The Apostle Paul writes “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16 NIV). This belief is foundational to Christians everywhere. It was a major tenant of the Protestant Reformation. It is the pillar of our faith. It is God’s testimony to mankind.
There are a number of scholars who claim that Scripture is not “God-breathed.” Some claim that it cannot be God-breathed because there is no God to breathe it. These scholars pride themselves on the academic knowledge and alleged scientific approach to the study of Scripture. They claim to have scientifically proved that that the Bible is a book written by a number of uninspired men over hundreds of years for their own selfish reasons. They developed what is known as the Document Hypothesis to explain the man-made origin of Scripture and reject divine involvement.
Are their claims true? Are they based upon scientific objectivity? Is it true that God did not leave a testimony for mankind? This paper will exam the Document Hypothesis and higher critical thought. It will look at its history, exam its beliefs, and give responses by conservative scholars who disagree with the Document Hypothesis and support the inspiration of Scripture.
History of the Documentary Hypothesis
The Document Hypothesis was an outgrowth of the Historical Critical Method that developed over the period of hundreds of years. According to Dr. Norman Geisler “Historical criticism is a broad term that covers techniques to date documents and traditions, to verify events reported in those documents, and to use the results in historiography to reconstruct and interpret.” (1)
The roots of Historical Criticism can be traced back as far as the third century A.D., where enough questions were raised about the authorship of the Pentateuch that the Christian scholar Origen had to respond to questions about its Mosaic authorship. (2) In the 11th century Ibn Ezra wrote about contradictory passages in the Torah but did not directly attack its authorship. (3) However, in Damascus during the fourteenth century, the scholar Bonfils used Ibn’s information to suggest that the Torah was not written by Moses but by a later prophet. (4) Later during the 16th century, a Flemish Catholic name Andreas van Maes along with Jesuit scholars Benedict Pereira and Jacques Bonfrere proposed that Moses wrote the Pentateuch but it was expanded by later writers. (5) In the 17th century, led by British philosopher Thomas Hobbes, investigators denied Moses wrote any of the Torah. Hobbes presented a number of facts that he says are inconsistent with Mosaic authorship such as the phrase “to this day” which in Hobbes view, in indicative of someone after Moses describing a situation. (6)
Shortly after Hobbes, in Holland, the philosopher Spinoza published Tracatus Theologico-Politicus in 1670. (7) Spinoza said that the entire Torah was riddled with problems. Some of the problems Spinoza cited was referring to Moses in the third person, reporting of the death of Moses, which could not be been written by Moses, and some of the statements attributed to Moses such as being “humblest man on earth.” (8) In 1753, a French physician named Jean Astruc wrote Conjectures Concerning the Original Memoranda Which It Appears Moses Used to Complete the Book of Genesis. In this work Astruc proposed that Genesis was composed of two different sources. The Document Hypothesis was born.
According to world-renowned scholar Gleason L. Archer, the Documentary Hypothesis is “the theory that the Pentateuch was a compilation of selections from several different written documents composed at different places and times over a period of five centuries, long after Moses.” (9) This theory did not remain static in the state originally proposed by Astruc. It has evolved over time in a number of stages.
The first stage occurred in 1753 with the writings of Jean Astruc who noticed that Geneis1 referred to God only as Elohim while Genesis 2 mostly referred to God as Yahweh. From this Astruc deduced that two separate sources were used by the author Moses to write Genesis. Johann Gottfried Eichhorn refined this theory by dividing much of the Pentateuch into the two separate sources J for Jahwist and E for Elohist. (10)
The second stage occurred during 1780-1783 with a published work of Johann Gottfried Eichhorn. He divided the entire book of Genesis plus the first two books of Exodus based upon what he saw as two accounts variations of the same incident. To Eichorn, these various accounts are attributed to different authors. (11)
The third stage developed in 1806 with the published work of Willem Martin Lebrecht De Wette who speculated that Deuteronomy (D) was written during the reign of King Josiah circa 621 B.C. He believed the book was written to unite the kingdom by preventing worship outside of Jerusalem. He also believed that none of the Pentateuch was written before the time of David. (12)
In 1853 Hermann Hupfeld proposed that E consisted of further compositions. Hupfeld wrote that E consisted of E1 (later became know as P for the Priestly code) and E2 (which became known as simply E). He places the books in order of PEJD. (13)
The next stage occurred in 1866 when Karl Heinrich Graf speculated that Deuteronomy must have preceded the Priestly code since the alleged writer of D shows no acquaintance with portions of P. Graf reordered the documents P1EJD2. (14)
The next stage developed in 1869 when a Dutch scholar named Abraham Kuenen speculated that all of P had to be late. He ordered the documents PEJD. (15)
In 1876, Wellhausen published material supporting the Documentary Theory. Although his work contained nothing new, he codified and stated the theory with such skill that his name has now been attached to the theory. This theory came to be the acceptable standard among liberal scholars. The Document Hypothesis was later applied to the whole of the Old Testament.
Some of the proponents of the Document Hypothesis include Kautzsch, Smed, Giessebrecht, Budde, Stade, and Cornill in Germany. In England we have William Robertson Smith, Samuel R. Driver, and Evangelical George Adam Smith. In the United States Charles Augustus Briggs of Union Seminary became a champion of the Document Hypothesis. (16)
Presentation of Higher Critical Thought
Higher Critical Thought Applied to the Pentateuch
In the view of higher critical thought, Scripture was no longer sacred. In the words of Edgar Krentz, a proponent of higher criticism “The biblical books became historical documents to be studied and questioned like any other ancient sources. The Bible was no longer the criterion for the writing of history; rather history had become the criterion for understanding the Bible.” (17) Krentz goes on to say “The Bible stood before criticism as defendant before judge.” (18)
Under Wellhausen, the Document Hypothesis stabilized into its present generally accepted form. This theory proposes four sources described below:
J- Yawist narrative that runs from Genesis 2 through Numbers 22-24. Critics date the source between 950 and 850 B.C. (19)
E – Narrative of Israel’s that is parallel to J that runs from Genesis 20 through Exodus 3:6. Critics date the source between 750 and 700 B.C. (20)
D – Refers to the core material that makes up the book of Deuteronomy. Critics date the source between 750 and 700 B.C. Several scholars date this source to the early seventh century B.C. (21)
P – Concerned with the origin and regulation of institutions in Israel. This Encompasses Genesis 1, Leviticus 1-7, and Leviticus 17-26. Critics date the source sometime before the end of the fourth century B.C. (22)
Evaluation of Higher Criticism
Presuppositions of Higher Critical Thought
Proponents of higher critical thought try to present themselves as being scientific and objective. They say they want the facts to speak for themselves. This simply is not true. These scholars come to the table with a number of presuppositions that make their conclusions anything but scientific or objective.
A major presupposition of historical critical methodology is that God does not reveal Himself in Scripture. (23) They believe the Bible is a religious writing like all other religious writings. Biblical writings are merely creations of the writers commits the logical fallacy of circular reasoning. It assumes that the Bible cannot be supernatural revelation because there is no such thing as supernatural revelation. (24)
Another assumption is that Israel’s religion is man-made and can be explained as a product of evolution. There is overwhelming evidence from the Scriptures that the Israelite religion has been monotheistic from its inception. Critics also ignore the fact that no other religion has evolved into monotheism. There has been no evidence to support this theory. It is a dogmatic assumption. (25)
Proponents of higher criticism also assume that scholars today have a better understanding of ancient history than the ancient authors themselves. This is another example of pure philosophical bias. (26)
Additionally, supporters of higher critical thought assume Scripture is guilty until proven innocent. Whenever the Bible mentions a historical fact, it is assumed that the Bible is incorrect unless the information is in agreement with known extra-biblical facts. However, this same skepticism is not applied to all ancient documents. If there is a discrepancy between Scripture and another ancient document, the other document is seen as more reliable. Scholars cite the authors of the Bible as not being objective. How can these scholars assume that the writers of the ancient documents are unbiased? Why can’t the non-biblical writings be suspect? Do they not have an agenda? How can we assume they do not? Why hold the Bible to a different and higher standard that other writings?
It should be clear to the unbiased reader that there is nothing scientific about school of historical critical thought. It is wrought with logical fallacies, unsubstantiated theories, and dishonesty. In the words of Eta Linnemann, a Documentarian turned Evangelical “The objectivity of scientific work is to a large extent illusion.” (27)
Critics Handling of Scripture
Proponents of higher criticism are no less bias in the way that they treat the text of Scripture. Operating under presuppositions, they employ a number of ways to attack Scripture. Some of the methods used by critics to divide the text of Scripture are based on style, doublets, and aramaisms.
An example of dividing the text based upon style can be found in the way the critics handle Genesis. In Genesis 1, the author uses a word for God that is different than the word for God used in Genesis 2. The critic uses this as proof that the author of Genesis 1 must be different then the author of Genesis 2. One author only knew God by Elohim, the other only by Yahweh.
Another criterion for source division is the proposed use of Aramaisms. This theory seeks to date source documents based upon the use of Aramaic words. The view here is that Aramaic words would not have crept into the Hebrew language until after the exile. So any text using Aramaic words are considered post-exilic. (28) This criterion is used to conclude that the Priestly Code (P) was actually written after the exile. (29)
The use of doublets is also used by critics to divide the text of Scripture. A doublet is a case of the same story being told twice. (30) Examples of doublets are the two creation accounts, differences in the flood narrative, and the three namings of Isaac. Theses lead critics to speculate that the differences are probably due to a clumsy combination of diverse traditions of the same event. Hence, a later editor combined the text in a way that we are able to discern the differences. (31)
In addition to criterion listed above, the authors of Scripture themselves are put under a microscope. Since in their view Scripture itself is not inspired, then neither are the authors. As a result the authors are scrutinized. According to Edgar Krentz “The writer’s position as an observer, his internal consistency, his bias or prejudices, and his abilities as a writer all affect the accuracy of what he knows and the competence of the report.” (32)
Krentz goes on to say “If two sources agree too closely, one is suspect of as being an uncredited copy of another.” (33) The thought that both authors could be inspired by the Holy Spirit, thereby having the same source, is not even considered as a possibility.
Arguments by Conservative Scholars
Each of the augments proposed by proponents of higher critical thought have been addressed and refuted by conservative scholars. These scholars support the biblical accounts and have published numerous works in defense of the inspiration and authority of Scripture.
Critics divide the Scripture into a number of sources using a number of criteria. One such criteria is based upon style or word usage. As discussed earlier, in the Documentary Hypothesis, Genesis 1 and 2 were said to have different authors because each chapter uses a different name for God. Since the development of the Documentary Hypothesis there have been discoveries of differing uses for the name of god in other cultures. For instance, we find an example of this in Homer’s epics with no need for source division. We also find the same literary style in the Koran. (34)
We also know now that the two names for God actually have different meanings. Elohim is used to refer to God as the Almighty creator of the universe while Yahweh is the covenant name for God, which is reserved for situations in which some covenant engagement of God is involved. (35) So the different uses of God in Genesis has nothing to do with two separate authors, it was one author referring to God by His different aspects.
Critics also use the existence of doublets or parallel accounts to give weight to the different sources assertion. An example of this occurs in the critics’ treatment of Genesis 1 and 2. In addition to dividing this text based on the different uses of the word for God, critics also speculate that chapters one and two represent two different creation stories. They claim Genesis 1 was probably written during the exile or post exile, while Genesis 2 was written in the 9th century B.C. However, we know now that this was a literary form of writing. Gleason Archer writes “But actually this technique of recapitulation was widely practiced in ancient Semitic literature. The author would first introduce his account with a short statement summarizing the whole transaction, and then he would follow it up with a more detailed and circumstantial account when dealing with matters of special importance.” (36)
Additionally, proponents of higher critical thought use aramaisms to divide the text of Scripture into various sources. At first this seems to be scientific, however, there are significant problems with this view. This view assumes that Aramaic words did not become part of the Hebrew language until after the exile. We now know this to be untrue due to recent archeological discoveries that show Hebrew words used by non-Jews of the region. (37) It stands to reason that given the biblical account, Abraham migrated to a region where the Aramaic language was spoken. It also stands to reason that Abraham learned the language and gradually adopted the tongue of his neighbors. This makes perfect sense. From its beginnings, Israel lived in a land where Aramaic was the spoken tongue. If the inhabitants used Hebrew expressions in writing there should be no reason to think the Hebrews would not use Aramaic expressions in their language.
Despite critics’ assertion that Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch, there is significant evidence to the contrary. The Scripture itself testify that Moses is the author. Ex. 17:14, Ex. 24:4, Nu. 33:1-2, and Dt. 31:9 attribute authorship to Moses. We also see from Nu. 11:7-8, the author had a first hand knowledge of the taste of manna. The author of Exodus and Genesis show a thorough acquaintance with the Egyptian culture. This is evident by the fact that the author of the Pentateuch uses a greater percentage of Egyptian words than any other author in the Old Testament. (38)
The Moses of Scripture was more qualified than anyone else to write the Pentateuch. He had plenty of time while wondering around in the desert for forty years. In fact, writing was so prevalent during his day that it would make no sense for him not to put to pen what God had told him, even if God did not command him directly as we see from the evidence presented in the proceeding paragraph.
The science of Archeology supports the biblical accounts and undermines historical critical thought. In the words of Gleason Archer “Thus it has come about that in case after case after case where alleged historical inaccuracy was printed to as proof of late and spurious authorship of the biblical documents, the Hebrew record has been vindicated by the results of recent excavation, and the condemnatory judgment of the Documentarian Theorists have been proved without foundation.”
A good example of Archeology undermining historical criticism is in respect to the view that the Priestly code was written after the exile. (39) Critics content that these laws could never have been devised until after the fifth century B.C. In direct contradiction, the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, discovered in 1901 show similarities to the type of provisions mentioned in the Priestly code of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. The Code of Hammurabi is dated centuries before the time of Moses. (40) In further support, Deuteronomy is written in a structure used by the Syro-Anatolian culture during the 14th and 13th centuries B.C. for treaties. Critics contend that Deuteronomy was written during the 8th century B.C., when structure for such treaties was different. (41)
In the words of Etta Linneman, “Statements in Scripture regarding place, time, sequences of events, and persons are accepted only insofar as they fit in with establish assumptions and theories.” (42) Although critics contend that the Bible is unhistorical and untrustworthy, time and time again, the archeological record supports places, times, events mentioned in Scripture. We now have archaeological information about a number of patriarchal towns mention in Scripture to include Bethel, Shechem, Jerusalem, Mamre, Gerar Beer-sheba, and Dothan. (43) The personal names Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are names of the time and area mentioned in the Bible. (44)
Another example of critics proven wrong is in relation to their assumption that the biblical account given in Numbers and Joshua concerning the conquering of Canaan is unhistorical. The discovery of the Tell el-Amarna tables in 1887 confirms the biblical account. These tables are dated to the time of the children of Israel entering the land of Canaan (1400-1370 B.C.) and contain letters written to Egypt from Palestinian and Syrian authorities. These letters tell of fierce invaders and request assistance from Egypt to help counter this foe. The letters list conditions consistent with the biblical accounts. They even list cities that have already fallen. These fallen cities correspond to biblical account of the cities conquered by Israel early into their military campaign. (45)
Critics Response to Criticisms
So how do critics respond to conservative scholars? How do they respond to the extra-biblical material? The do not respond!. Scholars who support higher criticism do not address the issues because they are not interested in truth. They operate on a number of presuppositions as their foundation. They have invested a lot into this theory and they hold on to it least they realize they are wrong and accountable to God. Gleason Archer writes:
To propose any kind of objective examination is to invited ridicule and scorn from practitioners of the Documentary Hypothesis or Form Criticism or most of our present day universities and state-supported seminaries throughout the Western World.
The amazing feature about this Bible-denigrating procedure is its flagrant violation of the rule against circular reasoning which underlies all evidential logic. To the rationalistic mind-set of the Aufklarung and the Encyclopedistes of the mid-eighteenth century it was well-nigh inconceivable for any educated thinker to take seriously the truth-claims of Holy Scripture, and those who undertook to do so were ridiculed as benighted and naive, no matter what scholarly attainments they had achieved in their facto outdated traditionalists who could be safely ignored (46)
As we can see here, we are dealing with a culture where Bible believing Evangelicals are not even worthy of refuting. All extra biblical evidence, be it archeological or prophetic are ignored. “One of the most amazing features of the modern Liberal scholarship is its complete ignoring of the overwhelming evidence afforded by the multitude of fulfilled predictions with which the Bible abounds.” (47)
We have looked at higher criticism and the Document Hypothesis. We have examined its beliefs and biases. We have exposed the Document Hypothesis as not being based in objectivity or fact. In light of contemporary understanding of archeology, there is no reason to hold to the Wellhausen school of belief. Liberal scholars hold to such belief because of philosophical reasons. Their motives are betrayed by their unwillingness to even address the arguments of conservative scholars. They have proven themselves to be uncredible.
It is clear that God did leave us with a testimony. It is clear that Scripture is inspired of God and written by men carried along by the Holy Spirit. Critics will come and go. Theories always exist to try to cast doubt upon Holy Writ. It is to be expected. After all Jesus Himself proved in the wilderness that the Word of God is effective against the enemy. In Ephesians 6, the apostle Paul tells us that we are to use the word of God to “stand against the devil’s schemes.” It should come as no surprise that our adversary would use those outside and inside the church to attack the credibility of a weapon he fears.
1. Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1999), 86.
2. Richard Elliot Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (New York: Summit Books, 1987), 18.
3. Ibid., 19.
5. Ibid., 20.
7. Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1994), 89.
8. Friedman, 20.
9. Archer 89.
10. Ibid., 90-91.
12. Ibid., 91.
13. Ibid., 94.
14. Ibid., 94-95.
15. Ibid., 95.
16. Ibid., 96.
17. Edgar Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method (Eugene Ore: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1975), 30.
19. William Sanford LaSor, and David Allen Hubbard, and Frederic Wm. Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996) 10.
21. Ibid., 11.
23. Eta Linnemann, Historical Criticism of the Bible, trans. Robert Yarbough (Grand Rapids, Mich: Kregel Publications, 1990), 84.
24. Archer, 113.
25. Ibid., 115.
26. Ibid., 116.
27. Linnemann, 96.
28. Archer, 143.
29. Ibid., 141.
30. Friedman, 22.
31. Archer, 134.
32. Krentz, 44.
34. Archer, 127-8.
35. Ibid., 129.
36. Ibid., 134.
37. Ibid., 143-144.
38. Ibid., 119.
39. Lasor, Hubbard, Bush, Old Testament Survery, 11.
40. Archer, 181-2.
41. Ibid., 183.
42. Linnemann, 84.
43. John Arthur Thompson, The Bible and Archaeology, 3d ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972) 27.
45. Archer, 184-5.
46. Ibid., 577.
47. Ibid., 578.
Copyright © 2006 by Harold C. Felder D.Min. (Master of Arts and Doctor of Ministry in apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary).