The Bible—Just the Word of Man?
WILLIAM TYNDALE gave his life in his efforts to make it available for everyone. Martin Luther devoted enormous effort to translating it into the German language. For John Calvin’s followers, it was “the rule and canon of all truth.” Yes, at one time few people questioned the fact that the Bible is the Word of God. This was also a tenet of the Roman Catholic Church.
Things are different today, though. The Bible, the best-selling book in all history, is read by few people and followed by still fewer. Author James Barr, echoing the feelings of many, stated: “My account of the formation of the biblical tradition is an account of a human work. It is man’s statement of his beliefs . . . The proper term for the Bible would be Word of Israel, Word of some leading early Christians.”—The Bible in the Modern World, by James Barr.
Why the change? Is the Bible the Word of God or the word of some men? Does it even matter in this secular 20th century?
Does It Matter?
To take the last question first, yes, it does matter. Why? Well, the Bible is described as ‘a lamp to our foot, and a light to our roadway.’ (Psalm 119:105) Today, we truly need such a light. Our beautiful planet is being ruined. Many millions of people are going hungry. Few feel confident about the future, and the very existence of mankind is threatened. The Bible offers to guide us through these treacherous times to a safe and happy future. If it really is God’s Word, it is exactly what we need.
So why have people come to doubt it? An answer to this question will help us to determine whether this book really is the Word of God or not.
What Happened to Belief?
During the 17th and 18th centuries, that almost universal belief in the Bible fell victim to a changing climate of opinion. There developed in Europe a spirit of skepticism and secularization. Systems of government, the economy, nature, religion—everything was questioned. And the Bible did not escape.
Doubts about the book were openly expressed in the 17th century by former Catholic Pierre Bayle, who questioned the Bible’s historicity and chronology. Others followed his way of thinking, and in the 19th century, skepticism came to full flower in the school of higher criticism. Higher critics insist that the Bible is not what it appears to be. According to them, Moses did not write the Pentateuch. Instead, it was compiled rather late in Jewish history from a number of sources written centuries after Moses lived. Any prophecy that was fulfilled must have been written after the fulfillment. Hence, Isaiah was written by a number of people over a period of hundreds of years. And Daniel was written about 165 B.C.E.
The effect of higher criticism is seen in the case of German Bible scholar David Friedrich Strauss: “Are we still Christians? No, said Strauss, at least not those among us who have absorbed the Higher Criticism, for we can no longer accept the Bible as the Word of God.”—Religion and the Rise of Scepticism, by Franklin L. Baumer.
The new secular age also produced new discoveries in science. Some of these supported the Bible, but others seemed to clash with it. Hence, many were led to believe that the Bible was out of date. This feeling was reinforced in the middle of the 19th century when the theory of evolution was popularized—a theory that flatly contradicts the Genesis account of creation. This theory was eagerly grasped by most of the scientific community and by the higher critics. Today it is accepted by many clergymen and taught as fact in schools.
Does all of this mean that science has somehow disproved the Bible? Or has higher criticism shown that the Bible is not the Word of God?