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evangelical party who insist that there are some minor errors and discrepancies in the original statements of the sacred writers. In insisting that the errors are minor, and that they relate to matters which are outside the main objects of revelation, they practically bring their alleged discrepancies within the range of the principle of accommodation which even the conservative party freely uses. Clearly, therefore, it is not a matter upon
which there can be an exact line of demarcation between the disputants. It is a question of degrees of differ
ce. To all there is a border-line of uncertainty in which both are involved to some extent. When it is said that “the affirmations of Scripture of all kinds . . . are without error
. . when interpreted in their natural and intended sense,” the determination of what is the "natural and intended sense" is in many cases such a difficult task that the conservative may well have much patience with the liberal if he seems in some cases to stretch the principle of accommodation unwarrantably. Whether or not he is amenable to reason, remains to be determined by a wide consideration of facts.
3dly. Both Letter and Spirit are to be duly emphasized. -The broad principle of accommodation has innumerable specific applications which ordinarily pass under other names, and which might cover the whole process of scientific interpretation in which there is any departure from the bare literal meaning. Without more reflection than is ordinarily given to the subject, few are aware how seldom they interpret language literally. At first this seems to militate against the possibility of conveying any clear impressions of truth through the medium of words. Practically, however, the difficulty disappears when we come to see how thought is woven into the whole context and circumstances surrounding the individual expressions. The margin of error, like the “personal equation" of an observer, can usually be determined with a "reasonable" degree of accuracy.
It is curious, as well as instructive, to note more particularly under what different circumstances the conservatives and the liberals throw themselves open in both cases to the charge alike of undue literalism and of undue freedom in the interpretation of Scripture. As already indicated, the conservatives maintain their positions by a strict construction of the language of the Bible relating to its authority, and a free construction of passages which seem to contain discrepancies and error; while the liberals who preserve their respect for the Bible as the word of God, maintain their position by treating the discrepancies literally, and the passages which contain apparent endorsement of the doctrine of inerrancy, freely.
Professor William H. Green's treatment of the chronology derived from the geneological tables in Genesis extending from Adam to Abraham presents one of the most noteworthy instances on the conservative side. The links in this chain seem, at first glance, to be so securely joined together that there is no escape from the conviction that the sacred writer has here committed himself to a definite and short chronology for the human race. So short is this, that it seems impossible to make it coincide with that furnished by the revelations of science and profane history. Yet Professor Green, after a full survey of the subject, thinks himself warranted in giving it a liberal interpretation which few would at first glance think to be possible. From Hebrew literary usage, and from the whole attendant circumstances, this eminent and conservative scholar comes to the conclusion that where we read in Genesis, “Seth was an hundred and five years old, and begat Enos," all that it necessarily means is, that Enos was descended from the heir to Seth who was born in Seth's one hundred and fifth year, so that any number of centuries which science or profane history may have evidence for demanding can be interpolated between these or any other two links in the chain. 1
1 See Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. xlvii. pp. 285-393.
And so one may take up all the alleged errors and discrepancies of the Bible, and find that they, one by one, yield to treatment, and may be made to disappear under the hands of a skilful interpreter. Some of them, indeed, yield with much difficulty, but the most are readily seen to be classed as errors and discrepancies only upon an interpretation which is by no means certainly shown to be correct.
The usual answer to the apologist who presents his explanations in detail is, that, while each difficulty may be plausibly disposed of singly, it is not probable that he is without error in every instance so that the cases are all explainable.
In other words, it is held that the argument against inerrancy is cumulative, and it is not uncommon to hear the process of the apologist described as "treating the Scripture unworthily,” or “doing violence to laws of language," or even, in plainer terms, as "wriggling" and "jugglery."
But who art thou, O man, who chargest thy brother with dealing subtly with the Word of God, and dost thyself labor long and hard to explain away the apparently plain letter of the New Testament in its endorsement of the historical character of the Old Testament? In view of the uniform deference paid in the New Testament to the teachings of the Old, and of the many specific statements concerning the historical character of some passages which are rejected from the category of historical writings by many critics, it is difficult for them to maintain their respect for the writers of the New without a process of interpretation which is even more intricate than that of the ordinary apologist for the Old. The readiness, for instance, with which a recent writer, in the face of Matt. xxii. 43, where Christ, in an argument quotes Psalm cx. as spoken "by David in the Spirit,” can say that Jesus "never, in the proper sense of the words, expressed any opinion on these purely literary and historical questions” of the Old Testament, would indicate that, if the conservative scholar has to "wriggle" to explain the seeming discrepancies of the Bible, the liberal scholar has to do the same in an even higher degree to maintain his respect for the New Testament writers while rejecting their views of the character of the Old Testament.
The truth is, that the charges of wriggling and jugglery which are too freely made upon both sides engaged in present controversies concerning biblical criticism, are most of them out of place. As already remarked, the argument upon each side is largely one of degree. The biblical harmonist succeeds so readily with the vast majority of the cases, that the presumption of success naturally goes before him to the remaining cases which are more doubtful, and he has plausible grounds for thinking himself warranted in believing that with more light and fuller information he could resolve them all. His hypothetical attempts to harmonize the seemingly inconsistent statements of extraordinarily trustworthy and wellinformed writers, is not necessarily an instance of wriggling, but of the legitimate use of theory in attempting to arrive at facts; for it is but ordinary respect to the intelligence and integrity of a common historian to explain his seeming inconsistencies provisionally by a charitable hypothesis. Much more does it seem allowable to believe that an apparent mistake of such demonstrably accurate historians as Luke or the writer of the Fourth Gospel is explainable, if only we understood more fully either their language or the circumstances of the case.
Somewhat similar remarks may be properly made about what seems, to most people, the arbitrary efforts put forth to dismember and destroy the historical character of the Pentateuch; for the principles upon which the critics proceed are legitimate enough, and the mode of argument is proper. That some revision of the Pentateuch took place after Moses' death, all admit. The question is, whether the case is as strong as some recent critics think it is, and whether its proper historical character is to be discredited. The work of the
critics is not to be judged by piecemeal, but by its whole effect, and by the general reasonableness of the results as compared with the ordinary view. Neither should the fact, that, in apportioning out the Pentateuch to the several supposed writers of different ages, a great part of the work of the critics is narrow and arbitrary and unsatisfactory, be urged too strongly against their general good faith. The waters are deep, and a pretty long chain may be allowed to their anchor. But need of charity on his own part should bar the critic against too unsparing criticism of the methods of the ordinary apologist; for some of the questions at issue are beset with peculiar difficulties all around, and are not capable of demonstrative settlement, but must be determined by ascertaining upon which side the difficulties are most preponderant and most nearly insuperable.
At the present time, as always in the discussion of a subject so difficult of statement as that of the doctrine of inspiration evidently is, there are extremists on each side who manifestly go unreasonable lengths. On the one hand, there are those, both among the liberals and conservatives, who insist that the Ptolemaic astronomy and the creation of the world in six days of twenty-four hours each are distinctly taught in the Bible, and that absolute immoralities are advised by the Old Testament. The one party insists on the strict letter, in order to bring reproach upon the sacred writers, while the other insists upon it from a mistaken notion of what is real reverence for the Bible. But it is not with extremists that we are chiefly concerned.
We shall be greatly misunderstood if it be supposed that we are here making a plea for universal tolerance, or that we maintain that the truth is usually to be found by splitting the difference between two disputants. The truth is by no means always half-way between two extreme statement of a doctrine. It is usually much nearer one side than the other, and sometimes wholly on one side. We do not deny that there are