Category Archives: Church

Were the First Five Books of the Bible Really Written by Moses?

For over a century Higher Criticism (aka Source Criticism) has plagued Christianity with theories and hypotheses about the reliability of Scripture.  One such hypothesis is what is known as Documentary Hypothesis (DH). DH is simply that; it is a hypothesis, an educated guess as to the authorship of certain texts within Scripture, specifically speaking of the first five books of the Bible: the Books of Moses. The proponents of DH claim that because the books differ stylistically, use varying names for God, have updated names for towns, cities, people, supposed repetitions of accounts, etc., Moses could not have been the one who wrote the Pentateuch. Instead, the educated guess is that there were two, three, or even four writers from four different centuries, with perhaps four different motives who wrote what we now read as Genesis through Deuteronomy.  The first collaborator was a Yahwist (“J” for short [for Jehovah]) around 850 B.C. Most of Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers was sourced by the Yahwist. One can find his handiwork because of his affinity to call God by His proper name: YHWH. It is assumed that the Yahwist was from Judah (the Southern Kingdom) since Judah was more faithful to the traditions of Judaism. However, about a hundred years later, one from Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom who were not so faithful to the traditional Judaism to say the least) sourced other portions of Genesis similar to that of the Yahwist, using Elohim–the generic name for God–in reference to the Almighty. For that reason, the second source is named after his favorite designation: Elohim (“E” for short). At some point, when the Northern Kingdom was overthrown by Assyria, the two sources (J and E) were brought together by some good-hearted refugees.

The third source for the DHers, is simply known as Deuteronomy (“D” for short) which covers the book by that name.  The thought process is that when Josiah ordered the reformation of Judah in his twelfth year on the throne, “D” got to work. Since the material only covers the one book of the Pentateuch, it is not much help with the other four.

The fourth source: those were the Priests (“P” for short). The priests, by the very nature of man and office, sought to conserve their position and their jobs. Thus the portions of the Law that dealt with religious matters (practices, tabernacles, instruments, etc.) were sourced by the post-exilic priests.

All in all, the DH denies the possibility of one author. It also denies the possibility of these books being original. Some men like Delitzsch would argue that they simply plagiarized from the Babylonians, going so far as to say that the Law and perhaps the entire Old Testament is not to be trusted and is which is to be done away.

That being said. . .like all hypotheses, DH must be tested to assure its truth. If it cannot pass the test–multiple tests–then one must admit that the guess is untrue and begin again. DH cannot pass the tests that it must face. The issues that it seeks to answer, DH complicates. William of Ockham was correct: “The simplest answer is usually the correct one.” DHers tend to seek complicated guesses to explain the apparent discrepancies or questions they have. They began with two sources and worked their way up to four, and now are unsure if there were four or if there are four when they actually sourced the material. The simpler (and probably the correct answer) is that Moses did write the first five books as traditionally held. Within those books, he cites his sources. The varying names for God are varying for good reason: they describe God in the way that fits with the story; using God’s name (YHWH) before telling us when he learned it (Genesis 2 vs. Exodus 3) does not mean multiple sources. It does mean that the Uncreated One created all life. Updated place names were probably updated by scribes since location was a major component for the Jews to understand their history. It is not much different that the scribes who translated the Hebrew to Greek, forming the Septuagint. Repetitions of stories, if read closely, are not repetitions; sometimes it takes people a while to learn their lessons, and often times their descendants must go through the same type of circumstances. Common sense can answer virtually every problem that DH presents without muddying the waters or complicating the issues.

What DHers have done, whether advertently or inadvertently, is brought doubt into the hearts and minds of Christians wanting to be faithful to God’s Word. By nature, Documentary Hypothesis leads to question authenticity, historicity, and reliability.  Rather than spark doubt, one can easily explain the supposed difficulties.

I’d love to read your feedback and comments. Please feel free to reply to this article or any of my others.  If you’re wondering why this article was written, let’s just say I started seminary this week, and this was one of my assignments. I have precious little time to blog, and since I found the assignment interesting and enjoyed writing it, I thought I would share it with you. If you enjoyed the article, please feel free to like and/or share it on your social media pages.

Do Denominations Destroy the Unity of the Church?

It has been said that Martin Luther tried to fix the church, but ended up breaking it into 20,000 pieces instead. That’s in reference to the more than 20,000 protestant denominations in the world. Is that a fair assessment? Did Luther effectively shatter the unity of the church? Are denominations destroying the unity of the church? To answer these questions, we need to start at the very beginning because, as Fraulein Maria taught us, “It’s a very good place to start.”

In Acts 15, we see that there is a Jerusalem Council because the Judaizers in Antioch are telling the Gentile believers that they need to become Jewish Christians (obedient to Jewish laws/customs, including circumcision) if they were to be actually Christian.  The apostles met together in Jerusalem to hear arguments, discuss the matter, and render a verdict.  Peter testified that Gentiles had indeed become Christians, having received the Holy Spirit just as the apostles (and believing Jews) had. He adds this crucial point, “And he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will,” (Acts. 15:9). Paul and Barnabas give credence by their own testimony as to what Peter witnessed. Thus James, Jesus’ brother, gave the statement that circumcision was not necessary, and the Gentiles shouldn’t be burdened with such matters.  Why bring this up? Two reasons: 1) There were already signs of tension in the Church in the first 15 years or so from Pentecost. 2) It shows the supremacy of the gospel above all other church matters. And so, going to the letter to the Galatians by the Apostle Paul (personally, I believe this was pre-Jerusalem Council, though not all would agree with me), we see the same thing. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed,” (Galatians 1:8). So we see that the gospel is the central issue. As Peter said to the council, and the letter to the Galatians makes abundantly clear: the gospel is justification by faith alone through grace alone. All other church matters are of less importance than this one.

Lest we forget, soon after the Jerusalem Council, Paul and Barnabas parted ways. They had a sharp disagreement about John Mark (aka Mark) and whether or not he should be allowed to rejoin them having deserted them once already. This separation was not about a gospel issue, but a personal one. It was more about how the two men would do mission rather than what the mission would be. I am not saying that this is prescriptive (a sign or command to do what is read); it is certainly more descriptive (telling us what happened). My only point in bringing this up is to show that even the Apostle Paul and Barnabas (a nick-name meaning “Son of Encouragement”) separated for, at least, a time. But as we see the apostle and Mark were still on the same mission. “Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry,” (2 Timothy 4:11). Though there may be separation on how ministry is done, it does not mean that there is separation as to what that ministry is.

That being said. . .there are prescriptions in Scripture that tell us to sever ties. Because the gospel is the main issue, anything that messes with that is reason to divide. Remember the strong words of Paul: “let him be accursed.” There is no room for a changing or denial of the gospel. The Apostle John fleshed that out for us (pun intended as you shall soon see). “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already,” (1 John 4:2-3).  To deny that Jesus came in the flesh is to deny the gospel, as Christ’s humanity is just as important as his divinity. Without one or the other, salvation is not possible, thus the gospel is no gospel. John told us, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching [Jesus in the flesh], do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works,” (2 John 10-11).  Thus, if anything, one should be able to see that changing the gospel is reason for separation.

Last point before I get to answering the question. When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church of Rome, after explaining the gospel and doctrines of the faith, he started to apply it to daily living. In chapter 14, he dealt with the issues of matters not so black and white within Scriptures. Some people didn’t mind eating meat, others abstained eating only vegetable. Some celebrated holidays that others thought they shouldn’t. To these matters he told the Romans (and us), “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind,” (v. 5). This is what I would deem “the conscience clause.” If the matter is not clear in Scripture (in other words, we don’t have to do mental gymnastics to make it say what it doesn’t say), then we let conscience decide, and in the spirit of unity other believers let it be determined as such.

So let us take all that we’ve learned so far and apply it to denominations.

  1. The gospel is the central issue. There are cults that claim to be Christian, but deny the gospel or that which is pertinent to the gospel, thus changing the gospel. Two of the more widely accepted cults thought to be Christian but are not: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (following the teachings of Joseph Smith) and The Jehovah’s Witnesses (following the teachings of Judge Rutherford; begun by Charles Taze Russel). There are “denominations” who deny the Trinity which goes against clear biblical teaching, which changes the gospel, and thus are heretical and by definition cannot be part of the Church.
  2. Just because there are thousands of denominations does not mean that we are not on mission together. We may have our different ways (the how) we do missions and ministry, but we agree on what that mission is: to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.  We may have parted ways on how to do it, but we are united in that it must be done. Each of our ministries are useful to each other.
  3. Much of the “division” is secondary or tertiary (third-level) doctrines. Often these are polity issues–how a church ought to be governed. Some churches/denominations believe in congregationalism (congregations rule). Some churches/denominations believe in elder rule (some go further to a presbytery board), while others believe that bishops govern local parishes or churches. Some churches believe in believers’ baptism (credo-baptism), while others believe that infants ought to be baptized (paedo-baptism). Some believe that speaking in tongues continues on today while others say they ceased after the first century or so.  To these issues we tend to let conscience move us forward. There is no clear biblical teaching that says “You must do it this way.” Instead, there are descriptions and honest attempts at understanding how those descriptions (and what are clearer teachings/principles) are to be applied.

So did Luther shatter the church? No. Not if by the church you mean those who confess that Jesus, God the Son, came in the flesh, lived the perfect life as our example, died the death that we deserved, rose from the dead three days later, and ascended to heaven. That is the gospel and all who believe it are part of the Universal Church which can never be divided. Denominations are not destroying the unity of the church; in fact, they are expanding the mission and ministry of the church.

In baseball, you have nine players on the field; each one playing their own position in which they are skilled. Yet, all nine players have one mission: to win the game (ultimately to go to the championship-varsity, college, or pros). They aren’t alone though; there are other teams, and in one way they compete with each other, but in another way they propel each other to greater and greater playing abilities. Thus there is scouting, recruiting, learning, advances in technology, and such. Those teams make up a division, a conference, a league; in essence, one large team, scattered and sectioned off for the greatness of baseball. So it is with the church: one large Church, scattered and sectioned off for the glory of Christ and the spread of the gospel.

Surely there will be those who disagree with me. I would love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment below. If this article was helpful, please let me know with a like and/or comment as well. If you believe others would benefit from this article, please feel free to share it across the social media spectrum. I look forward to reading your comments.