How Should I Interpret the Bible? The Development from the Modern View (The Covenant & the Cross #3)

We always like to start out with the Word of God, and today’s Bible verse is Psalms 119:11 which reads: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.”

Today’s quote about the Bible is from R.C. Sproul. He said: “We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy.”

Today, we are going to continue our overview of some topics that will help us as we study the Bible throughout future episodes.

Our topic for today is titled: “How Should I Interpret the Bible? The Development from the Modern View” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing: A Historical Survey of the Old and New Testaments” by Michael A. Harbin.

While there have been people who questioned the authority of the Bible and the authorship of individual biblical books, the modern view gained dominance in the 1800s after several scholars developed new theories about how the Old Testament was composed. These theories were brought together by Julius Wellhausen in his foundational work, “Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel” in 1878. Very quickly, certain influential scholars adopted Wellhausen’s theory for the Old Testament and then subsequently applied his principles to find multiple sources in the New Testament.

The process began with the Pentateuch. Scholars have long struggled with certain problematic issues in these books. The relationship of Genesis 1 and 2 (which we will look at later) is a key example. Looking at issues of style, vocabulary, and subject matter, Wellhausen and others concluded that despite the claims of the Bible and other evidence to the contrary, the five books we have today are a product of several writers over centuries. Because of archaeological discoveries that have challenged Wellhausen’s assumptions (such as when writing was invented), this premise more recently has been modified to include underlying oral traditions put together centuries after the books claim to have been written. Wellhausen’s theory is also called the Documentary Hypothesis, or the JEDP theory (named after the four basic hypothetical documents or sources seen in the text). The theory argues that these different sources were gathered into the collection we have today between the times of King Josiah and Ezra (i.e., somewhere around 650 – 450 BC). After Wellhausen’s argument about the origins of the Pentateuch won general acceptance, the same principles of multiple sources were applied to the rest of the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Even before Wellhausen published his work, archaeology had begun challenging many of his assumptions, most of which have been abandoned even by a majority of modern scholars (except for a couple of basic philosophical presuppositions). However, the Documentary Hypothesis, with some modifications, is still widely accepted despite the fact that there is no concrete evidence of the sources proposed and that the process creates more problems than it solves. The key operating principle that Wellhausen used was that God is either limited or restricted, and miracles are impossible. Thus, Wellhausen and his school of thought began with deistic ideas. Deism taught that God could not (or at least most emphatically would not) intervene in space-time history. This is at best an unprovable assumption. However, the entire theory rests on it.

On our next broadcast, we will look at “The Traditional View of God.”


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