It is perhaps a proof of the revelation contained in the Bible that large numbers of Christian men cannot divest themselves of the idea that everything contained in the Bible is revelation. But this hasty inference, drawn no doubt with reverence and the. best intention, is not in the end serviceable either to truth or to faith; for let it be once roundly asserted that every statement of the Holy Scripture must be accepted as a fact or a precept or an idea proceeding from the lips of the Unseen God, recorded for men as an infallible authority which is to override all other sources of knowledge, and the enemies of faith will immediately select from the miscellaneous writings in the Bible passages which are obviously inconsistent with the dogma, and will proceed to pin us down to the consequences of that bold assertion. "You maintain," they will say, "that the Bible is throughout a revelation from God; here are certain parts of it which certainly do not come from Him; therefore, as you declare it all to be homogeneous, none of it comes from Him." This is indeed the main contention of Unbelief at the present time. The dogma of Orthodoxy is pushed to its logical conclusion. To the claim that the whole Bible is Revelation is opposed the demonstration that parts of the Bible are not, and the dogmatist has found no better method of maintaining his ground than that of shutting his eyes to fact and bitterly denouncing those who are unable to do the same. But the time seems to have arrived when this method appears unsatisfactory to believers as it has long appeared contemptible to unbelievers; and earnest men are everywhere asking themselves how it comes to pass that they are perfectly clear in their conviction about the revelation in the Bible, and yet other people are equally clear in pointing out elements in the Bible which are not revelation. We are all beginning to recognise that we must distinguish and define. The truth has failed to emerge because, from mistaken notions of reverence, we have been content to leave the whole question in confusion, and we have not perceived that error itself is in such a case more favourable to truth; we have dreaded error; at last we begin to dread confusion almost as much. We are asking for distinct ideas. When we speak of Revelation, what are we to understand by it? When we say that the Bible is a revelation, what exactly do we mean? When things are pointed out in the Bible which are certainly not correct, not true, are we required by Faith stoutly to declare that they are correct, that they are true, and to maintain faith by believing a lie? Or is it possible to frankly and even joyfully admit these new and demonstrated facts without surrendering one scrap of our real faith in Revelation? Such questions as these, urged as they are with more and more insistence by thoughtful minds, are most hopeful signs of the times. Here, as in many other departments of inquiry, to put the questions correctly is practically the main point. The answer glides into the mind at the moment that the question issues from it, or if no answer comes at once, we are at least able to stand firm on the foothold which the question has afforded us; we do not maintain the perilous position of "one foot on sea, one foot on shore," which resulted from the old confusion of ideas.
We may proceed at once to answer in a provisional way the questions which have just been stated. What is meant by Revelation? The answer may be very simple. By Revelation is meant a truth or truths received from God into the minds of men, not by the ordinary methods of inquiry, such as observation and reasoning, but by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit. All truth that is reached by the ordinary methods of inquiry comes in the last resort from God, but there are things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, and which the reason of man is not adequate to grasp; these things, if they are to be known at all, can be shown to us only by methods which are out of the ordinary; they must be revealed. Now we must distinguish two uses of the word "revelation." The process by which the truths just mentioned are delivered to men, whether it be a historical evolution, an elaborate typology, the immediate communication of the Spirit of God with the spirit of man, or a Person containing in Himself the whole circle of Truth, may be conveniently covered by the term revelation, but when we wish to use the word with strict accuracy it is better to give it the narrower meaning of the truths which are ultimately revealed by the process. In the loose sense of the word the whole Bible is a Revelation, because it is the process worked out through many centuries of human experience; but in the exact sense of the word the whole Bible is not, and cannot be, a Revelation, for it contains, and must contain, historical and other materials which are obtained in the ordinary way; it employs scientific and philosophic conceptions which were necessarily transient; it includes, and must include, the many guesses, glimpses, and foreshadowings of truths not yet revealed, the broken lights which were to merge into the clear day, the fragmentary arcs which would eventually be "a perfect round."
The distinction which has just been drawn prepares us at once for another. There is no mistake commoner than that of mixing up the idea of revelation with a very different matter, viz., historical or scientific truth. On the one hand, the assailants of the Bible think that they have discredited it if they have pointed out a blunder in date or name or event, or if they have shown that "Modern Science" has exploded its scientific conceptions. And on the other hand, the defenders of the Bible feel that they are committed to show that no historical error occurs in its pages, and that its scientific teaching squares with the discoveries of Modern Science, or if not, is to override the conclusions of Science. But all this is mere confusion of thought. Historical facts are not a subject of Revelation, for they are ascertainable by the ordinary methods of human inquiry. The course of events which history attempts to describe may, it is true, be a revelation, and if the historical data should be so vitiated that the general results of those events were lost, then the revelation might be lost, but the ordinary infirmities of historical composition, the uncertainty about points of detail, the occasional confusion of names, or even the admission of certain legendary or traditional elements, will not prevent us from apprehending the facts and perceiving the revelation which is conveyed by them. It does not prove that a history in the Bible is inspired because it is confirmed by an Assyrian inscription or an Egyptian papyrus, nor does it prove that the history is uninspired because fresh historical discoveries enable us to check, or even to correct, it. General credibility, such as we demand in all historical writings, is all that is necessary in the records of events which were themselves a revelation of God to men. But further, where the events themselves are not a revelation, and where all confirmation of the events is necessarily wanting, the stories which have come down through tradition, and even the tales which form the folklore of a people may in the hands of an inspired writer become a vehicle of religious teaching; the element of revelation may be totally disconnected from the accuracy or even the actuality of the story; of this we shall have illustrations in the next chapter. It is better at once to get this position quite clear: Historical Truth and Revealed Truth are essentially distinct. Historical Truth is not ipso facto revelation. Revelation is not necessarily historical truth. A parable may convey more revelation than the most exact chronological table; and a myth in the hands of an inspired writer may teach more about God than Darwin's Descent of Man.
And this leads us to observe that Scientific Fact is not a subject of Revelation. The methods of science are adequate to the needs of science. If the records of Creation were written in the rocks, and if it was possible by the patient investigations of successive ages to correctly read the records, it would be at variance with our first idea of Revelation that these results should be forestalled by a supernatural lesson in natural science ages ago. Scientific truth is of inestimable value, and it is a legitimate subject of speculation why Lyell and Darwin did not emerge in the Mosaic period; but it is no prejudice to Revelation to admit that they did not, and therefore that any religious truth which had to be revealed to men would necessarily come by the vehicle of such scientific conceptions as existed then. Certainly we entirely misconceive the scope of Revelation if we think to discredit it by scientific discoveries of a later date which are at variance with it, or if on the ground of the Revelation we decline to accept these discoveries when they are supported by adequate proofs. Here again it is well to get the position clear at once. Scientific Truth and Revealed Truth are essentially different. There is no indication that God ever intended to reveal a scientific fact. There is no indication that He rejected as instruments of revelation men who were scientifically ignorant. Just as to-day He has used men who probably know nothing of science to civilise and to spiritualise and to Christianise those inhabitants of Terra del Fuego whom the greatest scientific man of his time pronounced to be no better than the beasts, so in the course of His self-revelation to men He used that Semitic race which seemed, scientifically speaking, the most backward, and made them the vehicle of religious truth, while He made the Greeks the pioneers of science and art, and the Romans the leaders in political organisation. If Joshua and Isaiah were ignorant of the solar system, and therefore referred certain phenomena to the wrong causes, this does not in the least affect Joshua's historical work as the conqueror of Canaan, or Isaiah's historical work as the spiritual leader of his own generation, and the prophetic seer of a generation still to come. If Peter, or the author of The Second Epistle of Peter, held the ancient belief that the heavens were a solid and tangible firmament overspanning the earth, which could be rolled up and removed in the great day of judgment, this scientific misconception need not in the least affect the wisdom and force of his moral appeals and his spiritual teaching. Nay, if Biblical writers from first to last know nothing of the Origin of Man as it is understood in the modern sense, and are strangers to comparative biology, or to comparative physiology, that is a totally irrelevant argument in discussing the subject of Revelation, for no one supposes that the laws of biology or physiology would be given by Revelation, or that God would wait for the arrival of modern biologists and physiologists in order to convey through them the truths which only Revelation could impart.
But without prolonging the discussion any further in this direction, the distinctions which have been drawn will enable us to grasp more firmly the definition of Revelation already given. Revelation, in the strictest use of the term, is that body of truth which is made known to man in a special way, because the ordinary methods of discovering truth would not suffice. Broadly speaking, then, the Revelation in the Bible is precisely that which apart from the Bible not only would not, but could not, have been known. Thus they are not far wrong who say that the only thing revealed in the Bible is God. Much else is told in the Bible, much that is true, and beautiful, and precious, but that might have been told elsewhere or in other ways. But God, Creator, Orderer, Sovereign, Saviour, Judge, of the world, is revealed in the Bible—i.e., apart from the Bible we could not know Him. They, too, are not far wrong who speak of the Bible as the Book of God, though of course it is a term foreign to the Bible itself. The Bible is the Book of God because it contains the progressive Revelation of God. If the Bible were obliterated and its truths forgotten, we might have aspirations after God, surmises, glimpses, intuitions, imaginations, but God would be unrevealed to us. Here we have a clue, yet we must be careful how we use it. Because this is the Book of God we have no reason to say that everything said about God in the Book is true. The historical and progressive character of the Book gives no foothold for such unintelligent and slumberous dogmatism. In the earlier phases of the Revelation, for example, God is frequently identified with one land; it is assumed that other lands have their gods as Israel has Yahvéh. David speaks as if being driven from the borders of the sacred land meant being banished from God Himself. This is evidently a phase in revelation, not the completed truth. Or, look at another fact: some of the most beautiful things said about God occur in the speeches of Job's three friends, yet the Almighty describes these very speeches as "darkening counsel. Or again, the knowledge of God under the law is denounced by the prophets, and still more by our Lord, as little better than elaborate ignorance of Him. Clearly in this case if we lose the historic perspective, if we neglect to interpret the earlier by the later, if we fail to see that it is the complete Revelation, and that only, which gives us the complete idea of God, our use of the Book may become dangerous and misleading. God is revealed in the Bible, not by selected texts, but in broad progressive lines, by ideas which germinate and grow, by a light which struggles from a brilliant dawn through shadows to a perfect day.
But it may be said, Surely the Bible reveals much else besides God. Does it not reveal, for example, the future life, heaven with its rewards, and hell with its punishments? This question can only be answered very cautiously as we proceed. In a certain sense the revelation of God Himself involves many subsidiary truths such as the doctrine of rewards and punishments, but we have to distinguish carefully between conceptions of a future world, which might be current in any given age of revelation, and might therefore be employed by the teacher as the clothing of a truth which he wished to convey, and definite revelations of the future world given expressly by the specific methods of revelation. Even our Lord uses the language of His own day when He speaks about the Valley of Hinnom with its ever-burning fires; and it is necessary to penetrate behind the veil of language, and behind the mere tesseræ of familiar images before we can get at a truth, and say, "This is a new revelation given us by God Himself."
On the whole it is perhaps safest to cling, at least provisionally, to the idea that all Revelation is really the revealing of God. What is human can be learnt by human means; what is Divine can be learnt only by the Divine Spirit. And a great clearness comes into our conception of the Bible directly we recognise that its real gist is to show us God, whom otherwise we could not know. With this clue in our hands we can answer the second question which was mooted at the beginning: When we say that the Bible is a revelation, what exactly do we mean? We mean, not that it is a general encyclopædia of information, a text-book of biology, a primer of physiology, a synopsis of history, a prophetic forecast of the future, but that it is a compilation of writings through which God is revealed to us, not in a moment of time, but in a historical evolution, not in a few proof texts, but in the whole connected mass of the two literatures of which the book consists. It is true, human life and human destiny are incidentally revealed in this light of a revealed God, but only incidentally. As a treatise on ethics, or a Vade Mecum of practical conduct, the book does not profess to serve. It professes to reveal God and show us the way to Him. If it does not do that for us, it does, in effect, nothing. Since the consummate revelation of God is in the person of Christ, the whole aim of the Scripture may be said to be to bring men to Christ. If we search the Scriptures without reaching that end, our search is in vain. As a recent German writer has put it, the Bible is "a collection of books which are written in God's Spirit and in a Divine faith-power, out of life for life, out of history for history: their unique centre, the touchstone and end of the whole and of its several parts is and remains the living historical person of Jesus Christ."
If now we have a provisional answer to the questions, What is Revelation, and in what sense is the Bible a Revelation? the other questions which were raised will easily answer themselves. When the progress of knowledge casts some doubt on statements contained in the Bible, Faith, so far from commanding us to reject these new facts as an assault, commands us to investigate them, and if they are proved, to receive them as a new light, on Revelation. Our conception of Revelation is so situated and constructed that it is flatly impossible for any truth which the human mind can discover to shake it. Revelation is that truth which the human mind cannot discover. The Bible itself, as every step in our investigation must prove, is the consistent record of later truths superseding earlier truths, and of primitive notions becoming antiquated in the light of broadening knowledge. The Book of the Law is made up of frequent revisions of the Law as the primordial community of Israel developed into the Jewish Church. The prophets utter forecasts that the whole system of the Law with its sacrifices and ordinances was soon to pass away. The New Testament is the abolition, because the fulfilment, of the Law. Nothing could be more instructive than our Lord's own words upon this subject. He protests that no jot or tittle of the Law shall pass before it is fulfilled, but He sets His own ordinances over against what "was said to them of old time," and as a matter of historical fact that Law has passed away; even the Jews neglect all the elaborate ritual of the altar, and the priesthood has ceased from Israel. What does it mean? Is it not clear that the old truth is confirmed and fulfilled by merging into a new truth? And if our Lord treated the venerable ancient Scriptures in this way, we who claim to have the mind of Christ must apply the same method. We shall not give to Scripture a finality which He refused to give; we shall not think we serve Truth by saying that no jot or tittle shall pass away when He, the Truth, Himself abolished the whole system of the Ancient Law. We shall carefully avoid the tendency to crystallise and stereotype those books which derived all their value from being stages in a growth and imperfect preparations for a larger truth to come.
But if we are to apply the Spirit of Christ to the interpretation of Scripture we must not hesitate to apply it even to those New Testament writings which speak most expressly of Him, and we must be prepared for those direct manifestations of the Spirit to the Christian consciousness which He Himself promised to His disciples. There were many things, He said, which He could not tell them then, but when He, the Spirit of truth, should come, He would lead them into all truth. That power of the Spirit was to effect greater things than even He Himself had done. It is customary to limit these further revealings of the Spirit to the Apostolic writings of the New Testament, but the Apostolic writings give no countenance to that limitation. Rather it is the tendency of those writings, and especially of the latest, the most matured of them, to turn our attention to the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, and that sovereign way of being taught and led. The idea, therefore, of a Revelation confined to the Sacred Writings cannot be said to be the idea of those Sacred Writings themselves. The textual and mechanical methods which result from that idea are as foreign to the Spirit of Christ as the Rabbinical methods of dealing with the Old Testament were repugnant to Him when He was in the flesh. Just in proportion as we see in Him the bright flower and fruit of the Scriptures shall we hesitate to exalt the Scriptures, root and branch, deciduous leaves, and cast off membranes, to an equality with Him.
And now, before bringing this introductory chapter to a close, it may be well to sketch out the path which will be followed in the present investigation. We have already in broad lines defined the substance of Revelation; it remains for us to patiently deal with the various parts of which the Bible consists, and to each part to apply varying tests with a view of determining what elements of Revelation it contains. With each successive book in our hands we should like to accurately discriminate how much of this, and in what sense, and with what limitations, should be literally regarded as Revelation, and what parts of the writing or what modes of its setting must be regarded as merely human?
In pursuing this investigation, if we are to keep it within reasonable bounds, it will be desirable to mass the writings together in groups which are in some sense homogeneous, for to take each of the books and deal with it separately would, in a brief work like this, lead us too far afield. It will be necessary to deal with the Book of Genesis by itself, because of the many remarkable features, and the abiding interest, of that book. But the rest of the Pentateuch may for our purposes be handled together under the title of the Tôrah. or the Law. We must then take in hand the Historical Books of the Old Testament, breaking them into two series: the first, which flows in a connected narrative from Genesis up to the end of the Books of Kings, and the second, which covers the same ground, though with a different handling and a different spirit, and then resumes the story after the Captivity up to the time of Nehemiah; this second series includes the Paraleipomena, as they are called in the Greek version, or the Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, and the Book of Esther. We shall then consider the all-important work of the Prophets which had so much to do with the development of Israel's religious life. And, to conclude the review of the Old Testament, we shall try to handle briefly the Hagiographa, or Kethubim, which form the third division of the Jewish Canon. When we pass to the New Testament we shall find that for our purposes the literature can be best divided into the Memoirs of our Lord, the Pauline Letters, the Early Pages of the Christian History, the Minor Letters, and the Johannine Writings.
As has just been said, varying tests will have to be applied to these very different groups, and we must not expect anything like an uniform method of treatment. But one or two principles must guide our study throughout, and with a statement of these principles this Introduction may close. First, we must constantly try to get the writing under discussion in its right historical relations; this cannot always be done in a way to command an universal assent, for about the question of dates and authorship in the case of many Old Testament, and some New Testament, books sub judice lis est, but it may be at once premised that, except in one or two instances which may easily be distinguished, the method need not be affected by these disputes of the "higher criticism." Should the ultimate verdict be other than that which is assumed in our treatment of the book or books, a corresponding change in the estimate will easily be made by one who has followed the method of reasoning. It must be our constant object to illustrate and to prove that the actual contents of Revelation, as it has been defined in this chapter, cannot possibly be affected by the disputed authorship, or, in most cases even, by the difficulty in fixing the period, of the composition. From this first will naturally follow a second principle of inquiry. In estimating the degree or quantity of revelation in a given book it will be wise to compare it, not so much with the finished results of revelation which are before us in the New Testament, as with the notions, beliefs, and practices which existed so far as we know among contemporary, and especially contiguous, peoples, for it is evident that a truth may have been a startling revelation twenty centuries ago which has become to us almost a commonplace; it is a very common observation that an original genius is often less appreciated by posterity than might be expected, just because he has been so successful in inoculating subsequent generations with his ideas; still more in the course of revelation we are apt to forget that imperfect truths, given as men were able to bear them, were once almost meteoric in their brilliancy by comparison with the surrounding darkness; we now remember only that they are imperfect, we forget that they were truths, and such truths as could not have been discovered unless God had lifted at least a corner of the veil.
Once again, another principle must rule all our study, a principle which seems at first sight almost exactly contradictory to the one which has just been stated. While we throw ourselves back into the past and endeavour to judge it with the eyes of a contemporary, it is necessary to carry with us the motto, Respice Finem; we must never for a moment forget that all ended in a great consummation, Jesus Christ. If the crown of God's self-revelation was that perfect and unique personality, and if all previous revelation was a preparation for Him, we shall be keen to recognise every filament and fibre of truth which eventually works its way from dark subsoils of history or of thought into that finished Flower. And if we keep this principle always in view, at the same time trying to avoid all extravagance and unreasonableness in its application, we shall be constantly reminded of a fact which is among the most wonderful in the many wonderful features of the Bible. The broad historic development of Israel very obviously leads up to Christ, and all the institutions of the Law and of the Congregation point to that marvellous spiritual completion; the modes of thought, the expectations, the aspirations of Israel's thinkers and prophets no less clearly prognosticate the great Person that was to be; these historical and spiritual elements of revelation even a careless reader will find it difficult to miss if he studies the Old Testament in the light of the New. But there is something more curious: still: how comes it that one story after another in the narrative parts of the Old Testament lends itself to a typological treatment, so that the events are, as St. Paul would say, ἀëëçãïñïύìåíá. allegories of things which were only realised centuries later? How comes it that a narrative like that of Abraham and Isaac presents a startling illustration of the great Sacrifice which was to be offered on, or near, Mount Moriah, in a distant and unseen future? How comes it that in reading the story of Joseph, as natural and simple a tale as was ever penned, the Christian constantly receives the impression that even in little details it is a veiled presentation of Jesus and His saving work? How comes it that the first Joshua is in name and function the counterpart, or rather the foreshadowing, of that second Joshua, whom we call by the Greek equivalent of the name, Jesus? And when this typical significance of events and names and persons is carried on through century after century of a national literature, in ways which no human foresight or wisdom could possibly have devised, so that a Christian taking up the Old Testament with Christ as the key finds in his hands a series of pictures, as it were, all representing with outline more or less distinct, and with colours more or less harmonised, the Lord whom he has learnt to know, is it not plain that we are here face to face with a mysterious element of Revelation which we must constantly bear in mind and honestly seek to explain? The mere scholar is naturally impatient of this typological element in the Bible; he resents the extravagances and absurdities to which, from Barnabas to Swedenborg, the recognition of this element seems to have predisposed interpreters; he insists in the cold dry light of reason on treating the literature of the Bible merely as literature, and the history merely as history; on the other hand, an uncritical pietist is outraged by the scholarly method, and in the vindication of what he clearly sees to be the facts of this typology he is apt to denounce the scholar and to run into all lengths of absurdity in carrying out the one method which is plain to him. But the scholar and the pietist must meet on the common ground of seeking to understand Revelation; if either is absent the investigation will halt; two keys simultaneously applied are needed to unlock this ancient casket. No researches of criticism have explained away the mysterious typology of the Scripture. No indignant protests of simple unlearned Bible students have delayed the inevitable work of criticism. But the time seems to have come when scholarship should seek to explain the features of the Bible which it is powerless to explain away, and when pietism should discern in scholarship its best friend, although its sternest judge.
It is, so we may surmise, the outstanding charge against the scholars of the "higher criticism" that they are blind to the religious interests involved in their discussions; in analysing the warp and the woof of the tapestry they fail to observe or to appreciate the design and the colour; they appear, for the most part, more anxious to deal a blow at error than to build the fabric of truth; they insist on dealing with the Bible merely as literature when the world is demanding it as religious food, and pious people are sure that in it they have found the bread on which the soul can live. It must be confessed that the students who have been hitherto drawn into the pioneer work of Biblical Criticism are not, for the most, part, rich religious natures; compared with the full-blooded and impassioned eloquence of an unreasoning dogmatism, they may appear jejune and halting. But that is no matter for surprise. The question is, not, Are these critics trustworthy religious teachers? but rather, Are the truths which they have brought to light consistent with the strong and vital faith in God and Revelation which is essential to the power and efficiency of the Church?
The answer to this question appears to the present writer by no means doubtful. If the simple recognition of established facts were to shatter our religious faith, rob us of our God, and draw a line of erasure right through our Bible, it would be a plain duty to accept the established facts. Unless Truth seems to us more valuable than our God, our God will certainly not be the real God, for He is Truth. Unless we feel the solemn responsibility of accepting proved facts, whatever havoc they may make with our beliefs, our beliefs never can be true, for if the beliefs themselves are true we shall yet hold them untruly. "Blind unbelief is sure to err," and so is blind Belief. We take a step in the direction of Death whenever we deliberately resolve to deny or ignore a Fact. But the results of Criticism, and the admission of scientific facts, do not and cannot rob us of our God—and if they alter our way of regarding the Bible, they take it from us only to give it to us again. What they shatter is that hoary coating of prejudice and superstition which always forms upon the Truth during ages of sleepy dogmatism and intellectual apathy. This book will have entirely failed in its purpose if it leaves the reader in any doubt that the Revelation of God is confirmed rather than shaken, illumined rather than obscured, by the new methods of dealing with the Scriptures which fresh study and accumulating knowledge have rendered necessary. It is strange that we, who have regarded with equanimity the fierce assaults of Deism, Atheism, and Secularism upon the Sacred Book, should show a timorous anxiety when Christian scholars themselves are dealing in no iconoclastic spirit with the facts which gave a handle to those embittered assailants. It is not an edifying spectacle to see the children of the Reformation seeking to silence inquiry by abuse and misrepresentation. They who think to protect the Bible by a Dogma must in the end discredit it, for they imply that their Dogma is really the foundation on which the Bible rests. As a matter of fact, the Bible stood before that crude dogma of infallible inspiration was invented, and the Bible will stand when that dogma has passed away. That it rests not upon dogma, but upon the solid foundations of demonstrable fact, the following pages seek to show.