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years. Moses, the earliest of our sacred writers, lived only three thousand three hundred years ago; Herodotus, our first profane historian, just a thousand years afterwards. For the two thou. sand seven hundred years which elapsed before the time of Moses, the history of the world was consequently unrecorded, except in the traditional remembrances of the antediluvians and the patriarchs. And yet the events which transpired during that interval were the most important and influential ever enacted upon the surface of the earth, as we shall see when we come to the consideration of our second objection.
We are aware that this absence of written or unwritten testimony existing prior to the time of Moses, has been doubted by some, and flatly denied by others. There are not wanting, indeed, men who will tell us that in the laws and institutions of the Jews there is little originality, and that their rites and ceremonies were, to a great extent, but modified or improved adaptations of heathen customs previously existing. But it seems exceedingly improbable that God would condescend to make use of imperfect and erroneous documents, or refine upon rites, to say the least, of very questionable character, in order to set before his people a lesson of separation from the world, or instruct them in the things which happened aforetime for their instruction.
A serious, and to our minds, insurmountable difficulty, indeed, stands in the way of our conceding this. We believe, after a long and wearisome investigation of the subject, that no such customs obtained in the very early times to which we are referring; and that instead of their having been the types on which the Jewish ritual was based, they are one and all misunderstood and distorted copies of that wonderful code of religious observances. And as to documents, it could be easily shewn that the very idea of writing was unknown before the giving of the law, and that Moses was not only the first historian in point of majesty and importance, but in respect to time as well. ·
If the correctness of these reasonings be admitted, we know of no process short of a direct and immediate revelation from heaven, by which the great facts narrated in the books of Moses could have been put on record ; and that the communication of them to the world and the church was really necessary, we shall see in discussing the merits of our second objection.
The redemption of the “great globe itself” from a state of chaos and inanity, the creation of man and the lower animals, the defection of our first parents, and the consequent promise of recovery through the seed of the woman ; the universal apostacy of the antediluvians, and their destruction by the deluge; the ark, and its mysterious associations, the re-peopling of the earth -the building of Babel, and the confusion of tongues which fol. lowed – the call of Abraham, and the election of a peculiar people from the masses sunk in idolatry around them, these, and many other events of equal interest, appear to have had no “honest chronicler” before the days of Moses. Some of them, indeed, such as the acts of the first five days of creation, could not have been recorded, as they were not witnessed by mortal eyes; and others would not have found historians, as they relate events highly discreditable to, and condemnatory of, the only men cognizant of them, bad it not been for a Divine interposition, which we shall now proceed to shew was fully justified by the necessities of the case.
The want of right ideas on the subject of the Mosaic creation made way for the theory of metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls from one body to another, the anomalous doctrine of materialism, and a hundred forms of idolatry and creature worship. Traditionary vestiges of the Fall, and of the instrumentality by which it had been effected, shed just sufficient light abroad in the world to make its hideous darkness visible, and led to that universal error of primeval times, the worship of the serpent, as typical of the Great Adversary. Dim remembrances of the Deluge led to world-making theories as dishonorable to God as they were ridiculous and practically detrimental to the interests of the soul; and the general uncertainty which obtained in matters of fact led to a corresponding uncertainty as to man's position, his duty, and his destinies.
Although these remarks are referable to the books of Moses, they apply with equal and sometimes with greater force, to the other scripture writings, which, taken jointly or severally, constitute not only a matchless system of theology, but a scheme of history, philosophy, and science, immeasurably in advance of the several ages to which they respectively belong. The prophecies of the Bible, in fact, are not restricted to the first of these
departments; but extend over the vast fields of astronomy, geology, meteorology, archæology, physiology, and chemistry. It supposes, in each and all its writers, such an insight into the mysteries of physics, metaphysics, and antiquities, as no unin. spired man could possibly have achieved, as to shut us up to the conclusion that it could not have been written under any influence inferior to that of inspiration.
We have already hinted that great differences of opinion exist as to the extent of this inspiration ; but perhaps the only two classes of biblical critics to whom we need now refer, are those who contend for a mere general teaching and superintendence on the part of God; and those who insist that every word and letter was dictated to the several sacred writers–the advocates, in fact, of general and verbal inspiration.
Of these views we decidedly embrace the first—that of mere general direction or oversight; for the following, amongst other reasons.
1. The Bible is a book of great facts and principles, all subsidiary to one greater fact :—that salvation is to be found only in Christ Jesus. To him gave all the prophets witness. The law, the prophets, and the psalms, all shadowed forth his coming ; and his own command, to “ search the Scriptures,” received its highest sanction from the statement, that these writings, one and all, testified of him. This great distinguishing feature of Holy Writ is set forth in every variety of mode, and in every conceivable form and style of writing, In a certain sense, the Bible becomes all things to all men, that it may by all means save some. With all this prodigality and latitude of style, and form, and expression, how was it possible to give that measured and severe and literal exactness to every word, or even to every sentence, which should allow of its being isolated from its connection, or microscopically criticised and analyzed, without serious damage to the integrity of the whole ?
Or, coming down to any particular sections or episodes of Scripture, does not the same difficulty meet us.
The parables of our Lord, for example, and all his discourses, have one leading idea ; and to this idea all the points converge. The Bible, it should ever be borne in mind, is a whole : it is a book of thoughts—not of words ; and to fritter down these
thoughts by thus breaking up and macadamizing them, is, in a great measure, to destroy their force, their harmony, and their beauty.
This principle is nowhere more strikingly illustrated than in the narrative of our Saviour's temptation in the wilderness. The devil is there represented as an able advocate for verbal inspiration. He quotes Scripture in support of all his propositions, and he quotes it literally. But our Saviour plies him with great comprehensive ideas and principles ; and compels him, notwithstanding his proverbial audacity, to give over the attack.
2. Another argument against the theory of verbal inspiration is found in the fact, that the several writers of the Bible, preserve their natural characteristics of language, style, thought, and expression. Their position, their educational tendencies, the circumstances under which they lived, the scenery and characters whence they derived their associations, may not unfrequently be detected in their several writings. The very language of Holy Writ varies with the varying circumstances of the Jewish people. The original Hebrew passes through its several ages, designated by Hartwell Horne, as the golden, the silver, the iron, and the leaden, till it merges finally into the Chaldee during the captivity in Babylon : so in the New Testament, the pure Greek passes sometimes into the Hellenistic. If, therefore, there had been a peculiar sanctity and value attached to the mere words of inspiration, we might reasonably claim for them an exemption from such casualties, and changes, and corruptions, and vernacular peculiarities, as have unquestionably befallen them.
Besides all this we find, not unfrequently, the man breaking out in some word, or phrase, or dialectical peculiarity, plainly proving, notwithstanding his divine teaching, that he is of like passions with ourselves. Moses, for example, brought up as he was in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, draws many of his ideas from their mysterious theology; and two, at least, if not more, of the words he uses, from their language, exactly as an Englishman writing in France might now and then borrow a French expression. Each sacred writer from Moses to John, has his appropriate and peculiar style, and no one would for one moment confound the stern simplicity and rustic imagery of the prophet Amos, with the courtly splendour of Isaiah; or the close, and scholarly, and
logical reasoning of Paul, with the affectionate importunity of the beloved disciple.
3. But a more conclusive argument against the theory of verbal inspiration, lies in the fact that the sacred writers themselves (not excepting Christ and his apostles) never quote the Scriptures verbatim et literatim. They always sink the words in the sense, soul, and spirit of the quotation. Nay, our Saviour almost invariably cites the Septuagint version-unquestionably a faulty translation—in preference to the Hebrew, contenting himself with laying hold of the idea, and giving in some instances extraordinary latitude to the expressions in which he clothes it.
And certainly if the tree may be known by its fruits, it would seem that literal accuracy is no essential element in the machinery by which God is pleased to work out the moral renovation of the world. It was the popish, or at all events, semi-popish, and not the protestant Bible that convulsed Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It was not by quibbling about the mere words of Holy Writ that truth was established; but by enunciating from a volume full of literal, and even more serious, inaccuracies, the broad principles of God's great plan of salvation, that the Reformation was brought about.
4. And lastly, we might ask how a book intended for all climes and classes – whose very success must depend on its being rendered accessible by translations, could by any possibility rest its claims solely on the critical accuracy of every word, particle, jot, or tittle of the original language in which it was first written? All the world knows that no strictly literal translation of an author can convey his meaning accurately; and if the words are not reflected as in a glass (could their parallels be found in all languages, which is of itself an impossibility)—what becomes of their heaven-fraught sanctity, or their overpowering authority ? As our Christian sympathies have lately been powerfully drawn out in the direction of the Chinese empire, it may be well to give in illustration of these remarks, a literal translation, in the language of that people, of Matt. vi. 9, 10.
“ Our Father, heaven-in