November 23: Of Method, and Of Error

Having written earlier this week of The League of Evangelical Students, we present today two articles which appeared in the second issue of the League’s magazine, The Evangelical Student. The first article is by the Rev. Dr. O.T. Allis, who was then in 1926 a professor at the Princeton Theological Seminary.  Following that, a brief article by Johannes G. Vos, the son of Dr. Gerhardus Vos. This second article is titled “The Spirit of Error.” We trust you will find both articles profitable.


allis01THE SCRIPTURAL METHOD OF BIBLE STUDY
by PROFESSOR O. T. ALLIS, PH.D.

There are certain things essential to the truly scriptural study of the Bible which need to be emphasized today in view of the insistent claims which are so often made by the advocates of the so-called “modern” or “critical” method of Bible study.

The first of these is the unity and harmony of the Bible. This charac­teristic has impressed believing scholars in all ages as a signal proof of its divine origin. The fact that so many different writers, so widely separated in time, wrote a collection of many books which are in the truest sense one book, the Bible, is a strong evidence of its unique inspiration. Yet one of the outstanding characteristics of the “modern” method is the way in which it exhibits, and the importance which it attaches to, the alleged dis­harmonies of the Bible. We cannot read beyond the first chapter of Genesis without being confronted with this cardinal doctrine of the critics; for the “second” account of creation (Gen. ii) contradicts, we are told, the “first.” And this is but a sample. We have, they tell us, two ac­counts of the Creation and the Flood; three accounts of the Plagues and of the Crossing of the Red Sea; four of the Crossing of the Jordan. Further­more, these accounts disagree and contradict one another. The theoretical Jehovist differs from the hypothetical Elohist; and the alleged Priestly writer contradicts them both. Judges discredits the account of the Con­quest given in Joshua; Chronicles is proved unreliable by Samuel-Kings. The “great” prophets are represented as the opponents of the priests and as the more or less uncompromising foes of the ritual sacrifice. Micah and Zechariah are divided between at least two authors, Isaiah is given to three; and many of these documents are declared to be composite and to have been edited, or revised, by a later compiler or “redactor.” All this partitioning and analyzing is made necessary, it is argued, by differences in language, style, ideas and manner of presentation, differences which not seldom amount to contradictions. The result is that for the “modern” student the Bible, especially the O.T., is characterized not by harmony and unity, but by discord and contradiction. How disastrous this is should be apparent to everyone, for nothing is more certain to discredit a book and destroy its influence with thinking people than to find that it does not contain a consistent and harmonious presentation of the matters which it aims to set forth.HERE are certain things essential to the truly scriptural study of the Bible which need to be emphasized today in view of the insistent claims which are so often made by the advocates of the so-called “modern” or “critical” method of Bible study.

Consequently the reverent Bible student will be very slow to accept these alleged contradictions. He will scrutinize them with the utmost care. If he does so, he will find that many of them are purely imaginary. There is nothing inconsistent about the statement in Num. xvi. that (i) a Levite and (2) three Reubenites were leaders in a rebellion against Moses, nothing to indicate that we have here two conflicting accounts of the same event The mention of two parties simply shows that the revolt was wide­spread and serious enough to require drastic measures. There is nothing contradictory about the statement that (1) the Lord told Moses to lift up his rod and (2) to stretch forth his hand and that then (3) the Lord caused a strong east wind to blow, in order that the Red Sea might be divid­ed before Israel (Ex. xiv. 16, 21). Such statements are different only in the sense that they record distinct features of the story, all of which are needed to complete the record. They become contradictory only when each state­ment is treated as complete in itself and placed in opposition to others which are designated to supplement it. Most events, especially if they be great ones, are complex; there are many factors which enter into them. Were the modern method of source analysis applied to almost any his­torical narrative which dealt at all adequately with an intricate situation it could easily be reduced to a mass of contradictions.

There are other alleged contradictions which are due either to a failure to recognize, or to ignorance of, all necessary facts. Thus, Hosea in pronouncing vengeance on the House of Jehu (i. 4), is not denouncing Jehu for obeying the command of Elijah as conveyed by Elisha. The ex­planation is given in 2 Kgs. x. 30 f. where the wilfulness of Jehu is exposed. And it is made still clearer by the prophetic denunciation of Baasha who provoked the Lord “in being like the house of Jeroboam; and because he slew him.” By following in the sins of the House of Omri, Jehu’s House merited the same punishment. Yet Hosea is cited as an instance of a later prophet denouncing what an earlier prophet had expressly commanded!

The second essential of which we would speak, is that the Bible student should understand and accept the viewpoint of the Bible. Many of the diffi­culties which the “modern” student finds with the Bible are the direct result of failure to do this, or, to put it more strongly, of the determination to judge and interpret the Bible by standards which are contrary to its whole teaching.

The oft-repeated reference in the first chapter of Genesis to God and to His sovereign acts is tremendously impressive: He spake and it was done. The Bible is a record of God’s wonderful works for the children of men. No one can understand it who does not accept its great major premise— God—or who seeks to set limits to His power. The O.T. purports to be primarily the record of God’s special dealings with a peculiar people to the end that through that people all the nations might be blessed. The uniqueness of the religion of Israel, of the Covenant with Abraham, of the Law given through Moses, is affirmed again and again: “God hath not dealt so with any nation.” To study the religion of Israel in the light of comparative religion as though it were similar in kind to the ethnic faiths, is to reject its most insistent claim—“All the gods of the nations are idols (worthless things), but the Lord made the heavens.”

The religion of Israel is represented as the religion of revelation. God has revealed Himself in word and in deed. He has made known what man could not discover; He has wrought wonders beyond the power of man. Miracle and prophecy are, according to the Bible, signal proofs that God has manifested Himself. The supernatural is of its very essence. A student who rejects the supernaturalism of the Bible, treats its miracles as legend, and post-dates its prophecies or reduces them to shrewd conjecture, is taking offence at what the Bible declares to be, and what the Church in all ages has regarded as, a unique and convincing proof that God has indeed revealed Himself.

Finally the Bible is the story of redemption, of salvation from sin. John the Baptist sums up the Gospel and also shows it to be the fulfilment of O.T. religion with the words, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” The Old Testament plainly teaches that the priestly sacrifices of the Law were divinely ordained; and the New Testa­ment as plainly interprets them as prophetic of and fulfilled in the Cross of Calvary. To treat the priestly ritual as a survival of paganism and to affirm that it was repudiated by the “great” prophets of Israel leads logically to the rejection of the Cross which is the central fact of Chris­tianity, God’s sovereign remedy for sin.

In one of our great historic creeds the statement is made: “The infal­lible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself.” We need to remember this. “God is His own interpreter.” If the Bible is the Word of God, it must be our final authority; it cannot be correctly interpreted by any standards but its own. If its human authors were inspired of God, God’s Spirit will enable us to understand it aright, if we seek His guidance. To the wise of this world the Bible is a book of riddles, sealed with seven seals. It tells of a divine revelation, miraculously conveyed; they would have it speak of man’s eager quest of truth and of his wonderful discoveries. It tells of God’s great salvation for lost sinners; they would have it describe the development of man’s religious nature and its limitless possibilities. In short the “modern” student is trying to restate in terms of a more or less frankly naturalistic evolution what the Bible states in terms of superna­tural redemption. No wonder the “modern” student finds contradictions in the Bible and has to tear it chapter from chapter, verse from verse, and line from line, since he would so completely change its message. But those who study it reverently as the Word of God and seek the guidance of His Spirit will be more and more impressed with the harmony and the heavenliness of its glorious message of redeeming love in Jesus Christ our Lord.

vosJG
THE SPIRIT OF ERROR

J.G. VOS

Error is always with us. It assumes many forms and makes various appeals. The systems of falsehood are almost without number. There are errors as old as the ages, and there are errors of recent origin. Errors appear, disappear, and reappear, while the truth of God abides continually. So sporadic, indeed, have been the errors, and so constant is the truth, that some have concluded that all error, because it is error, is about to die; and that all truth, because it is truth, is sure to survive.

This conclusion is certainly fallacious. It is true that error often dies, and that the truth usually survives; but the error does not die because it is error, nor the truth survive because it is truth. If error dies, it is because the Holy Spirit has used means to cut it off. If the truth survives, it is because the Holy Spirit has used means to ensure its survival.RROR is always with us. It assumes many forms and makes various appeals. The systems of falsehood are almost without number. There are errors as old as the ages, and there are errors of recent origin. Errors appear, disappear, and reappear, while the truth of God abides continually. So sporadic, indeed, have been the errors, and so constant is the truth, that some have concluded that all error, because it is error, is about to die; and that all truth, because it is truth, is sure to survive.

Error will not die of itself, because the natural heart of man clings to it and loves it better than the truth. Idolatry, the worship of that which is not God, is almost as old as the race, and a large part of humanity still ad­heres to it, for the worship of the things that are seen appeals to the na­tural man. Christian Science, with its denial of the reality of sin, flatters the sinful heart of man. The idea of salvation by works, by character, by ideals, etc., appeals to the pride of man and conveniently removes the stumbling block of the cross of Jesus Christ. While the heart of man is what it is, these errors will never die of themselves.

Error will not die of itself, because Satan is actively engaged in its propagation. He is the father of lies, and there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own. Error traces its origin back to him, for he is a liar, and the father of it (John viii. 44). Errors and heresies are not indifferent things which come from nowhere; they are devised and propagated by the arch-enemy of the human race.

If error is to be overcome, it must be by active opposition on the part of those who acknowledge the truth. Christians must witness for the whole of revealed truth and oppose all contrary error. If we merely state the truth and neglect to point out and oppose the contrary error, we are not faithful witnesses. It is only as the truth is distinguished from error that its real character can be shown. The notion that we can forget about the error and merely preach the truth, that we can ignore “modernism” and meantime engage in “constructive” Christian work, is tragically mistaken. No doubt God could accomplish his purposes without using men as his instruments; no doubt he could bring about the victory of the truth without using our testimony, but He has called us to be his witnesses, and it is our duty to testify.

The visible Christian Church is divinely appointed to bear a corporate witness to revealed truth, and therefore also to discountenance error. Chris­tian students by their membership in the body of God’s witnessing people support the truth and oppose error. In our day, however, great sections of the Christian Church have abandoned their testimony to the truth and their opposition to error, and other great sections seem about to do so. Doc­trinal indifference is the first step; open toleration of error is the conse­quence. On this account Christian students should consider earnestly and carefully the question of their relation to a particular branch of the Chris­tian Church, for membership in a witnessing church is itself a witnessing act, and membership in a church which tolerates error involves, to some extent at least, a tacit approbation of such toleration.

The League of Evangelical Students is essentially a witnessing body. We declare that we “bear united witness to the faith of students in the whole Bible as the inspired Word of God,” (Constitution, Article II, Sec­tion i). Those only are eligible for membership in the League who have “faith in the Bible as the infallible Word of God” and who accept “the fundamental truths of the Christian religion,” (Constitution, Article III, Section i). Let us not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord. Let us not fear the charge of intolerance. God has commanded his people to wit­ness for the truth, but he has never commanded them to tolerate error. If we who have banded ourselves together into a League to witness for the truth and against error, are on that account called narrow-minded, bigoted, intolerant, or even unchristian, let us call to mind the words of the Lord Jesus which are recorded in Matthew v. x I: “Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”

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