Historical-Criticism Critiqued - Part 2

by Etta Linnemann

(Editor's preface: It has been well said that the difference between conservative and liberal theologians is a matter of one tiny word: "in." The liberal believes that the Word of God is IN the Bible (but needs sorting out), while the conservative believes the whole Bible IS the Word of God. How did the two sides diverge so drastically? Etta Linnemann has seen both sides, for she was first a student of Rudolph Bultmann and Ernst Fuchs and later a professor of theology at Braunschweig Technical University-until the Lord showed her the falsity of the historical-critical system. ("My ‘no' to historical-critical theology stems from my ‘yes!' to my wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ….") This series is taken from Chapter Six of her now-out-print book, Historical Criticism of the Bible-Methodology or Ideology? [Baker Books, c. 1990].) In it Ms. Linnemann reveals not only the false assumptions of historical criticism but also how students are caught up in the system and turned into reproductions of their liberal professors.

Scripture Must Be "Interpreted"

Holy Scripture is regarded as "text" which requires interpretation. It is not disputed, in this view, that we have direct access to Scripture. But what we gain from it is called in question as subjective, "existential" interpretation, which is binding only for the interpreter himself. Without going through the passage using historical-critical interpretation, what it yields is declared to be permissible only for private use.

Responsible interpretation for others, as in preaching and teaching, must proceed "methodologically," according to rules, so that it is controllable. The Holy Spirit, who acts as He sees fit (see John 3:8), is pushed aside "because no one can guarantee at any time that he has Him," as Rudolf Bultmann put it. The Spirit is replaced by the method of interpretation, which is supposed to guarantee the objectivity of the interpretation and its suitability for the biblical text in question.

Nevertheless, He who sits in heaven defies those who champion this approach. Apart from a few basic assumptions and some methodological agreement, one can be certain that where two theologians compare their results, two different conclusions will, as a rule, surface. In contrast, where Bible teachers who take God's Word literally in dependence on the Holy Spirit share what they have gleaned, the unity in spirit and agreement in teaching is continually evident-regardless of confession, continent, and time period.

The undeclared yet working basic principle of Old Testament and New Testament science is: What the text clearly states can by no means be true. The exegete's task is to discover and solve "difficulties" in the text of the Bible. The better the interpreter, the more ingenious this will be. For to amount to anything, a professor must "make a name." This is obligatory unless he is content to draw his paycheck without doing what is expected of a professor.

The predicament is that it is necessary to strive for human recognition, even if the professor is characteristically disinterested in such accolades. I will gladly vouch that most of my former colleagues are personally rather humble and modest. However, through the system of university theology, they are under compulsion to make a name for themselves and to strive for human honor. Yet our Lord Jesus says, "How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?" (John 5:44).

A theology student who has not yet died to the need for the recognition of men stands under the same pressure. Small wonder, then, that many believing theology students soon have grave difficulties in their faith. Often they drift away from the faith without realizing it themselves. Some of what they are learning sticks with them; how could it be otherwise? After all, that is why they are studying!

Lines are drawn through parts of God's Word. Some of what it says is no longer believed, and its power is accordingly no longer experienced as it was before. "Paul is not the source of the pastoral epistles," one learns. "The author of the Gospel of John is, of course, not the son of Zebedee, the disciple of Jesus." "The Pentateuch was not written by Moses but compiled from various sources." Anybody who has not learned all this by the sixth semester is regarded with pity, if not scorn, and thus the vineyard is ruined by the little foxes as in Song of Solomon 2:15. It all looks so harmless: These are only trifles; what is at stake is not decisive for the faith. But the authority of God's Word is thereby called in question. It loses its binding character, as becomes swiftly evident with respect to those passages which make us uncomfortable. Let us make no mistake; even a mouse hole can endanger a dike. That becomes clear when a storm brings high water.

(to be continued)