Redaction criticism and higher criticism – What are they?

Redaction criticism and higher criticism are two of many forms of biblical criticism. The goal of these forms of study is to help determine important aspects of biblical books, including human authorship, date of writing, location, and other historical factors.

Unfortunately, however, many of the methods used in these two forms of criticism take a negative approach to the Bible. Redaction criticism views each book of the Bible as a redaction or editing job by an author who has used a variety of source materials. While this may sometimes be the case (such as Luke's use of sources in Luke 1:1-4), this approach to Scripture typically emphasizes the human element of the Bible's composition and neglects or even denies God's inspiration of Scripture.

For example, Mark's Gospel is traditionally believed to be based on Mark's writing of the apostle Peter's teachings. He would not have written every word of every time Peter preached, but instead emphasized certain teachings in ways that would be most helpful to other readers. A redaction critic would, however, go further and suggest that certain words emphasized were either based on the audience, the time of writing, other human sources edited together, or other factors. Again, there may be some truth to these ideas, but they are generally speculative and often critically used to show the Bible is less than inspired.

Higher criticism, in contrast, seeks to understand the "world" behind the text. This is helpful in some ways as it is necessary to know the setting of a Bible book to better understand why things are said in a certain way. However, much of the work used to connect a particular point of Scripture to particular world events is highly speculative and driven by the agenda of the contemporary research, forcing an interpretation upon the text rather than seeking to understand what the text did say in its original setting.

For example, much was taking place in Roman politics during the time of the Gospels. However, some writers have placed far too much emphasis on connecting the Roman political world with themes in the Gospels. Jesus becomes a social activist or a political threat rather than a man who claimed to be God's Son and the Jewish Messiah.

In summary, though redaction criticism and higher criticism can be helpful to a degree in biblical studies, their usage is often used negatively in attempts to show "flaws" in the biblical text, create an agenda that did not exist in the original setting of Scripture, or to emphasize areas never intended by the original human authors.

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