The Reliability of Old Testament History
In the previous part, we have seen that the texts of the Old Testament provide an accurate and faithful representation of what was originally recorded with little evidence of distortion or alteration within the process of transmission. But what about the content of the Old Testament itself? Even if the manuscript tradition has been proven to be reliable, it is at least possible that the Old Testament is an accurate and faithful copy of something that is false. Throughout church history, the historical reliability of the Old Testament narratives has been debated, including issues of authorship, theological continuity, and historicity. If the text of the Hebrew Old Testament is to be taken seriously it must be established as trustworthy, giving accurate assessments of the historical (as well as spiritual) claims that it makes.
With modern scholarship making more and more advances in the field of Old Testament studies, a wealth of evidence has been discovered that corroborates the historical reliability of the Old Testament at many levels. It must be kept in mind, however, this part of the book is in no way exhaustive. So this part limits itself to a few key case studies in hope of demonstrating that some of the most frequently raised issues, especially with the books of Moses and the Prophets, are not difficulties for the historical reliability of the Old Testament.
Finally, we will briefly consider the canon of the Old Testament, from the divine selection to the human confirmation of the books we currently find within the Old Testament.
Moses, the Pentateuch, and the Major Prophets
The first five books of the Old Testament form the most seriously challenged section of the Bible. And the first challenge is to Moses' authorship of the Pentateuch (the five books of the Law) through what has been called the documentary hypothesis or JEDP theory.
The Reliability of Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch
Challenges to Mosaic authorship have been an issue since the seventeenth century AD, when Benedict Spinoza voiced his denial of it in his Theological-Political Treatise (1677). Jean Astruc, in 1753—actually, in an attempt to refute Spinoza—was the first to propose a primitive version of the documentary theory.
Soon after, in the nineteenth century, many critical scholars adopted this theory. Astruc limited his analysis to Genesis. Johann Gottfried Eichhorn was the first to apply this theory to the entire Pentateuch, with a series of publications beginning in 1780. Wilhelm M.L. de Wette also made a significant contribution to this discussion in positing that Deuteronomy was its own independently constructed source in his Dissertation Critico-Exegetica in 1805; a year later this hypothesis was repeated in his Beitraege zur Einleitung. De Wette actually went so far as to say that none of the Pentateuch was composed prior to the time of David! However, it was Julius Wellhausen who popularized (not created—a common misconception) the idea that the Pentateuch was written by various persons whom he called Jehovist (J, also known as Yahwist), Elohist (E), Deuteronomist (D), and Priestly (P), each one supposedly distinguished by their literary characteristics. Thus the name JEDP theory refers to the various sources hypothesized.
Professor Gleason Archers Critique of JEDP
Professor Gleason Archer, noted Harvard PhD and Old Testament expert, lists nine difficulties for the JEDP theory. He also argues for the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. 1
1. The theory employs circular reasoning. It assumes that the Bible is not a supernatural book and then attempts to give a natural explanation for its origin, claiming that in some way this explanation also proves the nonsupernatural character of the Bible.
2. Though documentary theorists base their theory on the textual evidence, when the textual evidence seems to counter their theory it is ignored.
3. Authors have always been capable of using more than one style and more than one name for God.
4. Archaeological evidence that confirms individual historical details that indicate the Pentateuch was written long before the time of David is simply ignored (see part 6 of this book).
5. The theory starts with the assumption that Israel's religion is of human origin like other religions, and as such needs an explanation of its evolution.
6. Supposed "discrepancies" are noted to prove a diversity of sources, even though the passage in question, read in its context, makes plenty of sense.
7. A double standard is applied to the Hebrew Bible. Other Semitic sources describe various entities in differing styles of language, yet their singular authorship, authenticity, or antiquity is not called into question.
8. The theory falsely assumes we have no literature contemporary to the Pentateuch to which we can compare it. The theory also explains away instances that it cannot account for by claiming Masoretic scribal additions or alterations of the text.
9. Scholars who hold the theory assume they, living 3,400 years after the fact, can better understand these texts than can the New Testament authors, whom these scholars judge to live 600 to 1,000 years after the fact (according to their dating of the Pentateuch).
In addition to Archer's responses, the JEDP theory has come under increasing attack by scholars in recent years since no JEDP "documents" have ever been found—no traces can be found in the hundreds of biblical texts found in the Dead Sea Scrolls or anywhere else. Yale scholar "William W. Hallo points out:
The literary-critical study of the Hebrew Bible has had a checkered his tory. The [JEDP] documentary hypothesis with which it began over two centuries ago remains to this day a hypothesis, the [JEDP] documents which it reconstructed [are] beyond recovery; their precise extent, their absolute and relative dates, and their changes over time [are] all matters of dispute; and the applicability of the hypothesis beyond the Pentateuch [is] severely limited. Given such disparate and even desperate reactions to two centuries of modern Biblical scholarship, it is perhaps Moses, the Pentateuch, and the Major Prophets not surprising that much of the most exciting work….has been….from….epigraphic [archaeological] discoveries.2
More Reasons to Affirm Mosaic Authorship
There also exist further independent reasons for affirming Mosaic authorship.
First, Scripture itself attributes authorship of the Pentateuch to Moses. Within the Pentateuch itself it is repeatedly stated that Moses wrote down the words of the law given directly to him by Yahweh (Exodus 17:14; 24:4,7; 34:27; Numbers 33:1-2; Deuteronomy 31:9,11). Books within the rest of the Old Testament also give witness to this fact. The book of Joshua attests to Mosaic authorship in 1:8 and 8:31-32, identifying them as the "book of the law" or the "book of the law of Moses." The title "law of Moses" is used by David in 1 Kings 2:3 to refer to the first five books written by Moses, while 2 Kings 14:6 gives the same title, quoting from Deuteronomy 24:16. Again, 2 Kings refers to the same title of the Pentateuch.
Other references to the Mosaic authorship are found in Ezra 6:18, Nehemiah 13:1, Daniel 9:11-13, and Malachi 4:4. The authorship of the Torah is always attributed to Moses throughout the Old Testament and even into the New Testament. The Gospels refer to the writings of the Torah as "Moses" in John 5:46-47 and 7:19 and Acts 3:22. Other places in the New Testament refer to Moses as the author of the Torah, such as in Romans 10:5. It is also interesting to note that Mark 12:26 states that God Himself uttered the words written in Exodus 3:6 to the historical Moses.
Second, upon further investigation, other internal evidences attest to Moses' authorship of the Pentateuch as well. Independent investigation of the historical events recorded, of the contemporary issues of Moses' day, of the descriptions of the plants and wildlife, and of the conditions of geography and climate has led scholars to believe that the author was originally a resident of Egypt and not of Israel. Investigation also confirms that the author of the Pentateuch was an eyewitness of the Exodus and wilderness wanderings, and one who possessed a very high degree of education, literary skill, and familiarity with Egypt and the Hebrew way of life. Moses is the most reasonable choice as author since he appears to have possessed all the qualities and training necessary to fulfill the role of author.
The many geographic details recorded in passages such as Exodus 15:27 suggest that the author was an actual participant in the events themselves. Genesis and Exodus show the authors familiarity with the land of Egypt and with Egyptian names, expressions, customs, and culture. In addition, the unity of arrangement and harmony that underlies the Torah also points to a single author of the text. And taking into account that the Pentateuch was written over a period of about four decades through progressive revelation given by God, we would expect differing writing styles.
Third, the late date many critics assigned to Deuteronomy (the seventh century BC) has been thoroughly discredited by the excellent scholarship of Meredith Kline. In his landmark work The Treaty of the Great King3 he demonstrates that Deuteronomy follows the form of the typical Hittite suzerainty treaty of the second millennium BC. This is the very time during which Moses would have written Deuteronomy.
The Historicity of Adam and Eve
The first chapters of Genesis are generally considered by critical scholars to be myth and not actual historical events. They cite the poetic structure of the text, the parallels with ancient myths, and its contradiction of the theory of evolution as evidence that the accounts are legendary. But Genesis presents Adam and Eve as historical, literal people who began the human race. Indeed, an early archaeological discovery supports a literal Adam and Eve. In 1932 EA. Speiser of the University Museum of Pennsylvania discovered a seal near the bottom of the Tepe Gawra Mound, 12 miles from Nineveh in Mesopotamia, that he dated about 3500 BC. It shows a naked man and woman both bent over as if they were downcast. Behind them is a serpent. The seal is about one inch in diameter, engraved on stone, and is now in the University Museum in Philadelphia. Professor Speiser noted that the image is strongly suggestive of the Adam and Eve story.
Both the Old and New Testaments continually refer to Adam and Eve as literal persons, recording the most important events in their lives, documenting the events of their descendants, placing Adam at the beginning of human genealogy, and telling of their literal existence as key to an accurate understanding of original sin.
Despite the common assumption by some that Genesis is a form of poetry, the casual reader will immediately recognize that its structure and genre do not necessarily follow the typical pattern of Hebrew poetry. When Genesis is compared with the poetic structure of Psalms and Proverbs, the differences are clearly evident. Genesis predominately contains narrative and tangible real-life descriptions and does not appear to contain significant amounts of poetry, whereas Psalms and Proverbs are poetic and melodic. The creation account of Genesis 2 reads like any other historical narrative found in the Old Testament. This is evidenced by the structure of the text, in that the account is introduced like other historical narratives with the phrase, "This is the account of...." Moreover, Jesus and the apostles viewed the creation account as an actual historical event (see Matthew 19:4; Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:45; 1 Timothy 2:13-14). In fact, no New Testament passage treats the events recorded in Genesis as poetic or mythological.
Reasons for Accepting Genesis 1—11 as Historical
There are, in fact, many good reasons for accepting the historicity of Adam and Eve and, for that matter, the whole of Genesis 1-11:
1. Genesis 12 begins with what is called a waw-consecative verb ("and he said"), which indicates that what follows is a continuation of chapter 11 and not a break.
2. The structure of Genesis is connected by the phrase "these are the generations (history) of...," which occurs ten times. Each time this phrase occurs it narrows the focus to something that has previously been discussed: the heavens and the earth (2:4), Adam (5:1), Noah (6:9), Noah's sons (10:1), Shem (11:10), Terah (11:27), Ishmael (25:12), Isaac (25:19), Esau (36:1), and Jacob (37:2).
3. Since six of the phrases mentioned in point 2 occur in Genesis 1—11 and four in Genesis 12—50, it is clear that both sections should be understood in the same way. They form the literary connectives that hold the whole historical record together.
4. There is a connective between both sections in the history of Abraham, Sarah, and Lot, which begins near the end of Genesis 11 (verses 27-32) and continues in chapters 12—25.
5. Genesis 12 makes little sense by itself without the preparatory genealogy given in chapter 11. Only hermeneutical gymnastics could bring one to take Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as historical, but not Adam, Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
6. The New Testament cites indiscriminately from both sections as historical. This is demonstrated below by numerous citations that confirm 15 persons or events from Genesis 1—11.
Therefore, Genesis 1-11 is just as historical as Genesis 12-50. Any hermeneutic which undermines the historicity of Genesis 1—11 is thereby undermining the full inerrancy of the Bible. And with it, they are undermining the authority of Christ, the New Testament writers, and many important Christian doctrines based on the historicity of Genesis 1—11. Consider all the New Testament references that support the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis:
1. The creation of the universe (Genesis 1)—Mark 13:19; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16
2. The creation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 1-2)—Mark 10:6; Mark 13:19; 1 Timothy 2:13; 1 Corinthians 11:8-9; 15:45
3. God resting on the seventh day (Genesis 1)—Hebrews 4:3-4
4. The marriage of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2)—Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:7-8; Ephesians 5:31; 1 Corinthians 6:16
5. The temptation of Eve (Genesis 3)—1 Timothy 2:14; 2 Corinthians 11:3
6. The disobedience of Adam (Genesis 3)—Romans 5:12,14-19
7. The sacrifices of Abel and Cain (Genesis 4)—Hebrews 11:4
8. The murder of Abel by Cain (Genesis 4)—Matthew 23:35; 1 John 3:12; Jude 11
9. The birth of Seth (Genesis 4)—Luke 3:38
10. The translation of Enoch to heaven (Genesis 5)—Hebrews 11:5
11. Marriage before the Flood (Genesis 6)—Luke 17:27
12. The Flood and the destruction of mankind (Genesis 7)—Matthew 24:39
13. The preservation of Noah and his family (Genesis 8—9)—1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5
14. Noah's son Shem and his descendants (Genesis 10)—Luke 3:35-36
15. The birth of Abram (Abraham) (Genesis 11)—Luke 3:34
In view of this, to deny the historicity of these early chapters of Genesis is to deny, first, the inspiration of the New Testament; and second, the authority of Christ, who affirmed six of those chapters Himself (1,2,4, 8,11, and 12). What is more, denying the historicity of Genesis 1—11 undermines crucial New Testament doctrines that are based on them. These include 1) the doctrine of marriage (Matthew 19:4-6); 2) the doctrine of the essential equality of men and women, who are both in "Gods image" (Genesis 1:27; 1 Corinthians 11:7-12); 3) the doctrine of the essential unity of the human race (Acts 17:26); 4) the doctrine of the Fall of mankind (Romans 5:12-14); and 5) the doctrine of redemption by the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45).
Adam and Eve and Darwin's Theory
Sometimes the historicity of Adam and Eve is dismissed due to its incompatibility with Darwin's theory of evolution. His book On the Origin of Species (1859) sought to explain the origins of the biological species by means of natural selection, contradicting the biblical assertion that species reproduce after their own kind. According to current macro-evolutionary theory, the process of the development of plants, animals, and humans is governed by the unguided principle of survival of the fittest. Over the process of millions of years, variations in species begin to emerge as they evolve and adapt to their surrounding environment, enabling them to be better equipped to survive and then produce offspring with these same capabilities. Other species that have not developed with such characteristics would lack the capabilities necessary to thrive, which would lead to their eventual extinction.
Darwin's theory of evolution leaves no room for divine intervention in the emergence of life, which poses a direct contradiction to the creation account presented in Genesis, leaving many to doubt the reliability of the text of that book (see Genesis 1:1,3,6,9,21,27). However, there is no reason to accept the conclusions of macro-evolutionary theory.
The fossils say no. First, no conclusive fossil evidence exists to support the evolutionary contention that certain kinds can transition into other kinds (for example, reptiles into birds, chimps into humans). All the so-called "missing links" have been either refuted as, frauds, or closely examined and discovered to be either animal or human, but not both. Indeed, top evolutionists have acknowledged the lack of fossil evidence to support evolution. Darwin asserted that the lack of transitional fossils in the geological record is "the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory."4 American Scientist magazine contains the statement, "As Darwin noted in the Origin of Species, the abrupt emergence of arthropods in the fossil record during the Cambrian presents a problem for evolutionary biology." 5 The late Harvard scientist Stephen Gould admitted, "The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches." Even in his later attempt to modify this statement he admitted that "transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level."6 Niles Eldredge said, "Most families, orders, classes, and phyla appear rather suddenly in the fossil record, often without anatomically intermediate forms."7 W. Ford Doolide said, "The history of life cannot properly be represented as a tree." Carl Woese noted that "there would never have been a single cell that could be called the last universal common ancestor." Cornell University biology professor William Provine said, "The evidence for the big transformations in evolution are not there in the fossil record."8
Additionally, Antonis Rokas declared that "phylogenetic incongruities can be seen everywhere in the universal tree, from its root to the major branching within and among the various taxa to the makeup of the primary groupings themselves."9 Sir Fred Hoyle used a lively description: "The evolutionary record leaks like a sieve."10 After science had spent 150 years looking for missing links, Oxford biologist Mark Pagel "saw in the fossil records rapid bursts of change, new species appearing seemingly out of nowhere and then remaining unchanged for millions of years—patterns hauntingly reminiscent of creation.
Observation and experimentation say no. By contrast, science has supported the biblical view of the reproduction of each kind as being after its kind. That is, reptiles do not become birds. Experience and experimentation demonstrate that each kind reproduces after its own kind—no one has shown this to be false. Natural selection or survival of the fittest cannot account for the beginning of new kinds. There has been no experiment in the laboratory or observed experience in nature where natural selection produced a new biological kind.
There is certainly merit to the notion of survival of the fittest as a way to weed out weaker and sick animals and kinds, leaving the stronger animals to remain and reproduce. However, at best the principle of natural selection can only lead to the survival of kinds, not the arrival of kinds. Moreover, it should be noted that there is no fossil evidence that supports the claims that sudden drastic mutations, such as the addition of an organ or appendage, have occurred over a short time, say a thousand-year period. Studies in genetics have showed that the range of variations that are possible within a species are very limited and give no support to the possibility of the development of new kinds.
Biochemistry says no. Darwin described the criterion that would be fatal to the linchpin of his theory of evolution when he said:
If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case.12
Even the most basic biological forms of life (for example, amoebas) have been scientifically shown to consist of complex information systems and patterns that reflect the involvement of intelligence. In fact, according to the famous evolutionist Richard Dawkins, there is the equivalent of 1,000 sets of encyclopedias of information in a one-celled animal.13 These patterns and systems often resemble the workings, order, and precision of a factory assembly line (for example, DNA, RNA, replication, transport, coding, assembly, and so on), all of which can only be accounted for by a complex and intelligent cause.
In all cases of human experience there appear to be intelligent causes responsible for the existence of complex information systems.l4 If we are to be consistent in our thinking, this would hold true for all biological information systems, especially since all specified complexity (like information contained in a sentence) implies a designer. Darwin's criterion in the above quotation has been met by biochemist Michael Behe. Behe has demonstrated that the basic components of the cell appear to be irreducibly complex, meaning all of its components must be fully formed and functioning together for the cell to thrive. Thus, the cell could not have developed (evolved) through numerous, successive, and slight modifications. Evolutionary theory cannot account for the origin, development, and sustaining of the cell by slight successive changes over long periods of time. In such a case the cell's complexity would be reduced and could not survive.
As an analogy, the workings of the cell are much like the workings of a car. All the necessary system components (that is, engine, gasoline, spark plugs, transmission, battery, fuel injectors, and so on) must be present, complete, and functional all at once—or the car will not operate. For biological life this is certain death or even extinction. Behe uses the example of a mousetrap. If one of its component parts is broken or missing it will not catch mice. In other words, the mousetrap is irreducibly complex—any reduction in the complex parts will render the trap useless for its purpose of catching mice.
Dating methods are not definitive. The rejection of Adam and Eve's historicity because of an alleged contradiction between early evolutionary dates of man's origin with Genesis's timeline is unfounded for several reasons. First, there are both biblical and scientific arguments that can be used to support a young-earth view (THE BIBLE DOES NOT SAY THE EARTH IS YOUNG; THE EARTH COULD BE BILLIONS OF YEARS OLD AND NOT CONTRADICT THE BIBLE; PROVED IN OTHER STUDIES ON MY WEBSITE - Keith Hunt)—that the creation of mankind occurred 10,000 or fewer years ago.* (COULD HAVE BEEN MORE THAN 10,000 YEARS AGO - Keith Hunt). Fossil dating methods to determine the antiquity of human origin are often inaccurate and not always trustworthy. Moreover, in some cases it is not clear whether the fossil remains analyzed are actually human. The well-known carbon-14 dating method is subject to the objection of whether the fossil
* For example, noted physicist Gerald Schroeder argues that the universe is both 15 billion years old (judged from our perspective looking back) but yet only thousands of years old because there were only six literal days (from God's perspective looking forward). Genesis speaks from God's perspective, but since the universe has expanded, looking back from our perspective we judge the passage of time to have been much greater. Time is relative to space, and as space expands, time expands with it. So both the Bible (with its literal days of creation) and modern science could be correct (see Gerald Schroeder, The Science of God [New York: Free Press, 2009]). Other young-earth views challenge the constancy of the speed of light, the reliability of scientific dating methods, or both (see Henry M. Morris, Biblical Cosmology and Modern Science [Philadelphia: P&R Press, 1970]).
(I FIND THE YOUNG EARTH, WITH LIKE ABOVE ARGUMENTS WAY OUT, AS THE BIBLE DOES NOT TELL US WHEN THE EARTH CAME INTO EXISTENCE, OR HOW LONG THE DINOSAUR AGE WAS, OR HOW LONG THE EARTH WAS UNDER WATER [GEN. 1:1-2]. THE BIG BANG TEACHING AND AN EXPANDING UNIVERSE AND TIME AS WE KNOW IT TODAY, I FIND QUITE ACCEPTABLE; HENCE 14 OR SO BILLION OF YEARS AGO THE UNIVERSE CAME INTO BEING; THE EARTH SOMETIME DURING THAT TIME PERIOD - Keith Hunt)
was in a pure state. It is not always easy to discern whether there was a constant and uninterrupted rate of decay or whether the sample was contaminated by outside forces. It is also worthy of note that some dating methods, carbon-14 among them, are only accurate for thousands of years, not for hundreds of thousands or millions of years. Therefore, some dating methods used to analyze fossils are, at best, dependent upon the speculations of the analyzer or are altogether inaccurate. Because the dating methods are based on analysis of bone fragments, scientists' attempts to reconstruct origins are very speculative. Therefore, the foundations of the objections made against the historicity of Adam and Eve are speculative. Second, the objection fails to understand that some Christians hold to an old-earth chronology that leaves room for an earlier date for Adam.
(YES, I'M ONE OF THOSE CHRISTIANS; AN OLD EARTH; PERIOD OF [MAY BE MILLIONS OF YEARS] OF A DINOSAUR AGE BEFORE MAN; AN EARTH LEFT UNDER WATER [GEN.1:1-2] FOR…WHO KNOWS HOW LONG [JUST NOT TOLD US] - Keith Hunt
The Reliability of Controversial Mosaic Narratives
The general reliability of the Old Testament narrative has been supported with numerous archaeological finds. As Nelson Glueck has boldly asserted, "As a matter of fact, however, it may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible."15
With the resurgence of Near-Eastern historical research and the successful excavation of Bible lands, Mosaic narratives have been given more ample historical support. The following chart will chronologically outline the general reliability of these key passages (see more detailed discussion in chapter 17, "Exodus and Conquest").
WE SHALL GIVE THE CHART NEXT TIME