Monday, December 01, 2014

Historiography, Bible Doctrine, and the Text of Scripture

Historiography as it stands today refers to the methodology used by historians to decide history.  It covers the approach a historian will use for judging what happened in the past.  This is important to Bible doctrine, because there is a history to Bible doctrine, and to the text of scripture, because there is a history to the transmission of the scriptural text.  Very often, if not always, one's historiography will either determine or at least alter what he thinks the Bible is teaching and even what the Bible is.

One view of history might discount or even ignore divine intervention in history, assume that cannot happen or that the divine should be excluded from consideration for the sake of a true history.  That approach would separate the miraculous from the historical record.  Everything in history must be explained with some type of human reasoning.  Modern historiography especially disputes the historical reliability of the New Testament with its philosophies of history.

Early contrasting philosophies in history are seen in the methods of Herodotus and Thucydides. Herodotus was a Greek historian, who wrote The Histories, and though he overall emphasized the actions and characters of men, he also attributed an important role to the divine in the determination of historical events.  On the other hand, Thucydides, also a Greek historian, who wrote The ‎History of the Peloponnesian War, largely eliminated divine causality in his account of the war between Athens and Sparta, his rationalism setting a precedent for subsequent Western historical writings.

I believe there is a biblical approach to history found in Isaiah 40-48 in which God interconnects the past with the present and the future.  The sovereignty and eternality of God relate the present with the past and the future.  Since man is made in the image of God and knows God, He should relate everything to God and to God's revelation.  God expects mankind to see His hand in history.  This is an argument made for the second coming in 2 Peter 1 and 3.  The Word of God records direct divine intervention in history and should be trusted.  We have an authority for our philosophy of history, for our method of deciding history.

Modern academic study of historiography was pioneered in 19th-century German universities and especially at the University of Berlin with Leopold von Ranke and then Johann Gustav Droysen, the former considered the founder of modern source-based history.  In her Essential Historiography Reader (p 68), Caroline Hoefferle says "Ranke was probably the most important historian to shape historical profession as it emerged in Europe and the United States in the late 19th century.” American Historian, H. B. Adams, asserted that Ranke was "determined to hold strictly to the facts of history, to preach no sermon, to point no moral, to adorn no tale, but to tell the simple historic truth."

Droysen followed Ranke at Berlin.  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, among other places, ties the two together as such:

Like Ranke, Droysen is interested in the methodology of the historical sciences. Trying to break free from the idealistic tradition to which Ranke still adhered, Droysen makes the case for a theory of history that, like the methodology of the natural sciences, has less to do with the object of study (history or nature) than with the manner in which the study is carried out. The natural sciences uncover universal natural laws.

On behalf of the Schiller Institute, Helga LaRouche wrote The American Roots of Germany's Industrial Revolution, and said:

At German universities, research and learning were unified, and more and more Americans came to Germany to study. At the end of the 19th Century, there was not a single professor in America who had not either studied in Germany or was the student of somebody who had. . . .  Americans appreciated the Germans for their aptitude for great, methodical thought, and that they valued the search for truth for its own sake.

William Whitsitt became a historian and then president at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He had attended German graduate school.  The History of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary says:

His study of history in Germany rather predisposed him to view himself as a scientist and to view history as governed by natural laws.

It records Whitsitt as saying, "I was profoundly impressed by the lectures and methods of Johann Gustav Droysen, Professor of History at the University of Berlin.  In particular I gave a great amount of study to the work of Droysen, entitled Grundriss Der Historik, and have often taken time to review it while I occupied the chair of ecclesiastical history in the theological seminary."

In The German Roots of Nineteenth-Century American Theology,  Annette G. Aubert, writes (p. 28):

In light of the great migration of American students to German universities in the nineteenth century, American scholars in the humanities became indebted to German scholarship in terms of both method and substance. . . . Between nine thousand and ten thousand American students attended German universities from 1815 to 1914. . . . The first American students studying in Germany tended to favor Halle and Gottingen, but the University of Berlin eventually became the preferred institution. Among the students who studied at German theological universities were  . . . Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, to name a few.

The University of Berlin was the hotbed of scientific historiography, really a modernistic method of history.  This was the influence on both Whitsitt and Warfield.   Warfield wrote (Studies in Theology, p. 580, Vol. IX in Works):

I am free to say, for myself, that I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution. The sole passage which appears to bar the way is the very detailed account of the creation of Eve. It is possible that this may be held to be a miracle (as Dr. Woodrow holds), or else that the narrative may be held to be partial and taken like the very partial descriptions of the formation of the individual in Job and the Psalms, that is, it teaches only the general fact that Eve came of Adam's flesh and bone.

Scripture says the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Lord's church.  Whitsitt says a scientific method of history won't allow that.  Based on history, the gates of Hell did prevail.  Scripture says God would preserve every Word of Scripture.  A scientific approach to the text of scripture says "no" to Warfield.  These are just two of many doctrines changed through a modernist historiography hatched out of 19th century Germany.  Doctrine should not proceed from a scientific method of history.


Gary Webb said...

Could you provide the source for the Warfield quote you give? Thanks.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I included the page above. You can read an article on themelios here: