Criticism of Christianity - Scripture - Biblical Criticism

Biblical Criticism

See also: Biblical criticism, The Bible and History, and Internal consistency and the Bible

Biblical criticism, in particular higher criticism, covers a variety of methods used since the Enlightenment in the early 18th century as scholars began to apply to biblical documents the same methods and perspectives which had already been applied to other literary and philosophical texts. It is an umbrella term covering various techniques used mainly by mainline and liberal Christian theologians to study the meaning of Biblical passages. It uses general historical principles, and is based primarily on reason rather than revelation or faith. There are four primary types of Biblical criticism: form, traditional, higher and lower criticism.

  • Form criticism: an analysis of literary documents, particularly the Bible, to discover earlier oral traditions (stories, legends, myths, etc.) upon which they were based.
  • Tradition criticism: an analysis of the Bible, concentrating on how religious traditions have grown and changed over the time span during which the text was written.
  • Higher criticism: the study of the sources and literary methods employed by the biblical authors.
  • Lower criticism: the discipline and study of the actual wording of the Bible; a quest for textual purity and understanding.

Conservative Christians, as well as much of Orthodox Judaism and Karaite Judaism, support the idea that the Bible is historically accurate. Moderate and liberal Christians generally accept the historicity and reliability of scripture in varying degrees, but differ primarily on interpretation of particular passages—from literal meanings to metaphorical intent in some regard.

Inconsistencies have been pointed out by critics and skeptics, presenting as difficulties the different numbers and names for the same feature and different sequences for what is supposed to be the same event. Responses to these criticisms include the modern documentary hypothesis, two source hypothesis (in various guises), and assertions that the Pastoral Epistles are pseudonymous. Contrasting with these critical stances are positions supported by literalists, considering the texts to be consistent, with the Torah written by a single source, but the Gospels by four independent witnesses, and all of the Pauline Epistles, except possibly the Hebrews, as having been written by Paul of Tarsus.

While consideration of the context is necessary when studying the Bible, some find the accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus within the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, difficult to reconcile. E. P. Sanders concludes that the inconsistencies make the possibility of a deliberate fraud unlikely: "A plot to foster belief in the Resurrection would probably have resulted in a more consistent story. Instead, there seems to have been a competition: 'I saw him,' 'So did I,' 'The women saw him first,' 'No, I did; they didn't see him at all,' and so on."

Harold Lindsell points out that it is a "gross distortion" to state that people who believe in Biblical inerrancy suppose every statement made in the Bible is true (opposed to accurate). He indicates there are expressly false statements in the Bible which are reported accurately (for example, Satan is a liar whose lies are accurately reported as to what he actually said). Proponents of biblical inerrancy generally do not teach that the Bible was dictated directly by God, but that God used the "distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers" of scripture and that God's inspiration guided them to flawlessly project his message through their own language and personality.

Those who believe in the inspiration of scripture teach that it is infallible (or inerrant), that is, free from error in the truths it expresses by its character as the word of God. However, the scope of what this encompasses is disputed, as the term includes 'faith and practice' positions, with some denominations holding that the historical or scientific details, which may be irrelevant to matters of faith and Christian practice, may contain errors. Other scholars take stronger views, but for a few verses these positions require more exegetical work, leading to dispute (compare the serious debate over the related issue of perspicuity, attracting biblical and philosophical discussion).

Infallibility refers to the original texts of the Bible, and all mainstream scholars acknowledge the potential for human error in transmission and translation; yet, through use textual criticism modern (critical) copies are considered to "faithfully represent the originals", and our understanding of the original language sufficiently well for accurate translation. The opposing view is that there is too much corruption, or translation too difficult, to agree with modern texts.

Read more about this topic:  Criticism Of Christianity, Scripture

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