Former vice-president and professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary, Harold Lindsell, called the Historical-Critical Method (HCM) “the Bible’s greatest enemy.” Why?
Our methods often determine our conclusions. If I investigate life through a pair of upside-down glasses, everything will look upside-down, and I will conclude that the world is upside down. If instead my lens is gray, I’ll conclude that life has a gray tint.
We see life through our lenses – our methodological assumptions and scholarly tools. If methodological naturalism is our guiding lens, natural causation is the only thing we will see. Consequently, we will conclude that all scientific causation is natural and non-intelligent.
Our presuppositions give birth to our conclusions. Regarding the HCM, Grant Osborne, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, writes:
- The truth is that most scholars end up with conclusions remarkably similar to the presuppositions with which they began their study (Lindsell, The Bible in the Balance, 282)
Our starting point is usually our terminus. If we analyze the Bible through the HCM lens, our conclusions will be influenced by this method to the denial of the divinity of the Scriptures. HCM approaches the Bible with the assumption that it can be understood in the same way as any other book - from a strictly human perspective. Hence, the human author writes what he does solely out of human motivations. Consideration of Divine motives or intentions has no place in this analysis. The identification of a Divine imprint is simply outside the scope or interest of the HCM.
If the only thing that you have in your hand is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. When your tool box is the HCM, the Bible suddenly looks entirely human. Its formation is consequently understood in terms of a clash between warring interest groups, colliding cultures and a response to the pressures of the times. No room for a Divine or a prophetic hand here!
For instance, the Book of Isaiah is consequently understood as a political history and not a divine prophecy, according to the HCM. What then is done with Isaiah’s prophecies which, almost 200 years earlier, had named King Cyrus as God’s chosen tool to release Israel from captivity:
- [God] who says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid.’” This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus. (Isaiah 44:28-45:1)
Isaiah lived and prophesied in the 8th century BC, 200 hundred years before Cyrus made his grand entry. And since such a miraculous and precise prophecy does not coincide with the HCM’s non-miraculous assumptions – only human explanations are permitted here – then this prophecy couldn’t have been prophecy. Therefore, Isaiah must have been written after Cyrus liberated Israel to return to the Promised Land.
However, “facts” must be produced that will support the theory. Unfortunately for the HCM, there are many evidences that Isaiah had been written prior to Israel’s exile to Babylon and subsequent liberation by Cyrus. Also, Isaiah’s language does not reflect any Aramaic influences as do the post-exilic Prophets. Furthermore, Isaiah portrays a pre-exilic setting – a concern about the advances of Assyria when Israel was still in their land.
However, these facts present little difficulty for the HCM. Without any hard evidence, the HCM – in this case, it is called the Wellhausen Hypothesis (WH) – came to the rescue by inventing a second “Isaiah.” According to this invention, the First Isaiah (chapters 1-39) was written pre-exilicly, when Israel was still a nation, while the Second Isaiah (chapters 40-66, containing the Cyrus “prophecy”) was conveniently written post-exilicly.
However, upon subsequent examination, it was objected that this hypothesis simply didn’t fit the facts. Several pre-exilic Prophets resemble (or actually quote from) the allegedly post-exilic Second Isaiah (Zeph. 2:15; Nahum 1:15; Jer. 31:35), suggesting that Second Isaiah is a creative invention and not reality.
Furthermore, according to the WH, First Isaiah should be focused upon the earlier Assyrian threat, while Second Isaiah (chapters 40-66) the later Babylonian threat and conquest.
However, when you have an appealing theory, the facts are easily ignored. The late Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer found that Babylon is mentioned nine times in chapters 1-39 and only four times in chapters 40-66, in contradiction to the assertions of the WH. Archer adds:
- Conservative scholars have pointed out at least forty or fifty sentences or phrases which appear in both parts of Isaiah, and indicate common authorship. (Survey of Old Testament Introductions)
- There is no doctrine set forth in 40-66 which is not already contained, in germ form at least, in 1-39.
However, the HCM is like melted ice cream. When it fails to conform to its stick, sandwich or cone, it can easily be poured into any other container. Consequently, when the WH was invalidated by new findings, it simply found a new container. Suddenly, a third Isaiah was confidently brought on stage, and when these three Isaiahs couldn’t contain the facts, an entire school of Isaiah’s, writing over long period of time, was postulated.
Who cares about the facts when Isaiah can be “explained” in an entirely non-miraculous manner! Consequently, the WH is still being taught as fact in many seminaries.
What is the impact of the HCM? Theologian J.I. Packer laments that the HCM:
- Raises a doubt about every single Bible passage, as to whether it truly embodies revelation or not…It destroys the reverent…approach to the Bible without which it cannot be known as “God’s Word.”
With the HCM in charge, Christianity can no longer be Christianity but a mere human attempt to grope after a god of one’s own creation.
However, does the HCM shed light upon Scripture? Not according to C.S. Lewis:
- My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these [HCM] guesses has on any point been right; that the method…shows a record of 100 per cent failure. (Lindsell, 287)
Lindsell observes that the HCM practitioner:
- Has nothing but his own opinions on which to depend. And his opinions vary so widely from those held by others who use the same methodology that nothing but confusion and uncertainty result from the used of this method that nullifies Scripture while it subjects it to the whims of sinful man. (287-88).
Why then does it remain popular? Well, why does the belief that the universe sprang into existence uncaused from nothing remain popular? Neither have any factual support! However, they both have their appeal as a bulwark against the claims of the Biblical faith.
The atheist and author of the Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, candidly explained his rejection of the Christian faith:
- I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning [and moral absolutes]; consequently assumed that it had none…We don’t know because we don’t want to know. It is our will that decides how and upon what subjects we shall use our intelligence. Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless. (Ends and Mean)