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A Review of: THE HOAX OF HIGHER CRITICISM WRITTEN BY GARY NORTH

January 15, 2010

By Dr. Gary S. Day

Introduction

Without God’s Word, people cannot be sanctified for it is by His Word that they are sanctified, made saints, and given access to His heavenly sanctuary through prayer and worship.  The Word is the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, the only unchanging Word and “reliable source of ethics and law in history.”

The context of 2 Timothy 3:16 is verses 13-15, and gives the purpose of why verse 16 was written, “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse.” The worsening of the evil continues over time.  The only antidote to them is being steadfast in the teaching of the Scriptures, for these evil men’s aim is to discourage the use of the Word of God by all.

Some of the strategies used have been: 1) the de-emphasizing of the Bible is worship and the substituting of church traditions and the handbooks; 2) the use of “new revelations” that  “update” the Word of God; 3) and in some places, “suppressing the production and sales of the Bible;” and, 4) the production of critical scholarship that attempts to prove that the Bible isn’t saying what it is saying, or is what it is, The Word of God.  In short the attempt is made to make the Bible a hoax.

The language of praise is adopted telling us that while mythical, the Bible deserves an important place in the history of man’s religion, and this is how it is presented in comparative religion and Bible as literature courses in universities and most theological seminaries, including more and more evangelical churches, colleges and seminaries.  Theological liberalism, which debunks the authority of the Bible, leads to relativism, which cannot sustain a society.

The road to this self-destructive position in the West began with the rise of the Enlightenment skepticism, a movement committed to “the rejection of the Bible as the inspired and authoritative Word of God.”   In the 17th century this led to the rooting of Unitarianism (through Socinianism) and Deism which eroded and replaced the Trinitarian doctrine in Christianity in the thinking of the intellectuals and political leaders, beginning with Isaac Newton.  The erosion of Biblical authority furthered more deeply in the 18th century through such men as Voltaire and Hume, with Thomas Jefferson even writing “his own highly expurgated Bible,” originally entitled, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth-Extracted textually from the Gospels.

This is a critical juncture in man’s history, for what will replace the Enlightenment based West and what will the transition cost?   When Elijah asked, ‘How long will you falter between two opinions?  If the Lord is God follow Him, but if Baal follow him.  But the people answered him not a word.”  That silence brought the judgment of fire from the sky.  And the silence of God’s people today may bring fire from the sky by the world, for they are poised to totally destroy the Word of God while Christians stand by in silence, not wanting to rock the boat or be politically incorrect.  The vast majority of the people living today will spend eternity in hell because of the Christian silence about the saving grace of Christ Jesus our Lord.  Christian! Regain your faith in God’s Word!  Begin in the halls of Christian learning acknowledging that “higher criticism is a hoax.”

The Origin of Higher Criticism

In John 5:46-47 Jesus said to the Jewish leaders that they did not believe Him because they did not believe Moses.  Many today, Jews and non-Jews alike, fall into the same category of unbelief.  This unbelief is propelled by unbelieving professors, rather than professors of Christ, in our schools.  It has taken over a century to remove Christians’ confidence in the accuracy of the Bible and this erroneous thought has deeply rooted itself in their hearts and minds.  One of the elements that are despised by these professors is the judgment of hell “upon the sons of disobedience.”  As North puts it, “They comfort themselves while discomforting their Bible-believing students with this syllogism: ‘No permanent Bible, no permanent law; no permanent law, no permanent judgment.’”

The successful assault on Christianity in the late 19th century came from Darwinism and higher criticism of the Bible, most triumphantly by German scholars, but rooted in English Deism.  These men were dedicated to achieve their primary goal; “to discover defects in the existing texts of Scripture, as well as to discover internal inconsistencies in the Bible’s overall message,” in order to discredit the Christian faith.  Higher criticism of the Bible texts is the spiritual legacy of the Enlightenment, which has placed ‘the claims of religion outside the realm of reason—and removed the basis of orthodoxy’s epistemology.’   

James Barr and others recognize the link between social-action and biblical hermeneutics, from the Reformation onwards.  “It was because men sought answers to problems of life and society, as well as of thought and belief, that the Bible stimulated ‘critical’ modes of understanding itself” (see Barr’s “Forward” in Reventlow’s, Authority of the Bible).  Because the Bible allows slavery, for instance, then the Bible couldn’t be the Word of God it was proposed.

English Deism attacked Christianity based upon the faith in Newtonian natural law and because of its hostility to Old Testament law and prophecy.  The idea being, that if you can write off the OT, the NT still could be vindicated through its accord with the law of nature.  This denial of the unity of the Bible, once it became common, would lead to ”the denial of the need for an infallible New Testament in Christianity.”

The Deist attack on the Old Testament was to supplant Biblical law for natural law.  These attacks are “a fundamental aspect of the coming of modern humanist civilization.”  The ethical nature of the intellectual conflict must be understood to understand the history of higher criticism.  The result of the step by step attack by the Deist on the authority of the Bible did join the heritage of antiquity in the form of natural law and stoic thought, to produce a basically new stage in the history of ideas.

Although higher-criticism and humanism has decreased in importance since WWII, North felt compelled to write this volume based upon the renewed interest in the natural dichotomy of thought in the reconstruction of a fundamental Christian worldview and its struggle for unity of vision in the onslaught of men’s loss of faith; for example, the dualisms of OT vs. NT, dominion vs. rapture, culture vs. kingdom, law vs. grace, and many more.  Returning to the problem roots is seen to be a help in the recovery of ethical unity and of a comprehensive world-life view.  Pitting the OT against the NT is the renewal of the early heretical Marcionism.  “The implicit and inescapable dualism of all post-Kantian thought- fact vs. meaning, science vs. ethics…became a growing intellectual problem after the 1880’s,” accelerating liberal intellectual disorientation and becoming apparent by 1963.   The combining of Van Til’s pre-suppositional apologetics, the preliminary recovery of the Puritan vision of the earthly victory of God’s Kingdom, and biblical creationism, have produced a new intellectual perspective called Christian reconstruction.   At the forefront of the reversal of this here-to-fore lost Christian confidence, is the recovery of confidence in the reliability of the whole Bible.  One reason for this confidence is the huge amount of evidence presented to the Christian about the inaccuracy of Darwinism.  North wrote this book to get Christians to recognize that biblical higher criticism is an older inaccuracy that is related philosophically to Darwinism.

The Techniques of Higher Criticism 

2 Pet 1:16

Determining which of the existent manuscripts of the Biblical texts are authoritative belongs to the realm of ‘lower criticism.’  Higher criticism, on the other hand “argues that nothing in the canon of the Bible is what appears to be.”  In a nut shell this is North’s position.   I will not quote in detail, but his understanding of both lower and higher criticism seems to lack a sophistication needed in a work such as this.  When blended with his childish snipes at the higher critics, to prove his points about their error, it is detractive and builds no earnest thinking because of the slurs.    Nevertheless, let us plunge on.

North rightly notes that higher criticism “regard the Bible as a kind of a novel, so they apply to the study of the Bible techniques that are used in the literary criticism of fiction.”  Yet he fails to mention that this was the early approaches, and that the literary critical techniques have gone through layers of change that a mere glossing over would not do justice to in judging this critical genre.  Nor does he adequately explain that ‘criticism’ is not the same as complaint, but means making a judgment.  Another neglected point, on North’s part, is the lack of mention of the number of critical approaches to the Biblical texts that fall into the generic category of “Higher Criticism.”  Some have even been taken up as valid for Biblical examination by the conservative Biblical scholars.  A better title for his book might be “The Hoax of the Literary Critic in Higher Criticism,” for it is only this method of higher criticism that he confronts.

It is true that “the higher critics present the Bible as a poorly assembled patchwork of lies and myths, and then they add insult to injury by arguing that their debunking operation somehow elevates our view of the Bible.”  He cites G. Earnest Wright as an example, who said, “What is important is what this great Lord has done.”  But when pressed to define what exactly God has done the higher critic authors “run for the cover of symbolism and supposed myth, in order to escape the Bible’s detailed account of what God has done.”

The same approach is done in the higher critics view of the Bible as a historical book, unique to the ancient world.  But when considering the Biblical text on subjects such as the flood, the Fall of man, the tower of Babel and the like, “the authors immediately shift their focus away from what the Bible says about God; their shift their concern to what the Hebrews came later to believe about God.”  In other words, the focus shifts from God top man, which of course is the essence of humanism.

The “blanket of hypothetically objective history” of the higher critics must also cover up in its humanistic twisted threads the resurrection of Christ, for the Bible discusses the resurrection and sin in terms of revelation, which becomes a fundamental problem if the resurrection is historical also.  To avoid the problem the resurrection is relegated to  mythic approbations.  The reason for this is, though secular writes write of it, the New Testament reveals the reality of the resurrection to a small portion of the community of faith; and faith is a place where the historian cannot operate because it is too small of a sample.  “Facts available to all men are the only data with which he [the historian] can work, the facts available to the consciousness of a few are not objective history in the historian’s sense,” says G. Ernest Wright  (The Book of the Acts of God: Christian .Scholarship Interprets the Bible, 1957).  Thus the higher critic separates the ‘real happening’ of the crucifixion from the ‘faith-event’ of the resurrection.

The idea that under girds the approach is that God is not an objective fact of history; only man’s recorded thoughts about God are objective facts which can be studied.  Therefore the resurrection was not “an objective fact of history.”  The Bible view of the resurrection is that it is a sufficiently objective fact of history, so much so that Paul proclaimed that if Christ did not rise from the dead, then our faith is in vain.   The New Testament faith, like the Old Testament, is based upon the historical reality of the events.

North clearly points out some things that must be watched for in the interpretation of the Bible events by the higher critics: new terminology that replaces faith based terminology (e.g. the Neo-orthodox); the replacement of God led actions and actions of God with mythic language; the exchange of the God who loves the world and wants to renew a relationship through His Son Jesus Christ, with an unknowing or unknowable God; the replacement of truth with symbol, where the symbol becomes the truth; and the erasure of the judgment of God upon humanity.

The non-spiritual building blocks of the higher critic, “rests on the presupposition that all morality is relative to historical time and place, and that the laws of the Bible…are also relative.”

Concerning the literary critics’ textual criticism, North says they are “circular.”  They reconstruct the literary text to reconstruct the historical past to reconstruct the literary text.  With this reconstruction they set their standards above God’s recorded standards and imagine hundreds of intermediary editors of the Biblical texts over time.  No history is given by North concerning the genesis of literary criticism, which had its beginning when a Frenchman questioned just one thing about a passage in the book of Genesis.

The Ethics of Higher Criticism

2 Tim 3:2-7

Van Til asserted that covenant-breaking [which is] man’s problem is not a lack of knowledge about God; rather it is his lack of obedience to God.  The higher/literary critics blur the universal requirements of God’s holy law.   The weakness of all books or writing that tries to explain moral error in philosophical thought and action is that the things of God are only fully comprehended and apprehended by faith, which the carnal mind does not possess, for it is at ‘enmity with God.’   The mind blinded by myth cannot understand a righteous God, though He reveals a unified ethical system within the Bible.  That is why the higher critic tries to dispose of the unity of the Bible.

The five-step presupposition to the higher critic’s study of the Bible, according to North is:

1. He assumes that the books of the Bible are textually jumbled

2. He tries to prove that the books of the Bible are textually jumbled

3 He assumes that through creative myth-making he can produce a meaningful reconstruction of what the Biblical authors really wanted to say

4. He tries to present a deeper message for the modern man that transcends the Bible’s unfortunately jumbled texts; and

5. He offers his version of the Bible’s true transcendent ethical unity

North is not far off the mark.

The conservative scholar is criticized by North because the secular scholars now pay very little attention to higher criticism’s methods or its findings, while the conservative scholar if pictured as filling their mostly unread journals with modifications of the higher critics’ findings.  My thought when I picked up North’s book to read was, “Why the re-hash?”  But North does present some good reminders…this type of work is an intellectual defense of the faith…against the resurgence of the disregard for the Bible, but too much time is being spent on things that only pass as academic studies in the study of the Bible.

Conclusion

The one fact that North unearths is that the methodology of the literary critic and others of his steed is backed by a cultural milieu called humanism, whose tentacles are shaping the young minds in our colleges and universities to turn from the living God to the god of self.   This falseness which passes as truth must be weeded out of their worldview.  The task of the modern scholar must not be narrowly focused.  The defending of the Bible of the Word of God goes beyond technical issues of textual analysis.  The debate must be taken back to the streets in the social conflicts of the day as it was done in the first Christian century; the Gospel message still changes lives.

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