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The relation between the Divine and human elements in Holy Scripture : eight lectures preached before the University of Oxford in the year MDCCCLXIII .. online

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proof of scientific or historical mistakes from the
imputation of moral or religious unsoundness. We
know that the assault is soon extended from the
supposed discovery of unimportant discrepancies to
charges of fabrication and general untruthfulness ;
and that we may very soon be called upon to hear,

a Evidences of Christianity ', III. § 3.


not of ' error ' alone, but of ' infirmity, passion, and
ignorance ;' of ' the dark patches of human passion
and error, which form a partial crust upon ' the
surface, in contrast with ' the bright centre of spi-
ritual truth within ' (5). It is surely not unreason-
able to ask that these two subjects may be kept
entirely distinct, and that no attempt may be made to
construct an illegitimate inference extending from
the one to the other. The topic of alleged moral
defects in the earlier teaching will come before us in
the succeeding Lecture. Let us now confine our-
selves to the allegations of inaccuracies in history
and science, and content ourselves for the present
by protesting against the confusion which hurries us
on from such subjects to those deeper questions
which cannot be stirred without exciting reasonable

I. We must acknowledge, in the outset, that there
are some definitions of inspiration which make it a
very serious matter to detect the slightest variation
between collateral accounts of the same transaction,
and which subject their supporter to a constant rest-
lessness of doubt, so long as he finds it difficult to
adjust each link in every pedigree, or to harmonise
each detail in contemporary records (6). But it is
open to question whether these definitions are sup-
ported by the facts ; whether they leave sufficient
room for the free play of those laws of narrative by
which all human histories are governed; and whether
they make sufficient allowance for habits of compo-


sition which were necessarily very different from our

1. There was a time when men feared a similar
danger to the faith from the discovery of the countless
various readings in the MSS. of Scripture, and from
the attempt to use that discovery as the basis for
an attack on deeper interests (7). That danger has
passed away and is forgotten. But we may draw a
useful lesson from the well-worn topic, through the
proof which it affords that God has not been pleased
to exercise any miraculous superintendence over the
text of the Scriptures, to protect them from the inci-
dents of other ancient writings. This is a definite
and undoubted fact, which throws more light upon the
question than we could expect to derive from our
own precarious anticipations of the probable condi-
tions of a Divine revelation, a subject on which we
are not competent to judge. That God has alloAved the
usual dust of age to gather over these sacred re-
cords is a simple historical fact which lies beyond
the reach of controversy. The common text of the
Bible does demonstrably contain letters and words,
and even sentences, which were certainly never
written by the finger of God. And this simple fact,
that without obscuring a single truth, the critical
study of MSS. has considerably modified the older
text, is pregnant with significant instruction, when
we are enquiring into the real nature of that human
element which is traceable throughout the Word of

2. And if this remark is suggested by the docu-


mentary history of the text of Scripture, a similar
lesson may be drawn from the apparent method of
its composition, and its relation to the older materials
which its writers may have used. For that the
inspired writers did make free use of existing ma-
terials, is a fact which rests on the explicit witness
of the Scriptures themselves. Revelation, as I have
before pointed out, a is not conterminous with inspira-
tion. Granting that throughout every part of Scrip-
ture, as well as 'in old time,' 'holy men of God spake
as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,' b we have
every reason, from their own expressions, to believe
that they did not rely on any supernatural revelation
for that vast mass of general knowledge which was
collected into the canon of the Holy Scriptures, under
the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord.

The very Gospels rest on testimony (8). St. Luke
puts his authorities in the forefront of his work. St.
John, alike in Gospel and in Epistle, pleads his special
nearness to Christ as his title for claiming: our atten-
tion to his teaching. ' This is the disciple which
testifieth of these things, and wrote these things ; and
we know that his testimony is true.' ' That which
was from the beginning, which we have heard, which
we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked
upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life,
that which we have seen and heard declare we unto
you.' c A new apostle was elected in the room of
Judas, from among the limited number of those who

a Above, p. 25. b 2 Pet. i. 21. c John xxi. 24 ; 1 John i. 1, 3.



had companicd with the rest from the beginning, for
the express purpose that he might be a witness with
them of Christ's resurrection.* The name of witness
soon became the noblest title by which the martyrum
candidatus exercitus, the suffering saints of God, were
known. Human powers, then, both of observation
and testimony, were used, not superseded, by the
Holy Spirit. In the same way, we may rest satisfied
that the genealogies of Christ were copied from
authentic Jewish tables, and that this circumstance
explains some peculiarities in their form (9). Turn to
the Old Testament, and the language of quotation is
varied and frequent: — ' Is not this written in the
Book of Jasher?' ' Behold, it is written in the Book
of Jasher.' ' It is said in the Book of the Wars of the
Lord.' b In this and several similar instances, the refer-
ence may point to collections of hymns or songs by
which the histories were preceded (10). But the histo-
rical books, again, rely in all fit cases on such public
and authentic documents as the census of the people,
the registers of lands and tribes, the genealogies of
families, or the records of the gratitude and deeds of
kings. Pass to the oldest history of the Pentateuch,
and wc cannot doubt that its inspired author was
abundantly supplied with all available tradition, and
with every kind of existing record (n). Many institu-
tions are referred to, which must have been handed
down by use from earlier ages: and the dim mytho-
logies of other lands establish the existence of a

a Acts i. 22. b Josh. >:. 1.'!; 2 Sam. i. IS; Num. xxi. 14.


primitive stock of historical and sacred information,
some streamlets of which had overflowed into the less
pure channels of Gentile recollection, from points
which lie farther up the current than the date when
they were brought together by the agency of the
Spirit, through a human writer, into the Word of God.

These facts supply definite answers to two import-
ant questions : — Is it true that the text of Scripture
has been so highly honoured, above that of every
other ancient history, that it has been preserved intact
in every detail, so that without raising any needless
scruples about translation, we may place implicit
reliance on the copy of the originals which we hold in
our hands, as a literal reproduction of the sacred
autograph? And is it true that the contents of
Scripture stand out in self-sustained independence,
so as to own no obligations to any anterior records of
literature? Both these questions must be answered
in the negative : and in these two positions we find a
basis of fact for further argument, which bears directly
on a large class of Scripture difficulties, and indirectly
on the whole subject with which we are concerned.

Both facts, I repeat, are pregnant with significant
instruction. But we must be careful not to over-
estimate the amount of that significance. With regard
to various readings, in the first place : though criti-
cism has frequently turned on texts of great doctrinal
importance/ it is allowed that the removal of some
of these texts has not exerted the smallest influence

a Acts xx. 28 ; 1 Tim. iii. 1G ; 1 John v. 7.

L 2 ♦


over the certainty of the doctrines which they teach (12).
The only effect has been, to throw back the proof
from the precarious support of salient passages, upon
the surer foundation of continuous arguments. In
the case of the text of the Three Heavenly Witnesses,*
we need not doubt the venerable antiquity of at
least its Latin form ; and it seems not impossible to
conjecture its origin (13). The several clauses of the
Creed were the most authoritative attempts to put
the coping-stone on converging lines of doctrine,
which were less systematically revealed in Scripture ;
and the text in question might be an early symptom
of that formulating tendency to which the creeds
themselves are due. If, however, it cannot be proved
to have been generally known in the fourth century,
' then Arianism, in its height,' as Bentley said, ' was
beaten down without the help of that verse ; and let
the fact prove as it will, the doctrine is unshaken.' b
We may resign it, then, without the slightest fear
that its loss will weaken the fundamental proofs of
faith. The same remark mi^ht be extended to the
declaration of the eunuch, ' I believe that Jesus
Christ is the Son of God.' c Such texts as these have,
under any circumstances, a distinct value, because
they bring to the surface, like the creeds themselves,
great truths which form the basis of the circumjacent
arguments. But if it can be proved that they are no
portion of the Scripture record, they lie beyond that
special reverence which we owe to the inspired Word
of God.

n 1 John v. 7. b Works, ed. Dyce, iii. 185. c Acts viii. 37.


While it is not pretended, however, that any Chris-
tian doctrine has been really modified by the results
of criticism, it must be thankfully acknowledged, on
the other hand, that there are many cases in which
the truth has been a gainer by them ; and it may be
expected that the amount of this good service may be
considerably enlarged hereafter. We might instance
the transposition of three words in St. Paul's speech
at the Pisidian Antioch, which destroys a supposed
contradiction to a date in the Old Testaments The
omission of a few words in the last chapter of St.
Matthew removes an obstacle to the arrangement of
our Lord's appearances after the resurrection. b The
excision of two words in St. Matthew's record of
our Lord's rebuke to Jerusalem would cancel another
historical difficulty; but seems still to rest on some-
what slighter authority. And though conjecture, as
a general rule, has been rightly excluded from any
interference with the sacred text, it is possible that
room may yet be found for the cautious use of this
highest instrument of criticism, in adjusting such
purely formal matters as numerals, or lists of obscure
names, which are scantily corroborated by collateral
narratives, and have therefore been especially exposed
to error (14).

And next, to turn to the lessons suggested by the

a 1 Kings vi. 1 ; Acts xiii. 20 (trcmsp. A, B, C, &c, Lachmann,

b Matt, xxviii. 9 (om. B, D, ft, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tre-

c Matt, xxiii. 35 (yiou Bapct^/ov, om. }^, prima manu).


use of earlier materials in Scripture. The chief of
these is the conviction, that so far as Scripture is
simply historical, it was meant to obey the laws of
other histories ; and even to accept occasional modifi-
cations of familiar facts, like the omission of genera-
tions for the sake of symmetry, which were found in
the records it employed. In like manner when it is
objected, that while St. Matthew and St. Luke draw
the lineage of Joseph through a different father, it is
impossible that both should be historically true, we
answer that it is sufficient if we can establish, that
while the one is historically true, the other is legally
correct and formal; and that legal correctness was
precisely the aspect in which the object of one of the
two Evangelists would have led him to regard it. It
is needless to detail the service which this principle
would render, in defining the real character of large
portions of the earlier Scriptures. But I may add,
that in the Gospels themselves, the frank recognition
of that common mass of materials which St. Luke's
opening language would suggest, relieves us from the
difficulties which have been raised on the similarity
of large portions of the three earlier Gospels ; and
supplies a fair answer to cavils based on small discre-
pancies, by reminding us of the universal law of hu-
man testimony, that two or more separate reporters
of any scene which they have witnessed can seldom
succeed, without collusion, in laying hold so exactly
on the same circumstances, or adopting so precisely
the same point of view, as to produce a narrative from
which such variations are absolutely excluded (15).


This explicit recognition of earlier materials supplies
an answer to another class of historical difficulties,
which is due to the partial nature of our knowledge.
It is well known that the later writers of Scripture fre-
quently bear witness to the existence of a considerable
amount of external tradition, by filling up the outlines
of their references to facts with details not recorded
in the earlier narrative (16). The acknowledgement
of such traditions enables us to remove the chief
stumblingblock in the speech of St. Stephen, who has
been hastily accused of contradicting the history,
while it is found that he was simply adding to our
knowledge a (17). Again, the census of Cyrenius b sup-
plies a very striking instance, and by no means the
only one which we owe to recent enquiries, where an
accusation of ignorance seems likely to recoil on those
who made it, by a recovery of the genuine facts of the
history (is).

But it is important to point out, that the principle
which has been thus asserted stands in the strongest
possible contrast to the theories which would disin-
tegrate the books of Scripture, and distribute them
among the earlier documents of which they are alleged
to be compounded. That view is destructive of all
real authorship, as claimed for the several writings in
their existing form; an authorship which in many
instances is sufficiently ascertained ; though in others,
where it has not been decided by testimony, it forms
a legitimate subject for critical enquiry. That author-

a Acts vii. 16. b Luke ii. 2.


ship, be it known or unknown, rests in each case with
the inspired writer, who produced the book acknow-
ledged in the canon ; and the belief that he availed
himself of earlier materials would no more entitle
us to rend his work in pieces, and reassign its frag-
ments to imaginary claimants, than the same argu-
ment would destroy the rights of an uninspired
historian to the work which he had moulded into
unity, and impressed with the full stamp of his own
intellectual character, from such materials as he was
able to command. No community of matter, for in-
stance, could ever obliterate the clear features by
which each of the four Evangelists is distinguished,
and which the Church has recognised by corre-
sponding symbols, through the sacred literature of
every age.

3. There is yet another question which recent con-
troversy has brought into more prominent notice — the
question whether the books of the Old Testament
have not passed through a process of ancient editorial
revision, which places a limit on the powers of criticism
to deal confidently with the evidence of its separate
portions (19). An affirmative answer to this question
may be counted to the credit of two opposite theories,
according to the degree of alteration recognised. If
the revision was so complete as to affect the genuine-
ness of the entire document, the argument would add
some weight to the opinion, that the inner unity which
can be traced in Scripture is due in a great measure
to the influence of changes and supplements, which
may have been introduced by the studious labours of


successive generations in the Schools of the Prophets.
If, on the other hand, the revision amounted to
nothing more than the occasional insertion of ex-
planatory glosses, the rights of the original author are
secured ; and we are simply furnished with a solution
of the difficulties which have been caused by phrases
of a later age. Now it is surely most consistent with
the facts, to accept this latter answer rather than the
former. No revision has in any sense obliterated
those original diversities between one book and
another, which have formed, since the very dawn of
recent criticism, a leading topic in the arguments of the
opposing theorist (20). No revision has cancelled the
bare simplicity of those early representations, which
have supplied another class of objections, resting
on the hypothesis that later writers were compelled to
modify their form, and deepen their meaning, in
supplemental compositions of their own. Above all,
no revision could have supplied those secret signs,
those veiled or hidden symbols, by which the unity
of Scripture is wonderfully established, and the
meaning of which was not revealed till long after
the last of the great prophetic schools was closed (21).
But to admit that such notices as the later names
of Laish or Kirjath-arba, and the references to the
disappearance of the Canaanite, and the reign of kings
in Israel, a may have been introduced at a later date
by the inspired expounders of the sacred text, is only
a natural consequence of the belief, that the Holy

a Gen. xiv. 14 (cf. Josh. xix. 47; Judges xviii. 29) ; Gen. x.xiii.
2 ; xxxv. 27 ; xii. 6 ; xiii. 7 ; xxxvi. 31.


Spirit continued present through the entire series of
the sacred writers, up to the completion of the older
canon (22). If Ezra was inspired as well as Moses,
there was no reason why Ezra should not change the
mere form of the words of Moses, so as to make
them more intelligible to those whose instruction was
his primary personal object. a With this view he
might insert glosses, comments, and various minor
memoranda, which have supplied the basis of argu-
ments for bringing down the whole composition to a
later age. It cannot be necessary to maintain that
Moses wrote out the entire Pentateuch, without
erasure or correction, by a single impulse, on a single
occasion ; and that the sacred autograph was thence-
forward protected from the slightest alteration, at the
hand of either the author himself, or those who suc-
ceeded to his position in Israel. It is surely more
reasonable to suppose, that Moses, whose youth was
rich in all Egyptian learning, b began at an early age
to collect, under God's guidance, all the knowledge
which still lingered in the memories of the sons of
Abraham ; that he added to his stores as time went
on, interweaving with these materials the direct
revelations which were vouchsafed to him by God ;
that the great events which he subsequently witnessed
and recorded, and the diversified occupations of his
advancing years, might reflect a varying colour on
the mere outward form of the expressions which he
used ; and that, just as the account of his own death

8 Ezra vii. 10, 25. b Acts vii. 22.


must have been appended by a later hand, 8 so other
notices of a subsequent date might be inserted from
time to time by those inspired authorities on whose
charge the sacred writings afterward devolved. Such
a view throws no suspicion on the Mosaic authorship,
nor yet imputes imperfection to the earlier record,
which it was the work of the revisers to remove.
An archaic term is not an imperfection. The ex-
planation of such a term by a competent authority
conveys no slight on the original author. Just as in
the parallel case of the quotations, in which the New
Testament writers depart from the mere letter of the
texts which they interpret, 11 so in this case too we
must not confound the freedom with which the later
agents of the Spirit might modify the human aspects
of its earlier work, with any breach of the rigid accu-
racy and scrupulous respect which one human author
justly claims from another.

It is the general result of these various consi-
derations, that we have no right to begin by imposing
on revelation a deductive theory, independent of the
actual facts, and then to feel overwhelmed with
faithless fear when we discover that a rigorous exami-
nation of the facts does not confirm the theory. We
are also led to expect, that the text of Scripture, com-
posed as it was under such different circumstances, and
at so remote an antiquity, may possibly continue to
present some few historical difficulties, which the most

a Dent, xxxiv. 5. b Above, p. 130.


careful enquiry must relinquish as insoluble. It is
the duty of a firm and steadfast faith to throw off all
such embarrassments to the distant outskirts of its
horizon, and to feel no hesitation in confessing that
there are still many topics in Scripture, on which
we must rest content to know in part. But we
have met with no consideration which could justify
men in exaofoferatins; either the difficulties them-
selves, or their bearing on the inspiration of the
Bible. It is not a worthy occupation to build up
scattered fragments of difficulty into a coherent edifice
of doubt. Such a work is unfortunately within the
reach of any one who will devote time and powers to
the undertaking, without the restraint of misgivings
on the use of a method, which is so full of uncertainty
and danger. By restricting to one sense a word which
may be taken equally well in another; by excluding
every suggestion, however reasonable, through which
the pressure of a difficulty might be lightened ; by
ignoring the possibility of those practical arrange-
ments which would naturally suggest themselves to an
orderly and administrative people ; by confounding
generations viewed at their longest, as a measure of
duration, with generations viewed at their shortest, as
an instrument of increase ; by insisting that a pedigree
which is arranged on one principle shall be tested on
another ; and above all, by reducing all the details
of a time of miraculous guidance to the standard of
God's ordinary providential rule ; it is possible to con-
struct a network of improbability, which shall prove
perplexing and distressing to readers of imperfect


information and of timid faith (-23). The cure for this
evil must be twofold, like its cause. The information
must be completed, and the faith must be strengthened ;
and we may rest satisfied with the assurance, that
whatever obstacles may be allowed to linger, as a
further test of our reliance on God's goodness, yet
a resolute grasp on those central principles, which
were wrought out so marvellously through the Exodus
of Israel, will lead to a still further diminution of the
perplexities by which the record of that ' wondrous
march' has been surrounded.

II. And now, from the laws of literature and his-
tory, let us pass to those of scientific language, and
trace their bearing on the human element of Holy

Few of what are commonly called scientific questions,
which are connected with the literal words of Scrip-
ture, are inseparably combined with the essentials of
the faith. Eejecting all that would corrode the sub-
stance, we can avoid all over-anxiety as to anything
which merely touches the form. Yet it is precisely
the mere form of Scripture which has been constantly
pressed into the service of human theories, and has then
been unwarrantably risked in defending them. Hence
the wisest teachers in all ao;es have warned us not to
confound our own interpretations with God's word,
and then pay homage to our own self-complacency
by insisting that they must stand or fall together (24).
There cannot be a greater error than to thrust our
own expositions under the sacred shelter of the


reverence which is clue to the message of God. And
this is what is meant when we are told that any old
interpretation must be abandoned if scientific investi-
gation shows it to be wrong (25). It is not that the
laws of Scripture criticism may vary with the varying
theories of science ; nor has anything of that kind
been meant by the warning. But whenever investi-
gation has led us to believe that a phrase of Scripture

Online LibraryJ HannahThe relation between the Divine and human elements in Holy Scripture : eight lectures preached before the University of Oxford in the year MDCCCLXIII .. → online text (page 11 of 30)