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Criticism of the Bible

krit’-i-siz’-m: Criticism in General

I. Divisions

1. Lower or Textual Criticism

2. Higher Criticism


1. Origin of the Science

2. Methods Employed

3. Causes of Error

4. Weighing of Authorities

(1) The Old Testament

Manuscripts and Versions

(2) The New Testament

(a) Manuscripts and Versions

(b) The Western Text

(c) Results


1. The Old Testament

(1) Astruc and Successors

(2) Hupfeld

(3) Graf and Wellhausen

(4) Literary and Historical Grounds of Theory

(5) The Codes

(6) Effects on History, etc.

(7) General Results

(8) Criticism of Theory

2. The New Testament

(1) The School of Baur

(2) Synoptical Criticism

(a) Oral, Documentary, and Dependence Theories

(b) The "Logia"

(c) Two-Source Theory

(d) Authorship--Lukan and Johannine Questions

(3) Modern "Critical-Historical" School

(4) Remaining Writings of New Testament


Criticism in General:

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.

I. Divisions.

1. Lower or Textual Criticism:

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.

2. Higher Criticism:

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.

It is now necessary that these two forms of criticism should be looked at more particularly.

II. Lower or Textual Criticism.

1. Origin of the Science:

We take first lower or textual criticism. There has never been a time when criticism of Scripture--lower and higher--has been altogether absent. The Jews applied a certain criticism to their sacred writings, alike in the selection of the books, and in the settlement of the text. Examples are seen in the marginal notes to the Hebrew Scriptures (Qere and Kethibh). The Fathers of the early church compared manuscripts of the New Testament books, noting their differences, and judging of the books themselves. The Reformers, it is well known, did not accept blindly the judgments of antiquity, but availed themselves of the best light which the new learning afforded. The materials at the disposal of scholars in that age, however, were scanty, and such as existed were not used with much thoroughness or critical discernment. As aids multiplied with progress of discovery, comparison of manuscripts and versions one with another and with patristic quotations, revealed manifold divergencies and it became apparent that, in both Old Testament and New Testament, the text in current use in the church was far from perfect. "Various readings" accumulated. Not a few of these, indeed, were obvious blunders; many had little or no support in the more ancient authorities; for others, again, authority was fairly equally divided. Some were interpolations which had no right to be in the text at all. How, in these circumstances, was the true text to be ascertained? The work was one of great delicacy, and could only be accomplished by the most painstaking induction of facts, and the strictest application of sound methods. Thus arose a science of textual criticism, which, ramifying in many directions, has attained vast dimensions, and yielded an immense body of secure knowledge in its special department.

2. Methods Employed:

The materials with which textual criticism works (apparatus criticus) are, as just said, chiefly manuscripts, versions (translations into other tongues), quotations and allusions in patristic writings, with lectionaries (church service-books), and similar aids. The first step is the collection and collation of the material, to which fresh discovery is constantly adding; the noting of its peculiarities, and testing of its age and value; the grouping and designation of it for reference. A next important task is the complete collection of the "various readings" and other diversities of text (omissions, interpolations, etc.), brought to light through comparison of the material, and the endeavor to assign these to their respective causes.

3. Causes of Error:

More frequently than not errors manuscripts are unintentional, and the causes giving rise to them are sufficiently obvious. Such are the carelessness of scribes, lapses of memory, similarity of sounds (in dictation), or in shape of letters (in copying), wrong dividing of words, omission of a line or clause owing to successive lines or clauses ending with the same word. Intentional changes, again, arise from insertion in the text of marginal notes or glosses, from motives of harmonizing, from the substitution of smoother for harsher or more abrupt expressions--more rarely, from dogmatic reasons.

4. Weighing of Authorities:

Mistakes of the above kinds can generally be detected by careful scrutiny of sources, but a large number of cases remain in which the correct reading is still doubtful. These, next, have to be dealt with by the impartial weighing and balancing of authorities; a task involving new and delicate inquiries, and the application of fresh rules. It does not suffice to reckon numbers; manuscripts and versions have themselves to be tested as respects reliability and value. Through the presence of peculiarities pointing to a common origin manuscripts come to be grouped into classes and families, and their individual testimony is correspondingly discounted. Older authorities, naturally, are preferred to younger but the possibility has to be reckoned with that a later manuscript may preserve a reading which the older manuscripts have lost. Such rules obtain as that, of two readings, preference is to be given to the more difficult, as less likely to be the result of corruption. But even this has its limits, for a reading may be difficult even to the point of unintelligibility, yet may arise from a simple blunder. As a last resort, in cases of perplexity, conjectural emendation may be admitted; only, however, as yielding probability, not certainty.

In the application of these principles an important distinction has to be made between the Old Testament and the New Testament, arising from the relative paucity of material for critical purposes in the one case, and the abundance in the other. The subject is treated here generally; for details see articles on LANGUAGES OF THE OLD TESTAMENT; LANGUAGE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT; TEXT AND MANUSCRIPTS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.

(1) The Old Testament:

Manuscripts and Versions:

In the Old Testament, textual criticism labors under the peculiar disadvantage that, with one minute exception (a papyrus fragment of the 2nd century, giving a version of the Decalogue), all known Hebrew manuscripts are late (the oldest not going beyond the 9th century AD); further, that the manuscripts seem all to be based on one single archetype, selected by the rabbis at an early date, and thereafter adhered to by copyists with scrupulous care (compare G. A. Smith, OTJC, 69 ff; Driver, Text of Sam, xxxvii ff; Strack, however, dissents). The variations which these manuscripts present, accordingly, are slight and unimportant. For a knowledge of the state of the text prior to the adoption of this standard, criticism is dependent on comparison with the versions--especially the SEPTUAGINT (which see), with the SAMARITAN PENTATEUCH (which see), and with parallel passages in the Old Testament itself (e.g. in Samual, Kings, Chronicles). Frequent obscurities in the Hebrew text, with undeniable discrepancies in names and numbers, show that before the fixing of the text extensive corruption had already entered. A simple instance of mistake is in Isa 9:3, where the King James Version reads: "Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy." The context shows that the "not" is out of place: the Revised Version (British and American) therefore rightly reads (with the Hebrew Qere: the sounds are similar), "thou hast increased their joy." In the Septuagint the divergences are often very great in order, arrangement, and readings; there are extensive interpolations and omissions (in Jeremiah, Graf reckons that 2,700 words of the Massoretic text are omitted); evidences, where the alterations are not of design, that the Hebrew manuscripts employed by the translators often differed widely from those approved in Palestin. The Samaritan recension likewise exhibits considerable differences.

It does not follow that, where difference exists, these rival texts are to be preferred to the Massoretic. Few, since the exhaustive examination of Gesenius, would affirm the superiority of the Samaritan to the Hebrew; even in regard to the Septuagint the trend of opinion seems increasingly in favor of the text of the Massoretes (compare Skinner, "Genesis," International Critical Commentary, xxxv-xxxvi). There is no need, however, to maintain the general superiority of the above texts to the Massoretic to be convinced that, in many instances, the Septuagint, in some cases, probably, even the Sam, has retained readings from which the Massoretic Text has departed. Old Testament criticism has, therefore, a clear field for its labors, and there can be little doubt that, in its cautious application, it has reached many sound results. Less reliance can be placed on the conjectural criticism now so largely in vogue. Dr. G. A. Smith has justly animadverted on the new textual criticism of the poetical and prophetical books, "through which it drives like a great plowshare, turning up the whole surface, and menacing not only the minor landmarks, but, in the case of the prophets, the main outlines of the field as well" (Quarterly Review, January, 1907). This, however, trenches on the domain of the higher criticism.

(2) The New Testament:

In the New Testament the materials of criticism are vastly more abundant than in the Old Testament; but, with the abundance, while a much larger area of certainty is attainable, more intricate and difficult problems also arise. The wealth of manuscripts of the whole or parts of the Greek New Testament far exceeds that existing for any other ancient writings (Nestle mentions 3,829: 127 uncials and 3,702 cursives: Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the Greek New Testament, English translation, 34-35, 81); the manuscripts of versions (excluding the Vulgate, reckoned by thousands), are likewise very numerous.

(a) Manuscripts and Versions:

Greek manuscripts are usually divided into uncials and cursives (or minuscules) from the character of the writing; the oldest uncials go back to the 4th and 5th centuries. The five chief, that alone need be named, are the Codex Sinaiticus (4th century), the Codex Vaticanus (B, 4th century), the Codex Alexandrinus (A, 5th century), the Codex Ephraemi (C, 5th century), the Codex Bezae (D, Gospels and Acts, Greek and Latin, 6th century). These manuscripts again are grouped according to affinities (Bengel, Griesbach, Lachmann, are here chief precursors; Westcott and Hort, chief modern authority), Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus (B) going together as representing one type of text, in the opinion of Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek the best (the so-called "Neutral"); Codex Bezae (D) representing a "Western" text, with marked peculiarities; A and C exhibiting mixed texts. The VSS, in turn, Syriac, Old Latin, Egyptian (originating with 2nd and 3rd centuries), present interesting problems in their relations to one another and to the Greek manuscripts Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, and Codex Bezae. With the Syriac versions (Sinaitic, Curetonian, Peshitta), Tatian’s Diatessaron, or Harmony of the Gospels, ought to be mentioned. Formerly the Peshitta was taken to be the oldest Syriac version (2nd century); now, especially since the discovery of the Lewis (Sinaitic) palimpsest, it tends to be regarded as a later revision of the older Syriac texts (probably by Rabula of Edessa, beginning of the 5th century). The Old Latin, also the old Syriac, manuscripts show marked affinities with the text of Codex Bezae (D)--the "Western" type.

(b) The Western Text:

The question chiefly exercising scholars at the present time is, accordingly, the relation of the Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in the Greek text based on Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus to the Western text represented by Codex Bezae, but now finding early support from the Old Latin and Syriac, as well as from quotations in the 2nd and 3rd Fathers. The Western text is discounted by Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek for its para-phrastic character, and "astonishing freedom" in changing, inserting and omitting (Westcott-Hort, 122 ff); yet, on internal grounds, certain important omissions in this text of the last three chapters of Luke are accepted by these authorities as representing the purer text, the rejected readings being termed "non-Western interpolations." A newer school, however, is disposed to accept the Western readings, as, to a much larger extent than was formerly supposed, the more original; while some writers, as Blass, Nestle, in part Zahn (compare Nestle, op. cit., 324 ff), seek a solution of the difference of texts in theory of two editions (Blass, Luke and Acts; Zahn, Ac alone). This theory has not met with much acceptance, and the problems of the Western text must still be regarded as unsolved. The question is not, indeed, vital, as no important doctrine of the New Testament is affected; but it touches the genuineness of several passages to which high value is attached. E. g. the words at the Supper, "which is given for you," etc. (Lu 22:19,20, not in D), are excluded by Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek as a non-Western interpolation; while the passage on the angel and the bloody sweat (Lu 22:43,14 in both Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Bezae), and the first word on the cross, "Father, forgive them," etc. (Lu 23:34, in Codex Sinaiticus, omitted by Codex Bezae (D) and the Sinaitic Syriac), are rejected as Western interpolations. The Revised Version (British and American) retains these passages with marginal note.

(c) Results:

As respects results, it may be said generally that the labors of a long line of scholars have given us a New Testament text on which, in nearly all essential respects, we can safely rely. Others, it is to be owned, take a less sanguine view (compare Nestle, op. cit., 227 ff). The correct reading seems undeniably settled in a large majority of cases. The the Revised Version (British and American) embodies most of the assured results; doubtful cases are noted in the margin. Among passages long known to be interpolations, now altogether removed, is that on the three witnesses in 1Jo 5:8. The two longest passages noted as not belonging to the original text are the last 12 verses of Mr (16:9-20), and the story of the woman taken in adultery (Joh 7:53-8:11).

III. Higher Criticism.

The scope of the higher criticism has already been indicated. Many of the inquiries it undertakes were formerly covered by what was called Biblical introduction; the flight of the newer science, however, is bolder, and the problems it seeks to solve are more complicated and far-reaching. An important part of its work is the analysis of books, with the view of determining their component parts (e.g. the J, E, P, D, of the Pentateuch), the age, origin, and characteristics of each, their connection with external conditions and the state of belief and life of the time. The nature of its task will be better understood from a rapid survey of its procedure.

1. The Old Testament:

Higher criticism began, mainly, with the Old Testament. Already in the 2nd century, Gnostics assailed the Old Testament as the work of an inferior deity (the Demiurge), and heretical Ebionites (Clementine Recognitions and Homilies) declared it to be corrupted with false prophecy. In the 17th century Spinoza prepared the way in his Tractatus (1670) for future rationalistic attacks.

(1) Astruc and Successors.

The beginning of higher criticism in the stricter sense is commonly associated with the French physician Astruc, who, in his Conjectures, in 1753, drew attention to the fact that, in some sections of Genesis, the Divine name employed is "Elohim" (God), in others, "Yahweh." This he accounted for by the use of distinct documents by Moses in the composition of the book. Eichhorn (1779), to whom the name "higher criticism" is due, supplemented Astruc’s theory by the correct observation that this distinction in the use of the names was accompanied by other literary peculiarities. It soon became further evident that, though the distinction in the names mostly ceased after the revelation of Yahweh to Moses (Ex 3:6), the literary peculiarities extended much farther than Gen, indeed till the end of Jos (Bleek, 1822; Ewald, 1831; Stahelin, 1835). Instead of a "Pentateuch," recognized as of composite authorship, there was now postulated a "Hexateuch" (see Pentateuch; Hexateuch). Meanwhile De Wette (1805-6), on grounds of style and contents, had claimed for De an origin not earlier than the reign of Josiah. "Fragmentary" theories, like Vater’s, which contributed little to the general development, may be left unnoticed. A conservative school, headed by Hengstenberg (1831) and Havernick (1837), contested these conclusions of the critics, and contended for the unity and Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch Bolder spirits, as Vatke (1835), anticipated the conclusions of the newer critical school in declaring that the Levitical laws were latest of all in origin. Their voices were as yet unheeded.

(2) Hupfeld. A distinct advance on preceding theories was made by Hupfeld (1853; in part anticipated by Ilgen, 1789). Hitherto the prevailing assumption had been that there was one fundamental document--the so-called Elohistic, dated usually in the age of the Judges, or the time of Saul or David--and that the Yahwistic parts were "supplementary" to this (not a separate document). It was the merit of Hupfeld to perceive that not a few of the sections in the "Elohistic" document did not bear the usual literary marks of that writing, but closely resembled the "Yahwistic" sections in everything but the use of the Divine name. These portions he singled out and erected into a document by themselves (though they bear no signs of being such), while the Yahwistic parts were relieved of their "supplementary" character, and regarded as belonging to a distinct document also. There were thus now 3 documents, attributed to as many authors--the original Elohist, the 2nd or Younger Elohist (E) and the Jahwist (Jahwist). Deuteronomy, as a distinct book, was added to these, making 4 documents in all.

(3) Graf and Wellhausen.

Thus matters stood till the appearance of Graf’s work, The Historical Books of the Old Testament, in 1866, through which something like a revolution in the critical outlook was effected. Following in the track of Vatke, earlier, Reuss, of Strassburg, had taken up the idea that the Levitical legislation could not, as was commonly presumed, be earlier than Deuteronomy, but was, on the contrary, later--in fact, a product of the age of the exile. Graf adopted and developed this theory. He still for a time, while putting the laws late, maintained an earlier date for the Elohistic narratives. He was soon led, however, to see that laws and history must go together; so the whole Elohistic writing was removed from its former place, and brought down bodily to the end of the religious development. Graf, at the same time, did not regard it as an independent document. At first theory was scouted, but gradually, through the able advocacy of Kuenen and Wellhausen--especially the latter--it secured ascendancy, and is now regarded as the critical view paragraph excellence. Order and nomenclature of the assumed documents were now changed. The Elohist, instead of standing first, was put last under the designation P or Priestly Code; Wellhausen’s symbol for this writing was Q. Its date was taken to be post-exilian. The Jahwist becomes J; the Elohist becomes E. These are placed in the 9th or 8th centuries BC (circa 850-750), but are supposed to have been combined a cent or so later (JE). Deuteronomy, identified with the law-book found in the temple in the reign of Josiah (2Ki 22), is thought to have been written shortly before that time. The order is therefore no longer 1st Elohist-Jahwist and 2nd Elohist-D, but J and E-D- P. The whole, it is held, was finally united into the great law-book (Pent) brought by Ezra to Jerusalem from Babylon (458 BC; Ezr 7:6-10), and read by him before the people 14 years later (444 BC; Ne 8).

(4) Literary and Historical Grounds of Theory.

A sketch like the above gives, of course, no proper idea of the grounds on which, apart from the distinction in the Divine names, the critical theory just described is based. The grounds are partly literary--the discrimination of documents, e.g. resting on differences of style and conception, duplicates, etc. (see Pentateuch)--but partly also historical, in accordance with the critic’s conception of the development of religion and institutions in Israel. A main reliance is placed on the fact that the history, with its many sanctuaries up to the time of Deuteronomy, is in conflict with the law of that book, which recognizes only one sanctuary as legitimate (chapter 12), and equally with the Priestly Code, which throughout assumes this centralizing law. The laws of De and Priestly Code, therefore, cannot be early. The prophets, it is held, knew nothing of a Levitical legislation, and refused to regard the sacrificial system as Divine (Jer 7:22 ff).

(5) The Codes:

The code under which older Israel lived was that formulated in the Book of the Covenant (Ex 20-23), which permitted many altars (Ex 20:24 f). The law of Deuteronomy was the product of a centralizing movement on the part of the prophets, issuing in the reformation of Josiah. The Priestly Code was the work of fertile brains and pens of post-exilian priests and scribes, incorporating older usage, devising new laws, and throwing the whole into the fictitious form of Mosaic wilderness legislation.

(6) Effects on History, etc.

The revolution wrought by these newer constructions, however, is not adequately realized till regard is had to their effects on the picture given in the Old Testament itself of Israel’s history, religion and literature. It is not too much to say that this picture is nearly completely subverted. By the leaders of the school (Graf, Kuenen, Wellhausen, Duhm, Stade, etc.) the supernatural element in the history and religion is totally eliminated; even by those who do not go so far, little is left standing. The history of the Pentateuch--indeed the history down to the time of the kings--is largely given up. Genesis is legend, Exodus hardly more trustworthy, Jos a romance. The histories of Samuel and David are "written up" by a theocratic narrator. None of the laws--even the Decalogue--are allowed to be certainly Mosaic. Monotheism is believed to have come in with Amos and Hosea; earlier, Yahweh was a "tribal" God. Ark, tabernacle, priesthood, feasts, as depicted in the Priestly Code, are post-exilic fiction. The treatment accorded to the Pentateuch necessarily reacts on the other historical books; the prophetic literature suffers in an almost equal degree through disintegration and mutilation. It is not Isaiah alone--where the question has long been mooted of the post-exilian origin of chapters 40-66 (see Isaiah); the critical knife is applied with scarcely less freedom to the remaining prophetical books. Few, if any, of the psalms are allowed to be preexilic. Daniel is a work of the Maccabean age.

(7) General Results.

As a general summary of the results of the movement, which it is thought "the future is not likely to reverse," the following may be quoted from Professor A. S. Peake: "The analysis of the Pentateuch into four main documents, the identification of the law on which Josiah’s reformation was based with some form of the Deuteronomic Code, the compilation of that code in the reign of Manasseh at the earliest, the fixing of the Priestly Code to a date later than Ezekiel, the highly composite character of some parts of the prophetic literature, especially the Book of Isaiah, the post-exilian origin of most of the Psalms, and large parts of the Book of Prov, the composition of Job not earlier than the exile and probably later, the Maccabean date of Daniel, and the slightly earlier date of Ecclesiastes" ("Present Movement of Biblical Science," in Manchester, Inaugural Lects, 32).

(8) Criticism of Theory.

The criticism of this elaborate theory belongs to the arts which deal with the several points involved, and is not here attempted at length (compare the present writer’s Orr, The Problem of the Old Testament). The gains that have accrued from it on the literary side in a more exact and scholarly knowledge of the phenomena to be explained (e.g. distinction in the Divine names; distinction of P element in the Pentateuch from that known as JE) are not to be questioned; on the historical and religious sides also much has been done to quicken interest, enlarge knowledge and correct older ideas which have proved untenable--in general, to place the whole facts of the Old Testament in a clearer and more assured light. On the other hand, much even in the literary criticism is subjective, arbitrary and conjectural, while the main hypothesis of the subsequentness of the Levitical law to Ezekiel, with the general view taken of the historical and religious development in Israel, is open to the most serious exception. The Old Testament has its own account to give of the origin of its religion in the monotheism of Abraham, the covenants with the patriarchs, the legislation through Moses, which is not thus readily to be set aside in the interests of a theory resting largely on naturalistic pre-suppositions (see Bible). There is not a word in the history in Ne 8 to suggest that the law introduced by Ezra was a new one; it was received without demur by a deeply divided community as the ancient law of Moses. So with the law of Deuteronomy in the time of Josiah (2Ki 22). Its genuineness was doubted by no one. The position of theory, generally, is by no means so secure as many of its adherents suppose. Internally, it is being pushed to extremes which tend to discredit it to sober minds, and otherwise is undergoing extensive modifications. Documents are multiplied, dates lowered, authors are converted into "schools." Archaeologists, in large majority, declare against it. The facts they adduce tend to confirm the history in parts where it had been most impugned. The new Babylonian school in Germany (that of Winckler) assails it in its foundations. Recently, the successor of Kuenen in Leyden, Professor B. D. Eerdmans, formerly a supporter, has broken with theory in its entirety, and subjects the documentary hypothesis to a damaging criticism. It is too early yet to forecast results, but the opinion may be hazarded that, as in the case of the Tubingen New Testament critical school in last cent referred to below, the prevailing critical theory of the Old Testament will experience fundamental alteration in a direction nearer to older ideas, though it is too much to expect that traditional views will ever be resuscitated in their completeness.

2. The New Testament:

Higher criticism of the New Testament may be said to begin, in a Deistic spirit, with Reimarus (Fragments, published by Lessing, 1778), and, on Hegelian lines, with Strauss (Life of Jesus, 1835). In the interests of his mythical theory, Strauss subjected every part of the gospel history to a destructive criticism.

(1) The School of Baur.

In a more systematic way, F. Baur (1826-60), founder of the famous Tubingen school, likewise proceeding from Hegel, applied a drastic criticism to all the documents of the New Testament. Strauss started with the Gospels. Baur sought firmer ground in the phenomena of the Apostolic Age. The key to Baur’s theory lies in the alleged existence of Pauline and Petrine parties in the early church, in conflict with one another. The true state of matters is mirrored, he holds, not in the Book of Acts, a composition of the 2nd century, written to gloss over the differences between the original apostles and Paul, but in the four contemporary and undoubtedly genuine epistles of Paul, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Roman, and in the Book of Revelation. In these documents the church is seen rent by a schism that threatened its very existence. By and by attempts were made at conciliation, the stages of which are reflected in the Gospels and remaining writings of the New Testament. The Fourth Gospel, about 170 AD, brings up the rear. This theory, which found influential support in the scholarship of the time (Schwegler, Zeller, etc.), could not stand the test of impartial investigation, and is now on all sides discredited. Professor Bacon, in a recent work, pronounces its theory of the Johannine writings to be "as obsolete as the Ptolemaic geography" (Fourth Gospel, 20). Its influence on later criticism has, however, been considerable. (2) Synoptic Criticism.

Meanwhile more sober scholarship was concerning itself with the intricate problem of the relations of the Synoptic Gospels. The problem is a very real one (see Gospels). The three gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are seen on inspection to exhibit an amount of agreement in subject-matter, order, often in language, which cannot be accounted for except on theory of some common source. Suppose the Gospels divided into sections, in 52 of these the narratives coincide, 12 more are common to Matthew and Mark, 5 to Mark and Luke, and 14 to Matthew and Luke, while 5 are peculiar to Matthew, 2 to Mark and 9 to Luke. The verbal agreement is greater in the recital of the words of others, particularly of words of Jesus, than in the narrative portions.

(i) Oral, Documentary, and Dependence Theories:

How is this to be explained? Three forms of theory were early propounded--the oral, the documentary, and the hypothesis of dependence of one gospel upon another. Of these theories, the oldest is the 3rd (Augustine already held that Mark was an abridgment of Matthew and Luke), and to it, in combination with the 2nd, though in reversed order (Mark being put first), it will be seen below that criticism has largely reverted. The oral theory, proposed by Gieseler (1818), has, till recently, been the favorite one in England (Westcott, Alford, etc., with Godet, Pressense, Ebrard, etc., on the Continent). In it resemblances in the three Gospels are explained by an oral tradition assumed to have attained a relatively fixed form while the apostles were yet teaching together in Jerusalem. The documentary theory took its origin with Eichhorn (1794), but in the hands of Marsh (1801), finally in Eichhorn’s own (1804), received so elaborate a development as completely to discredit it. The dependence theory, in turn, went through every possible shape. Gradually, with sifting, certain combinations were eliminated (those which put Luke first, or Matthew last, or made Mark a middle term), till only two remained- -Matthew, Luke, Mark (Griesbach 1789-90, Baur, etc.), and Mark, Matthew, Luke (Weisse, 1838, Wilke, 1838, etc.). The prestige of the Baur school obtained a temporary ascendancy for the former view--that which put Mark last; this, however, has now quite given way in favor of Mark’s priority. There remained a division of opinion as to whether the Mark employed by the other evangelists was the canonical Mark (Weisse, Meyer, B. Weiss, etc.), or an ur-Markus (Holtzmann, Reuss, etc.), but the difficulties of the latter hypothesis proved so insurmountable that Holtzmann finally gave it up.

(ii) The "Logia":

It is obvious, however, that the use of Mark by the other evangelists, even if granted, does not yet completely solve the synoptical problem. There is still to be considered that large mass of matter--chiefly discourses--common to Matthew and Luke, not to speak of the material peculiar to Luke itself. For the explanation of these sections it becomes necessary to postulate a second source, usually identified with the much-canvassed Logia of Papias, and designated by recent scholars (Wellhausen, etc.) Q. It is regarded as a collection of discourses, possibly by Matthew, with or without an admixture of narrative matter (B. Weiss, etc.).

(iii) Two-Source Theory:

This yields the "two-source" theory at present prevailing in synoptical criticism (for a different view, compare Zahn’s Introduction). Matthew and Luke, on this view, are not independent Gospels, but are drawn up on the basis of

(1) Mark and

(2) Q = the Logia, with original material on the part of Luke (see Gospels).

A theory which commands the assent of so many scholars has necessarily great weight. It cannot, however, be regarded as finally established. Many grave difficulties remain; there is, besides, a prima facie improbability in a Gospel like Mark’s being treated in the manner supposed or included among the "attempts" which Luke’s own Gospel was designed to supersede (Lu 1:1-4; compare Wright, Luke’s Gospel in Greek, xiv, xv).

(iv) Authorship--Lukan and Johannine Questions:

With criticism of the sources of the Gospels there goes, of course, the question of authorship. A powerful vindication of the Lucan authorship of the 3rd Gospel and the Book of Ac has recently come from the pen of Professor A. Harnack, who maintains that in this, as in most other points regarding early Christian literature, "tradition is right" (compare his Luke, the Physician, English translation). Outside the Synoptics, the burning question still is the authorship of the Johannine writings. Here also, however, the extreme positions of the Baur school are entirely given up ("It is perfectly apparent," says Professor Bacon, "that Baur mistook the period of dissemination for that of origin," op. cit., 21), and powerful defenses of Johannine authorship have of late appeared (notably Sanday’s Criticism of the Fourth Gospel, and ex-Principal Drummond’s Character and Authorship of the Fourth Gospel).

See Gospel of John.

(3) Modern "Historical-Critical" School.

On the other hand, a new and intensely aggressive radical school has recently come to the front, the so-called "historical-critical," which treats the text and history of the Gospels generally with a recklessness to which no limits can be put. It is even doubted if Jesus claimed to be the Messiah (Wrede). Sayings are accepted, rejected, or mutilated at pleasure. The latest phase of this school is the "Apocalyptic," which finds the essence of Christ’s message in His insistence on the approaching end of the world (compare Schweitzer, Von Reimarus zu Wrede; English translation The Quest of the Historical Jesus). These excesses may be depended on to cure themselves.

(4) Remaining Writings of the New Testament.

For the rest of the writings on the New Testament, the trend of criticism has been in the main in a conservative direction. One by one the Pauline Epistles have been given back to the apostle--doubt chiefly still resting in certain minds on the Pastorals. The Book of Re is restored by most to the age of Domitian, where tradition places it. Its relation to the Fourth Gospel and to John is still in dispute, and some moderns would see in it a groundwork of Jewish apocalypse. These and kindred questions are discussed in the arts devoted to them.


Articles on Text, manuscripts, VSS, of Old Testament and New Testament in Bible Dicts. and Encyclopedias: works on Introduction to Old Testament and New Testament.

On the Old Testament.

S. Davidson, Revision of the English Old Testament; W. R. Smith, Old Testament in the Jewish Church; Wellhausen, Prol to the Hist of Israel (English translation); Kuenen, The Hexateuch (English translation); Oxford Hexateuch according to the Revised Version (British and American); Orr, Problem of the Old Testament, and Bible Under Trial; H. M. Wiener, Essays on Pentateuchal Criticism; W. Moller. Are the Critics Right? (English translation).

On the New Testament.

Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek, Intro; F. G. Kenyon, Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament; Nestle, Textual Crit of the Greek Testament (English translation); Scrivener, Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, 4th edition; K. Lake, The Text of the New Testament; Ebrard, Gospel History (English translation); F. C. Burkitt, The Gospel History and Its Transmission; Sanday, The Life of Christ in Recent Research; Schweitzer, Von Reimarus zu Wrede (English translation: The Quest of the Historical Jesus): A. S. Peake, A Critical Introduction to the New Testament.

See also

  • Biblical Criticism