Historical-Criticism Critiqued - Part 5

by Etta Linneman

[THE STUDENTS'] STUDY HAS SO CONDITIONED THEM TO FIND DIFFICULTIES IN THE TEXT THAT THEY NO LONGER CAN CONCEIVE OF WORKING OUT THE MEANING OF A TEXT WITHOUT THE ASSISTANCE OF COMMENTARY.

(Editor's preface: How did conservatives and liberals come to be so far apart? 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.

Literary Criticism

In literary criticism the formation of hypotheses has a different function. Answers are sought to questions about the structure and tradition history of the text. Such questions as these, among others, play an important role: Is the text shaped by oral factors, or was it fixed in written form from the beginning? Was it then passed along orally or in writing? Is it a literary unity or not? Does it reflect written sources, or a unified complex of traditions composed of various individual traditions, or particular individual traditions alone? Does it show signs of literary dependence? Has it been editorially reworked, perhaps a number of times? Are there recognizable patterns in the way that individual literary units have been connected?

These are random questions and not a comprehensive list. Every such question is answered on the basis of assumptions. Not one of the assumptions admits to definitive verification. They are merely shown to be tenable through their plausibility and through the researcher's artistry of grounding his assumptions in argumentation. They become acceptable to other researchers by fitting in well within the various complexes of assumptions that are already more or less accepted. Their acceptability derives from their carefully established connections with previous research. In other words: The formation of hypotheses in Old and New Testament science is a self-sustaining system.

This amounts to an idle toying with God's Word which is not seeking God, even if the individual researcher is convinced that he is rendering a service to God.

Students Conditioned to System

On the basis of his work, the theology professor inevitably gains the secure conviction that God's Word cannot be understood without careful use of the hypothetical constructs of Old and New Testament science. Of this he is truly convinced and is therefore able to pass this conviction on to listeners.

Since students cannot possibly attain the same range of command of the "results of research," which the professor has mastered through years of study, they become insecure and lapse into dependence on whatever the professor says. Rather than asking, not just ritualistically but truly expectantly, the Holy Spirit to open up God's Word to them, they grab a commentary, a work which "explains" a book of the Bible verse by verse in the light of historical criticism. Their study has so conditioned them to find difficulties in the text that they no longer can conceive of working out the meaning of a text without the assistance of commentary.

All it takes to trigger the need to look up what the experts say is for the student who reads a biblical passage to recall just one critical hypothesis. For critical assumptions are closely knit together, and bringing in one of them tends to call forth them all.

The theology student is generally incapable of detecting what God is saying in his Word, and so passes on to his congregation the conviction with which he has been indoctrinated: Holy Scripture yields its meaning only through use of the historical-critical method. Parishioners receive a conden sed version of what was learned in college.

The more effort taken to attain this knowledge, the more precious it becomes. In addition, his knowledge brings the honor of standing before those he teaches or pastors as an "expert." Simple use of God's Word with the goal of being a doer of the Word does not bring so much honor. For when that is the standard for honor, the Holy Spirit confers it on whom He will. And it will not necessarily be the one who is greeted respectfully as "Pastor."

Overwhelmed by the "expertise" of theologians, the student or the person being confirmed or the church member loses all confidence of being able to personally understand God's Word. Another loss, typically, is the joy the Christian once had in the Bible.

(to be continued)