Science in Christian Perspective



Allan A. MacRae

From: JASA 5 (December 1953): 14-15.


Biblical Archaeology, like most sciences, has developed tremendously during the past century. Its use has provided, to a remarkable extent, the answer to another development which began a century earlier.

The so called higher criticism of the Old Testament had its real beginning in 1753 when Jean Astruc, a French physician, advanced a new theory about the origin of Genesis. On the basis of the names used for God, he suggested that the book had been compiled from two main documents, along with a number of smaller sources. From these documents, selections had been put together more or less alternately, so that the Book of Genesis was a compilation of previously written material.

A half century later Astrue's theory was extended to the rest of the Pentateuch. As originally presented by Astrue, the theory contained nothing to which conservatives could rightly object, for Astruc believed that Moses was the author of the Book of Genesis, and there is no objection, from the viewpoint of the Bible believer, to Moses having used documents. This does not necessarily mean, of course, that it is possible for us, if he did use documents, to determine just what they were and how they fit together. Any such theory should be carefully investigated on its merits. However, when the theory was extended to the other books of the Pentateuch, some of the arguments advanced in its favor involved the claim that its component documents presented conflicting views of the events in connection with Moses' leadership of the Children of Israel. This meant that Moses could not possibly have been the author of the combined work, and involved a complete change of attitude toward the Bible. Instead of considering it to be God's revelation to man of those truths which God wishes man to know, the higher criticism came to regard it as a combination of various contradictory documents. Such a theory, of course, is altogether contrary to historical Christianity.

The term "higlier criticism" as technically used, simply means an investigation into questions of origin and authorship,of various books. No one can have any objection to such an investigation being made. The reason the term "higher criticism" has come into such disrepute among Christians is that so large a proportion of those engaged in its study advanced conclusions which changed the Bible to a mere record of the development of erroneous human ideas, rather than a presentation of divine revelation.

According to the theories of the higher criticism, large portions of the Old Testament were written long after the time of the events described, and were comparatively unreliable. This was particularly true in the case of the Pentateuch. Seventy4ive years ago, critics did not hesitate to say that the Book of Genesis gave us no information whatever about actual events in the time of Abraham. According to their ideas, it was mainly a compilation of folk stories which had developed around various shrines in Palestine, and its religious ideas represented the attitude of men who lived many centuries after the alleged time of Moses.

After critical scholars had argued various theories during a period of many decades, a general consensus of opinion was reached about 1875 regarding the Pentateuch. This hypothesis, which became known as the Graf-Kuenen-Wellhausen hypothesis, came to be accepted by most critical scholars and was held with remarkable unanimity for nearly half a century.

Today the wonderful unanimity has disappeared. Even among those who tenaciously hold to the idea that the Pentateuch is made up of a series of conflicting and contradictory documents, many theories are held as to the nature and content of these documents. The previous general agreement has largely vanished. Thus it was a primary part of the Graf-Wellhausen view that Genesis one to twelve is made up of an alternation of two documents, J and P, of which Genesis 1:1 to 2:4a is from P, and 2:4b to the end of 3 is from J, with the two alternating in longer and shorter passages all through these early chapters of Genesis. Many present scholars, however, assert that there is no trace at all of the document J in this earlier section of Genesis!

A principal factor in the disintegration of the former unanimity has been the influence of Biblical Archaeology.

Biblical Archaeology commenced to mature about 1840 when excavation was started in Mesopotamia, and the largely forgotten civilization of ancient Babylonia and Assyria began to come to light. Long documents were soon discovered in the cuneiform writing, some of them written many centuries before the time of Moses. The possibility that Moses could have written the Pentateuch can no longer be ruled out on account of the early date at which Moses lived. At point after point, Biblical Archaeology has brought evidence of the accuracy of statements , in the Pentateuch. Many of those statements contain evidence of background situations which are now known to have existed at the time of the events, but which must have been completely unknown at the later time when, according to the critics, the sources were written.

Surface exploration in Palestine has been able, through pottery criteria, to tell the approximate period in which many different cities were occupied. In the case of cities which do not occur in Genesis, but which are mentioned in later books of the Old Testament, some of them were occupied as early as the time of Abraham, while others did not come into existence until a later time. But in the case of all the Palestinian cities mentioned in the Book of Genesis, there is excellent reason to believe that the sites were occupied at the time of the patriarchs. Such accuracy would hardly be possible if the Book of Genesis were composed of documents written long after the time of the events described!

With new archaeological evidence constantly being discovered, questions frequently arise which require considerable investigation before they can be answered. Biblical Archaeology is not like most other sciences, a field in which the Bible believer is mainly concerned with questions of possible conflicts with Scriptural statements. This problem enters in, to some extent. Still more, however, it is a field of study in which positive evidence of the dependability and accuracy of the Bible is being found. This evidence works havoc with many anti-Biblical theories which were widely taught during the past century.

So much has been discovered in Biblical Archaeology already that we could well take the rest of the present century to study fully what has been discovered and to learn more about its true application. Yet new material is ever coming to light. It is important that the Christian scholar keep up with this material, but it is perhaps even more important that he orient himself regarding the meaning and extent of the material already discovered.

Philadelphia, Pa.