The Higher Critics (Lecture)

The Higher Critics (Lecture)

October 13th, 1997

The title of the sermon could be The Higher Critics, or, as I would entitle it The Unbelieving Half Infidel Higher Critics of the Holy Word of God. That is my title for it.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell 

10-13-97     Lecture 



I have been a pastor and a teacher and an evangelist and a representative of the Word of God.  I have never enjoyed anything that I have ever prepared any more than I have this lecture today. It concerns the phenomenon of the German higher critic.  The title of the sermon could be The Higher Critics, or, as I would entitle it The Unbelieving Half Infidel Higher Critics of the Holy Word of God.  That is my title for it. 

So, let us start off and look at the views of the higher critics.  Three things can certainly be asserted of nearly all, if not all, of these critics.  

They deny the validity of miracles and any miraculous character.  Miracles are considered legendary or mythical.  They deny the reality of prophecy.  Prophecy is called conjecture or coincidence, if not impossible.  They deny the reality of revelation.  They are avowed unbelievers of the supernatural.  The religion of the Old Testament is simply a human religion. 

Besides other faults found with the faith, they declare that the revelation is full of errors.  Many of its Books are declared to be spurious, written by unknown men at later dates than those assigned to them. 

Then, I speak of the critics’ theories.  According to the higher critics, the Pentateuch consists of four completely diverse documents.  They are one, the Jehovist, number two, the Elohist, number three, the Deuteronomist, and number four, the Priestly Code, documents generally designated as J, E, D, and P.  They, ultimately, make the Pentateuch a heap of fragments, joined together by an editor or redactor.  In 1806, DeWitt propounded the view that the Book of Deuteronomy was written in the age of Josiah, 2 Kings 22:8.  Before long, Wette had unreservedly declared the post-Mosaic and post-prophetic origins of the first four books of the Bible.  Then, in succession, came Bleek and Ewald and Hupfeld and Graf and Kuhn and Wellhausen with their views on the non-Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.  For about a century, an influential school of critics deluged the world with articles and volumes attempting to prove that the Pentateuch did not originate during the time of Moses and that most of the laws attributed to him did not come into being until several centuries after his death and, many of them, not until the time of Ezekiel. 

By these critics, the patriarchs are relegated to the realm of myth or dim legends and the history of the Pentateuch, generally, is discredited.  Not only is the Pentateuch discredited, but the rest of the Old Testament is dealt with in a similar manner.  The Psalms are not from the time of David, but from the Maccabean age.  Isaiah was written by a number of authors.  Daniel was a purely pseudonymous work, written in the second century BC, in the time of the Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanies.  They avow that the Bible simply does not contain the Word of God.  In many of its parts, it is just as uncertain as any other book.  It is not even reliable history.  Its records of ordinary history are full of falsifications and blunders. 

The conclusions of the more advanced school of critics are generally accepted and once for all settled, with the result, in my judgment at any rate, that the Old Testament is irreparably lowered from the place it once held in our reverence.  Its entire history down to about the time of the kings is largely resolved in myths and legends and questions.  It is ruled out of the category of history proper.  Now, that is the summation of what these critics believe and what they teach. 

Before we go on, does anyone have any comments you would like to make?  Anything? 

[Student comment] 

That’s right.  The Christian faith has mostly died in Western Europe. 

One time, I visited the biggest, most resplendent cathedral in Eastern Europe, located in Moscow.  It is St. Isaac’s Cathedral.  And when I went through the Cathedral the entire thing was given over to a presentation of the atmospheric world above us and, especially, to the Russian cosmonauts.  You would not know that it had anything to do with religion much less the Sabbath.  My wife and I went to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  That’s the second largest cathedral in the world.  St. Peter’s in Rome is the biggest and St. Paul’s in London is next.   

So, we sat there and an audience of imagine about thirty-five or so.  And they were all tourists, it seems to me.  And we sat there.  And the Dean of the Cathedral climbed up into that high, high pulpit.  And he preached his sermon.  And the sermon was The Possibility of the Extinction of the Great Whales in the North Atlantic.  That’s what the people heard when they went to church.  And I could go on and on and on and on.  The Christian faith is dying in the Western world.  And I don’t have time to continue with this.  But, that’s where you come from.  That’s why you’re here.  And that’s why we have this wonderful school. 

Any other comments before I go on? 

I turn now to our answer to the critics.  We look upon these infidel liberals and their unbelief with honest eyes.  What do they say, and why?  First, we’re going to talk about their ideas about the Pentateuch.  

These critical scholars look upon the Pentateuch as actually written by a number of people whom they call J, E, D, and P.  Throughout the Old Testament Darwin’s biological theory is to be applied to the Jewish faith.  Yahweh is a tribal god.  The four Gospels were not written by the four men in which they are named.  The Gospels do not give witness to the truth.  The truth is to be found in the findings of higher criticism on the part of modern man. 

Miracles did never occur.  The substitutionary death of Christ and His resurrection are not compatible with modern science.  The ascension is, obviously a direct contradiction of auto-physics.  Christ coming again does not agree with the received philosophy and should be looked upon with dismay.  The rest of the Scripture is no less discarded. 

So, we’re going to look at the Pentateuch.  There are three, among others, very remarkable peculiarities of the Pentateuch which are incompatible with these modern theories of their composition.  The first is the absence of the name "Jerusalem" from the Pentateuch.  On the traditional views the absence presents no difficulty.  The fact that Beth-El, Hebron and other shrines are named, while Jerusalem is not, which verily mean that other shrines the patriarchs had built their altars, while at Jerusalem they had not.  But, from the modern view of these critics, which holds that the Pentateuch was, in great part, composed to glorify the priesthood in Jerusalem and that the Book of Deuteronomy, in particular, was produce to establish Jerusalem as a central and only acceptable shrine for the worship of Israel, the omissions seem very strange indeed.  The conclusion is inescapable.  At the time the Pentateuch was written, Jerusalem, with all her sacred glories, had not yet entered into the life of Israel.  

That’s the first remark; you won’t find Jerusalem in the Pentateuch.  And the reason was there was no such thing as the revelation that you find in the Pentateuch. 

All right.  A second remarkable peculiarity is the absence of any mention of any sacred song from the Pentateuch.   That is a strange omission this would be if the priestly code, which defines the duties of the Levites, hadn’t been composed in post-Exilic times, when Levitical singers formed a leading part of the ritual. 

Then the third remarkable peculiarity is the absence of the divine title "Lord of Hosts" from the Pentateuch.  Before the time of Samuel, the title is never used.  After his time, it is used some two hundred eighty-one times.  Why is it missing from the Pentateuch?  It is an unmistakable mark that the Pentateuch could not have been composed in the way asserted by the critics.  It would have been a literary impossibility for such a number of writers, extending over hundreds of years, to have, one and all, never by accident slipped into the use of this divine title for Jehovah the Lord of Hosts.  It was so much in vogue during those centuries.  The reason is obvious, the Pentateuch was written before any of these features came into use.  Isn’t that something? 

Now I have a discussion here concerning no agree among these critics?  Do these critics then, to ask the least of them agree with one another.  Far from it.  To be sure, they unanimously deny the inspiration of the Bible, the divinity of Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the fall of man, and the forgiveness of sins through Christ.  Also, they deny prophecy and miracles, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment and heaven and hell.  So, when it comes to their pretendedly sure results, not any two of them affirm the same things.  And their numerous publications create a flood of disputable, self-contradictory and naturally destructive hypotheses. 

The defender of the Moses authorship of the Pentateuch has no occasion to quail in the presence of the critics who deny the authorship of Moses and discredit its history.  He may boldly challenge their scholarship, deny their conclusions, resent their arrogance, and hold onto his confidence in the well-authenticated historical evidence, which suffice for those who first accepted it. 

The liberal thinks it is not enough to look upon God as the Creator, as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, or the sovereign God of love and grace.  According to the critics God is to be understood as the wholly other or the ground of our being or the ultimate concern or the transcendent reality or the existing factor or the first cause or the universal constant or that something other.  "Whatever else I may think, I simply cannot call Him Father," according to these critics.  

There is a strange tyranny of prophets that occupies the dark heavens of the modern world and the stars in it are Darwin, Marx and Freud.  They dazzle the eyes of the liberal atheist.  Darwin succeeded in dismissing the concept of God, the creator and sustainer of all things.  Karl Marx succeeded in dismissing the God of history, dismissing the idea or concept of God who reigns over all creation.  Freud sought to abolish the concept of the Father God, who cares for His children.  Man is no longer to be seen as a creature, created in the image of God, but as a frightened amateur being who has created a god in his own image. 

The modern unbeliever has no need for God.  We live and move and inhabit a world created by Darwin, governed by Marx and sustained by Freud.  To them, there is no such person as a God of judgment and grace. 

According to the faith of the true church, the Pentecost is one consistent, coherent authentic and genuine composition inspired by God, written by Moses some fourteen hundred [years] before Christ.  It is, moreover, a portion of the Bible that is of paramount importance, for it is the basic stratum of the whole revelation of God, and the introductory section of the Word of God, bearing His authority and given by inspiration of His servant, Moses.  That is our faith.  That is the faith of the church: that all men are sinners and face the judgment of death.  The original sin in the Garden of Eden has been tragically brought to reality in all of our lives. 

That’s what the Bible teaches.  And that’s what we preach and what we believe. 

Anybody want to make a comment? 

The higher critics are a creation of their own.  They are an amazing group of people. 

Now, I have a discussion here of the Bible proof of inspiration.  How does the Bible prove itself to be a divinely inspired, heavenly-given Book, a communication from a Father to His children and, thus, a revelation from heaven itself? 

First, by the fact that, as there is no other sacred book in the world, it condemns man and all his works.  It does not praise either his wisdom, his reason, his art, or any progress that he has made.  But, it represents him as being, in the sight of God, a miserable sinner, incapable of doing anything good and deserving only death and endless perdition. 

In the Garden of Eden the first doubt was cast upon the Word of God.  The serpent denied what God had said.  If He did say it then it was wrong.  The end results of being seduced by such clever denials of God’s sacred Word is to be found in the fallen universe in which we live.  How much better it is to meet Satan with the words of our Lord "It is written, it is written." 

The great themes in Scripture, redemption, reconciliation and regeneration imply the fall of man.  How can you redeem souls that have never been lost or reconcile those who have never strayed away?  In the Garden of Eden, there is no myth, no legend, no religious parable, but an historical place, which saw an historical event.  We are taught in the infallible Word of God that there is a personal Devil, the head of the demons that afflict mankind.  He cannot be removed from Christian thought.  If indeed the Devil is not real who is carrying on his business?  Some say that there is no Devil.  But, who is leading mankind into all the tragedies that face human life and, inevitably, overwhelms all of us with death? 

There is a Devil who is loose in the world.  Sin is a positive force.  And Satan presides over the kingdom of evil.  He leads us to a denial of the truth of the Word of God and makes the revelations of the truth of God meaningless.  We meet him in these higher critics.  If you want to get a good idea of the incarnate Devil, just read those critics, look at them. 

But, when reason undertakes to speak of things entirely supernatural, invisible and eternal, the reasoning in the head of these critics, it talks as a blind man does about colors, discoursing of things about which it can neither know nor can enter into.  And thus, it makes itself ridiculous.  It has not ascended up into heaven.  Neither has it descended into the deep.  And therefore, a purely rational religion is no religion at all. 

These critics understand neither the majesty of Isaiah, the pathos of David’s repentance, the audacity of Moses’ prayers, the philosophical depth of Ecclesiastes nor the wisdom of Solomon, which uttereth her voice in the street.  Ambitious priests, according to them, at a later date than is commonly assigned compiled all these books to which we have alluded.  Also they wrote the Sinaitic Law and invented the whole story of Moses’ life.  That’s what these critics believe and teach.  And they have persuaded our modern world. 

Now, I’m going to speak of the Bible as the Truth and the Word of God.  Is there today, in the midst of criticism and unsettlement, a pivotal doctrine of Holy Scripture for the Christian church and the world?  And if there is, what is that doctrine? 

That is, unquestionably, a very pressing question at the present time.  Is there a book which we can regard as the repository of the true revelation of God and an infallible guide in the way of life and as to our duties to God and man?  That is a question of immense importance to us all.  One hundred years ago, that question hardly needed to be answered among Christian people.  It was universally conceded, taken for granted, that there is such a book, the book which we call the Bible.  Here, it was believed, is a volume which is an inspired record of the whole will of God for man’s salvation. 

Now, a change has come.  There is no disguising the fact that we live in an age when, even within the church, there is much uneasy and distressful feeling about the Holy Scriptures, a hesitancy to lean upon them as an authority and to use them as the weapons of precision that they once were.  The idea of the authority of Scripture is a conception which lies in the Scripture themselves.  The belief in the Holy Scripture was accepted and acted upon by the church of our Lord Jesus Christ from the first.  The Bible itself claims to be an authoritative book and an infallible guide to the true knowledge of God and of the way of salvation. 

Can it be thought that we can get to know a person without talking to and listening to Him?  It is perfectly reasonable to avow that the Lord God, who says "Thus says the Lord," one of the most frequent phrases in the Bible, is the same Lord God who speaks in the Bible and He means exactly what He says.  The Bible is God’s unfolding revelation, disclosing Himself to His people and, through them, to all mankind.  

An example of this persuasion of the infallible Word of God can be found in the writings of any of the early Church Fathers.  You will find their words saturated with references to Scripture.  You will find the Scripture treated in precisely the same way as they are used in Biblical literature of the day, namely, as the ultimate authority in matters on which they speak. 

Now, I’m going to speak of the fact of prophecy.  Again we say, where is there a god or gods a founder of a religion, Confucias, Buddha, or Mohammed, who could, with such certainty, have predicted the future of even his own people?  Or, where is there a statesmen in these times who can foretell what will be the condition of things in Europe one hundred, or even ten, years from now? 

Nevertheless, the prophecies of Moses and his threatened judgments upon the Israelites have been literally fulfilled.  Literally, also, have been fulfilled, although, who at the time would have believed it, the prophecies respecting the destruction of those great ancient cities like Babylon and Nineveh and Memphis.  Moreover, in a literal way has been fulfilled what the prophets David and Isaiah foresaw concerning the last sufferings of Christ, His death on the Cross, His drinking of vinegar, the casting of lots for His garments.  There are also many other prophecies which will be fulfilled literally in the future, such as the promises made to Israel, the final judgment, and the end of the world.  

I guess that I have to pause there.  To speak of my own lifetime, what has happened in my lifetime.  I was born in 1909.  There was no such thing as the State of Israel, absolutely not.  And if anybody outside of the people of God who, when it said there was going to be a State of Israel in Palestine, he would have been looked upon as derelict in judgment and understanding and thought.  Nobody ever thought of such a thing. 

If anybody had said, "The Hebrew language is going to be spoken in our day."  Jeremiah said it would be.  Hebrew was a dead, forgotten language for two thousand five hundred years.  And yet, Jeremiah said, "It’s going to be spoken again."  Well, you go to Israel today, you go over there and look at it.  The State of Israel is alive over there today.  And the Hebrew language is a very vibrant and living language today. 

These are just some of the things that have come to pass in my lifetime, all of which were predicted thousands of years ago. 

The Bible, as we have it, closes in Gospel, an Epistle and Apocalypse, fulfilling all of the revelations of the Old Testament.  There, the circle completes itself with the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.  Here is a structure, a connected story, a unity of purpose extending through this Book, and binding all its parts together.  You will not find in any of the religious books of the world, outside of the Bible, prophecy of the future.  And the reason is obvious.  Had those men who wrote those books made any kind of a prophecy, the years would have proved their ridiculous inanity.  The only place you will find prophecy is in the Bible, just in the Bible.  And there, you find it from beginning to end.  And the Book closes with all the facets of history and human life put together. 

Now, could I make a little aside before I quit?  Here is a little aside.  Liberal theology has never produced a liberal hymnbook.  There is no such thing as a liberal hymnbook.  Only the Jesus Christ of the Scriptures can teach us how to sing.  And only the Lord God of the Old Testament could write a songbook, and just in order to bring it down to date, in the pulpit, I often call it a songbook of Israel.  And only the people of Israel have a hymnbook called the Psalms.  And only the people of God have a hymn book.  There is no such thing as a hymnbook written by the unbelieving, infidel higher critic. 

You sure can stand up there in the pulpit, or before the Sunday school class, or out on the street, or before any court or before any congregation of people, no matter where, anywhere on the earth, you can stand, with great assurance on the solid rock of the inspiration and infallibility of the Word of God.  And that’s a marvelous thing, I can tell you. 

Even when I was a youth, I started preaching when I was 17, pastoring, even when I was a youth, man, alive, stand up there before anybody, everybody, no matter who he was or where he came from, stand up there and open that Bible and just proclaim it with all of the fervor of my soul, never, in any wise, even approaching the thought of apologizing for it or doubting, but just standing up there and reading it and proclaiming it and preaching it and emphasizing it.  And on the basis of the revelation of God in that Book, calling for a turning, a repentance, a confession, a public commitment of your life, and the building of your life and family upon those truths that are found in those sacred pages.  I tell you, you have a marvelous calling and a glorious, glorious administration. 

All right, Dr. Allen. 

[Dr. Allen speaks] 

It would be a privilege for me, if I don’t bore you to death with it. 

I was President of the Southern Baptist Convention.  And I was elected in 1968.  And I was President that year and through to 1969 and in 1970, and we have a rule you know, that you can’t be President for more than two years.  So, in that period of time, I was President of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

I have never been politically inclined, if I can use the word "political" in the sense of being elected.  I have had one devotion in my life, that is to be the pastor of a church.  I have been asked to be the president of three universities.  I have been asked to be the leader of some of these tremendous boards of our denomination and on and on and on.  But, I have never even been even enticed by any in the outside of being the undershepherd of a church. 

I remember, one time, I received a telephone call from Mississippi.  And the man on the other end of the line said that he was the chairman of a committee appointed by the commission over there to select the president for their senior college, their senior university, located right out of Jackson, Mississippi College. 

And he said, "With unanimity, we have chosen you to be the president of our school.  And don’t you give me an answer now," he said.  "You pray about it for two weeks, two weeks.  And at this exact time, two weeks from now, I’ll call you on the phone and you give me your answer, after you’ve prayed."  So, he hung up and I hung up.  And there in the parsonage, in exactly two weeks, the telephone rang.  And I answered the phone and the man on the other end of the line said, "Have you an answer for me?" 

I had no idea of what he was talking about, no idea.  But, I had enough presence of mind to keep him talking, I kept him talking on the telephone.  And as he kept on talking and talking, then it occurred to me that I was to pray for two weeks about being president of that school.  I never bothered God about it at all.  I never mentioned it to Him.  I have had one devotion in all of my life.  And that is to be a pastor, preaching the Word just as loud and as universally as I could. 

Well, anyway, the liberals in our Convention, oh, brother, they started after me.  Good night alive!  And it was led especially by, I’ve forgotten the name of the organization, the professors over there in the Southeastern part of the United States have an organization.  And they are liberal, they are liberal.  And boy, did they get a hold of me.  Oh, dear.  And that’s where that book came from, "Why I Preach That the Bible is Literally True."  It was because of the attacks of those professors over there in the Southeastern part of the United States that I wrote that book. 

Well, let me tell you a good thing that comes out of some of the things that the Devil does.  The Sunday School Board tells me that, if a religious book sells five thousand copies it is looked upon as a great success.  If you write a religious book, and they sell that many copies, why you have done a tremendous thing.  Because of the attack of those professors, that book that I wrote, "Why I Preach That the Bible is Literally True," sold, in the beginning, more than one hundred thousand copies.  And it is still being sold. 

A fellow told me last week that, I had forgotten this, but, the Sunday School Board had chosen twelve classics, they call them classics, and the number two classic is that book "Why I Preach That the Bible is Literally True." 

Ah, it is a privilege to stand up there, as a God-called man, and on the basis of the revelation of the God of heaven, revealed to us in these places in His Word.  Ah.  What a glorious privilege it is.  And God bless you as you do it. 

All right, son. 

[Student question] 

It was due to this higher critical attack on the Bible, German higher criticism.  Until that time, until then, we’re talking about the last century, until that time, it was practically unknown that anyone doubted the Word of God. 

[Student question] 

Even in the 1800’s, I’m talking about the 1800’s.  The influence of the German higher critics was unbelievable.  And that occurred in the 1900’s, those German higher critics, over there in those universities in Germany.  Until then, it was just unknown that anyone would attack the Bible, the Word of God. 

All right. 

[Student question] 

Yes, it does.  Son, I think, in my humble persuasion, that, of all things that a preacher ought to be he ought to be bold, I mean bold, in his declaration of the revelation of God and the truth of God in that pulpit.  And confront the whole world with it, I mean, the whole creation, "This is what God says.  And this is the revelation of God.  And on the basis of that revelation, the inspired, infallible Word of the Lord, on the basis of that revelation, this is what we ought to do, and this is what we ought to be."  And if a man will do that, I tell you, it is something.  It gives you, just to listen to it is a benediction.  Oh, dear.  This mealy-mouthed apologetic approach to the faith and to the Word of the Lord is, above all things, distasteful and unthinkable.  If you’ve been called of God to be a preacher, that’s what you’re called to do. 

"In those days came John the Baptist kerussō", kerussō in the wilderness of Judea, called of God, kerussō, proclaiming, avowing, just presenting the truth of God.  Of course in the faith it was John the Baptist presenting, introducing the Lord Jesus.  You ought to be that way.  I love that word kerussō.  John the Baptist "preaching," it has been translated, proclaiming, avowing.  And you do that.  Just stand up and boldly, boldly present the truth of God. 

All right, daughter. 

[Student question]

That’s right.  Yes. 

Well, sweet child, I do not know of anything that gives you assurance as standing on the Word of the Lord, "Thus saith the Lord," and just proclaim it vigorously. 

[Student question] 

One of the things that has been thrown up, you know, is we don’t have a copy of the original.  So, these copies we have of Holy Scripture can be full of all kinds of error and mistakes, and on and on and on.  Just looked upon as a human Bible. 

Now, you listen to this.  And as long as you live, you remember it.  Our Lord never had the originals of Holy Scripture.  They had been lost for, the Lord only knows, how many centuries before His day.  Yet, the Lord presented and avowed this Scripture.  "The Scripture cannot be broken."  And the Lord used it.  He never used an original.  He never saw an original, not in His lifetime and His humanity.  The Book that the Lord had for Scripture was a book of translation.  And he looked upon that as Holy Scripture, which could never be broken. 

Now, you remember that when you preach.  You don’t have a copy of the original.  You don’t need it.  You don’t have to have it.  You have this here, the translation of that original revelation of God.  And when you preach it, you’re preaching under divine inspiration.  It’s the Word of God.  And that surely is a comfort to know.