A Brief History of Higher Criticism


“Higher Criticism” is the study of biblical writings to determine their literary history and the purpose and meaning of the authors. Higher criticism is distinguished from “lower criticism” in the following way. Lower criticism deals specifically with issues of the text as it stands; higher criticism is concerned with the history of the text.

Biblical scholarship was ready for the birth of higher criticism not because there were real scholarly advancements being made, but more so because philosophically the time was ripe for new presuppositions and accompanying methodologies. Science had “proven” the unreliability of the Genesis creation account, and Newtonian physics had laid a deistic platform for the denial of miracles. This, together with the rise of German rationalism, nurtured the new higher criticism by which biblical scholars would come to the text as with any other literature—to consider it as purely the creative work of authors without reference to divine action. It was therefore analysed as literature quite apart from any idea of revelation or inspiration, since these both demand an element of the miraculous. The Bible was viewed as religious only in the sense that it was man’s reflection about his world and God.

This excursus on “A Brief History of Higher Criticism” is taken from the teaching series “How We Got Our Bible” (p. 9) by Tim Hegg. For more information about this product, Click Here.