History

HISTORY. God often has been isolated from history or too closely linked with it. Marx refused even to consider divine activity in history because history is the outcome of matter in motion. Many of the theological existentialists so link God with what they call holy history that He is uninterested in the historical events resulting from human action. Others invert Biblical ideas. Providence is replaced by progress, eternity by time and a millennium by an earthly Utopia brought about by human activity in a secular setting. The Bible, however, links the events of salvation with empirically verifiable history except for creation (Heb 11:3) and the final consummation of history (2 Pet 3).

The Bible and definition of history.

History may be defined as events in time and space that have social significance. This was the earlier meaning of the Ger. word for history, geschichte. The Bible indicates that the coming of Christ to earth in the home of Joseph is to be linked with history (Gal 4:4; John 1:14, 18). History in this sense is absolute, occurring only once in time and space, and cannot be directly studied by the historian as the scientist can study his data.

If we follow Thucydides’ use of the word historia, from which our word “history” is indirectly derived, and consider it as the documents, remains or relics of historical action or as research upon those events through these remains, then Biblical writers think of history in this sense too. Luke in the prologue to his gospel makes the claim that he used both secondary narratives and firsthand accounts by eyewitnesses of the life of Christ (Luke 1:1, 2). In the third v. he describes how he did research upon the data to write his gospel in a manner similar to that of the modern historian. If history is defined as literary reconstruction of the past to record the events by the study of documents, Luke, in 1:4, suggests that this is his objective. The Bible seems to emphasize history as events relating the acts of God to the acts of men, but history as document, research, or reconstruction is also given consideration.

The Bible and the writing of history.


His use of the word parakolouthêo in v. 3 suggests the idea of careful personal investigation of documents and eyewitnesses to reconstruct the events. The word “accurate” also suggests his care in the testing and use of material. Paul uses the aorist historēsai in Galatians 1:18 to suggest that like Luke he carefully queried Peter to get exact information about the life and deeds of Christ. These things suggest that Biblical writers were as careful as modern writers in their methodology in writing history.

These writers recognized that, while God claims that some truth is His alone, other truth concerning historical events has been given to men (Deut 29:29; Amos 3:7). Luke, esp. in v. 4 of his prologue, believed that facts drawn from records of the events should be related in an orderly synthesis which would yield meaning, certainty or truth concerning the matter under investigation.

Biblical writers such as Paul (1 Cor 10:6, 11) and Peter (2 Pet 2:16) believed that a good historical reconstruction of past events should have moral value in helping one to avoid the mistakes and sins of the past. Paul also asserts in Romans 15:4 that written history will have a positive function. History in their opinion has a didactic moral or intellectual function in life by helping to make a man better and wiser.

The Bible and the meaning of history.

The historian may be scientific in his method of gathering and evaluating documentary evidence concerning past events, but engages in what is philosophic work when he asks what meanings his carefully gleaned facts have. If, as it may be defined, philosophy is an attempt to find a unifying principle by which events can be integrated and related to ultimate meaning, then the Bible is also philosophic and has an underlying philosophy of history which all the writers hold in common. Both the secular and the divine history are related to the historical process.

Some writers, e.g. Oswald Spengler, think of history as cyclical, deterministic, and lacking any progress. Others in the liberal tradition of the Renaissance and Enlightenment are so sure man can make progress in history by his own efforts that they replace the treadmill or cycle of history with an escalator or spiral or upward-moving graph to picture their belief in progress by the efforts of perfectible man. Theological existentialists, who accept the universality of sin, are not so optimistic, but do have confidence that God will bring an end to history outside history. Evangelicals prefer to take their stand with the Biblical writers who were pessimistic optimists rather than pessimists or optimists in their interpretation of history.

The source of history.



Both in the creation of the universe and man many Biblical writers reveal their belief that the preëxistent Christ was the divine agent of God the Father (John 1:4; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2, 3). Christ is neither an indifferent transcendent Creator nor enmeshed in pantheistic fashion in His creation. History is a linear process moving to a meaningful end under the divine guidance rather than a meaningless series of cycles or an evolutionary escalator to progress. God and Christ are also considered to be the source of moral values to enlighten conscience after the Fall (John 8:9; Rom 2:15).

This is not to say that the Biblical writers ignore the role in history of secondary horizontal factors, such as geography, economics, or great men. Moses and later Christ recognize the role of the economic factor in history as a secondary or contingent, but never as a final cause (Deut 8:3; Matt 4:4; 1 Thess 4:11, 12). These factors all have their proper subordinate role.

The scope of history.

The Biblical writers, unlike Hegel who limited the divine in history to his ideal monarchical Protestant Prussian state, or Marx who looked to the chosen proletariat to achieve a workers’ Utopia, look upon history as a universal and unitary process which involved the human race rather than any chosen segment of it. All are linked with Adam as the head of the race (Acts 17:26; Rom 5:12-19).


Man is not only finite (Ps 115:16) as a created being but is also fallen and fallible. He is subjected to the pressures of Satan, the world around him and the tendency of his fleshly nature to evil (Eph 2:2, 3; 1 John 2:15, 16). This tragic flaw makes progress by man impossible except in limited areas of technical and scientific progress. Biblical realism is thus opposed to the optimistic monism of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and modern Liberalism. Modern history with its Stalins and Hitlers demonstrates that man can be demonic and defiant.

The scheme of history.

1. Paul considers the scheme, or course, or pattern of history to be controlled by the divine sovereignty (Rom 11:36; Eph 4:6). God is transcendent to nature but manifests His power in it as Providence. Man profits by the uniformity of nature. Whether nature is good or bad, it is sustained in its course by divine power (Job 12:10; Col 1:17; Heb 1:3). Natural calamities may come, but to Biblical writers they are the result of interim judgment of God in history to bring man to repentance (Joel 1:4; 2:23-26). Others may come because human sin violates the divine order in nature by ravishing the soil or denuding the hills of their forest cover. It is this uniformity of nature under divine Providence that provides a basis for science.


God also is pictured as the sovereign controller of the events of history and particularly the affairs of the three most significant groups in Scripture, the Gentile nations, the Jews and the Church (1 Cor 10:32). Daniel links spiritual beings with historical events in the history of nations (Dan 10:13, 21; 12:1).






The solution of history.

God is also linked in the Scriptures with the solution of history at its end as well as with the course of events in time. God challenges pagan gods, according to Isaiah because they cannot foresee the end of history (Isa 41:22; 42:9; 46:10; 48:3; cf. 2 Pet 1:19-21). History is not deterministic cyclic recurrence lacking linear progress or a goal, nor human evolutionary progress to a human Utopia. Instead the Bible pictures history moving to linear consummation by Christ as it earlier moved toward Christ in linear centered time.



This Biblical conception of history does not exclude the secondary horizontal factors of history, such as geography and economics, but relates them as the ultimate cause in a vertical orientation to God. It speaks also to the problem of recurrence in history raised by the Greeks and Spengler and to the problems of continuity and progress that seem to be the dream of modern man. Change and continuity are reconciled in the divine plan for history which is concerned both with secular and religious history without creating a dualism. Both the writers of the OT and NT emphasize eschatological linear direction in history rather than cyclical motion or an indefinite spiral of progress through human activity. God is for them the Creator, Controller and Consummator of history.

Bibliography

R. Niebuhr, Faith and History (1949); K. Lowith, Meaning in History (1949); H. Butterfield, Christianity and History (1950); D. C. Masters, The Christian Idea of History (1962); H. T. Armerding, ed., Christianity and the World of Thought (1968), 147-164; J. W. Montgomery, Where Is History Going? (1969).