Bible and History (and the Historical-Critical Method)

Since “[t]he faith of Israel and the faith of historical Christianity is founded not in lofty ideas or ideals but in God’s acts in human history” (24), and since, that is, ever since, Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) paved the way for the open display of presuppositions which have become the routing logic and functional architecture that back the historical-critical method (e.g., “Troeltsch insists that this principle [the principle of criticism and probability] be applied impartially to all historical traditions, including biblical traditions (25)”), then we should find it no surprise that there is a conflict between the former’s view, that the Bible is unique (since it is God’s self-revelation of His acts in human history), and the latter’s view, summarized by Sidney Greidanus, that “the Bible is to be treated like any other document.”

Greidanus, in The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature, addresses this antithesis, and commits an entire chapter to examining the historical foundations of biblical preaching. Look it up, it is a good read.

In the first half of the chapter, Greidanus provides an appraisal and critique of the historical-critical method, demonstrating that the assumptions provided by Troeltsch have been above, beneath, and around this initiative since the get go. Greidanus then, in the second half of the chapter, goes on and provides an alternate “holistic historical-critical method,” which, if we want to do justice to the Scriptures, he insists “must make a radical break with the assumptions held by Troeltsch.”  Therefore, what we have are two views: the view that  “God acts in human history” vs. the Troeltshian view of a historical-critical method shaped by Troeltsch’s assumptions.

Greidanus airs his concerns:

The accepted historical-critical method shows its bias when it first eliminates God as a factor in history and then declares certain reported events unhistorical because they speak of God’s acts in history. Aside from pointing out the obvious circularity in this argument, I would make the following observations: If a historical-critical method, by definition or otherwise, cannot acknowledge all factors in history, it loses the right to make subsequent judgments concerning the historicity of reported events. Now the historical-critical method, as a matter of fact, has been making probability judgments regarding the historicity of reported events. That being the case, the method–if it is to be credible–must of necessity take into account all possible factors that may be operative in history. 

Greidanus hits the nail on the head. Contrary to Troeltsch, the Bible is a radically different document. Therefore, if the assumptions of Troeltsch remain above, beneath, and around the historical-critical method, then the answers posed by the historical-critical method will, in the end, be found to have already resided in the questions asked by the historical-critical model.