In Defense of Fundamentalism

Paper presented at Biblical language teachers' council, Washington, D.C., August, 1940.

By L. L. CAVINESS, Professor of Biblical Languages, Pacific Union College

We all recognize the inroads of Modern­ism even among the clergymen of the popular Christian churches. Do we have a duty to combat this insidious, spreading error? It seems to me that we do.

What is the essence of Modernism ? It con­sists essentially in an application to the Bible and to religion of the theory of evolution. We have long recognized that, as Sabbathkeepers, we must energetically oppose the doctrine of evolution, which, if it were true, would make it impossible for the weekly seventh day to be a memorial of a creation of this world by God in the span of a literal week. There was a time when it was thought sufficient merely to denounce evolution as a false theory, but now the scientists among us undertake to examine the reasons presented for the evolu­tionary theory, decide how far these are facts, show how the real facts do not prove evolution, and give another and better explanation than that offered by the evolutionists.

Should we not as Fundamentalists attempt to perform a similar task in our opposition to the theories of Modernism? Of course we know that Modernism is wrong. But why and where is it wrong? A mere denouncing of Modernism is not sufficient for the protection of our own young people, and it certainly will not help the thousands, yea, hundreds of thousands, who have been deprived of a true belief in divine revelation through its sophistries. Whence comes the Modernistic interpreta­tion of the Bible? The first higher critic, the Frenchman Astruc, tried to apply to the Bible the evolutionary idea of the French scientist Buffon, his contemporary. Astruc's idea was that if evolution is the law of the world of nature, it might well be applied also to the world of religion. In religion, therefore, he contends that we are to see, not a divine revela­tion, but an evolutionary process.

Modernism, then, in its explanation of reli­gion will explain how religion "grew" and "developed." When it comes to the Bible, Modernism claims that we are dealing, not with a divinely inspired record, but with an evolving human evolutionary religious process. The Biblical records must be interpreted so as to eliminate as far as possible everything supernatural, such as miracles and prophecy. This has been done largely in two ways : (I) by attacking the authenticity of the records, and (2) by dating the documents so late as to eliminate almost or entirely the prophetic character of any prophetic statements therein.

The Modernistic attacks on the Bible are manifold, and I would not even attempt to mention them all in this paper. There are, however, six main attacks which we should be ready to combat. Three deal with the Old Testament: the fragmentary theory of the Pentateuch, the dual authorship of Isaiah, and the Maccabean origin of the book of Daniel. Three attack the New : the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John, and the Revelation.

I have made extended investigation on only one of these six points. When my major professor in Hebrew suggested that I take as a topic for my doctor's dissertation the date and authenticity of the book of Daniel, I hesi­tated. I first objected that I could hardly expect to do anything worthy of acceptance as a doctor's thesis on this topic. That objec­tion was removed when he said that he would be satisfied if I would survey what had been written on the subject, and then come to my Own conclusion from my study of the book of Daniel itself.

I was convinced that a scholarly investiga­tion would but confirm my belief in the early origin rather than the Maccabean origin of the book of Daniel. Knowing that my professor, though a Jew, was a Modernist, I still hesitated to take the topic. I told him that my conclu­sions might not agree with his. When he as­sured me that that was not at all necessary, that it would be sufficient if I did a scholarly piece of work, I accepted the topic assigned me.

The investigation proved well worthwhile to me in itself, outside of the fact that it was a part of the requirement for the degree. Of the committee of experts chosen to examine my thesis, they were all Modernists ; though one was a Catholic, another a Jew, and the third a Protestant. Two of these three voted for me to receive my degree only after a satis­factory revision of my thesis. Five years later while in Germany I obtained permission to use the Hamburg University library. Here I found excellent authorities antedating the spread of higher criticism in Germany. I re­vised my thesis, but I strengthened rather than weakened it. It did not return to this same committee, and I then received my degree.

On another of the six mentioned points I have made some investigation. I refer to the fragmentary theory of the origin of the Pen­tateuch. The starting point in this theory is that the different names of Deity used in the Pentateuch indicate the composite nature of this part of the Bible. At first they contended for two authors, but gradually the supposed number of fragments and authors increased. I will not in this paper go into details, but will merely suggest two possible interpretations of the facts on which the fragmentary theory is based, which afford at least as good an explanation as that which the higher critics have offered. Both of these explanations harmonize with the Fundamentalist conception of the Bible.

First, let us suppose that Moses wrote the book of Genesis in the wilderness of Midian. A good author, as he writes, will think of those who will read his book, and in the very com­position of the book he will keep these readers in mind. For whom was Moses primarily writ­ing the book of Genesis ?—for a race of slaves in Egypt. He would therefore write the be­ginning of his book simply, in words that they could understand. The fact that the first part of Genesis is so written may explain why Harper's inductive Hebrew method, built on these first chapters of Genesis, has been so suc­cessful. Moses, then, would use in his very first chapter the name for the Deity with which the Jews in Egypt were familiar, that is Elo­him. This was the Hebrew word they applied to all gods, even those of their Egyptian task­masters. Next, Moses would give the new name for God, the one applied to the true God only, or Yahweh. But he would associate the new name with the old until the new word was learned; then he would use the new name alone. And this is just what we find in Genesis in the original Hebrew.

But a further explanation needs to be given also, for after the new name for God has been repeatedly used alone, we find subsequently sometimes one name and sometimes the other. The new name Yahweh is really a third per­son, future form of the verb "to be." Thus the idea is double, that of unending life, and that of the Promised One who was to come. It is a striking confirmation of this association of the name Yahweh with the idea of the Prom­ised Seed, that according to the most normal translation of the Hebrew text, Eve called her first-born child not only Cain, "the one ob­tained," but also "Yahweh," "the Coming one." In other words she thought that her first child was the "Promised Seed." The di­vine name, Yahweh, would then be employed in the Bible when the emphasis was on the redeeming work of God, and Elohim when the emphasis was on His work as supreme ruler. Corroboration of this is found in the fact that the name Elohim was even applied to the hu­man rulers over Israel:

It would be a profitable and interesting task for someone to work out a critical and schol­arly examination of the fragmentary theory of the Pentateuch, showing that a proper expla­nation can be made of the facts on which the Modernists base their theory, and that this scholarly explanation harmonizes with the Fundamentalist position. Personally I believe that it is incumbent on us, as Adventists and true Fundamentalists, not only to assert that Modernism is wrong, but to show in a thoroughly scholarly way just where and why it is wrong. This task must largely rest upon stu­dents and teachers of Biblical languages.


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By L. L. CAVINESS, Professor of Biblical Languages, Pacific Union College

March 1941

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