Higher Criticism has various forms based on a specific area of study: Historical, Source, Literary, Redaction, Form and Tradition.

Historical Criticism attempts to reconstruct the historical context that the manuscript was written in and how it came to be. It examines: a) biblical and extrabiblical manuscripts, b) socio-anthro-archeological evidence, and c) tradition. Historical Criticism attempts to answer the following types of questions:

1. Was the manuscript written during the time and by the author it was purported?

2. How confident can we be of the author’s testimony?

3. How factual is the oral or popular tradition?

Potential problems with this method:

1. Historical critics may place unwarranted importance or authority on the earliest document. For example, critics may consider Mark as the most authoritative instead of as equal authority as the other books of the Gospels and thereby devalue their material.

Source Criticism is focused on studying the authorship of the manuscript. Considered a sub-discipline of Historical Criticism, Source Criticism studies the history of the manuscript’s composition. It looks for the underlying literary documents that serve as the source of the manuscript, classifies the source documents and postulates the answers to the authorship and dating of the manuscript.

Potential problems with this method:

1. Source critics break up a literary unit in their search for hypothetical sources. A good example of this is the JEDP theory of the Pentateuch.

2. In some cases, while attempting to recreate the history of a source, a source critic may create a hypothetical document to be that hypothetical source. An example of this is the hypothetical Q of the Synoptics.

Literary Criticism studies the manuscript itself and attempts to learn about it from the content within it. The focus is on grammar, syntax, philology, lexicography, and literary style. The content is also examined for its story or logic development, its target audience, and author’s intent. This information helps determine whether the manuscript was a unified work or one composed of portions added on at various times.

Form Criticism focuses on examining portions of the manuscript to understand the community influencing, shaping, and preserving that portion of the manuscript. Used initially to study the Pentateuch, this method is used heavily to study the Gospels and early Christianity. By studying a part of a manuscript, form critics attempt to understand the traditions about Jesus, determine how the oral tradition evolved and altered the original accounts, and how the early Church used the Jesus traditions.

Potential problems with this method:

1. Many form critics impose an anti-supernatural bias and assume that all is false until proven true, and use dubious standards to determine what is true.

2. Form critics assume that little of the material was written down and that it was principally transmitted orally.

3. Many form critics consider the Gospel writers as simply cut and paste editors with little editorial input.

4. Some form critics believe that the Gospel writers were more interested in transmitting their own faith experience or theological perspective rather than preserving the truth.

5. Form critics have assumed that all literature, regardless of the type such as myths or stories, develop in the same manner over time.

Redaction Criticism came out of Form Criticism and also focused on the study on the Gospels. It is concerned with the author and how he edited the various parts or sources that comprise the final manuscript. By studying the types and significance of these changes, it reveals the literary and theological perspective of the author.

Potential problems with this method:

1. Redaction critics, with an anti-supernatural presupposition, have assume that the editor had a free hand at editing and either was not historically accurate or developed fictional stories to further the editor’s theological agenda.

2. It is assumed that the Gospel authors used written sources as the basis of their edited versions.

3. It assumes that small variations in the Text is sufficient to draw sweeping conclusions.

4. It assumes that the Four-Source theory of the Gospels is correct; thus, failure of the Four-Source theory means that Redaction Criticism fails.

Tradition Criticism examines the manuscripts in an effort to trace and understand the development of traditions contained within the text. The focus is on how the author has used traditions in his message and how he may have modified them as the faith and religion grew.

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