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Textual Criticism
of the New Testament
Johann Salomo Semler
(1725-1791)
In order to understand the approach of modern Biblical and Textual Critics is is necesary to
understand the approach instigated by Johann Salomo Semler. His influence in rejecting the
inspiration of the Scriptures, and disbelief of miracles, echoes through the centuries. His
influence is seen in basic principles which have been used in modern Textual Criticism.

This excerpt from the article in the 1902 Encyclopedia Britannica is interesting.

It was in the application of its principles and method (thus brought into vogue) to
Biblical studies that rational-ism won its greatest triumphs, and really accomplished its
greatest measure of good work. Johann Salomo Semler (1725-1791), the father of
modern Biblical criticism, as the Germans call him, was the greatest representative of
the school in this department. A pietist by education, with something of Gottfried
Arnold's liking for heretics and all his dislike of ecclesiasticism, but with none of
Arnold's mysticism, a man of immense learning, without any clear and systematic
management of it, he was the first German to apply the strict principles of historical
criticism, in conjunction with the rationalistic truths and errors of his day, to the study
of the Scriptures and ecclesiastical history, particularly the history of doctrines. He
assailed with all the wealth of his learning the traditional view of the limits and
authority of the Biblical canon especially, and having, as he held, demonstrated its
human origin and fallibility, he proceeded to deal freely with the books composing it,
as sharing the failings common to everything human. He found the Scriptures
pervaded with " local ideas," and his Christianity was really limited to the "natural
religion" of the deists and the moral truths taught by Christ. As a man who had been
under a pietistic training, he was, it is true, unwilling to refer to the understanding
alone for evidence of the truths of Christianity, but his enlargement of the test is
confined to the admission of an appeal to the measure of virtue and happiness
produced. By this extended test he tries the matter of the Scriptures, assigning to his
category of local ideas " whatever is not adapted to make men wise unto their true
advantage." The supernatural origin of the Scriptures as writings and most of the
miracles recorded in them he rejected; but, on the other hand, he was a vigorous
opponent of the adversaries of Christianity and of the naturalists who denied revelation
altogether,—Beim-arus, for instance, the author of the Wolfenbüttel Frag-mente.
Other decided rationalists contemporaneous with Semler were Teller (1734-1804),
Eberhard (1739-1809), and Steinbart (1738-1809), who all agreed in confounding
religion with morality, and in reducing Christianity to a popularization of utilitarian
morals.