposure of his sophistry. If I were to extend these specifications to the instances in which the apostles are contradicted in the same way, I would probably quadruple the number of them. And it must not be forgotten that no man can retain faith in Christ who rejects the testimony of his apostles: for he himself said to them, "He who rejects you rejects me."

Having treated the subject thus far theoretically I close by dealing with it experimentally. It is well known that his precious "scientific method" originated in Germany, and that our American critics have learned all they know about it from the Germans. Now it so happens that in taking the census of population of Germany, it is customary to put down with the name of every adult his religious belief. J. J. Lias, one of the ablest writers on this subject in Great Britain, says respecting the period in which discussion on this subject was most rife in Germany: "A statement has been widely circulated in the public press that the number of persons in Germany who this year (1893) declared themselves to be of no religion, is fourteen times as great as in 1871. Is there no connection between this fact and the manner in which German criticism has treated the Bible?" (Principles of Biblical Criticism" p. 216.)

It is amazing to me that anyone who is acquainted with these farts and considerations — and no one who is not thus acquainted has a right to give advice on the subject-can advise our young Brother MacDougall, who has been teaching higher criticism in his school, with the aid of such books and Professor Kent's, to go on in this way. It is to be hoped that his eyes will be opened and that he will desist from it before his school becomes a pesthouse and is deserted by men of faith.