Copyright
George T. (George Thomas) Ashley.

From Bondage to Liberty in Religion: A Spiritual Autobiography online

. (page 3 of 11)
Online LibraryGeorge T. (George Thomas) AshleyFrom Bondage to Liberty in Religion: A Spiritual Autobiography → online text (page 3 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the dark ages, to the first glimmer of light in Wickliffe, followed by
Huss, until the flame of the Reformation sprang up in Luther, Zwingli
and Calvin, followed by Knox and Arminius; but Wesley was the end of
knowledge, and wisdom died with him.

Yes, I was soon able to defend and prove my creed to the satisfaction
of myself and my superiors. But now I wanted to go further. I wanted
to _prove_ the _proof_. As I grew older and my mind broadened I
desired to drink deeper from the fountains of knowledge. I started out
with the best materials available to me to make a critical study of the
Bible. Up to this time I had studied the Bible only superficially. I
had accepted it as truth, as divine, as inspired, as infallible, except
the doubts of my school days before described, and these I had long
since cast aside. I had studied the Bible as the great mass of
Christians study it today - to support and defend preconceived opinions,
most of which I had inherited. Now I was to seek for basic principles.
I wanted to know just who wrote each book of the Bible, when he wrote
it and why, and just what the specific proofs were as to these facts
and of its divine inspiration.

In looking back over the period of years that have since intervened, I
am still unable to perceive any selfish, egotistical motive in these my
ambitions. My unquenchable thirst for knowledge was inspired solely by
my desire to increase my efficiency in that vocation to which I
sincerely believed I was divinely called.

I never had the opportunity of taking a Divinity Course in a Divinity
School. But both the great branches of the Methodist Church require
all its ministers, before final ordination, to take a prescribed course
of study, somewhat after the correspondence method, covering four
years, - and longer if necessary to cover the full prescribed
course, - that is practically equal to the curriculum of the average
Divinity School, minus the advantages of class room instruction and
class lectures. It was this course of study that I pursued, prescribed
by the bishops of the M. E. Church. And it was here in these orthodox
books, prescribed by the bishops of my church as necessary for me, not
only to read, but to study, learn and digest, to fully equip me for the
ministry, that I learned the lessons that completely upset my faith,
and finally led me to abandon the church and religion entirely! I
might add that it was perhaps as much what I _failed_ to learn from
these books, things that I was looking for and could not find because
it was not in them, that led me to this course, as it was from the
affirmative facts I did learn.

Up to this time, and long afterwards, I had never read a book that
might be called at all liberal in theology, much less anything of a
sceptical character. In fact I had read nothing, outside of school
text books, except such books as were authoritatively published by some
Baptist or Methodist publishing house. Robert G. Ingersoll was then at
the height of his fame, and I would not even read a political speech of
his, because he was an "infidel." The strange anomaly of the whole
thing is that I was led, or rather driven, clear out of the church into
practical agnosticism thru and by my earnest and intense efforts to
more strongly fortify and establish myself in my preconceived beliefs
about the Bible and religion. This will appear more fully as we
proceed.

First of all, all orthodox Christianity is based upon the doctrine that
the Bible is the supernaturally inspired, infallible word of God. Upon
this Bible as the sole authority, every doctrine, creed, dogma and
ecclesiastical practice is based. Take away this doctrine of Biblical
infallibility, and orthodoxy crumbles to dust. As long as it is held
to be infallible truth, every creed in Christendom can find abundant
material in it to prove every point it claims. Every one knows that
among the many Christian denominations which fully agree with each
other the Bible is an infallible revelation from God; yet the doctrines
and conclusions they deduce from it are as diametrically opposed to
each other as midnight and noon.

As I have already said, I never had any doubt, up to this time, of the
divine inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, except a very slight
one about the method of inspiration, which I have already detailed of
my student days. As a Methodist I had become fairly proficient in my
ability to defend every detail of my church doctrine. I could repeat
almost every passage of scripture from Genesis to Revelation in support
of each of the Twenty-five Articles. My only trouble was when I would
occasionally run across some sceptic who would question my
authority, - the Bible. Of course I would tell him the Bible was the
word of God; and he would demand proof, "_detailed facts_," in support
of my assertion. While perfectly satisfied in my own mind, these
"detailed facts" were not in my possession. But now I was going to get
them.

In the last year of my conference course of study, one of the books
prescribed was "Harman's Introduction to the Study of the Holy
Scriptures." Dr. Harman was Professor of Greek and Hebrew in Dickinson
College. I was told that in this book I would find "completely
detailed, uncontrovertible proofs of the divine authenticity,
inspiration, and infallible truth of the Bible." This was just what I
had long been looking for, and just how I found it will soon appear.


APPROACHING THE CRISIS

The first one-third of this book of 770 pages is devoted to proving the
Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, its inspiration and infallible
truth. On the subject of inspiration generally the author follows the
_ideal_ rather than the _verbal_ theory. His theory of the _necessity_
of inspiration is based upon the idea that the Bible contains records
that could not otherwise have been known at the time they were written;
for example, the account of Creation "must have been divinely revealed
to Moses, as he could not otherwise have known it." The _extent_ of
inspiration he limits to those matters that were "not otherwise known"
to the writers. Things of which they had personal knowledge were
therefore not the subjects of inspiration. For example, the advice of
Jethro, concerning the division in the burdens of the government, was
_not_ inspired, because Moses got it directly from the mouth of Jethro
himself. Nevertheless the author was "divinely guided" in writing of
matters of his personal knowledge, in order that the "sacred record"
might be preserved from error. As to the _proofs_ of inspiration, I
quote verbatim: "The inspiration of the Bible is evident from its
sublime doctrines concerning God, the purity of its moral precepts, and
from the wonderful fulfillment of its prophecies." When I read this I
confess I felt a little disappointed. I had understood this before. I
wanted something more specific, material, tangible.

Then follows a lengthy treatise on the Hebrew language, the original
characters in which the Pentateuch was written, without vowels or
punctuation marks; how it was preserved by copying from generation to
generation; how errors crept into various copies; an account of the
Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Septuagint; how these all differ the one
from the other in many details; of the ancient manuscripts that are
still extant, and how these all differ more or less from each
other, - not in anything fundamental, but in many minor details; and
finally winds up with the statement that "the original text is
uncertain"!

This was all new to me. I had naturally supposed that not only the
original text was divinely inspired and infallibly correct, but that by
some sort of divine supervision, it had been so preserved and kept down
thru the ages. And now I was not only disappointed, but alarmed. I
wondered what would come next. And I soon learned.

Before this I had never discovered, nor had any one pointed them out to
me, the many discrepancies and contradictions in the early Biblical
records, - the two stories of creation, the two accounts of the flood
that are so intricately woven together, the changes in the law in
Deuteronomy from those in Exodus and Leviticus; and others. My simple,
blind faith had completely obscured all these until now. It is true
the author pointed them out only to explain or reconcile them. But in
practically every instance, the explanation failed to explain, or
reconcile, and was only an apology or an excuse; and I was left with a
clear vision of the discrepancy, and with no adequate explanation. The
differences between some parts of the law, as recorded in Deuteronomy
and in the earlier books, was explained as a "progressive development
according to the changing conditions and needs of the Hebrews." From a
purely human viewpoint, I considered this explanation satisfactory.
But from that of "divine revelation," I wondered why God did not reveal
it correctly at the first; or why he found it necessary to change his
own law.

Concerning the ritual law of the tabernacle and the priesthood, the
author confesses that, in all probability, Moses was educated at
Heliopolis, in Egypt, for the Egyptian priesthood, and was therefore
perfectly familiar with all the priestly regulations of the religion of
Egypt; and that _the tabernacle service, its priesthood, their dress,
sacred utensils, etc., were doubtless all patterned after Egyptian
models, but devoted to Jehovah instead of the gods of Egypt; and he
cites this as a proof of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch_.

And in support of this view, he quotes the opinion of the Abbé Victor
Ancessi! And I had always been taught that the tabernacle, the
priesthood, and all that pertained to both, were divinely revealed to
Moses on Mt. Sinai! "According to the pattern shown thee in the mount."

Then on the question of interpolations, our author confesses that there
are many of them in the Pentateuch, most of them showing that they
belong to a much later age than Moses; yet he denies that any of them
are material, or in any way change the original meaning or sense of the
text.

Thus I went thru over 250 pages, devoted, not so much to the questions
of divine inspiration and supernatural revelation, as these seemed to
be very largely taken for granted; but to the defense of the Mosaic
authorship of the Pentateuch upon which seemed to hinge the whole
question of its authenticity and infallible authority. As the author
puts it, "If the Pentateuch was not written by Moses it is a forgery."
To do this he quotes quite elaborately from the higher critics, Bauer,
Davidson, Bleek, Ewald, Kuenen, Wellhausen, and others, for the
ostensible purpose of answering and refuting them.

Now I had, up to this time, never read a line of such Biblical
criticism, except that quoted by this author. Naturally, I not only
had no sympathy with it, but was strongly prejudiced against it. But I
could not fail to note that the refutations and explanations of my
author very often failed to either refute or explain.

To sum the whole thing up, when I had gone thus far, I could not avoid
the impression that from the standpoint of logical argument, based upon
any _known facts_, the whole thing was a failure. It was simply a
continued series of apologetics; in legal parlance, a sort of
"confession and avoidance." I began in the firm _belief_ that Moses
wrote the Pentateuch, and that he was divinely inspired in doing it. I
expected to find the definite proofs that this was true. When I got
thru I didn't know who wrote it. I was equally certain the author I
was reading didn't know; and I doubted if any one else did. I felt the
incipient doubts of my school days returning, only in much larger
volume and greater force. If the reader will pardon the phrase: "I
felt myself slipping."

Then followed a study of the authorship, origin, character, and purpose
of the remaining canonical books of the Old Testament. These may all
be grouped into two or three divisions. Of the historical books of
Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings and
First and Second Chronicles, I found to my surprise, that nobody knows
who wrote any of them; nor anything definite about the time, or
circumstances under which they were written. Joshua was merely
_believed_ to have been written not later than twenty-five years after
the death of Joshua, by some person or persons who were personally
familiar with the events therein narrated. As the book is clearly
divided into two distinct parts, the first ending with the twelfth
chapter and the second beginning with the thirteenth, it is _supposed_
that it was written by Eleazar and Phinehas. But this is admitted to
be mere conjecture.

The Book of Judges is placed after that of Joshua, because it takes up
the narrative where Joshua closes. It is assumed that it _must have
been written_ sometime before the close of David's reign. "Respecting
the Authorship of Judges, nothing is known." The date of both books of
Samuel - originally one book - is wholly unknown, as is also that of the
Kings and Chronicles. It is conjectured from internal evidence, that
Chronicles was _probably_ compiled by Ezra, from Samuel, Kings, and
possibly other documents, sometime after the return from the exile.

As to the Book of Ezra, it was shown that it is probably one of the
most authentic books of the Old Testament, and written by the man whose
name it bears. Nehemiah was also placed in the thoroly authentic
class, with the admission that about one-fourth of the total contents
of the book, appearing in the middle of it, is _very probably_ an
interpolation by a later, and unknown author. But this, he insists,
does not detract from the divine inspiration and authenticity of the
book as a whole.

Ruth and Esther also belong to the class of the unknown. Nobody knows
who wrote either, nor when, nor where. Ruth is placed "probably
sometime during the reign of David." Esther is much later; in fact it
is one of the latest books in the Old Testament Canon, from which it
was long excluded because the name of God nowhere appears in it. The
historical events narrated in it are admitted to be of very doubtful
authenticity, as they are nowhere else mentioned in the Bible, and are
wholly unknown to secular history; and such events, if they occurred at
all, were of such transcendent importance to the Jewish nation, that
mention of them in the Chronicles, or by some of the prophets, could
hardly have been omitted. But our author gets around all these
difficulties by the Feast of Purim. He insists that such a memorial as
this, that has been and still is celebrated annually by the Jews in all
parts of the world, "since the memory of man runneth not to the
contrary," could not possibly have originated in a mere fiction, and
been perpetuated so long. Therefore, the Book of Esther must be true,
and divinely inspired!

When I had read thus far, in spite of my former simple faith in the
divine inspiration and infallible truth of the Bible, I found myself
clearly on the toboggan; and I was deeply disturbed in mind. I was
studying a thoroly orthodox author, a distinguished professor in one of
our leading colleges, whose book was approved by the bishops of my
church; a book clearly written for the purpose of defending the
traditional position of the church concerning the Bible, on almost
every page of which that I had thus far read, I found a series of
apologetics rather than arguments; with constant admissions of the
world's total ignorance of the origin, authorship and date of most of
the books of the Bible thus far reviewed. I began to wonder, if this
was what I was getting from such a source, inspired by such a motive,
what might I expect from a Biblical scholar and critic who was in
search only of abstract truth, with no preconceived opinions to support
or defend? I felt an incipient revolution brewing in my mind. But I
was yet to learn more.

Concerning the poetical books, I found that the Book of Job was not
written by Job; that nobody knows who wrote it, nor when nor where. I
found that conjecture by different scholars placed it all the way from
"before Moses" to after the exile. Nobody knows whether it purports to
record, in poetic form, a series of actual historic facts and events;
or whether it is merely a dramatic allegory, entirely fictitious, or
founded upon some substratum of fact. We do not know who Job was,
whether a Hebrew, an Arab, or Chaldean; - nor just where "the land of
Uz" was.

Concerning the Psalms, which I had always been taught were written by
David, "the sweet singer of Israel," I found to be the Jewish hymn
book, compiled by an unknown hand, or hands, at an unknown date; but in
its present form, perhaps as late as the third century B.C.; that the
authorship of very few of them is known; that David wrote but few of
them, if any; but that they were written by various authors, mostly
unknown, ranging all the way from the time of Moses to that of Ezra, or
later; that collections and revisions were probably made from time to
time as new compositions appeared; until its present form was attained.

I found that the "Book of Proverbs" was not written by Solomon, but
that it was probably compiled in the time of King Hezekiah, by unknown
persons. However, our author insists that most of the proverbs in the
collection are Solomonic in origin; and therefore we may very correctly
speak of the collection as the "Proverbs of Solomon."

The Book of Ecclesiastes, from the superscription in Chapter I, verses
1 and 12, always attributed to Solomon, I found was not written by
Solomon, at all, nor until more than five hundred years after his
death. Our author concedes it to be the "latest book of the Canon";
that it could not have been written before Malachi, and possibly much
later, and who wrote it, nobody knows.

Likewise I found that the "Song of Solomon" was not written by Solomon,
nor by anyone else until centuries after his death; and nobody knows
who wrote it, nor what its real meaning or purport is, whether fact or
fiction, spiritual or sensual. It is admitted that its real meaning
and purport is the most obscure and mysterious of any book in the Old
Testament, yet, as it is in the Bible it must be the divinely inspired,
infallible word of God! So our author thinks.

Coming now to the Prophetic Books, I learned from our author that the
Book of Isaiah, as it now appears, is a collection and compilation of
various writings of this great prophet, written piece-meal over a
period of some fifty years, and after his death collected and arranged
in its present form by some unknown hand; and that the present
arrangement was made without any reference to the chronological order
of the original writings, or the subject matter treated. He admits the
radical difference in style, manner and subject matter of the two parts
of this book, upon which modern critics have based their theory of two
Isaiahs, one living before and the other during the captivity, and
reconciles these discrepancies by asserting the power of God to
miraculously change the literary style of his servants at will.

About the same thing is said of the Book of Jeremiah what was said of
Isaiah; that it is a collection of the writings of the prophet, made
after his death, by some unknown person, but more probably by Baruch;
and that like Isaiah the contents of this book are arranged without
reference to their chronological order. Great differences are admitted
to exist between the Hebrew and Septuagint versions of this book, which
our author does not try to explain or reconcile. He frankly admits
that the last chapter of this book, which is identical with 2 Kings
xxiv, 18, and xxv, was added by a later, and unknown hand.

The Book of Ezekiel is treated briefly and considered one of the most
authentic and unquestioned of any book in the Canon. But the author
devotes twenty-six pages to the Book of Daniel, almost entirely to
prove that the book was written by the prophet of that name in Babylon,
during the exile. He quotes elaborately from the critics who hold to a
later date and a different author, and tries to refute them. About the
only effect produced on my mind was that neither party knew anything
definite about it; and of course my faith in the authenticity of the
book was greatly weakened.

Coming to the Minor Prophets, twelve in number, the author holds that
Hosea, Joel, Amos, Micah, Haggai, Zephaniah and Zechariah were well
known prophets, concerning the date and authorship of whose books there
is no grave doubt. Yet, he admits that there are manifest
interpolations and additions to the Book of Zechariah. Of Nahum,
Habakkuk, Malachi and Obadiah he admits that we know absolutely
nothing, except what is written in their respective books, and the
dates they were written can only be conjectured from their contents.
Obadiah is composed of but one chapter of twenty-one verses, and almost
identically the same thing is contained in Jeremiah xlix, 7-22. The
identity is so great that our author assumes that one of them copied
from the other, but which, he does not say. Of the Book of Jonah, he
admits that it was not written by the prophet of that name mentioned in
2 Kings xiv, 25, nor for at least three hundred years after his time,
notwithstanding he is evidently the same as that in the book. He
insists, however, that no matter who wrote it, or when, the book is
authentic and the story true; and as one of the principal proofs of
this fact, he quotes Matt, xii, 39, 40.

Thus I finished the Old Testament, considerably shaken in faith; but as
the Old Testament belonged to a long past dispensation, I considered it
of little value anyway, and approached the study of the New with the
hope that all difficulties would be removed and all doubts made clear.
If the New Testament was truly inspired of God and infallibly true,
what difference did it make if the Old was doubtful and uncertain? It
was "out of date" anyway.




CHAPTER IV

NEARER THE CRISIS

Our author begins his "Introduction to the Study of the New Testament"
with an account of the language and characters in which most of it was
originally written, as he did the Old. These were Greek Uncials, all
capital letters, without any space divisions between the words, and
neither accent nor punctuation marks; that from these original
manuscripts, down to the invention of printing, all copies were made by
hand copying. The oldest existing manuscripts were made in the fourth
and fifth centuries of the Christian era, and no two of these are
exactly alike. During the succeeding centuries several thousand
manuscript copies of all or parts of the New Testament were made that
are still extant, _and no two exactly alike_!

I also learned that there are still extant quite a number of ancient
Versions of the New Testament, translated into different languages, all
of which are more or less different from each other, not alone in the
text, _but in the books recognized as authentic and canonical_.

Here the author gives a brief history of the formation of the New
Testament Canon, which so surprised, and even startled me, that I must
make some mention of it. (In his treatment of the Old Testament the
author gives but a few pages to the formation of the Old Testament
Canon.) In the fifth Article of Religion in the Methodist Discipline
it says: "In the name of the Holy Scriptures we do understand those
canonical books of the Old and New Testaments of whose authority _was
never any doubt in the Church_." (Italics mine.) But here I was to
learn that for over three hundred years there was more or less
controversy, and sometimes very bitter, over what books of the New
Testament were, or were not, authentic and authoritative; that as a
matter of fact there never was complete agreement among the Church
Fathers; and that there never was any authoritative declaration on the
subject by any Church Council until the Council of Trent (Roman
Catholic) in 1545, which included in its canon all of our present
recognized books of both the Old and New Testaments, and in addition
thereto, included as canonical the Old Testament Apocrypha, which is
universally excluded from the Protestant Bibles.

As this work is designed, at least partly, to stimulate additional
study in others it may be well to cite a few examples, as I learned
them from this book, designed to prove conclusively the authenticity,
divine inspiration and infallible truth of the Holy Scriptures.

The canon of Muratori, about A.D. 160, omits Hebrews, both epistles of


1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryGeorge T. (George Thomas) AshleyFrom Bondage to Liberty in Religion: A Spiritual Autobiography → online text (page 3 of 11)