A Testimony Against Modern Textual Criticism
September 13, 2022
The following testimony to the authority and authenticity of the Holy Scriptures is by George Sayles Bishop. Preached in 1885 at the dawn of the modern era of modern textual criticism, this message lays out that unquestioning faith in God’s Holy Word that has characterized true believers from the beginning of time. It is not a blind faith. It is not an ignorant faith. It is faith in a God who cannot lie.
In the following passage, Bishop is writing in defense of the one word “God” in 1 Timothy 3:16.
The acceptance of modern textual criticism is almost universal among denominational Baptists, such as Southern Baptists and the American Baptist Church, and has spread widely among fundamental Baptists.
Modern textual criticism was invented by heretics, particularly theological modernists and Unitarians such as Richard Simon, Richard Bentley, Johann Wettstein, Johann Griesbach, Karl Lachmann, George Vance Smith, B.F. Westcott, F.J.A. Hort, Philip Schaff, Ezra Abbot, Joseph Henry Thayer, William Mounton, Charles Briggs, Francis Brown, Samuel Driver, William Sanday, William Robertson Smith, Caspar Gregory, Eberhard Nestle, Hermann Von Soden, Rudolph and Gerhard Kittel, Frederick Conybeare, F.F. Bruce, James Elliott, Edgar Goodspeed, James Moffatt, Fredric Kenyon, Francis Burkitt, Kirsopp Lake, George Ladd, Reginald Fuller, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Walter Bauer, Alexander Souter, J.B. Phillips, C.H. Dodd, Ernest Colwell, Kurt Aland, Bruce Metzger, and Carlo Martini. (For extensive documentation see the free eBook The Modern Bible Version Hall of Shame, http://www.wayoflife.org.)
Modern textual criticism is the heretical theory behind the modern Bible versions. It assumes that God has not precisely preserved the Scripture, but that it had to be recovered in modern times by textual critics. It produces uncertainty concerning the details of Scripture. A confident “thus saith the Lord” is replaced with “this reading has more support than that reading.” The congregation’s one Bible standard is replaced with a multiplicity of conflicting Bibles.
The voice of George Sayles Bishop is the voice of confidence that can only come by a rejection of modern textual criticism:
‘Oh, but it is only one word!’ Yes, but one word of Scripture of which it is said, ‘Thou hast magnified Thy Word above all Thy Name!’ ‘Only one word!’ But that word ‘God.’ Better the whole living church of God should perish than that one word should perish. ‘If any man take away from the words of the book of this prophecy God shall take away his part.’ Let criticism pause. The principle at stake is solemn.
The point at issue in the whole controversy with ‘modern criticism’ is, whether the Bible can be placed upon the same plane with other, merely human, literature and treated accordingly; or whether, as a Divine Revelation, it addresses us with a command and sanction? The power of the Book is shaken from the moment we deny its a priori binding claim on our belief and obedience. The Book is a royal document, or series of documents issued by the King of kings, and binding upon every subject. The Book, then, is to be received with reverence by one who falls upon his bended knees beneath the only shaft of light which, from unknown eternity, brings to the soul the certainties of God—of His dealings in grace with men, and of a judgment. The Old Testament is—in some sense—more awful than the New—as it begins with a creation out of nothing—as it thunders from Sinai, and as it prefigures and predicts the momentous facts of Calvary and the Apocalypse. But it has been represented that the Bible has twisted itself up like a worm from the dust by an Evolution in which the human element is most conspicuous.
The inspiration of the Old Testament, including that of the whole Bible, is a matter, first of all, of pure Divine testimony, which leaves us nothing but to receive it. God says, ‘I am speaking.’ That ends it. The instant order of the Book to every reader is ‘Believe or die!’ The Book brings with it its authentication. Who would think of standing up under the broad blaze of the noonday sun to deny the existence of the sun? His shining is his authentication.
The Jews cherished the highest awe and veneration for their sacred writings which they regarded as the ‘Oracles of God.’ They maintained that God had more care of the letters and syllables of the Law than of the stars of heaven, and that upon each tittle of it, mountains of doctrine hung. For this reason every individual letter was numbered by them and account kept of how often it occurred. In the transcription of an authorized synagogue manuscript, rules were enforced of the minutest character. The copyist must write with a particular ink, on a particular parchment. He must write in so many columns, of such a size, and containing just so many lines and words. No word to be written without previously looking at the original. The copy, when completed, must be examined and compared within thirty days; if four errors were found on one parchment, the examination went no farther—the whole was rejected. When worn out, the rolls were officially and solemnly burned lest the Scripture might fall into profane hands or into fragments.
The Old Testament, precisely as we have it, was endorsed by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. When He appeared on the earth, 1,500 years after Moses, the first of the prophets, and 400 years after Malachi, the last of them, He bore open testimony to the sacred canon as held by the Jews of His time. Nor did He—among all the evils which He charged upon His countrymen—ever intimate that they had, in any degree, corrupted the canon, either by addition, diminution, or alteration of any kind. By referring to the ‘Scriptures,’ which He declared ‘cannot be broken,’ the Lord Jesus Christ has given His full attestation to all and every one of the books of the Old Testament as the unadulterated Word of God.
Our Blessed Lord puts ‘what is written’ equal to His own declaration. He saw the Old Testament inspired from one end to the other, divine from one end to the other. Ah! how He valued the sacred text! Our modern critics, with arrogance which rises to daring impiety, deny to Christ the insight which they claim for themselves. The point right here is this, Did Jesus fundamentally misconceive the character of the Old Testament? Did He take for a created and immediate revelation what was of a slow and ordinary growth? Or was He dishonest, and did He make about Abraham, for example, statements and representations which belong only to a geographical myth—a personality which never existed?
The authority of Jesus Christ, God speaking—not from heaven only, but with human lips—has given a sanction to every book and sentence in the Jewish canon, and blasphemy is written on the forehead of any theory which alleges imperfection, error, contradiction, or sin in any book in the sacred collection. The Old Testament was our Lord’s only study book. On it His spiritual life was nurtured. In all His life it was His only reference. Through His apostles He reaffirmed it. Five hundred and four (504) times is the Old Testament quoted in the New. The whole Jewish nation, down to this day, acknowledge, without one dissenting voice, the genuineness of the Old Testament. The Book reflects upon them and condemns them; it also goes to build up Christianity, a system which they hate, and yet, impressed with an unalterable conviction of their divine origin, they have, at the expense of everything dear to man, clung to the Old Testament Scriptures.
The Old Testament is inspired from beginning to end. What do we mean by this? We mean infallibility and perfection. We mean that the books are of absolute authority, demanding an unlimited submission. We mean that Genesis is as literally the Word of God as are the Gospels—Joshua as is the Acts—Proverbs as are the Epistles—the Song of Solomon as is the Revelation. We mean that the writings were inspired. Nothing is said in the Bible about the inspiration of the writers. It is of small importance to us who wrote Ruth. It is every importance that Ruth was written by God. How did God write? On Sinai, He wrote, we are told, with His finger. We are told this in seven different places. God used men with different degrees of style. He made Amos write like a herdsman and David like a poet. He made the difference, provided for it, and employed it because He would have variety and adapt Himself to all classes and ages.
He wrote through the men. How did He do this? I do not know. The fact, I know, for I am told it. The secret is His own. I read that ‘holy men of old spake as they were moved’—then they did not choose their own language. … I do not know how my soul dictates to and controls my body so that the moving of my fingertips is the action of my soul. I do not know how, in regeneration, God does all and I do all. He produces all and I act all, for what He produces is my act.
‘But there are discrepancies—contradictions.’ No! Scores of times I have corrected myself, but never God’s Word. Patience and a larger knowledge will solve every knot. Dr. Hodge, of Princeton, says: ‘Not one single instance of a discrepancy in Scripture has ever been proved.’ Would all the united wisdom of men have led them to relate the history of the creation of the universe in a single chapter, and that of the erection of the tabernacle in thirteen? The description of the great edifice of the world, would it not seem to require more words than that of a small tent?
To discredit the statement repeated in almost every chapter of Exodus and Leviticus—’And the Lord said to Moses.’ To charge Christ with falsehood, who says, ‘Moses said,’ ‘Moses taught you,’ ‘David says’—quoting as He does, not from the 7th and the 18th only, but from the 41st, the 110th, the 118th, and other Psalms. The result is to disintegrate the Bible and throw it into heaps of confusion mingled with rubbish—to shake faith to the very foundations and scatter Revelation to the winds. It is to elevate Robertson, Smith, Wellhausen, Baur, Astruc, Cheyne, and other heretics, who seem to have taken God into their own hands, to a level with the Saviour of men and His prophets, whom they criticize freely. THIS IS NOT EXEGESIS, IT IS CONSPIRACY. IT IS NOT CONTRIBUTION TO RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE, IT IS CRIME!
Think of the amazing, the stupendous difference between Christ quoting from a human compilation, or from the living Oracles of God! ‘I came not to destroy,’ He says, ‘but to fulfil’—to fulfil what? A haphazard collection of Ezra’s time—made up of fragmentary documents of men, some of whom had an inspiration little above that of Browning and Tennyson! … I beseech you, therefore, Brethren, beware of what is called ‘the modern school.’
‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth!’ Here are the Pillars of Hercules through which we pass from Time with all its changes into Eternity—a shoreless, changeless sea. Here are the frontiers of human exploration, beyond which rolls and surges the illimitable Ocean of Deity, Self-existent, blessed forever and independent of all creatures.
The first utterance of the Bible fixes it that matter is not eternal. That there was a point when the universe was not and when God, by simple fiat, brought it into being. So that, as the apostle says, He called the existent out of the non-existent—the visible from that which had no visibility. In other words, God made the world out of nothing—an awful nothing—the idea of which we cannot comprehend. A lonely and a solitary Worker, out of emptiness, He created fullness—out of what was not, all things—getting from Himself the substance as well as the shaping—the fact as well as the how.
‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’ HE had to tell us that, for He ONLY was there. He had to TELL us that, but, being told, we at once, believe it, for everything outside the Self-existent must have a beginning. Matter must have had a beginning, for—push the molecules back as far as you will, either matter was the egg out of which God was hatched, or God hatched matter. Can there be any question as to which of these is true?
‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’ IF THIS FIRST SENTENCE IS UNAUTHENTIC, THE WHOLE BIBLE IS UNTRUE AND FOR SIX THOUSAND YEARS MEN HAVE BEEN DUPED AND DELUDED WHO HAVE LOVED AND CHERISHED ITS TEACHINGS. The credibility of the Bible, then, depends upon the truth of the First Chapter of Genesis. If that chapter contains ‘a few small scientific lies,’ then the Book is a compilation of deceptions from cover to cover. Thus we are either Christians or skeptics! It has been claimed that no essential injury is done to Christian faith by concessions made to modern criticism—that if one believes in redemption, it is of small account what he believes of creation. But MEN WHO SPEAK SO RASHLY, OVERLOOK THE FACT THAT CREATION IS THE BASIS OF REDEMPTION—THAT THERE MUST BE MAN, AND MAN FALLEN, BEFORE THERE CAN BE MAN SAVED—AND THAT THE BELIEF IN CREATION DEPENDS ENTIRELY UPON THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF GENESIS, AS A HISTORICAL DOCUMENT.
The difficulty with Higher Criticism is that it disbelieves in advance, and the reason of this too frequently is that it is working with a brain whose crooked and vapid conclusions are guided by a heart averse to God—at enmity with God and working every way to get rid of Him.
George Sayles Bishop, The Doctrines of Grace and Kindred Themes, 1910