For the second part on the reliability of the Bible, we are going to take a look another favorite subject that skeptics like to bring up; the authorship of the books in the Bible. The idea of this type of attack is that if the skeptic can make win the question who wrote a particular book of the Bible then the text cannot be reliable. Again, please keep in mind I am keeping these arguments at a layman’s level of someone who has had little prior exposure to these type of challenges. This is a primer to give reason to one’s faith and to answer basic challenges. It will not equip you to debate an experienced or hard-core skeptic.
In my opinion, these lines of arguments are among the weakest of those challenging the biblical reliability. Yet, it remains a common piece in the arsenal of the “Historical Jesus” people. The most significant problem – one that can prevent even having a conversation – is that there is frequently a presumption that is no divine inspiration. I.e. that God had no role in the creation of the Bible. For the believer, God’s inspiration is an essential component of the Bible for the believer. It is not something that can be given up. You may find yourself better off first discussing whether or not there is a God if you are not comfortable relying on primarily historical arguments. Of course, there is an obvious reason skeptics want to disallow divine inspiration – it is rather self-defeating for at least the atheist.
Most of the arguments on authorship focus on the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the challenge tends to center on either the source material for the gospels or somewhat weak arguments on the authorship of the epistles. I will address the New Testament issues in a separate article. Just to warn you, the discussion on the Old Testament will likely be the single most difficult subject I write about in this entire apologetics series.
The Old Testament
I am going to discuss three areas of attack for the Old Testament. There are others, but these tend to be the most common. What I am not going to do is defend the content or doctrines. That is another discussion to have after you have established reliability. The areas we will cover are:
- The first 5 books of the OT, known as the Pentateuch.
- The book of Isaiah.
- The book of Daniel.
The hard part will be the part on the Pentateuch. The best approach will be to simply dive in and take it slow.
The first five books of the Bible – traditionally attributed to Moses – are known as the Pentateuch. These books establish the origins of Man and Israel and law down the formal declaration of God’s law. Outside of the first 12 books of Genesis (Creation to Flood), the primary effort to undermine the Pentateuch involves eliminating Moses as author and looking at it as an evolved work.
There is some technical background necessary here. In the mid-1800’s the theory was developed that the first five books were actually compiled by a group of editors around 950 BC rather than around 1400-1600 BC. Moses is typically out of the picture. This was meant to address some apparent inconsistencies in the books. Examples can include things such as the two creation accounts in Genesis or the burial of Moses (how could Moses have written that?). But it also includes variations in style of writing that may occur.
My initial response is, “So what?” Mosaic authorship is only a tradition, though Jewish history strongly adheres to it. The simple truth is that inspiration by God has nothing at all to do with Moses as author. The text itself contains no assertion of authorship, either. In fact, this is really the case with all the criticisms of authorship. In logic, this is called a “Straw Man” fallacy. By destroying an irrelevant issue – a straw man – you claim to have also defeated the main point. However, in this case the main point is actually divine inspiration of the text. Bottom line? Authorship is no issue regarding reliability of the Pentateuch.
For the curious, this argumentation is called the JEDP theory or the Wellhausen hypothesis. The letters of JEDP refer to the four category of sources Wellhausen theorized. There are many scholarly responses to this approach and frankly, even within theological circles there are many that still hold to it. Since I am focusing on the layman’s approach, I will leave it to you to search for more information if you are interested. The important part is that this theory has no impact on the reliability of scripture.
Within the first 12 books, probably the most common objection I encounter is the reference as “Creation myth” or “Flood myth.” This is actually another logical fallacy that relies on you not knowing what a myth is. This is called a false dilemma. Let’s consider the definition of a myth in the context of the creation and flood stories:
a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature.
In other words, myth is an explanatory story. The very important part is the “with or without a determinable basis of fact.” Let me rephrase this. That something is called myth in the literary sense used in Genesis does not have any bearing on whether or not it is true! Do not confuse myth with fable, legend or fiction. The person challenging you may not even be aware of this distinction. I’m quite willing to yield the myth nature of these stories without giving an inch on whether or not they are true and dropping the burden of proof back to them. Actual argument for the truth of Genesis is a discussion that I will address in a separate article where I can go into the depth the subject requires. I will leave it that the Genesis account is not in conflict with modern observations on the universe.
There is one final item on this subject that I have encountered on the creation story that I want to address. You may well find
The Book of Isaiah
Authorship of the book of Isaiah is another commonly used argument to discredit the reliability of the Old Testament. The logical basis of this argument is, in my opinion, by far the weakest of the three that I will be covering in this short article. The short version of this argument goes as follows.
Literary analysis of Isaiah suggests there may have been as many as three separate authors. There are three distinct changes in writing style that lead to this conclusion. Their writings were later compiled by unknown editors into the single book we call Isaiah. Because of this origin, it was written much later than traditionally held. Since we cannot trust the authorship or the timing of its writing, we cannot trust the book.
This argument is a classic straw man argument that ignores Middle Eastern literature, the origin of the analysis of Isaiah and the concept of divine inspiration. In honesty, I think this is more than anything an attempt to undermine or discount the prophecy of Isaiah 53, the suffering servant. Under this kind of analysis, while Isaiah certainly wrote a major portion of the book bearing his name, he almost would not have been the author of that passage.
First, one must understand one important principle in Middle Eastern literature. It was common for the disciples of a great teacher to write in that teacher’s name. This is often accused of being an attempt to gain importance to the writing, but there is much more. It is also a sign of humility and respect. These disciples may be doing the writing, but the ideas and principles they are communicating are those of their master or his school of thought. It was also a sign of trust on the part of the master to grant the authority to write “in his name.” We actually see this idea reflected in the New Testament when Jesus gives the apostles the right to act in His name. In short, this is a non-issue in any discussion of the reliability of Isaiah.
That last fact leads directly to the next point. Guess who it was that originally came up with this idea regarding the authorship of Isaiah? It was Christian scholars not skeptics. From a theological point, this discussion of the book’s authorship is irrelevant – especially where it concerns its prophetic passages. Remember that even if some of the passages were written during the Exile, the messianic prophecies were still written 600 years before Jesus. The prophetic nature is unchallenged. To put it another way, by getting distracted over the human agency of Isaiah’s authorship, do not become distracted and forget the divine agency of its authorship. Even if the human agent changed, the divine agent – God – most certainly did not.
You will notice that in rebutting challenges with Isaiah that I didn’t concern myself at all in defending single authorship? There are certainly many ways to defend a single author. My question, though, is why bother? The question about Isaiah is not one of authorship but of the reliability of its messianic prophecy. Why be distracted on a secondary issue that has no connection with any essential doctrine? Why give credibility to a perceived issue? The real burden is still on the skeptic to disprove the servant prophecies.
The last Old Testament challenge to biblical reliability I want to cover is the Book of Daniel. The first common criticism is that Daniel should not be considered reliable because it is a much later book; possibly written only 150-100 years before the birth of Jesus. As an aside, I do hope you’re notice a pattern with this particular accusation? The other criticism is that the Book Daniel wasn’t written by the prophet Daniel. I’ll take these in order.
First, the argument on timing of the book – or any biblical text – can be the legitimate subject of debate. The accusation is that Daniel reflects a writing style of only 150-100 years B.C. The response is that there have been findings with similar writing styles that do, in fact, match a 600 B.C. date that puts it back in the timing of Daniel. Another piece of evidence supporting that earlier date is actually physical evidence. The copy of Daniel found in the Dead Sea Scrolls has been dated to 200 B.C. or earlier, so it obviously cannot match the claim of the later date. And that raises the most obvious response. The prophecies in question are still 200 years before Jesus was born. How does that date make them any less prophetic?
Finally, consider the Magi that came to visit Jesus as an infant. They were following prophecies they had that told of a coming Jewish king. Where was this “from the east” from which they originated? Where in the world could they have gotten such prophecies? Who would be important enough to have his works in the archives of these Magi and still be considered important enough to pursue? The “east” is obviously the region of the old Babylonian empire. If that is the case the prophecy that drove the Magi is almost certainly the same prophecies in Daniel – by Daniel – that had the Jews anticipating the imminent coming of the Messiah. Remember that Jewish scholars of the time were expecting Messiah around the time of Jesus based on Daniel’s prophecies.
This takes us to the second criticism, that Daniel didn’t write Daniel. The Book of Daniel is the story of Daniel. No more. No less. That Daniel is the author is tradition commonly accepted as true, but it is hardly necessary. Under this tradition, Daniel perhaps used a scribe to record early chapters, recorded Nebuchadnezzar’s story in chapter 4 either from the king or under inspiration and wrote the last 6 chapters himself.
Personally, I have thought that this over-complicates the issue. I certainly agree with the claim that Daniel wrote the last six chapters. The dating questions have reasonable response. The appearance of the Magi certainly strengthens that claim. The chapters themselves claim his authorship. There is no reason to doubt them. Regardless of who the scribe was, I see no reason to doubt that Nebuchadnezzar was the author, under God’s inspiration, of the 4th chapter. As far as the other 6 chapters of the first half of the book? First there is repeated but very true point that regardless of the human author, there is still divine inspiration that cannot be forgotten. Whether Daniel commissioned the stories or others at the time recorded them, there is God’s authorship which is what matters.
At the end of the day, both authorship and date are straw men arguments. The challenge is not upon us to defend them. Rather the burden is upon the skeptic to discredit the clear messianic prophecies and that how the match the time and life of Jesus.
There is an important point in all of this. Do not get pulled into defending things that do not need to be defended. Nor allow yourself to be distracted into arguing non-issues. Keep the focus where it belongs on the actual truth claims and the reality of the prophecies. The three examples discussed here are just three of many challenges made by skeptics, but they do illustrate much of the typical strategy taken by skeptics. More important, is that the responses are not difficult. The responses are so simple that it is shameful that such challenges could ever rattle anyone’s faith – a blind faith. Indeed, a faith based on reason would certainly not be shaken by such arguments. God intended our faith to be based on reason. Do not be afraid to discover those reasons.