A Christian Conservative Goes to College, part 14 (World Religions Class: Documentary Hypothesis)

Stephen J. Drain's picture

Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand. And concerning them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will listen carefully yet will never understand, you will look closely yet will never comprehend. For the heart of this people has become dull; they are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes, so that they would not see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them” (Matthew 13:13-15).

The superiority in judgment and diligence which you are going to attribute to Biblical critics will have to be almost superhuman if it is to offset the fact that they are everywhere faced with customs, language, race-characteristics, class-characteristics, a religious background, habits of composition, and basic assumptions, which no scholarship will ever enable any man now alive to know as surely and intimately and instinctively as the reviewer can know mine. And for the very same reason, remember, the Biblical critics, whatever reconstructions they devise, can never be crudely proved wrong. St Mark [for instance] is dead. When they meet St Peter there will be more pressing matters to discuss.” - C.S. Lewis

And so our World Religions professor introduced a theory known as the Documentary Hypothesis to the class. According to Wikipedia, the Documentary Hypothesis “holds that the Pentateuch (the Torah, or the Five Books of Moses) was derived from originally independent, parallel and complete narratives, which were subsequently combined into the current form by a series of redactors (editors)…. [It] was developed in… attempt to reconcile inconsistencies in the biblical text. Biblical scholars, using source criticism, eventually arrived at the theory that the Torah was composed of selections woven together from separate, at times inconsistent, sources, each originally a complete and independent document.”[1]

Note the words “inconsistencies” and “inconsistent” above. The Documentary Hypothesis begins with the assumption that there are inconsistencies in the first five books of the Bible. (The professor might have used the word “contradictions”.) It then tries to explain the difficulty by proposing that the five books of Moses are a patchwork quilt, pieced together from different previous sources. They then put together a history of these theoretical documents, when they were written and by who, etc. Seeing all this, it is important to here note that some synonyms for the word “hypothesis” are “supposition” and “guess.”

So what are the details of their theory? Well, they read the text of Genesis, for example, and see that God is sometimes called “Jehovah” (YHWH or Yahweh, signified by the capitalized “LORD” in a great many biblical texts), but sometimes God is called “Elohim.” The theorists then say, “Well, since two different names for God are used, it seems we must be looking at two different stories made into one. So let’s say that the times we see the name Jehovah, we’ll assume that comes from a document we’ll call ‘J’. and when we see the name Elohim, we’ll assume that comes from a document called ‘E’. But then sometimes the name El Shaddai being used and the language seems a bit different; so we’ll say that came from a text called ‘P’. Other times we see something else, so we’ll call that ‘D’. Blah, blah, blah.” Note the high level of subjectivity in this theory.

The class handout read as follows: “The Documentary Hypothesis: the Torah is compiled from at least 4 separate documents. Someone (known as the Redactor…) cut up separate earlier documents and combined them into one to compose the Torah…. [The] J document [was] composed between 922-722 B.C.E. in the southern kingdom of the Israelites, Judah…. [The] E document [was] composed [during the same time period] in the northern kingdom of the Israelites, Israel… [The] D document [was] composed circa 622-587 B.C.E. in Judah after the destruction of Judah by Babylon.”

So the theoretical (non-existent, unproven, unverified) books have been given a time and place in history as if they really existed.

To counter this malarkey I went home and did some studying of my own. My best resources were two books by Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, volume II and Evidence for Christianity. In these books McDowell draws on a great number of scholars who readily refute the Documentary Hypothesis. I took these books, made photocopies of a bunch of pages, highlighted some rebuttal quotes, and gave them to my professor after class one day in an envelope marked “Some counter-viewpoint scholarship.”

Below we see some of the major counterpoints which, I believe, deal a logical, common-sense, knockout blow to the hypothesis:

1. There is and has never been any archaeological manuscript evidence that these alleged documents ever existed. There has never been a manuscript unearthed which even refers to these fabled previous documents.[2] As Evidence That Demands a Verdict, volume II says, “there are no literary references, [and] no extant manuscripts of any kind which [even] mention [the supposed other] documents”.[3]

2. Due to a complete lack of any kind of objective evidence, the theorists employ circular reasoning.[4] This is how they reason:

“Here the term Elohim is used so that belongs to a document we call E. Over here Jehovah is used, so that belongs to a document we call J.”

 And how do you know the first one comes from E and the second one J?

“Because they used the terms Elohim in E and Jehovah in J, of course.”

This is completely circular. The argument is fallacious. The evidence non-existent.

“[To] triumphantly assert that this demonstrates the original existence of these four documents is logically untenable,” writes McDowell, “for the resulting ‘sources’ are only the product of predetermined purpose, totally devoid of any objective evidence or any parallel occurrence in the world of literature. And so the argument spins in its unverifiable and meaningless circle.”[5]

3. Their hypothesis contradicts itself and when it does so, they blame the imaginary redactor/editors/copyists. You see, while saying that one particular section belongs to J and another part belongs to E, etc., one will sometimes find the name Jehovah appearing in passages they attribute to the E (Elohim) document and the name Elohim appearing in passages they attribute to the J (Jehovah) document. Should this not demonstrate that their hypothesis is full of scrap? Of course! But instead of saying that their own theory is inconsistent, arbitrary, contradictory, and a fable, they say that any errors must be attributed to the copyists who pieced the Torah together from the other imaginary documents; the redactors or editors must have made a mistake when copying the passage. In the minds of the humble hypothesizers, the mistake does not lie with themselves or the theory; the mistake must lie with the imaginary ancient copyists.

As Evidence states,

“With the introduction of the [copyist]… their logic [stretches] even thinner, for his presence insures the fact that no evidence can arise which cannot, at least hypothetically, be falsified… In assigning to the redactor the role of editor and making him responsible for all the cases where the analysis does not work out as they think it should, the critics resort to a device which is destructive to their whole position”.[6]

Now add this to the mix: If the material was compiled by someone or some group, why would they have been so dumb as to piece it together so haphazardly? Is it not more than likely that an original manuscript by one author would prove more ambiguous in places than a manuscript compiled by scribes and scholars? But still they argue their theory as they go round and round in ridiculous circles:

Wait a minute, here’s the name Jehovah in your E document.

“Oh yes, that’s a mistake.”

So your theory has holes in it?

“No, our theory is good. The copyists must have accidentally used ‘Jehovah’ here instead of the name Elohim.”

The copyists who you theorize existed?

Yes.

How do you know that these supposed copyists made a mistake and the name should have been ‘Elohim’ here, instead of ‘Jehovah’?

“Because according to our theory ‘Jehovah’ should not be there.”

Can I get you a chair, a pillow, or something?

“Why?”

Because you don’t have a leg to stand on.

Oswald T. Allis,[7] one of the founders of the Westminster Theological Seminary, said, “To claim that the writers, compilers, editors of the biblical records would introduce or combine conflicting accounts of the same event into a narrative is to challenge their intelligence, or their honesty, or their competence to deal with the data which they record.”[8]

Please think about this for a moment—the biblical critics must be claiming that either the authors and/or editors of the Bible weren’t that smart, at least were not as concerned with getting it right as we are today, or the authors and/or editors of the Bible were just writing down myths, so it didn’t really matter to them, or the authors and/or editors of the Bible were lying and attempting to mislead the readers and we’ve caught them by our in depth literary analysis of the texts!

Gleason L. Archer[9] points out the problems with modern westerners attempting to force ancient eastern texts into their own box:

“As foreigners living in an entirely different age and culture, they have felt themselves competent to discard or reshuffle phrases or entire verses whenever their [western] concepts… have been offended. They have also assumed that scholars living more than 3,400 years after the event can (largely on the basis of philosophical theories) more reliably reconstruct the way things really happened than could the ancient authors themselves”.[10]

It has been said that in the case of misunderstanding (let us use that word in place of the previously used “inconsistency”), critics and moderns should presume that they themselves are the ones who have it wrong. “Coleridge established long ago this basic rule for literature: ‘When we meet an apparent error in a good author, we are to presume ourselves ignorant of his understanding’”.[11] A biblical scholar named Kitchen[12] wrote, “It is normal practice to assume the general reliability of statements in our sources unless there is good, explicit evidence to the contrary”.[13]

Oswald T. Allis again: “For the critics to blame the failure of the analysis to work out satisfactorily on an unknown [copyist or editor] who has changed the text of his sources is equivalent to actually changing the actual text which the critics have before them”.[14] In other words, in doing this the critics can now make the “originals” say anything they want it to say!

We’re sorry for your loss, Mrs. Franklin, and yet we’re grateful that you’re husband left everything he had to the University in his will.

“But his will specifically states that everything went to me.”

I’m sorry, we believe someone retyped this document and mistakenly put your name down where the University was originally named. So we are going to go with what we believe the original document said.

“But there was no will before this one.”

We believe there was. Therefore, we’re grateful to your husband for contributing all he had, even at his death. Again, our heartfelt condolences for your loss... Now we have other pressing business, so if you would, the secretary will show you out.

The theory crumbles so easily. Still, professors continue teaching this in colleges and universities without presenting any holes in, or valid criticisms of, the theory itself. (Hmmm, sounds a bit like how they teach the theory of evolution.)

 The Documentary Hypothesis looks with a suspicious critical eye at the first five books of the Bible, books that claim to be a history of some sort, and then attempts to pick it apart by analyzing its language and writing. It is as though I wrote a history of Abraham Lincoln for American History Class and a professor disbelieved the history it contained due to his criticisms of my writing style, use of language, etc. “For the reconstruction of history itself, something more is needed than a literary analysis”.[15]

But why the literary analysis? Why not just treat it as any other book that claims to be an historical account? Is it not because the critics (most likely) do not believe in Creation and the miraculous, do not believe that God has spoken and revealed Himself in Scripture, and do not accept what the Scriptures themselves declare. Thus their starting point is the assumption that Genesis (etc.) does not contain actual history. Facing the wrong direction from the start, they go astray immediately.

One must also consider that the continued failure of biblical criticism throughout the last few centuries. As pointed out by McDowell and others—it used to be assumed by  critics that Moses couldn’t have been the author of the Pentateuch because “writing was not in existence in those days”,[16] but the discovery of the Code of Hammurabi in 1901 demonstrated that writing developed much earlier than they had assumed. Others supposed that the Bible was wrong about the Hittite civilization, often mentioned in the Old Testament, until archaeology once again proved them wrong. They picked at the Gospel of Luke, assuming it was not credible history, until time and time again archaeology proved Luke right and the critics wrong.

 

I conclude by quoting C.S Lewis’ take on these literary critics:

“The reconstruction of the history of a text, when the text is ancient, sounds very convincing. But… the results cannot be checked by fact.”[17] He points out that critics, even of modern authors, more often than not, fail in piecing together the thoughts and intentions of the authors, and the means from which the works were constructed.[18] If the critics fail in evaluating living authors who write in their own language, culture, etc., then how can they be trusted when attempting to evaluate ancient texts?

“The superiority in judgment and diligence which you are going to attribute to Biblical critics will have to be almost superhuman if it is to offset the fact that they are everywhere faced with customs, language, race-characteristics, class-characteristics, a religious background, habits of composition, and basic assumptions, which no scholarship will ever enable any man now alive to know as surely and intimately and instinctively as the reviewer can know mine. And for the very same reason, remember, the Biblical critics, whatever reconstructions they devise, can never be crudely proved wrong. St Mark [for instance] is dead. When they meet St Peter there will be more pressing matters to discuss.”[19]

 

[The Father] has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and understand with their heart, and turn to me, and I would heal them” – Jesus Christ (John 12:40).

If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31)

________________________

Feel free to read my other columns at http://www.examiner.com/christian-perspectives-in-philadelphia/stephen-j...

________________________

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_hypothesis

[2] There are many books lost to history which we know to have existed because others from history referred to them or quoted them in their writings: Aristotle’s second book of Poetics, for instance, as well as many of the plays of Aristophanes and the works of Heraclitus, etc. Biblically, we know that we are missing a letter from the Apostle Paul to the Corinthian church since he refers to a previous letter in the book we call 1 Corinthians (see 1 Corinthians 5:9). And in Colossians 4:16 we see Paul referring to a letter written to the church at Laodicea. Yet we have no book of Laodiceans. So to speak of missing books or documents, one should at least demonstrate that someone else from history had knowledge of said books/documents and has referred to or quoted from the missing books. Until one can produce that kind of evidence, the book remains simply a figment of the imagination. 

[3] Evidence That Demands a Verdict, volume II, copyright 1993 by Josh McDowell, published by Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN, page 31.

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circular_reasoning

[5] Evidence for Christianity, copyright 2006 by Josh McDowell, published by Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN, page 576.

[6] Evidence That Demands a Verdict, volume II, copyright 1993 by Josh McDowell, published by Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN, page 173.

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oswald_Allis

[8] Evidence for Christianity, copyright 2006 by Josh McDowell, published by Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN, page 494.

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gleason_Archer

[10] Evidence for Christianity, copyright 2006 by Josh McDowell, published by Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN, page 574.

[11] Ibid, page 494.

[12] Possibly Kenneth Kitchen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Kitchen

[13] Evidence for Christianity, copyright 2006 by Josh McDowell, published by Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN, page 494.

[14] Ibid, page 577.

[15] A quote from a person named Mendenhall (perhaps George E. Mendenhall) in Evidence That Demands a Verdict, volume II, copyright 1993 by Josh McDowell, published by Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN, page 53.

[16] I had a French teacher in high school who said this. Ironically, he spoke it in English, not French, leading me once again to ask what it had to do with what he was supposed to be teaching… In World Religions Class I had to put up with the professor saying things like, “Moses never wrote anything down.”

     And you know this how? I mean, let’s just make things up and surround ourselves with others who will support us: “I don’t believe that Socrates ever walked around teaching people things by asking questions… and I read two books that said the same thing. It doesn’t matter to me what Plato said. I know he said he was a student of Socrates, but, think about it, who was he? The guy lived thousands of years ago. Can he prove what he said?” The ridiculousness of the statements is amazing. As someone more famous than I once said, “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”

[17] C.S. Lewis, The Seeing Eye, copyright 1967 by The Executors of the Estate of C.S. Lewis, published by Ballantine, page 215.

[18] “What forearms me against all the Reconstructions is the fact that I have seen it all from the other end of the stick. I have watched reviewers reconstructing the genesis of my own books in just this way” (C.S. Lewis, The Seeing Eye, copyright 1967 by The Executors of the Estate of C.S. Lewis, published by Ballantine, page 212). Lewis goes on to discuss one of his own books and how a reviewer superimposed upon the work some kind of mood, attitude, or reason C.S. Lewis had when writing the book. “Where he was totally wrong was in his imaginary history of the causes which produced [it]…. Since then I have watched with some care similar imaginary histories both of my own books and of books by friends [He mentions Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.] whose real history I knew. Reviewers, both friendly and hostile, will dash you off such histories with great confidence; will tell you what public events had directed the author’s mind to this or that, what other authors had influenced him, what his over-all intention was, what sort of audience he principally addressed, why—and when—he did everything…. My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right; that the method shows a 100 per cent failure. You would expect that by mere chance they would hit as often as they miss. But it is my impression that they do not such thing. I can’t remember a single hit” (C.S. Lewis, The Seeing Eye, copyright 1967 by The Executors of the Estate of C.S. Lewis, published by Ballantine, pages 213-214).

[19] C.S. Lewis, The Seeing Eye, copyright 1967 by The Executors of the Estate of C.S. Lewis, published by Ballantine, page 216.

Comments

what exactly did "they" pick from luke that "they" believed was wrong?

Stephen J. Drain's picture

Good question. More can be found on this, but let me give you this for starters:
"Sir William Ramsay, an English historian and prolific writer, was a product of a mid-19th century education and, as a result, held a pervasive anti-Biblical bias. He believed the historical accounts in the book of Acts had been written, not in the time of the apostolic Church, but in the mid-second century. If this were true, Acts could not have been written by Luke, the traveling companion of the apostle Paul. The Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts would, therefore, be less than an accurate record of history. But Luke claimed to have been with Paul as the two men trudged over the cobblestone roads of the Roman Empire. He claimed to write as one who watched as Paul was used by God to bring a young convert back to life after a fatal fall (Acts 20:8-12). In spite of this claim, Ramsay was skeptical of Luke and the historical record of Acts, and he set out to disprove it."
This is found at http://pleaseconvinceme.com/2012/the-new-testament-is-archaeologically-verifiable/
What follows the above statement on that link, are several things that were doubted which archaeology later proved correct. I invite you to check out the link.
-Steve

I liked the articles and i agree with the facts. But since this is 14th part, i guess i missed a major part of it. And sadly, i couldnt find the previous parts of the article. Would love to read them. 

Stephen J. Drain's picture

Thanks Sandra,

To view my previous articles you can go to my specific page at http://blogs.bible.org/blog/26077

Also, I have been remiss in continuing the series, but (Lord willing) will get back to them soon.

Thanks again!

Steve

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