It is a wrong use of the Bible to accept everything recorded therein as necessarily true.
If the historians were simply the amanuenses of the Infinite Spirit, then of course they could not have erred in anything they recorded. If they were ordinary writers, trying to tell the story of their peoples’ growth; searching court archives, state annals, old parchments of forgotten writers, consulting the traditions of town and village, using their material in the best way their abilities enabled them to do; using all to teach virtue and religion, for which alone they were specially qualified of God; then all questions of historical accuracy are beside the mark. Nothing in their inspiration guarantees their historical accuracy; their philological learning in using ancient poetic language, or their critical judgment in detecting exaggerations. Are we to wait anxiously upon the latest Assyrian tablets or the freshest Egyptian mummy to confirm our faith that God has spoken to the spirit of man? Are we to quake in our shoes when a few ciphers are cut off from the roll of Israel’s impossible armies? If much that we read as literal history turns out legend and myth, are we to find a painful alternative between a blind credulity and as blind a skepticism? We follow this same re-reading of Roman and Grecian story untroubled, and see the heroes of our childhood turn into races and sun-myths without calling the Muse of History a fraud.
Has it been such comfort to us to read the doings of Samson as actual history, slaying a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass, tying fire-brands to the tails of three hundred foxes, etc., that we should resent the translation of this impossible hero into the Semitic Hercules, a solar myth? Or if, perchance, the historian accepted from remote antiquity the accounts of great deeds and striking events, as they were told at the camp fires of the Hebrew nomads, or in the merry makings of the Palestinian villages, with an ever growing nimbus of the marvelous gathering around them; and if thus impossible marvels are reported to us soberly, are we to be compelled to accept them uncritically or reject the Bible altogether? The Bible itself points us to the interpretation of such legends We have some histories written by the actors in the scenes narrated. Nehemiah and Ezra, leaders in the most important movement of Hebrew history after the migration led by Moses, left accounts of their work from their own pens. In such a crucial epoch as that of the restoration of the Jews to their native land, after the dispersion in Babylonia, we might expect to find miraculous interpositions on behalf of the chosen people, if they are to be found anywhere. But no tale of miracle adorns their simple pages. No other old Testament history, written by the actors in its scenes, tells of miracles. Such stories are found in the traditions written down long after the events narrated, by men who knew nothing of the facts at first hand. Exceptions to this rule occur alone in such startling events as the mysterious calamity that befell Sennacherib; which strongly impressed the imagination of the people and naturally gave rise to exaggerations that we can no longer resolve.