Full Text for The Revelation of Christ and Scientific Research (Text)

THE HISTORICAL CRITICAL METHOD One of the live and current issues in the Missouri Synod is the use of the historical critical method. There are many names for this procedure. Sometimes it is called the literary or scientific method, Regardless of the nomenclature, the claim is made that it is a neutral method and that it ]nay be used in a totally 'objective' \\-a);. Professor S\rerre Aden, New Testament professor in the largest Lutheran seminary in i\'or\vay, states in his article, "The Revelation of Christ and Scientific Research", that the method is based on the subjective bias of the Ken. Testament scholar. Here is a section taken from his essay : "If 1 have seen it correctly, the so-called historical-critical method is not a method in the strict sense of this word, but rather a of philosophical and ideological presuppositions on the one side, and a trained methodical investigating of the tests on the other. The strict scientific investigation by no means just makes use of one special method, much less "the" historical method. As soon as science is divested of its false claim to absoluteness, the idea of a particuIar neutral historical method falls away. The final synthesis, the conception, can never be achieved through a neutral method. The general conception is always dependent on a philosophy of life. So one any longer believes today, that the meaning of life can be found or demonstrated by science. How can one then think, that the life of a bygone epoch can be grasped by a scientific neutral method? Does one imagine, that absolute reason has become incarnate in historical research? The historian as researcher is not supposed to have a Iookout point outside of history, from which he could interpret it! But he is himself cast into history and surrounded by it. By what means is he to lift himself up above history? As this is a burning issue in our church today, this article will be a real contribution. The Revelation of Christ and Scientific Research Traizs Eation hy Otto Stah E ke T HE WORD "SCIENCE" generally evokes the idea of an objective examination, in which every philosophy of life and personal attitude is eliminated. Science seeks objective truth, it wants to lay bare things as they are or have been. In current Biblical studies we speak of the so-called "historical- critical research." This expression also evokes in most of us the idea of an objective examination without presuppositions. In the word "critical" there lies also an element of re-examining accepted viewpoints and conceptions. This criticism is directed primarily against a more naive and unreflecting reading and acceptance of the sources, which are the objects of examination. The narratives and the presentations of the sources are called in question by critical research. Have, for example, the Gospels correctly reflected the actual historical course of events, or have they not rather overdrawn and distorted it? But the criticism, which is practiced in the historical- critical research is applied also to the conceptions and viewpoints of the sources. Can the notions of faith, which have found their expression in the writings of the New Testament or in the later doctrine of the church, be accepted without alteration today? In the critical attitude there lies an element of destruction. Indeed, on the other hand it is claimed that historical truth has been gained through this research and that therefore a true and honest Christianity now can be offered. On the basis of this objective truth, purged of all pious errors, these scholars think they can present the articles of faith found in the texts-and in the church-in a new but still adequate form. Two divergent interests thus come to the fore in the historical- critical research of our time. First, the researcher, who is engaged in this form of Bible research, feels that he is the representative of an objective and neutral examination. He applies neutral criteria, which he handles Iike tools. He applies an objective method to the material, a method, which is self-contained and independent of ever! personal attitude of faith. But a second interest can also be observed in this researcher. He would like-in spite of all his negative results -to be a theologian, he generally confesses himself to be a son of the church and makes use of the traditional terms and concepts of the church or of the New Testament. He would therefore like his voice to be heard in the church. There is no critical Bible research, which operates in an absolutely isolated position. Even those critical Bible researchers, who have brought the foundations of the traditional faith to the point of falling or shaking-want to profess the faith of their church but just this fact brings the church and the congregation, which adheres to the faith in Christ in the traditional form, into the greatest difficulties. But what does this objective, truth seeking, historical-critical research look like? One speaks often of the "historical-critical method." This term is intended to emphasize, that the researcher applies certain rules, which are thought to be self-evident in a scientific examination and have validity within themselves. Although historical-critical research in the last one hundred years has by no nleans always come to the same ~onclusions-indeed not even in the most fundamental questions, for example, with regard to the person of Christ or concerning the central content of the faith-its ad~ocates like to speak of the nlcthod here used as something in itself clear and definable. Only the idea that one carries on science and research by means of a method which in its principal elements is unchangeable and unmistakable, can explain the fact that there is such constant reference to "the" historical-critical method. To the scholars of this school the objectivit! and clarity of their method seems so self-evident, that for the most part they consider it super- fluous to present and critically analyze this method - their critical interest generally does not extend so far. For a guarantee of the uniformity and clarity of the historical- critical method, its practitioners sometimes point to the far-reaching consensus which often exists with regard to certain results in the generation and the school of research, to which they themselves belong. They are not disturbed by the fact that in a previous epoch of critical BibIe research an entirely different consensus was found in important questions. The explanation is given that one has now dis- posed of errors which earlier adhered to research. But a historical review leads to the surmise, that today's historical-critical researcher also belongs to a definite epoch and is shaped by it in a decisive manner. Indeed, he appears at times to have yielded to the fantasy, that his own generation has attained a definitive phase as to the results attained. He considers many of his results as more or less self-evident. But his impression that the results are obvious springs in most cases merely from the agreement with his like-minded con- temporary colIeagues and followers. Because of this agreement he feels lit& need to justify the premises of his own research. In reality one is a victim of a self-deception when speaking of "the" historical-critical research or method, as if the matter under discussion were an unambiguous, objective method, independent of the philosophy of the researcher. I do not advance a new thesis, when I maintain that there is no historical research without presup- positions, Ieast of alI, when we are dealing with Biblical research. Tize I- the only thing possible to speak of that Jesus Christ, who is attested in the apostolic Word, if one wishes to speak of Jesus Christ at all, for there is no other than the one attested here. Surelv we do not wish to carr) 011 a science, which chases after producdo~ fantasy! \Vc must carry on a research which begins with and rests upon the faith of the church. This we must do for the sake of the church, for otherwise the heresies, which have fallen prey to strange ideolo- gies, will gain the upper hand in the pulpit and in the Christian school. But we must do it also for the sake of research, because God, His activity and \fiord, can be understood onlv with God as the starting point. Onlv the church can in truth car6 on exegesis, even if the a~ixiliary techniques and the training may be offered and learned at the universit~. Biblical research at the universities has provided us with an abundance of knowledge and insight. These insights the church may and must receive with thanksgiving. They can in manv respects prepare and further true understanding, pro- vided they are not associated with the claim to replace the under- standing of the church. If research falls into the self-deception that it can go the entire way to the goal alone, then it first of all deceives itself, and secondl~ it falls victim to one or the other ideology and bars its own way to the true understanding of revelation. Only in the area of information is there a neutral research, not in the area of understanding. The decisive matter is not, whether this Biblical science is carried on at the unirersitv or in a seminarv of the church. What is decisive, is that the researcher picks his sking point in the faith of the church and searches and interprets the Bible in the conscience of having his final commission from the church. Onlv so will he be able to research, to understand, and to interpret the Word con- genially and in keeping with its own character. Only so will he be able to proceed from the presuppositions, which can set hini in mo- tion in the right direction. Biblical research must take place in the space of the church. This does not mean that the researcher is to approach the Bible with preconceived results. The results are not given in ad- vance, but the basis is, upon which the results are sought. Indeed, the previously established foundation implies, that the inost funda- mental questions have already been answered. But those are the answers, which make it at all meaningful to inquire and to search after something as a theological researcher. I speak of the foundation, which prevents us from slipping out into free space, which pre- vents us above all from slipping off into the area filled with denomic ideologies. For a "free research" in the absolute sense does not exist and cannot exist. Science is an activity of the human spirit, of reason, if you will. As Christians we know, that there is no human activity, nor can be, in which one ma! declare himself free of the obligation of the faith. \Thy should science here form an exception? Or does one believe, that absolute reason has revealed itself in research? Science is an activity of reason. But not of a reason that is absolutels free. There is no absolutel- free reason. And yet reason is free in its legitimate areas. There are wide areas of reality, in which reason works, researches, and judges in freedom. Science is -to speak as a Lutheran in the widest sense-a special case of the empirical domain. Reason reigns in this realm, but it is not such 3 rea- son that abolishes or breaks away from the spiritual domain. If this happens, then reason falls prey to false ideologies, deceives itself, and is deceived. Just so in Biblical science. In this too there is a wide area in lvhich reason distinguishes, analyzes, and judges. But never in opposition to the foundation, from which reason ulti- mately has its commission. \Vhen reason researches and interprets the Bible, it should in fact be grateful for this foundation already laid. When it stands on this foundation, then it has by this fact already become privi- leged. Its vantage point is that of an extraordinarily favorable "vie\vpoint", from which it has a panoramic view over the world and realitv of the Bible, and from which it can gain an insight into the ~ible; which is not to be found elsewhere. Or, to use another il- lustration: What has been laid into its hand in advance, is the key, which fits and opens the door. What could be more precious to a truth seeking researcher than the key, which grants him the entrance to the understanding of the area, which he desires to research? Now Biblical research is not only interpretation, exegesis. The second principal task of research is the historical one, the question as to what has happened in history. This question is the new element in modern, scientific Biblical research compared with the earlier Tkc Rc~,elatiiz?s of Christ und Scientific Research - -. - 219 epochs of church history. For us the question is today unavoidable: \IThat has reall\- happened? It is not mereh- a matter of the indi- vidual data of the coursc of historx. The ;esearcher inquires also, and especialIy, for the connection, which links the individual events together, the con tinuum, to which the single historical item belongs. Here arises also the task, to reconstruct the appearance and activity of Jesus as far as possible, to understand His message within *the framework of His historical situation, and to illuminate His self- consciousness. The conflict with the so-called critical research becomes espe- cially apparent in these historical problems. This research is not satisfied with merely uncovering the bare facts of history. For es- ample it makes the presumption to be able to say, which kinds of reports in the Bible must be legendary and a priori unhistorical- for instance the miracle stories or the report of the empty tomb. ;ic- cordingly, this research holds that it can discount those sayings of Jesus as unhistorica1, which presume a more than prothetic seIf- consciousness in Him, as also those statements, in which He speaks of the salutary meaning of His death, or presumes it. Here a science which is bound bv the faith cannot go along. In these matters, too, one must reckon with the reality of revela- tion. It will turn out, I believe, that also here the straightest wav is the shortest. If one wants to create a meaningful image of i.ho Jesus was and what He wanted, then one must begin with the fact, that He was inore than a messenger, more than a prophet, in fact, more than a man. Only if one begins with the understanding, that He had or meant Himself to have a &vine consciousness, will His '(tTord and actions find their right place in the mosaic of history, and will a meaningful picture come into view. Otherwise the result will merely be that after half the pieces of the mosaic have been re- moved, the remaining components are forced into a pattern which has nothing to do with historical reality. Do our concIusions lead us to say, that all critical historical examination of the foundations of faith are interdicted? Must one in the fundamental questions abstain from all historical re-investi- gation as to the tenability of the statements of faith? \%'e must fix our view sharply and clearly upon this important question. Then we can first of all establish, that modern critical research has con- cerned itself little with this question. If conservative Biblical re- search has taken an "apologetic" position, when these last questions concerning the historical tenability of the faith appear, this is not less true of crtical or radical research. The latter has only drawn the front line elsewhere than the conservative school. Critical research, as we11 as the conservative, has been anxiousl_v concerned -4th establishing the meaning of faith in God and its right of existence and defending the unique position of Jesus ad the New Testa- ment in the history of religion apologetically. Feuerbach's theory that the Biblical iinage of God is a reflection of the human spirit mas rejected with indignation b!- critical research, when it at all concerned itself with the theory. It seldoill entered upon a scien- tific examination of these fundamental questions-and with good reason. il historical re-examination of the foundationb, which \vould proceed independently and radically, is in fact impossible. Half Ineasures \\rill not be of any help. Only from within is a re-exaillina- tion possible. Jlntatis ~zz;tn~zdis, the saying is valid here: "If you believe you shall see the glory of God." He who begins with faith, dl discover the outline of a pattern, in which the activity of God in the histo~v of salration can be discernod. He sees so 'much of the solution bf the crossword puzzle, that hc ma!- belicrc that he is on the right way. But whoever makes the beginning with the vocables of unbelief or is caught in the illusion of a research with- out presuppositions, remains lost in the labyrinth. The approach that was attempted above does not mean, that one can nairelv or with uncritical harmonization reproduce all the details as thei are told in the Gospels or othcr\rise in the Xer~ Testament. The contradictions in historical facts, as also the ap- parent errors in historical details, forbid this. But if Ire have once decided to placc our faith in the main outline of the picture which the Gospels present of Jesus and His work, and if \ire discover that preciselr in this wav I\-e lnakc progress in our efforts, then we wilI not falf headlong into the critical habits and do not adopt criticism as a dominatino principle or as a program. If the Gospels deserve 3 our confidence in the most iinportant matters, why not also in de- tails? But as stated, this does not excuse us from the critical exarnina- tiun, and in man! cases we may say: It cannot \\-ell have happened, as this evangelist reports it. Either illlark errs in Chapter 10, verse 46 or Luke in Chapter 18, rerse 35 with regard to the time and place of the healing of blind Bartimaeus. But observations such as these also come to our aid, when it becomes a matter of centering in upon the thing, which is the concern of the reporters, namely the testimons of Christ and the saving acts of God. The evangelists are not at ah concerned, whether this or that detail corresponds to the demands of exact reproduction in the modern sense. The pur- pose is to narrate, and a narrative demands concrete visualizing, but not photographic reproduction. The emphases of the report are the words and the deeds of Christ, His acts for the men He met. That is what the text wants to tell us. \TTe do not at all need to press behind the text in order to discorer this. MTc need only understand it and listen to n-hat it has to sav to us. An atomizing method kt-ould not be in place here. The ~ospels are governed by a definite inten- tion, which we must constantly keep before our eJ7es. There are many ways and paths in Holy Scripture, on which one can be lost TIzc Hevelation of Christ a~zci Scielztific Rescarch 221 and stumble. But the Scripture does not demand of us that we abide in these paths. It invites us to fol1o.r~ a great main street, anci that means to say: The testimony of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who has effrcted Qur salvation and now sits at thc right hand of God. 1 conclude. I will not make an attempt to summarize, what I have tried to say. The follo~ving concluding theses must suffice. The revelation of God has objectivelv entered into our world. The realitv of reselation is present ab0r.e' all in the dirine person of Jesus dhrist and in His saving work, later also in the working of the Holy Ghost through the apostles and their word. The analog- to every other history is hereby broken and eliminated, Our research must begin by recogniziilg the realit) of revela- tion. If we do not do this, then Ire necessarily fall victiill to some strange icieology, as we can observe in the so-called historical-critical research, in the form in which it dominates much of Biblical scholar- ship of today. By recognizing the reality of God and His action through Jesus Christ and His apostles we are made free to understand the Word of God and His action, and to interpret it in a relevant n-ay, that is, to carrb- Gn theological science. In this manner we are also enabled to see the limits of reason and critical examination, and to apply criticial reason within its proper boundaries.