In the previous two posts I’ve laid out my thoughts on the relationship of the human writers to God’s role in producing the Scriptures. I have argued that it is flawed thinking to deny that Scripture originated with humans in ANY sense; that is, anthropopneustos is neither denied by 2 Tim 3:16 nor 2 Peter 1:20-21. Human beings are the immediate source of Scripture, but God is the ultimate source. I have sketched out a view of inspiration that is modeled after the “normal” orthodox view of canonicity: God was in the process and by a range of providential means, he saw to it that human agents produced a canon that He endorsed and with which He was satisfied. The thing human writes produced got God’s seal of approval since He oversaw their work by providence, not by dictation or seizing the minds, limbs, and hands of the writers.
Today I want to bring something into the discussion that has heretofore not been dealt with: the matter of how the Bible was edited. The Bible itself bears testimony to editing, and the manuscript evidence left to us by providence makes it clear that editing of the canonical books occurred. I can’t recall any (conservative) evangelical theology books that really deal with this in their discussions of inspiration. If anyone knows of one out there, let me know. One of the few conservative scholars I know of who has touched this issue at all is Mike Grisanti of Masters Seminary. I won’t be going through his JETS article, but you can download it if you want to give it a read. I will, though, lift a few examples from it, while adding my own. Let’s start first by dispensing with the common mythical view of how the biblical books were created.
I’ve spent a good deal of time discussing the dilemma of the traditional view. On one hand, every effort is made to deny that inspiration was dictation and to affirm human input. But on the heels of such statements, some evangelicals (and I have targeted Westminster seminary’s recent statement on this issue) turn around and say that ONLY God should be considered as having produced the Scriptures. Theopneustos is to be affirmed and anthropopneustos is to be denied. And so we have the dilemma. I put the question this way: Is there a coherent explanation of how God did not dictate the Scriptures or seize the mind of the human author, but where the words are produced only by God so that the human writers are in no to be viewed as the source of the writing that was produced? Put another way, How can you deny anthropopneustos, that humans are responsible for what is produced, while at the same time avoiding both dictation and automatic writing?
A corollary to the view that humans are not responsible in any way for what is produced by the process of inspiration is that the biblical books as we have them today were produced by single writers in one attempt. That is, when Moses or Luke or Matthew or Paul sat down to write what they wrote, they did it and it was never touched again by them subsequent to the “inspiration event” – and especially not touched by someone whose identity is unknown in the Scriptures. It seems that we cannot have nameless scribes living decades later touch the initial product of the prophet or apostle and edit it in any means, since that (presumably) would be a denial of inspiration.
These ideas fail to view inspiration as a PROCESS, rather than an event. There was no “event” of inspiration with respect to an entire book. Yes, there were divine encounters, and on rare occasions those resulted in written material, but that material was actually only part of a bigger book. Inspired books, though, were not the product of an event or a series of supernatural encounters. They were the result of a long process of successive providences and hard work on the part of the human writers. Here’s how most conservative evangelicals seems to view inspiration (as event). Imagine with me, if you will, Isaiah getting up for breakfast. His alarm clock goes off, he rolls out of bed, brushes his teeth, and goes to the kitchen for breakfast. He rustles up some eggs (hold the bacon and sausage) and toast and sits down to enjoy it. Suddenly he’s zapped by a bright light, his mind is seized and overtaken by God. He probably doesn’t hear God speaking (we must deny dictation, remember), but he knows the Spirit has overtaken him. In what seems like only a few moments, he comes to and voila! Before him lays a scroll filled with words. God has chosen him once again to be the conduit of revelation! The prophet Isaiah carefully rolls up the scroll and deposits it with the rest of the inspired material before the ark of the covenant. Then he goes back home and reheats his breakfast in the microwave.
Granted, this is silly, but it’s a basic overview of an inspiration “event” (might as well just say encounter and be done with it). Yep – in such a scenario there ain’t no anthropopneustos happening. Too bad this is fiction.
There’s another mythical view that affects how we view the creation of inspired books. We know it’s pretty rare (read the prophets) that God tells the prophets to write anything down. There are two ways (in the traditional perspective) for how we got their books: (1) To guess they went out a preached and then later were seized by divine encounter, the result of which was the same sermon they had just audibly delivered (but for which they cannot receive any credit), or (2) their followers (we know they had them) recorded what they said for posterity. In my experience, this second view is accepted, but gets a mythical twist that I like to call the myth of the holy stapler. Here’s what I mean in another dramatization. A few weeks after his dramatic inspiration encounter, one of Isaiah’s followers wakes up and gets ready for work. His job? Why, following Isaiah around and recording what he says. As he gets dressed he wonders if Isaiah will do anything weird today (helps make the day go faster) or if it’ll just be a normal sermon. He meets his colleagues (Isaiah is training other prophets like Elijah and Elisha – “the school of the prophets”) and they sit down and listen to the man of God. They each write as fast as they can, wishing they could have Isaiah repeat a few things, but they press on. They’ve been doing it for months (a few old timers have been there a couple years), so they’re pretty good at it. The next day they awaken to the shocking report: Isaiah has died! Now what do they do? Gripped by a sense of the need to preserve the prophet’s divinely-provoked sermons and teachings, they agree to get together and see what they’ve managed to record. One of them goes around the room and collects the notes of the others, stacks them neatly in a pile, shuffles them to make sure the edges line up, and then asks, “okay, where’s the stapler?” No one must touch Isaiah’s words since HE was the inspired prophet, not them, so all the notes get stapled together and so we got the book of Isaiah. Sorry, I just don’t believe in the holy stapler.
Again, this is ridiculous (but fun). Yet we seem to think that the biblical books just came together like magic. No, just like today, there was a way someone who wasn’t an idiot put together a book, especially something sacred. Judaism saw faithful, God-fearing scribes as part of the process of inspiration. It was their task to assemble the words of the prophet or craft the history of the kings, or assemble the psalms (etc.) so that the result was coherent, readable, and even a literary masterpiece. We like to pretend we know who wrote the biblical books, but the truth is that most of the authors are never named. Even when they are (like Isaiah), the actual contents of the book give little evidence that Isaiah himself was the writer. Rather, the material is frequently ABOUT the ministry of the named person and his preaching, and so the book is named after him. In the case of Isaiah, this is not to say the material isn’t Isaiah’s; it is rather to say that there are unnamed men behind the prophet who anonymously crafted his words into the book that now bears his name as part of a providentially-influenced process of inspiration. The same would be true of the other biblical books. God was in the process.
Now, I realize that the whole idea of editing may be unfamiliar to readers, and perhaps troublesome. If you hold to a view of inspiration something like what I’ve been sketching, it shouldn’t be troublesome. If you believe inspiration was a process, and model your view of inspiration after canonicity, and acknowledge that the Scriptures are the immediate product of people and the ultimate product of God through providence, this is no big deal. But for those who are still struggling with what I’m sketching, I want you to see that the Scriptures themselves give evidence of editorial activity. I’ll start with a few easy examples and in my next post, go through some more complex examples.
1. Deuteronomy 34:1-12 – Unless you believe that Moses wrote of his own death in the past tense (!), these verses were added to Deuteronomy, considered by conservative evangelicals to be the last of the books of Moses (the Pentateuch). See especially v. 6.
2. Genesis 14:14 – Notice the reference to “Dan” in this verse. Dan, of course, was one of the tribes of Israel. So what’s the problem? The tribe of Dan didn’t exist in the time frame of Genesis 14 (the period of Abraham). Now, one could suppose that Moses, who was contemporaneous with the tribes, wrote “Dan” when he wrote Genesis 14 during his own lifetime. That would take care of the problem were it not that this idea is denied by the Bible itself in Judges 18:29, which tell us that Israelites living AFTER Moses named the city Dan (“And they named the city Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor, who was born to Israel; but the name of the city was Laish at the first”). The only coherent way to view this is that Moses wrote “Laish” originally in Gen 14:14, and the place name was later changed by an unnamed editor to “Dan” so people would know what place was being referred to.
3. The use of the phrase “unto this day” is often indicative of later editing.
A good example here is Deut 10:8 – “At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord to stand before the Lord to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day.” Again, if Moses wrote this, this rule was instituted in the Law he had also written. It makes little sense for Moses to say this was the rule “unto this day” since he was living at the time and had just written it (“Unto this day, Moses? No kidding – you’re still standing here”). It seems clear that a later editor wanted readers to know that in their (later) day, this rule was still to be observed. There are a lot of these kinds of passing comments in the OT.
4. Ezekiel 1:1-3
Pay close attention to the boldfaced items:
In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. 2 On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), 3 the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.
Did you notice the shift from the first person (what we’d expect if Ezekiel was the author) to the third person? Who talks (or writes) this way? Who refers to himself in the third person (other than Rickey Henderson, for you baseball fans)? These verses read as though a scribe has taken some first person material written BY Ezekiel and then added a few lines (being careful not to put himself in the role of Ezekiel) to tell us what happened TO Ezekiel.
Again, this sort of thing happens a LOT. It is a clear sign of an editorial hand.
5. Psalm 72:20
This psalm reads, “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.”
Really? Why then do we have a number of prayers of David after Psalm 72:20? Is this an error? No, it is an editorial comment by whoever put the books of the Psalms together. When he finished “Book 2” (Psalm 73 begins “Book 3”), the compiler thought they had collected them all. More were found later and put into the larger book. A verse like this, innocuous as it seems, can be real trouble for the “dictation but not dictation” view of inspiration I’ve been objecting to. If God is the ONLY source of the words of Scripture, you’d think he knew that all the prayers of David were NOT at an end! Seems a small thing for God to know, doesn’t it?
6. Isaiah 58:12; Isaiah 61:4; Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 66:1
These verses and others refer to Jerusalem as being in a state of ruin and her temple needing to be rebuilt, conditions that would be obvious in the wake of the Babylonian captivity. But these references are in Isaiah, and the prophet Isaiah lived during the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah, in the 8th century BC, nearly 200 years before Jerusalem was taken. Some would argue that the first two verses are prophetic and written by Isaiah. Yes, the language can be taken as prophetic, but they would still be prophetic if written in the 6th century BC at the return from exile. The language doesn’t resolve the issue, and the other two verses are not worded as though prophetic utterances. Personally, I don’t think the two or three Isaiahs idea is the way to explain this kind of thing. I think it much more coherent to have editors adding such statements for the audience that emerged from exile. While there are clear evidences from the Hebrew (Hebrew changed through time, like any language) that a later form of Hebrew is in use in Isaiah 40-66, it is equally clear that the older form of Hebrew is also used. This points to later editorial use of older material written by, or recorded on behalf of, the “original” Isaiah. Such re-purposing and editing makes more sense than saying Isaiah 40-66 was composed from scratch well after Isaiah’s lifetime.
I hope that’s enough. These are the easier ones. In the next post I’ll cover a few more difficult examples.