Bible Criticism/Part 3 | John Ankerberg Show

Bible Criticism/Part 3

By: The John Ankerberg Show
By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2001
Dr. Geisler evaluates modern biblical criticism and explains why the scholar’s bias can influence his findings.

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Bible Criticism—Part Three

By Dr. Norman Geisler(from Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker, 1999)


As already noted, higher criticism can be helpful as long as critics are content with analysis based on what can be objectively known or reasonably theorized. Real criticism doesn’t begin its work with the intent to subvert the authority and teaching of Scripture.

Kinds of Criticism Contrasted.

However, much of modern biblical criticism springs from unbiblical philosophical presup­positions exposed by Gerhard Maier in The End of the Historical Critical Method. These presuppositions incompatible with Christian faith include deism, materialism, skepticism, agnosticism, Hegelian idealism, and existentialism. Most basic is a prevailing naturalism (antisupernaturalism) that is intuitively hostile to any document containing miracle stories. This naturalistic bias divides negative (destructive) from positive (constructive) higher criticism:




Negative Criticism (Destructive)
Basis Supernaturalistic Naturalistic
Rule Text is “innocent until proven guilty” Text is “guilty

until proven innocent”

Result Bible is wholly true Bible is partly true
Final Authority Word of God Mind of man
Role of Reason To discover truth (rationality) To determine truth (rationalism)

Some of the negative presuppositions call for scrutiny, especially as they relate to the Gospel record. This analysis is especially relevant to source criticism, form criticism, and redaction criticism, as these methods challenge the genuineness, authenticity, and conse­quently the divine authority of the Bible. This kind of biblical criticism is unfounded.

Unscholarly bias.

It imposes its own antisupernatural bias on the documents. The originator of modern negative criticism, Benedict Spinoza, for example, declared that Moses did not write the Pentateuch, nor Daniel the whole book of Daniel, nor did any miracle recorded actually occur. Miracles, he claimed, are scientifically and rationally impossible.

In the wake of Spinoza, negative critics concluded that Isaiah did not write the whole book of Isaiah. That would have involved supernatural predictions (including knowing the name of King Cyrus) over 100 years in advance. Likewise, negative critics concluded Daniel could not have been written until 165 B.C. That late authorship placed it after the fulfillment of its detailed description of world governments and rulers down to Antiochus IV Epiphanes (d. 163 B.C.). Supernatural predictions of coming events was not considered an option. The same naturalistic bias was applied to the New Testament by David Strauss (1808- 1874), Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), and Bultmann, with the same devastating results.

The foundations of this antisupernaturalism crumbled with evidence that the universe began with a big bang. Even agnostics such as Robert Jastrow (Jastrow, 18), speak of “supernatural” forces at work (Kenny, 66), so it is sufficient to note here that, with the demise of modern antisupernaturalism, there is no philosophical basis for destructive criticism.

Inaccurate view of authorship.

Negative criticism either neglects or minimizes the role of apostles and eyewitnesses who recorded the events. of the four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, and John were defi­nitely eyewitnesses of the events they report. Luke was a contemporary and careful histo­rian (Luke 1:1-4; see Acts). Indeed, every book of the New Testament was written by a contemporary or eyewitness of Christ. Even such critics as the “Death-of-God” theologian John A. T. Robinson admit that the Gospels were written between A. D. 40 and 65 (Robinson, 352), during the life of eyewitnesses.

But if the basic New Testament documents were composed by eyewitnesses, then much of destructive criticism fails. It assumes the passage of much time while “myths” developed. Studies have revealed that it takes two generations for a myth to develop (Sherwin-White, 190).

What Jesus really said.

It wrongly assumes that the New Testament writers did not distinguish between their own words and those of Jesus. That a clear distinction was made between Jesus’ words and those of the Gospel writers is evident from the ease by which a “red letter” edition of the New Testament can be made. Indeed, the apostle Paul is clear to distinguish his own words from those of Jesus (see Acts 20:35; 1 Cor. 7:10, 12, 25). So is John the apostle in the Apocalypse (see Rev. 1:8, 11, 17-20; 2:1ff; 22:7,12-16, 20b). In view of this care, the New Testament critic is unjustified in assuming without substantive evidence that the Gos­pel record does not actually report what Jesus said and did.


It incorrectly assumes that the New Testament stories are like folklore and myth. There is a vast difference between the simple New Testament accounts of miracles and the embellished myths that did arise during the second and third centuries A.D., as can be seen by comparing the accounts. New Testament writers explicitly disavow myths. Peter declared: “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales (mythos) when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). Paul also warned against belief in myths (1 Tim. 1:4; 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:4; Titus 1:14).

One of the most telling arguments against the myth view was given by C. S. Lewis:

First then, whatever these men may be as Biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to lack literary judgment, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading…. If he tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he had read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour; not how many years he has spent on that Gospel…. I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. [Lewis, 154-55]

Read Part 4

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The John Ankerberg Show

Founder and president of The John Ankerberg Show, the most-watched Christian worldview show in America.
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The John Ankerberg Show

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