Biblical Criticism

Daniel J. Harrington

in Biblical Studies

ISBN: 9780195393361
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:
Biblical Criticism

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The term “biblical criticism” refers to the process of establishing the plain meaning of biblical texts and of assessing their historical accuracy. Biblical criticism is also known as higher criticism (as opposed to “lower” textual criticism), historical criticism, and the historical-critical method. The word “criticism” need not be interpreted negatively, as if the task were mainly criticizing the Bible or pointing out its errors. Rather, “criticism” indicates the effort at using scientific criteria (historical and literary) and human reason to understand and explain as objectively as possible the meaning intended by the biblical writers. While the modern versions of biblical criticism have roots in patristic, medieval, Reformation, and Renaissance biblical interpretation, the earliest full statement of the approach came from the philosopher Baruch/Benedict Spinoza in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Spinoza urged that the Bible should be treated like any other book, that it should be read in the light of the rules of philology and history, that one must attend to the context of a passage within Scripture and establish the circumstances in which the book was written, that the Bible’s truth (or untruth) can be recognized by the light of natural reason (without need of tradition or ecclesiastical interference), and that its miracle stories should be interpreted in terms of the physical laws of nature. Much in Spinoza’s declaration can be explained by its author’s historical circumstances (excommunicated by the local synagogue) and philosophy (his idea of nature as a substitute for God). However, it has been possible for biblical scholars and churches to ignore Spinoza’s philosophy and to develop a historical-critical methodology that does not deny the basic tenets of Judaism and/or Christianity—so much so that the historical-critical method shorn of Spinoza’s dubious philosophical assumptions has been repeatedly described in recent, official Roman Catholic documents as “indispensable” (though not completely adequate in itself) in interpreting biblical texts.

Article.  12604 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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