The Unity of the Pentateuch.1

W. H. Griffith Thomas, Toronto, Ont.


Readers of this Review will be familiar with the inroads made during recent years into the critical position on the Old Testament, especially on the Pentateuch. So serious have these been that Principal Sir George Adam Smith has been compelled to admit that questions are still open which were thought to have been settled twenty years ago. And now comes another examination of the problem by a thoroughly competent writer. First, a word or two as to his qualifications. He is the grandson of the great Hebrew scholar, Dr. Alexander McCaul; the son of parents both of whom were well versed in Jewish matters; himself born in the Holy Land, and brought into touch thereby with Oriental life from childhood; and for years past a student and teacher of the Old Testament. These facts will show his exceptional advantages, and the present work is the outcome of many years’ thorough study.

The purpose is stated to be “An Examination of the Higher Critical Theory as to the Composite Nature of the Pentateuch.” It consists of two main parts, the first examining the Evidence and the second stating Objections to critical methods and results. The book opens with a careful statement of the question at issue. Critics are agreed that the composite nature of the Pentateuch is one of the “assured results “of modern scholarship, the dates covering over five hundred years. Rut at the outset Mr. Finn reminds his readers that so complicated a theory as is put forth by criticism must be based on the clearest evidence, especially as there is no trace of the existence of a single one of these various authors and documents. Indeed, the critical view is “a theory upon a theory.” Even the most conservative writer would be ready to admit the possibility of several sources without denying the Mosaic origin, for while “it is one thing to show that the Pentateuch can be resolved into separate documents; it is another thing to show that these documents must belong to the periods to which they have been assigned” (p. 4). Then comes the inquiry whether the evidence bears out the critical contention; and it is rightly urged that the onus of proof rests on the critics, because not only are they attacking long-established beliefs, but they are maintaining that their view is the only one compatible with the facts (p. 4). Each critical point is thereupon subjected to a thorough examination, starting with the usage of the Divine names, which has always been the basis of the Higher Criticism, and, though Sir George Adam Smith has frankly admitted that this is too precarious a matter from which to determine a distinction of authorship, it is still used as an essential feature of the critical position. Mr. Finn has no difficulty in showing that the variations of the Divine names so far from affording proof of diversity of authorship “rather point to unity of design” (p. 15). A favorite argument with the critical school is that of “duplicate narratives”; and these are thoroughly discussed by Mr. Finn, and shown to be no duplicates at all, but distinct stories, full of subtle touches, natural, consistent, and unobtrusive (p. 31).

It is impossible in this notice to follow all the questions discussed, for there are fifty-three chapters, with conclusion and three appendixes. It must suffice to state that Mr. Finn deals most ably with the leading features of the critical position about the Narratives from the Creation to Joshua, and shows that the critical contentions on these are “not proven.”

From the Narratives the author turns to the Evidence of the Laws; and, again, each point alleged by the Higher Criticism is patiently and fully considered, and its baselessness is indicated. The Laws are first compared with one another and then compared with the History. On the Decalogue Mr. Finn remarks that the critics are not agreed as to its age and original form, Dr. Driver favoring a view that most of the commandments can be referred to the Mosaic age, while Dr. McNeile comes to a very different conclusion (p. 213). Some years ago, Dr. Burney of Oxford, a pupil of Dr. Driver, argued strongly in favor of the Mosaic character of the Ten Commandments, and on this Dr. James Hastings, of The Expository Times, made the significant admission, that, “if the Decalogue can be shown to come from Moses or from the age of Moses, the present critical position on the early religion of Israel will have to be abandoned.” This candid confession proves that, if monotheism comes from the time of Moses instead of from the time of Amos, there is a difference of about one thousand years. After a thorough comparison of the Laws with the History, Mr. Finn rightly draws the conclusion that the reasons given by criticism for assigning late dates to the sources and for maintaining the precise sequence of the Laws are far from convincing, and yet that, “unless both of these are satisfactorily established independently of the History, the critical contentions fall to the ground” (p. 328).

Part II. opens by pointing out that, if the evidence does not compel a belief in the critical theory, but is at least patient of a different interpretation, we are at liberty to consider the objections which tend to make that theory improbable. If the evidence in favor of the theory were beyond question, improbabilities would have no weight; but if the evidence be even ambiguous, then improbabilities are rightly to be considered. Then follows a statement of the main Objections to the alleged results of criticism. Two preliminary objections are the novelty of the theory and its complexity: and it is shown that a theory which has to be altered, modified, amended, and elaborated, in order to account for its phenomena, “is thereby rendered open to grave suspicion” (p. 333). Other objections include references to the analysis of other books, the nature of the method employed, and the critical treatment of the text. On these Mr. Finn rightly comments to the effect that any method which so often resorts to various forms of modification of the text without sufficient justification cannot be regarded as a sound and reliable way of dealing with the material (p. 340). Then, too, it is shown that the critical arguments are often based on slender evidence, on silence, and on mere assertion, and that a theory with such supports cannot command unhesitating acquiescence (p. 357). Perhaps among the most practically important chapters are those dealing with “The Critical Spirit and Temper “and “Prejudice,” on the latter of which it is well said that even critics have not been wholly unbiased in their estimate of the evidence. They have disregarded the Divine element and they have been influenced by certain views of inspiration and development. In other words, they have been influenced by a theory formed irrespective of the facts, and on this account cannot be acquitted of prejudice (p. 399). Other Objections deal with “Assured Results” and “Agreement of Critics,” and much is pointed out in disproof of both positions. Not the least valuable chapters discuss, in turn, “Pious Fraud “and “Evolution.” In view of the fact that the Pentateuch is intended to represent the Divine religion, it is difficult, not to say impossible, to see how any true ethical standard can be looked for from documents of the character predicted by criticism of Deuteronomy. Here are Mr. Finn’s words: —

“The writer of Deuteronomy, whoever he was, distinctly and repeatedly asserts that the discourses were uttered by Moses. The writer further asserts that Moses did write at least some portion of the book. [Driver and others justify this by saying that this kind of thing was customary with ancient writers, and Mr. Finn replies that this does not affect the morality of asserting what they knew to be untrue]. If the promoters of a company put forth a glowing prospectus, knowing it to be inaccurate, and thereby the public is deceived and suffers loss, they will not be held blameless because they plead, ‘We did not mean to take anybody in; we thought that everybody knew that the statements in a prospectus are not to be taken literally.’ Thousands upon thousands have been misled into believing that Deuteronomy indeed contains the farewell addresses of Moses, the final form of the Divine revelation. Can those who in the first instance put forth the misleading statements, knowing full well that they were not strictly true, be held altogether blameless? . . . Can the writers who explicitly affirm that the things they are writing were delivered to Moses In the wilderness by God Himself, and this with a wealth of circumstantial detail to heighten the Impression that they were so delivered, can these be acquitted of deliberate deceit? or rather ought we not to say, of impudent and blasphemous forgery? “

Mr. Finn aptly expresses the opinion that if the critical view is correct, since fraud is always fraud, the adjective “pious “seems inappropriate (p. 464). The chapter dealing with Evolution is of supreme importance, because with many critical scholars this is the main argument adopted. Yet it is shown beyond all question that the critical position is not an evolution, but a revolution, and that the traditional view is manifestly truer to the idea of progressive revelation (p. 469).

Another striking chapter deals with the critical assertion that the new view does away with many objections to the Old Testament, and Mr. Finn well points out that the objections are indeed met, but only “by surrendering the points at issue” (p. 471). For when the history is said to be false, the morality false, and the science false, this certainly relieves the reader of “a multitude of difficulties.” But the relief is very much the same as that experienced by the traveler “when he has handed over his valuables to a highwayman “(p. 471). The forcible conclusion of this chapter is that those who are attracted by the idea that criticism removes “a multitude of difficulties “should consider whether it does not involve more and greater difficulties than it relieves.

Mr. Finn’s conclusion is that the new movement does not rest upon the recognition of facts, that its methods are unsound, and that its results are invalid. Further, that the traditional belief is at least as compatible with the evidence as the critical view, and even in many instances more in accordance with the evidence. It is, therefore, not surprising that his closing words claim both the possibility and the reasonableness of the conclusion that the critics are assuredly wrong in their position (p. 502).

From all this, which is only a mere summary of the main contentions, the thoroughness of the work will be seen. Those who have been accustomed to face in detail the critical arguments will easily recognize the completeness with which the subject is discussed and, in particular, such vital points of the critical theory as the three Codes, the question of D, the problem of the Tabernacle, and the stages of the critical theory. So far as my reading goes, I entirely indorse Dr. St. Clair Tisdall’s remark that the author does not leave a single argument unanswered.

In ability and spirit Mr. Finn’s work is a fit successor to Orr’s “Problem of the Old Testament,” and is a fresh proof that conservative scholarship can more than hold its own against the critical position, which is so often and so unfairly claimed to represent “modern scholarship.” It is a book for constant use in study and, in particular, for the careful attention of ministers and theological students.

It is a helpful reminder of what we have been learning during the last three years, that the German intellect, as shown in commerce and politics, is not by any means the supreme force which the critics have tried to get people to believe during the last half-century. Since Germany has failed so deplorably in regard to earthly and human matters, we have no right to think that she can be more successful in connection with the Bible and things spiritual, which require something far other than the dry light of intellect. There is perhaps nothing more impressive in certain realms of British and American scholarship than this virtual and sometimes literal dependence on German scholarship in regard to things Biblical. It may be questioned whether a single Old Testament scholar in England, Scotland, the United States, and Canada has produced anything original in the way of criticism. All the critical views current to-day are adaptations and modifications of views “made in Germany.” This is not said for the sake of prejudice, but only to show, in the light of current events, that those of us who were “old-fashioned” enough to question and oppose German scholarship long before the war, have been amply confirmed in our contention by what has happened since 1914. It is much to be hoped that Mr. Finn’s book will help forward the cause of independence of Germany among our younger scholars.

Another matter of supreme importance is that we have already learned the impossibility of stopping short with the Old Testament, for the same critical principles and methods are being applied to the New Testament and still more to the Person of our Lord Himself. Wellhausen, who has apparently given over writing on the Old Testament, is now dealing with the Gospels; and his treatment of Matthew, Luke, and John, together with his view of Christ, shows the essential naturalistic and rationalistic position which his treatment of the Old Testament has all along revealed. Those who think that we can keep the New Testament and our Saviour sacrosanct, while allowing the fullest liberty, not to say license, in regard to the criticism of the Old Testament, are occupying an utterly impossible position. This is not said to prevent the proper use of criticism, but we have a right to call attention to the bias against the supernatural, which actuates a good deal of Biblical criticism in Germany and elsewhere.

Several years ago, at a certain Congress of Higher Critics and advanced thinkers, a well-known American professor was invited to take part in the discussion. He said that he desired to make no mistake about their views, and reading five or six propositions about the Bible and its teachings, he asked if these correctly represented their position. Being assured that they did, he held up a book and told his hearers the propositions he had read were extracts from Paine’s “Age of Reason.” It is said that consternation reigned for a time in the Congress, and earnest appeals and efforts were made to keep the incident out of the papers. It is, of course, necessary and right to distinguish between naturalistic scholars and those who accept the supernatural Incarnation; but while the latter see no incompatibility between their position and a belief in the Divine authority of the Old Testament, it cannot be said that they give any definite assurance of the foundation on which they themselves rest and ask us to rest. Indeed, the extremes to which many critics have gone may be said to be the logical outcome of the principles with which even moderate criticism starts. Mr. Paget Wilkes, in his book “Missionary Joys in Japan,” actually says that the moderate critics there are the most dangerous, because they claim that their position, as believers in a Divine revelation, differentiates them from others who do not take this line. For our part, we want to be shown the solid and logical halting place of these moderate critics; for, while they themselves are doubtless thoroughly grounded in the Christian faith, the serious matter of their disciples who have no such experience makes the question altogether different, and it is hardly surprising if, as both Orr and Mr. Finn point out, stricter logic carries to its legitimate conclusion what has been urged upon these disciples by those who think they can accept the literal and historical principles of naturalism and yet maintain a belief in the supernatural element in the Bible.

Meanwhile, conservative scholarship is satisfied that, until Robertson, Moller, Whitelaw, Orr, Wiener, Kyle, and now Mr. Finn (to say nothing of other writers) are answered, it can rest content. Indeed, the fact that books by these writers, most of which have been before the public for years, are still practically unanswered, is a proof that they are unanswerable.


1) The Unity of the Pentateuch. By the Rev. A. H. Finn, with Preface by the Right Rev. H. C. G. Moule, D.D., Bishop of Durham. 8vo. pp. vi, 536. London: Marshall Brothers and The Bible League. 1917. 10s. 6d., net.