Study of the King James Bible Part 13

Now there is no commentator nor thoughtful reader who is not arrested by that word "kill."

It does not seem to belong there. It is far more violent than anything else in the whole text, and it is difficult to understand in what sense the persons to whom James was writing could be said to kill. Yet there is no Greek manuscript which does not have that word. Well, it is in the field of lower criticism to observe that there is a Greek word which sounds very much like this word "kill," which means to envy; that would fit exactly into the whole text here.

All that lower criticism can do is to point out such a probability.

When this form of criticism has done its part, and careful study has yielded a text which holds together and which represents the very best which scholarship can find for the original, there is still a field more difficult than that, higher in the sense that it demands a larger and broader view of the whole subject. Here one studies the meaning of the whole, the ideas in it, seeks to find how the revelation of God has progressed according to the capacities of men to receive it.

Higher criticism is the careful study of the historical and original meanings of Scripture, the effort to determine dates and times and, so far as may be, the author of each writing, analyzing its ideas, the general Greek or Hebrew style, the relation of part to part. That is not a thing to be afraid of. It is a method of study used in every realm. It is true that some of the men who have followed that method have made others afraid of it, because they were afraid of these men themselves. It is possible to claim far too much for such study. But if the result of higher criticism should be to show that the latter half of the prophecy of Isaiah is much later than the earlier half, that is not a destruction of the Word of God. It is not an irreverent result of study. If the result of higher criticism is to show that by reason of its content, and the lessons which it especially urges, the Epistle to the Hebrews was not written by the Apostle Paul, as it does not at any point claim to have been, why, that is not irreverent, that is not destructive.

There is a destructive form of higher criticism; against that there is reason to set up bulwarks.

But there is a constructive form of it also.

Scholarly opinion will tell any one who asks that criticism has not affected the fundamental values of the Bible. In the studies which have just now been made we have not instanced anything in the Bible that is subject to change.

No matter what the result of critical study may be, the fundamental democracy of the Scripture remains. It continues to make its persistent moral appeal on any terms. Both those great facts continue. Other great facts abide with them. And on their account it is to our interest to know as much as we can learn about it. The Bible has not been lessened in its value, has not been weakened in itself, by anything that has taken place in critical study. On the other hand, the net result of such studies as archaeology has been the confirmation of much that was once disputed. Sir William Ramsay is authority for saying that the spade of the excavator is to-day digging the grave of many enemies of the Bible.

Take the second question, whether these times have not in them elements that weaken the hold of the Bible. There again we must distinguish between facts and judgments. There are certain things in these times which relax the hold of any authoritative book. There is a general relaxing of the sense of authority. It does not come alone from the intellectual awakening, because so far as that awakening is concerned, it has affected quite as much men who continue loyal to the authority of the Bible as others.

No, this relaxing of the sense of authority is the result of the first feeling of democracy which does not know law. Democracy ought to mean that men are left independent of the control of other individuals because they realize and wish to obey the control of God or of the whole equally with their fellows. When, instead, one feels independent of others, and adds to that no sense of a higher control which he must be free to obey, the result is not democracy, but individualism.

Democracy involves control; individualism does not. A vast number of people in passing from any sense of the right of another individual to control them have also passed out of the sense of the right of God or of the whole to control them. So that from a good many all sense of authority has passed. It is characteristic of our age. And it is a stage in our progress toward real democracy, toward true human liberty.

Observe that relaxed sense of authority in the common attitude toward law. Most men feel it right to disregard a law of the community which they do not like. It appears in trivial things. If the community requires that ashes be kept in a metal receptacle, citizens approve it in general, but reserve to themselves the right to consider it a foolish law and to do something else if that is not entirely convenient. If the law says that paper must not be thrown on the sidewalk, it means little that it is the law. Those who are inclined to be clean and neat and do not like to see paper lying around will keep the law; those who are otherwise will be indifferent to it. That is at the root of the matter-of- course saying that a law cannot be enforced unless public opinion sustains it. Under any democratic system laws virtually always have the majority opinion back of them; but the minority reserve the right to disregard them if they choose, and the minority will be more aggressive.

Rising from those relaxations of law into far more important ones, it appears that men in business life, feeling themselves hampered by legislation, set themselves to find a way to evade it, justifying themselves in doing so. The mere fact that it is the law does not weigh heavily.

This is, however, only an inevitable stage in progress from the earliest periods of democracy to later and more substantial periods. It is a stage which will pass. There will come a democracy where the rule of the whole is frankly recognized, and where each man holds himself independent of his fellows only in the sense that he will claim the right to hold such relation to God and his duty as he himself may apprehend.

In these times, also, the development of temporal and material prosperity with the intellectual mood which is involved in that affects the attitude of the age toward the Bible. Sometimes it is spoken of as a scientific age over against the earlier philosophical ages. Perhaps that will do for a rough statement of the facts.

It is the age of experiment, of trying things out, and there naturally works into men a feeling that the things that will yield to the most material scientific experimentation are the things about which they can be certain and which are of real value. That naturally involves a good deal of appreciation of the present, and calls for the improvement of the conditions of present life first of all. It looks more important to see that a man is well fed, well housed, well clothed, and well educated than that he should have the interests of eternity pressed on his attention.

That is a comparatively late feeling. It issues partly from the fact that this is a scientific age, when science has had its attention turned to the needs of humanity.

Another result of our scientific age is the magnifying of the natural, while the Bible frankly asserts the supernatural. No effort to get the supernatural out of the Bible, in order to make it entirely acceptable to the man who scouts the supernatural, has thus far proved successful.

Of course, the supernatural can be taken out of the Bible; but it will destroy the Bible. Nor is there much gain in playing with words and insisting that everything is supernatural or that everything is natural. There is a difference between the two, and in an age which insists upon nature or natural laws or forces or events as all- sufficient it is almost inevitable that the Bible should lose its hold, at least temporarily.

Regarding all this there are some things that need to be said. For one thing, this, too, is a passing condition. As a matter of fact, men are not creatures of time. They actually have eternal connections, and the great outstanding facts which have always made eternity of importance continue. The fact is that men continue to die, and that the men who are left behind cannot avoid the sense of mystery and awe which is involved in that fact. The fact also is that the human emotions cannot be explained on the lower basis, and the only reason men think they can be is because they have in the back of their minds the old explanations which they cast into the lower forms, deceiving themselves into thinking they are new ideas when they are not.

It ought to be added that the Bible has greatly suffered in all its history at the hands of men who have believed in it and have fought in its behalf. Many of the controversies which were hottest were needless and injurious. All the folly has not been on one side. Some one referred the other day to a list of more than a hundred scientific theories which were proposed at the beginning of the last century and abandoned at the end of it. Scientific men are feeling their way, many of them reverently and devoutly, some of them rather blatantly and with a readiness for publication, which hastens them into notoriety. But there has been enough folly on both sides to make every one go cautiously. It has been remarked that in Dr.

Draper's book The Conflict Between Science and Religion he makes science appear as a strong- limbed angel of God whereas religion is always a great ass. The title of the book itself is not fair. In no proper understanding of the words can there be any conflict between science and religion. There can be a conflict, as Dr.

Andrew D. White puts it, between science and theology. There can certainly be contest between scientists and religionists. Science and religion have no conflict.

It is interesting to observe how far back most of the supposed conflicts actually lie. There is no warfare now; and, while our fathers one or two generations ago felt that they must fly to the defense of religion against the attacks of science, no man wastes his strength doing that to-day.

That period has passed. The trouble is that some good people do not know it, and are just fond enough of a bit of a tussle to keep up the fighting in the mountain-passes while out in the plain the main armies have laid down their arms and are busy tilling the soil.

The period of conflict is past, partly because we are learning to distinguish between the Bible as it really is and certain long-established ideas about the Bible which came from other sources and have become attached to it until it seemed to sustain them. The proper doctrine of evolution is entirely compatible with the Bible. The great Dr. Hodge declared that the consistent Darwinian must be an atheist. For that matter, Shelley defended himself by saying that, of course, "the consistent Newtonian must necessarily be an atheist." But fifty years have made great changes in the doctrine of evolution, and the old scare has been over for some time. Newton is honored in the church quite as much as in the university, and Darwin is not a name to frighten anybody. Understanding evolution better and knowing the Bible better, the two do not jangle out of tune so badly but that harmony is promised.

The doctrine of the antiquity of the world is entirely compatible with the Bible, though it is not compatible with the dates which Archbishop Ussher, in the time of King James, put at the head of the columns. That is so with other scientific theories. Any one who has read much of history has attended the obsequies of so many theories in the realm of science that he ought to know that he is wasting his strength in trying to bring about a constant reconciliation between scientific and religious theories. It is his part to keep an open mind in assurance of the unity of truth, an assurance that there is no fact which can possibly come to light and no true theory of facts which can possibly be formed which does not serve the interest of the truth, which the Bible also presents. The Bible does not concern itself with all departments of knowledge.

So far as mistakes have been made on the side of those who believe it, they have issued from forgetting that fact more than from any other one cause.

On the other hand, it has sometimes occurred that believers in the Bible have been quite too eager to accommodate themselves to purely passing phases of objection to it. The matter mentioned a moment ago, the excision of the supernatural, is a case in point. The easy and glib way in which some have sought to get around difficulties, by talking in large terms about the progressiveness of the revelation, as though the progress were from error to truth, instead of from half light to full light, is another illustration. The nimble way in which we have turned what is given as history into fiction, and allowed imagination to roam through the Bible, is another illustration. One of our later writers tells the story of Jonah, and says it sounds like fiction; why not call it fiction? Another tells the story of the exodus from Egypt, and says it sounds like fiction; why not call it fiction?

Well, certainly the objection is not to the presence of fiction in the Bible. It is there, openly, confessedly, unashamed. Fiction can be used with great profit in teaching religious truth. But fiction may not masquerade in the guise of history, if men are to be led by it or mastered by it. If the way to be rid of difficulties in a narrative is to turn it into pious fiction, there are other instances where it might be used for relief in emergencies. The story of the crucifixion of Christ can be told so that it sounds like fiction; why not call it fiction? Certainly the story of the conversion of Paul can be made to sound like fiction; why not call it fiction?

And there is hardly any bit of narrative that can be made to sound so like fiction as the landing of the Pilgrims; why not call that fiction? It is the easy way out; the difficulties are all gone like Alice's cat, and there is left only the broad smile of some moral lesson to be learned from the fiction. It is not, however, the courageous nor the perfectly square way out. Violence has to be done to the plain narrative; historical statement has to be made only a mask. And the only reason for it is that there are difficulties not yet cleared. As for the characters involved, Charles Reade, the novelist, calling himself "a veteran writer of fiction," declares that the explanation of these characters, Jonah being one of them, by invention is incredible and absurd: "Such a man [as himself] knows the artifices and the elements of art. Here the artifices are absent, and the elements surpassed." It is not uncommon for one who has found this easy way out of difficulties to declare with a wave of his hand, that everybody now knows that this or that book in the Bible is fiction, when, as a matter of fact, that is not at all an admitted opinion. The Bible will never gain its place and retain its authority while those who believe in it are spineless and topple over at the first touch of some one's objection. It could not be a great Book; it could not serve the purposes of a race if it presented no problems of understanding and of belief, and all short and easy methods of getting rid of those problems are certain to leave important elements of them out of sight.

All this means that the changes of these times rather present additional reason for a renewed hold on the Bible. It presents what the times peculiarly need. Instead of making the influence of the Bible impossible, these changes make the need for the Bible the greater and give it greater opportunity.

Add three notable points at which these times feel and still need the influence of the Bible.

First, they have and still need its literary influence.

So far as its ideas and forces and words are interwoven in the great literature of the past, it is essential still to the understanding of that literature. It remains true that English literature, certainly of the past and also of the present, cannot be understood without knowledge of the Bible. The Yale professor of literature, quoted so often, says: "It would be worth while to read the Bible carefully and repeatedly, if only as a key to modern culture, for to those who are unfamiliar with its teachings and its diction all that is best in English literature of the present century is as a sealed book."

From time to time there occur painful reminders of the fact that men supposed to know literature do not understand it because they are not familiar with the Bible. Some years ago a college president tested a class of thirty-four men with a score of extracts from Tennyson, each of which contained a Scriptural allusion, none of them obscure. The replies were suggestive and quite appalling. Tennyson wrote, in the "Supposed Confessions":

"My sin was a thorn among the thorns that girt Thy brow."

Of these thirty-four young men nine of them did not understand that quotation. Tennyson wrote:

"Like Hezekiah's, backward runs The shadow of my days."

Thirty-two of the thirty-four did not know what that meant. The meaning of the line,

"For I have flung thee pearls and find thee swine,"

was utterly obscure to twenty-two of the thirty- four. One of them said it was a reference to "good opportunities given but not improved."

Another said it was equivalent to the counsel "not to expect to find gold in a hay-stack."

Even the line,

"A Jonah's gourd Up in one night, and due to sudden sun,"

was utterly baffling to twenty-eight of the thirty-four. One of them spoke of it as an "allusion to the uncertainty of the length of life." Another thought it was a reference to "the occasion of Jonah's being preserved by the whale." Another counted it "an allusion to the emesis of Jonah by the whale." Another considered it a reference to "the swallowing of Jonah by a whale," and yet another considered that it referred to "things grand, but not worthy of worship because they are perishable." It is amazing to read that in response to Tennyson's lines,

"Follow Light and do the Right--for man can half control his doom-- Till you find the deathless Angel seated in the vacant tomb,"

only sixteen were able to give an explanation of its meaning! The lines from the "Holy Grail"

were equally baffling:

"Perhaps like Him of Cana in Holy Writ, Our Arthur kept his best until the last."

Twenty-four of these thirty-four young men could not recall what that meant. One said that the keeping of the best wine until the last meant "waiting till the last moment to be baptized!"

All that may be solely the fault of these young men. Professor Lounsbury once said that his experience in the class-room had taught him the infinite capacity of the human mind to withstand the introduction of knowledge. Very likely earnest effort had been made to teach these young men the Bible; but it is manifest that they had successfully resisted the efforts.

If Tennyson were the only poet who could not be understood without knowledge of the Bible, it might not matter so much, but no one can read Browning nor Carlyle nor Macaulay nor Huxley with entire intelligence without knowledge of the greater facts and forces of Scripture.

The value of the allusions can be shown by comparing them with those of mythology. No one can read most of Shelley with entire satisfaction without a knowledge of Greek mythology. That is one reason why Shelley has so much passed out of popularity. We do not know Greek mythology, and we have very largely lost Shelley from our literary possession. The chief power of these other great writers will go from us when our knowledge of the Scripture goes.

The danger is not simply with reference to the great literature of the past. There is danger of losing appreciation of the more delicate touches of current literature, sometimes of a complete missing of the meaning. An orator describing present political and social conditions used a fine phrase, that "it is time the nation camped for a season at the foot of the mount." Only a knowledge of Bible history will bring as a flash before one the nation in the desert at Sinai learning the meaning and power of law. Yet an intelligent man, hearing that remark, said that he counted it a fine figure, that he thought there did come in the life of every nation a time before it began its ascent to the heights when it ought to pause and camp at the foot of the mountain to get its breath! After Lincoln's assassination Garfield stood on the steps in New York, and said: "Clouds and darkness are around about him! God reigns and the government at Washington still lives!" Years after, some one referring to that, said that it was a beautiful sentence, that the reference to "clouds and darkness" was a beautiful symbolism, but that Garfield had a great knack in the building-up of fine phrases! He lacked utterly the background of the great Psalm which was in Garfield's mind, and which gives that phrase double meaning.

If we go back to Tennyson again, some one has proposed the inquiry why he should have called one of his poems "Rizpah," since there was no one of that name mentioned in the whole poem!

When, some years ago, a book was published, The Children of Gideon, one of the reviewers could not understand why that title was used, since no one of that name appeared in the entire volume. And when Mrs. Wharton's book, The House of Mirth, came out some one spoke of the irony of the title; but it is the irony of the Scriptures and the book calls for a Scriptural knowledge for its entire understanding.

Take even an encyclopedia article. Who can understand these two sentences without instant knowledge of Scripture? "Marlowe and Shakespeare, the young Davids of the day, tried the armor of Saul before they went out to battle, then wisely laid it off." "Arnold, like Aaron of old, stands between the dead and the living; but, unlike Aaron, he holds no smoking censor of propitiation to stay the plague which he feels to be devouring his generation."[1] That is in an encyclopedia to which young people are often referred. What will they make out of it without the Bible? In a widely distributed school paper, in the question-and-answer department, occurs the inquiry: "Who composed the inscription on the Liberty Bell?" The inscription is, "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof."[2] It is to be hoped it was a very young person who needed to ask who "composed" that expression!

[1] New International Encyclopedia, art. on English Literature.

[2] Current Events, January 12, 1912.

This applies to all the great classics. There has come about a "decay of literary allusions,"

as one of our papers editorially says. In much of our writing, either the transient or the permanent, men can no longer risk easy reference to classical literature. "Readers of American biography must often be struck with the important part which literary recollection played in the life of a cultured person a generation or two ago. These men had read Homer, Xenophon and Virgil, Shakespeare, Byron and Wordsworth, Lamb, De Quincey and Coleridge. They were not afraid of being called pedants because they occasionally used a Latin phrase or referred to some great name of Greece or Rome."

That is not so commonly true to-day. Especially is there danger of losing easy acquaintance with the great Bible references.

Chapter end

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