Documentary Hypothesis: Fails

The Bible is often criticized from many areas, but has shown its resilience throughout the centuries. The four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, tell the story of Jesus while He was on earth. Whenever the passages in these four books are almost exactly alike, we are told that they must have copied from an earlier source or each other, for they could not have come up with identical wordings on their own. Whever the passages are different, they must have gotten the story wrong somehow, since they do not match. It is unclear as to how the Bible could be both copied from a single source and merged together from multiple sources. It is also not clear as to what degree of wording similarities and differences would cause the critics to accept the Bible as authoritative, for they always seem to find a reason to avoid taking the passages at face value. In the end, the critics try to push the Bible into a paradox from which it is criticized no matter what view is held of it.

Those who hold to what has been called the documentary hypothesis claim that the books of the Bible were copied from earlier sources. Holders of this view review books of the Bible to try to find similar word patterns, which are alleged to be evidence for earlier writers whose work was taken by a later writer, edited, and combined with other books to make the final versions we see today. In the late 1800s the Graf-Welhausen theory became popular, holding that there were four main sources for the first five books of the Bible. These four sources were labeled J for Jehovah, E for Elohim, P for Priestly, and D for Deuteronomic. As the theory goes, it is possible to review the books and identify the Hebrew word patterns which would tell us which passages were written by which original author. Similar methods have been used by critics of New Testament books as well.

The documentary hypothesis became very popular in mainline Christian seminaries near 1900, so much so that a generation later in the 1920s and 1930s, a large number of mainline Christian pastors denied key teachings in the Bible. Men like Harry Emerson Fosdick flatly denied miracles in the Bible.

By today, however, the documentary hypothesis is in serious jeopardy, and shows all the signs of being in a death rattle. As author Ernest Nicholson says in his book The Pentateuch in the Twentieth Century:

One major study after another, like a series of hammer blows, has rejected the main claims of the Documentary Theory and the criteria on the basis of which they were argued. . . Those who adhere to the Documentary Theory are very much on the defensive. As a result, Pentateuchal research since the mid-1970s has become a mirror image of what it was in the years following the publication of Welhausen’s study . . . today it is in a sharp decline–some would say in a state of advanced rigor-mortis–and new solutions are being argued and urged in its place. (p.95-96)

The strongest refutation of the documentary hypothesis is the work of the supporters of this view. “A more rigorous application these criteria, — lexicographical, stylistic, thematic — led several documentary critics to posit sources within the sources.” (Soggin, Introduction to the Old Testament, p.87-88). Indeed, before the documentary critics were through, they had split poor J into J1, J2, J3, L, K, S, and N. Not being satisfied with these, authors subdivided E into E1 and E2, except for the authors who wanted to eliminate E completely. P was divided into Pa and Pb, and one author wanted to make a case for seven different authors in P. To this they added a series of redactors over several centuries, identifying alleged changes down to quarter verses and smaller units. (Soggin, p.88). In effect, the documentary theory is collapsing due to its own weight.

Author Eta Linnemann was schooled in this tradition, having written early in her career supporting such theories. Later in life she was challenged to read the Bible for what it claims to be, which is a series of eyewitness accounts. Upon doing so she was changed from the inside out and urged everyone to burn all her earlier work. She went on to write such books as Is There a Synoptic Problem? and Historical Criticism of the Bible, both supporting a conservative view of the scriptures. Her work in the New Testament shows that the basic method used to deconstruct the Bible is flawed. Linnemann counts verses, words, and phrases, showing by sheer volume of counting comprative passages that the Bible shows all the signs of being written by multiple eyewitnesses of the same events.

When true scholarly efforts are applied to the scriptures, we see works such as Colin Hemer’s, who wrote The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellensitic History, where he shows that the book of Acts has a massive amount of historical corroboration, lining up with known historical facts. The Bible also lines up with Eta Linnemann’s work, which shows that the literary structure supports eyewitness accounts. When objective eyes are placed on the Bible, it shows itself true, such as when law school professor Frank Morison was challenged to take what he taught in law school about rules of evidence and apply it to the Bible. The result was his book Who Moved the Stone? a book that concludes that the New Testament was written by eyewitnesses in the first century. The first chapter is titled “The book that refused to be written.” It seems that when we take the Bible for the eyewitness accounts that it is, then the Bible will prove itself true.

I give you the same challenge . . . Read the Bible at face value.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Bible, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Documentary Hypothesis: Fails

  1. Pingback: Documentary Hypothesis: Fails | Thomistic Bent | Christian Dailys

  2. Jacquline says:

    Thanks for posting these quotes about being thoughtful

  3. Pingback: Did Israel Practice Child Sacrifice? | Thomistic Bent

  4. Pingback: Michael Licona, Norman Geisler, and Inerrancy | Thomistic Bent

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