By Robert Anderson
THE "HIGHER CRITICISM," AND DEAN FARRAR'S ESTIMATE OF THE BIBLE
By "all people of discernment" the "Higher Criticism" is now held in the greatest repute. And discernment is a quality for which the dullest of men are keen to claim credit. It may safely be assumed that not one person in a score of those who eagerly disclaim belief in the visions of Daniel has ever seriously considered the question. The literature upon the subject is but dull reading at best, and the inquiry demands a combination of qualities which is comparatively rare. A newspaper review of some ponderous treatise, or a frothy discourse by some popular preacher, will satisfy most men. The German literature upon the controversy they know nothing of; and the erudite writings of scholars are by no means to their taste, and probably beyond their capacity. Dean Farrar's Book of Daniel therefore meets a much-felt want. Ignored by scholars it certainly will be, and the majority of serious theologians will deplore it; but it supplies "the man in the street" with a reason for the unfaith that is in him.
The narrowness with which it emphasises everything that either erudition or ignorance can urge upon one side of a great controversy, to the exclusion of the rest, will relieve him from the irksome task of thinking out the problem for himself; and its pedantry is veiled by rhetoric of a type which will admirably suit him. He cannot fail to be deeply impressed by "the acervation of endless conjectures," and "the unconsciously disingenuous resourcefulness of traditional harmonics." His acquaintance with the unseen world will be enlarged by discovering that Gabriel, who appeared to the prophet, is "the archangel" ; and by learning that "it is only after the Exile that we find angels and demons playing a more prominent part than before, divided into classes, and even marked out by special names." It is not easy to decide whether this statement is the more astonishing when examined as a specimen of English, or when regarded as a dictum to guide us in the study of Scripture. But all this relates only to the form of the book. When we come to consider its substance, the spirit which pervades it, and the results to which it leads, a sense of distress and shame will commingle with our amazement.
What the dissecting-room is to the physician criticism is to the theologian. In its proper sphere it is most valuable; and it has made large additions to our knowledge of the Bible. But it demands not only skill and care, but reverence; and if these be wanting, it cannot fail to be mischievous. A man of the baser sort may become so degraded by the use of the surgeon's knife that he loses all respect for the body of his patient, and the sick-room is to him but the antechamber to the mortuary. And can we with impunity forget the reverence that is due to "the living and eternally abiding word of God" ?
It behoves us to distinguish between true criticism as a means to clear away from that word corruptions and excrescences, and to gain a more intelligent appreciation of its mysteries, and the Higher Criticism as a rationalistic and anti-christian crusade. The end and aim of this movement is to eliminate God from the Bible. It was the impure growth of the scepticism which well-nigh swamped the religious life of Germany in the eighteenth century. Eichhorn set himself to account for the miracles of Scripture. The poetic warmth of oriental thought and language sufficed, in his judgment, to explain them. The writers wrote as they were accustomed to think, leaving out of view all second causes, and attributing results immediately to God. This theory had its day. It obtained enthusiastic acceptance for a time. But rival hypotheses were put forward to dispute its sway, and at last it was discarded in favour of the system with which the name of De Wette is prominently associated. The sacred writers were honest and true, but their teaching was based, not upon personal knowledge, still less upon divine inspiration, but upon ancient authorities by which they were misled. Their errors were due to the excessive literalness with which they accepted as facts the legends of earlier days. De Wette, like Eichhorn, desired to rescue the Bible from the reproach which had fallen upon it. Upon them at least the halo of departed truth still rested. But others were restrained by no such influence. With the ignorance of Pagans and the animus of apostates they perverted the Scriptures and tore them to pieces.
One of the old Psalms, in lamenting with exquisite sadness the ruin brought by the heathen upon the holy city and land, declares that fame was apportioned according to zeal and success in the work of destruction. A like spirit has animated the host of the critics. It is a distressing and baneful ordeal to find oneself in the company of those who have no belief in the virtue of women. The mind thus poisoned learns to regard with suspicion the purest inmates of a pure home. And a too close familiarity with the vile literature of the sceptics leads to a kindred distrust of all that is true and holy in our most true and holy faith. Every chapter of this book gives proof to what an extent its author has suffered this moral and spiritual deterioration; and no one can accept its teaching without sinking, imperceptibly it may be, but surely and inevitably, to the same level. Kuenen, one of the worst of the foreign sceptics, is. Dean Farrar's master and guide in the interpretation of Daniel. And the result is that he revels in puerilities and extravagances of exegesis and criticism which the best of our British contemporary scholars are careful to repudiate. The Book of Daniel is not "the work of a prophet in the Exile" (if indeed such a personage as Daniel ever really existed), "but of some faithful Chasid in the days of the Seleucid tyrant." Its pretended miracles are but moral fables. Its history is but idle legend, abounding in "violent errors" of the grossest kind. Its so-called predictions alone are accurate, because they were but the record of recent or contemporary events. But Dr. Farrar will not tolerate a word of blame upon "the holy and gifted Jew" who wrote it. No thought of deceiving any one ever crossed his mind. The reproach which has been heaped upon him has been wholly owing to Jewish arrogance and Christian stupidity in misreading his charming and elevating romance. For it is not only fiction, but "avowed fiction," and was never meant to be regarded in any other light. In a word, the book is nothing more than a religious novel, differing from other kindred works only in its venerable antiquity and the multiplicity of its blunders.
Accepting these results, then, what action shall we take upon them? In proportion surely to our appreciation of the preciousness of Holy Scripture, shall be our resoluteness in tearing the Book of Daniel from its place in the sacred canon, and relegating it to the same shelf with Bel and the Dragon and The Story of Susanna. By no means. Dr. Farrar will stay our hand by the assurance that- "Those results . . . are in no way derogatory to the preciousness of this Old Testament Apocalypse." "No words of mine," he declares, "can exaggerate the value which I attach to this part of our Canonical Scriptures. . . . Its right to a place in the Canon is undisputed and indisputable, and there is scarcely a single book of the Old Testament which can be made more richly profitable for 'teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, completely furnished unto every good work.'
(1 P. 4. Again and again throughout this volume the author uses like words in praise of the Book of Daniel. Here are a few of them: "It is indeed a noble book, full of glorious lessons" (p. 36). "Its high worth and canonical authority" (p. 37). "So far from undervaluing its teaching, I have always been strongly drawn to this book of Scripture" (p. 37). "We acknowledge the canonicity of the book, its high value when rightly apprehended, and its rightful acceptance as a sacred book". And most wonderful of all, at p. i i8 the author declares that, in exposing it as a work of fiction, "We add to its real value"!)
Christian writers who find reason to reject one portion of the sacred canon or another are usually eager to insist that in doing so they increase the authority and enhance the value of the rest. It has remained for the Dean of Canterbury, in impugning the Book of Daniel, to insult and degrade the Bible as a whole. An expert examines for me the contents of my purse. I spread out nine-and-thirty sovereigns upon the table, and after close inspection he marks out one as a counterfeit. As I console myself for the loss by the deepened confidence I feel that all the rest are sterling coin, he checks me by the assurance that there is scarcely a single one of them which is any better. The Book of Daniel is nothing more than a religious novel, and it teems with errors on every page, and yet we are gravely told that of all the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament there is scarcely a single book which is of any higher worth! The expert's estimate of the value of my coins is clear. No less obvious is Dr. Farrar's estimate of the value of the books of the Bible.
It is precisely this element which renders this volume so pernicious. The apostle declares that "Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work;"
and in profanely applying these words to a romance of doubtful repute, Dr. Farrar denies inspiration altogether. But "What is inspiration?" some one may demand. In another connection the inquiry might be apt; here it is the merest quibble. Plain men brush aside all the intricacies of the controversy which the answer involves, and seize upon the fact that the Bible is a divine revelation. But no one can yield to the spirit which pervades this book without coming to raise the question, "Have we a revelation at all ?" The Higher Criticism, as a rationalistic crusade, has set itself to account for the Bible on natural principles; and this is the spirit which animates the Dean of Canterbury's treatise.
(1 2 Tim. iii. i6. I quote the R.V. because it gives more unequivocal testimony to the inspiration of Scripture than does the A.V. According to the A.V. the apostle asserts that all Scripture is inspired of God : according to the R.V. he assumes this as a truth which does not need even to be asserted. For "every Scripture" here means every part of the Holy Scriptures mentioned in the preceding sentence. Indeed, ypa4~ has as definite a meaning in N.T. Greek as "Scripture" has in English, and is never used save of Holy Scripture. But I am bound in honesty to add that I believe the R.V. is wrong, albeit it has the authority of some of our earlier versions. The same construction occurs in eight other passages, viz., Rom. Vii. 12; I Cor. xi. 30; 2 Cor. x. 10; i Tim. i. 15, 3, iv. 4, 9; Heb. iv. 13. Why did the Revisers not read, e.g., "the holy commandment is also just and good" (Rom. vii. 22); and "many weak ones are also sickly" (i Cor. xi. 30)?)