Saturday, July 07, 2012

The rise of historical critical method in the nineteenth century: "The Bible stood before criticism as defendant before judge."

In his little booklet The Historical Critical Method (1975) in the Fortress “Guides to Biblical Scholarship,” Edgar Krentz sums up his survey of “Historical Method Set Free:  1820-1920” with this insightful paragraph:

It is difficult to overestimate the significance the nineteenth century has for biblical interpretation.  It made historical criticism the approved method of interpretation.  The result was a revolution of viewpoint in evaluating the Bible.  The Scriptures were, so to speak, secularized.  The biblical books became historical documents to be studied and questioned like any other ancient sources.  The Bible was no longer the criterion for the writing of history; rather history had become the criterion for understanding the Bible.  The variety in the Bible was highlighted; its unity had to be discovered and could no longer be presumed.  The history it reported was no longer assumed to be everywhere correct.  The Bible stood before criticism as defendant before judge.  The criticism was largely positivist in orientation, imminentist in its explanations, and incapable of appreciating the category of revelation (p. 30).

This summary could be applied to many areas of Biblical scholarship, including text criticism.  Indeed, it was the rise to dominance of the historical critical method in the nineteenth century that saw the challenge to the traditional Reformation text of Scripture that would lead to its eventual overthrow in the twentieth century among mainstream Protestants and even among most evangelicals.


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