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The Crawford H. Toy Controversy, 1879
By Robert A. Baker
A Baptist Source Book:...
Crawford Howell Toy was a brilliant young Virginian appointed to Japan by the Foreign Mission Board, when the Civil War disrupted these plans. After the war he studied in Germany and returned to teach Old Testament in Southern Seminary. Toy's views on inspiration were criticized, so in 1879 he prepared a paper setting forth his understanding of that doctrine and submitted it, along with his resignation in case his position was not satisfactory, to the Board of Trustees. His resignation was accepted with two dissenting votes.

To the Board of Trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

Dear Brethren, -
It having lately become apparent to me that my views of Inspiration differ considerably from those of the body of my brethren, I ask leave to lay my opinions on that subject before you, and submit them to your judgment.

At the outset I may say that I fully accept the first article of the Fundamental Principles of the Seminary; "the scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge and obedience," and that I have always taught, and do now teach in accordance with, and not contrary to it.

It is in the details of the subject that my divergence from the prevailing views in the denomination occurs. The divergence has gradually increased in connection with my studies, from year to year, till it has become perceptible to myself and others.

In looking for light on Inspiration, my resort has been, and is, to the scriptures themselves alone, and I rest myself wholly
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on their testimony. It seems to me that, while they declare the fact of Divine Inspiration, they say nothing of the manner of its action. We are told that men spake from God, borne along by the Holy Ghost, and that all scripture is given by Inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly furnished for every good work. The object of the scripture is here said to be an ethical, spiritual one. They were given man for his guidance and edification in religion, as our Lord also says: "Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth."

As nothing is said of the mode of operation of the Divine Spirit, of the manner in which the divine saving truth is impressed on the mind, of the relation of the divine influence to the ordinary workings of the human intellect, we must, as to these points, consult the books of the Bible themselves and examine the facts. Against facts no theory can stand, and I prefer, therefore, to have no theory, but submit myself to the guidance of the actual words of Holy scripture.

As the result of my examination, I believe that the Bible is wholly divine and wholly human; the scripture is the truth of God communicated by him to the human soul. To undertake to say what must be the outward forms of God's revelation of himself to man, seems to me presumptuous. If rationalism be the decision of religious questions by human reason, then it appears to me rationalistic to say that a Divine revelation must conform to certain outward conditions; to insist, for example, that it must be written in a certain style, or that it must teach certain things in geography, or astronomy, or similar matters.

I hold all a priori reasoning here to be out of place, and all theories based on it to be worthless. Such procedure seems to me to be out of keeping with the simple, reverent spirit appropriate to him who comes to search into the truth of God. For this reason I am forced to discard the theories of some pious men, as Fichte and Wordsworth, who have proceeded in this a priori way, and to keep myself to the facts given in the Bible itself.

These facts make on me the impression that the scripture writers are men who have received messages from God and utter them under purely free, human conditions. The inspired man speaks his own language, not another man's, and writes under the conditions of his own age, not under those of some other age. His personality, his individuality has the freest play, all under the control of the guiding Divine spirit. In illustration of what I mean I refer to 1 Corinthians 1:14, 15, where Paul first says he had baptized nobody at Corinth but Crispus and Caius; then, a while later, remembering himself, adds that he had baptized also the household of Stephanas; and finally coming to doubt his memory, declares that he doesn't know whether he had baptized any other person. Here, if we indulge in arithmetical criticism, is a flat contradiction, but if we see simply the free play of the writer's mind under the ordinary conditions of human thought, there is no difficulty. If any one asks me how this perfectly free thought consists with Divine guidance, I answer that I cannot tell no more than how supernatural Divine power co-exists with free action of the soul in conversion, or how I exist at all, or how, in general, the finite and the infinite can co-exist.

I find that the geography, astronomy and other physical science of the sacred writers was that of their times. It is not that of our times, it is not that which seems to us correct, but it has nothing to do with their message of religious truth from God. I do not feel authorized to impose on Divine revelation the condition that it shall accord with modern geography and geology, nor to say that I will not accept it except on this condition. It seems to me that geography has nothing to do with religion. The message is not less Divine to me because it is given in Hebrew and not
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in English, or because it is set in the frame-work of a primitive and incorrect geology. When the Psalmist says (Psalm 121:6): "The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night," it does not matter to me whether the moon is injurious or not at night, for the obvious religious thought is independent of this outward form; or when discrepancies and inaccuracies occur in the historical narrative, this does not even invalidate the documents as historical records, much less does it affect them as expressions of religious truths. I am slow to admit discrepancies or inaccuracies, but if they show themselves I refer them to the human conditions of the writer, believing that his merely intellectual status, the mere amount of information possessed by him, does not affect his spiritual truth. If our heavenly Father sends a message by the stammering tongue of a man, I will not reject the message because of the stammering.

My position is the same when I find that political details have not fallen out in accordance with the form in which the prophets clothe their religious exhortations. If Hosea looked for a captivity of Ephraim in Egypt (Hosea IX:3), or Isaiah for political friendship between Assyria, Egypt and Israel (Isaiah XIX:23-25), that is the mere clothing of their real thought. The prophets uttered everlasting truths which are embodied and fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and with which the geographical and political details have no essential connection. To them Israel was the centre and hope of the world, and prospective possessor of all prosperity, and the spiritual gist of their teachings has been perpetuated in Christ, while the merely outward has passed away.

The prophets and priests were not only preachers of religion, but writers of religious history. The early history of Israel was for a long time not committed to writing, but handed down by oral tradition, under which process it was subject to a more or less free expansion. In this expanded form it was received at a comparatively late time by the prophets and priests who put it into shape, and made it the vehicle of religious truth. The idea of scientific history did not then exist - it was all pragmatic, that is, written for the purpose of inculcating a truth. The traditional history is treated by the pious of Israel in the spirit of profound trust in God and regard for his law. I can no more demand historical science in the scriptures than geological science. I regard them both as being outside of the domain of religion.

The same thing I hold in respect to the Levitical law, which grew up, as it seems to me, from generation to generation on a Mosaic basis, and could thus be called Mosaic.

In one word, I regard the Old Testament as the record of the whole circle of the experiences of Israel, the people whom God chose to be the depository of his truth, all whose life he so guided as to bring out of it lessons of instruction which he then caused to be written down for preservation. The nation lived out its life in a free human way, yet under divine guidance, and its Prophets, Priests and Psalmist recorded the spiritual, religious history under the condition of their time. The divine truth is presented in a framework of relatively unessential things, as Christ in his Parables introduced accessories merely for the purpose of bringing out a principle, so that the Parable of the Ten Virgins, for example, may properly be said to be the framework or vehicle of religious truth. As a whole the Parable may in a sense be called a religious teaching - but speaking more precisely we should say that a part of it is such teaching, or that the teaching is contained in it.

What I have said of the outward form of the Old Testament applies, as I think, to the outward form of the New Testament. I will not lightly see a historical or other inaccuracy in the Gospels or the Acts, but if I find such, they do not for me affect the divine teachings of these books. The centre of the New Testament is Christ himself, salvation is in him, and a historical error
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cannot affect the fact of his existence and his teachings. The apostles wrote out of their personal convictions of the reality of the truth of Christ. If Paul makes a slip of memory, as in the case above cited, that cannot affect his spiritual relation to Christ and to the Father, nor detract from his power as an inspired man. If his numerical statements do not always agree with those of the Old Testament (as in Galatians III:17, compared with Exodus XII:40), that seems to be a matter of no consequence. If the New Testament writers sometimes quote the Old Testament in the Greek version, which does not correctly render the Hebrew (as in Hebrews X:5, quoted from Psalm XI:6), that does not affect the main thought or the religious teaching. And it may be that in some cases my principles of exegesis lead me to a different interpretation of an Old Testament passage from which I find given by some New Testament writer, as in Psalm XI:6, above mentioned; this again I look on as an incidental thing, of which the true religious teaching is independent. I should add that in the majority of cases I hold that the New Testament quotations correctly represent the sense of the Old Testament, and there is always a true spiritual feeling controlling them. I think that Peter's discourse, in Acts II, gives the true spiritual sense of the passage in Joel, and so, many references of Old Testament passages to Christ throughout the New Testament. It ought also to be noticed that the ancient ideas of quotations were different from ours; ancient writers cite in a general way from memory for illustration, and permit themselves without remark such alterations as a modern writer would think it necessary to call attention to. This is to be regarded as a difference of habit arising from a difference of the times. The freedom of quotation in the scripture-writers does not, for example, affect their honesty and truthfulness, nor their spiritual train of thought, nor their spiritual authority. It is only a human condition of the divine truth they utter. In these men the spirit of God dwelt, and out of their writings comes a divine power. Recognizing in them a divine element, I cannot reject it because of what seems to me outward or non-spiritual limitations. I do not condition Divine action, but accept it in the form in which I find it.

As to criticism (question of date and authorship) and exegesis, these stand by themselves and have nothing to do with Inspiration. The prophecy in Isaiah XL-LXVI is not less inspired if it be assigned to the period of the Babylonian Exile, and the "servant of Jehovah" be regarded as referring primarily to Israel. These are questions of interpretation and historical research, in which, as it seems to me, the largest liberty must be allowed. If some of the Psalms should be put in the Maccabean period (B. C. 160), this is no reason for doubting their inspiration; God could as easily act on men in the year B. C. 160 as B. C. 400, or B. C. 700.

It is proper to add that the above statement of my views on Inspiration is the fullest that I have ever expressed. Some things I have not thought it expedient to state to my classes in the Seminary. At the same time I regard these views as helpful for Bible study. If at first they seem strange, I am convinced that they will appear more natural with further strict study of the text.

I beg leave to repeat that I am guided wholly by what seems to me the correct interpretation of the scriptures themselves. If an error in my interpretation is pointed out, I shall straightway give it up. I cannot accept a priori reasoning, but I stake everything on the words of the Bible, and this course I believe to be for the furtherance of the truth of God.

And now, in conclusion, I wish to say distinctly and strongly that I consider the view above given to be not only lawful for me to teach as Professor in the Seminary, but one that will bring aid and firm standing-ground to many a perplexed mind and establish the truth of God on a firm foundation.
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But that I may relieve the Board of all embarrassment in the matter, I tender my resignation as Professor in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Respectfully submitted
C. H. Toy
May, 1879.

(From the Baptist Courier [South Carolina] for Nov. 27, 1879. Also found in the Religious Herald [Virginia] for Dec. 11, 1879, and the Western Recorder [Kentucky] for Jan. 1, 1880.)

[This document is from Robert A. Baker, A Baptist Source Book: With Particular Reference to Southern Baptists, 1966. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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