Criticism

According to its broad usage the word criticism indicates more than an unsympathetic attack upon what is written in the Scriptures; it reaches out to incorporate analysis and evidence in general, and proves as advantageous in establishing that which is true as it does in detecting error where human error exists. Carelessness obtains in the use of terms which classify criticism. The student is enjoined to give heed to suitable definitions and to conform to the distinctions set forth.

Dr. James Orr has written illuminatingly on this theme in the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia. The following is a quotation from his statement:

So much has been said and written in recent years on "Criticism" that it is desirable that the reader should have an exact idea of what criticism is, of the methods it employs, and of the results it reaches, or believes itself to have reached, in its application to Scripture. Such a survey will show the legitimacy and indispensableness of a truly scientific criticism, at the same time that it warns against the hasty acceptance of speculative and hypothetical constructions. Criticism is more than a description of phenomena; it implies a process of sifting, testing, proving, sometimes with the result of establishing, often with that of modifying or reversing, traditional opinions. Criticism goes wrong when used recklessly, or under the influence of some dominant theory or prepossession. A chief cause of error in its application to the record of a supernatural revelation is the assumption that nothing supernatural can happen. This is the vitiating element in much of the newer criticism, both of the Old Testament and of the New Testament.

Criticism of Scripture ("Biblical criticism") is usually divided into what is called "lower or textual criticism" and "higher criticism"—the latter a phrase round which many misleading associations gather. "Lower criticism" deals strictly with the text of Scripture, endeavoring to ascertain what the real text of each book was as it came from the hands of its author; "higher criticism" concerns itself with the resultant problems of age, authorship, sources, simple or composite character, historical worth, relation to period of origin, etc. The former—"textual criticism"—has a well-defined field in which it is possible to apply exact canons of judgment: the latter—"higher criticism"—while invaluable as an aid in the domain of Biblical introduction (date, authorship, genuineness, contents, destination, etc.), manifestly tends to widen out illimitably into regions where exact science cannot follow it, where, often, the critic's imagination is his only law.

It was only gradually that these two branches of criticism became differentiated. "Textual criticism" for long took the lead, in association with a sober form of Biblical "introduction." The relations now tend to be reversed. "Higher criticism," having largely absorbed "introduction" into itself, extends its operations into the textual field, endeavoring to get behind the text of the existing sources, and to show how this "grew" from simpler beginnings to what it now is. Here, also, there is wide opening for arbitrariness. It would be wrong, however, to deny the legitimate place of "higher criticism," or belittle the great services it is capable of rendering, because of the abuses to which it is frequently liable.—II, 749

To be added to this consideration is the terminology destructive criticism, which refers to the effort made by unsympathetic men who aim at a breaking down of the testimony of the Sacred Text. Too often all Biblical "criticism" is thought to be of this type, destructive rather than constructive. It may, however, be either one or the other.

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