Such a transformation of the conception of the Bible, even, to a large extent, of the orthodox conception, is an important aspect of nineteenth-century progress. Like all other branches of progress, it has its roots in the past centuries; but one hundred years ago there were still but feeble and spasmodic protests against the oppressive tyranny of the traditional view. Lessing and Semler could not have formed a remote conception of the issue of the movement, which they saw and calmly blessed before they died. Even Eichhorn and Geddes could not, in the least, have anticipated its utterly revolutionary result. But the critical attitude which they adopted and recommended harmonized too well with the mental unrest, the audacity, and the destructiveness of the new-born century. Criticism became a science of engrossing interest and of powerful effect, and ecclesiastical authority and the voice of tradition were enfeebled before the multitude of issues which the new generation raised. Like every anti-traditional effort, it was concentrated, fired, and purified by a continued stress of sacerdotal opposition; but it has at length attained so high a degree of security and cogency that it now numbers a large body of the most competent orthodox scholars among its most advanced adherents.
Some of the defects of the books of the Old Testament are so conspicuous that they had been derisively pointed out by the few Freethinkers who arose in preceding centuries; but the traditional reverence for the Bible was still too strong to permit a candid and sensible appreciation of them. The strained explanations of fathers and schoolmen were still available. There had, it is true, already been a significant change in the popular estimate of the book. The belief in verbal inspiration had practically vanished, and the painfully obvious human element had at length dawned upon the mind of Christendom. The inspiration, however, which was universally attributed to the Bible, was still of a character to repel scientific analysis, and even forbid a common-sense appreciation of its contents. Its contradictions, repetitions, impossibilities, and indecencies were still gravely attributed to the Holy Spirit, and, therefore, placed beyond criticism. Another advance towards criticism was made in the seventeenth century by the discovery of the unsatisfactory condition of the actual text of Scripture.