A little while back a commenter to the discussion of inspiration and inerrancy wanted me to put forth examples where something written in Scripture was later changed in Scripture. I provided two examples off the top of my head since I’ve thought about both again recently: the case of Exodus 21/Deut 15, and the change in Passover laws from Exodus to the time of Deuteronomy. I’ll explain the first here. Remember how they apply to our discussion, though. I’m arguing that if God “gave” the words of Exodus to the writers, it makes little sense that he would late change them for any reason – any such reason should have been anticipated by God who gave them. My view of inspiration would handle the change differently.

Here’s Exodus 21:1-6 and Deut. 15:12-18 side-by-side (both ESV). While there are several differences, I’ve highlighted only one of them.

Exodus 21:1-6

Deut 15:12-18

“Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. 2 When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6 then his master shall bring him to God(Hebrew: elohim) , and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever. 12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. ?As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today. 16 But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he is well-off with you, 17 then you shall take an awl, and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. And to your female slave you shall do the same. 18 It shall not seem hard to you when you let him go free from you, for at half the cost of a hired servant he has served you six years. So the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do.

Note that the phrase in Exodus 21:6 “his master shall bring him to God” that is part of the ceremony is missing in Deut. 15. It’s been deleted. So what? You might ask.

There are two ways to translate the Hebrew word “elohim” in this passage: “God” (as in the ESV) and the plural “gods”. Over sixty years ago, the great semiticist Cyrus Gordon wrote an article on this passage where he argued that the translation should be plural, suggesting that the gods to whom the slave was brought before, were “household gods” – i.e., one’s dead family ancestors, whose memory was commemorated by the presence of teraphim (figurines, at times only of the head and torso). Teraphim, of course, show up in the OT in several places. David had them in his house, for his wife Michal used one (put it in his bed under the sheets as it were) to fool Saul’s men into thinking it was David in the bed (1 Samuel 19:11-17; esp. v. 13).

Gordon was guessing here, since the word teraphim isn’t present in Exodus 21. His guess was prompted by the deletion in this ceremony of the word elohim in Deuteronomy 15. I think he was right. Let’s look at the alternatives. If the family was to present the slave before “God” (the God of Israel) for approval, why remove God from the ceremony in Deuteronomy? It makes no sense. If elohim in Exodus 21 refers to the elders of Israel (there’s no evidence for that, but commentaries mention it), the same question arises: why the deletion? The elders aren’t bad guys, and they are still around in the time of Deuteronomy. What was it about presenting the slave before elohim that would have prompted the change in the text? The only coherent answer is that elohim was to be taken as a plural, and Gordon is right. This ought NOT be understood as idolatry, either. Teraphim *could* be wrongly worshipped, but in this context, they are the ancient equivalent of pictures of dead loved ones – and I’m guessing each of our houses have those, to keep their memory alive. In Israel (as today), the belief was that, even though dead, dead loved ones were still living, somewhere else (the spiritual realm, in most general terms). As we take flowers to a grave, or poems, or other paraphernalia because our dead loved one “would like that,” so in Israel family households would have meals with the departed loved ones on special days, and give them libations and food, to keep them a part of the family. Adding a foreign member to the family (the slave) was a serious thing, and so EVERYONE had to approve – even the departed.

But by the time Deuteronomy was written, circumstances had changed. Here one is faced with the issue of Mosaic authorship *of this portion of Deuteronomy* as well. For the record, I do not adhere to JEDP. I think it is based on circular reasoning. I also do not think Moses wrote every word of the Pentateuch. This instance (the deletion of plural elohim) is EASILY explained by accepting the plurality noted above, and also realizing that this “new” command – this changed command/ceremony about inducting slaves as family members – came after long battles with idolatry. If, as the critics argue, Deuteronomy (or at least parts of it) were written in Josiah’s day, this makes perfect sense. Josiah was the one who re-instituted the law and got rid of idolatry. Having the teraphim as part of this ceremony created the *possibility* that some would abuse the practice and the idea, and descend into idolatry once again, a path that had led to God’s judgment. And so that part of the ceremony was deleted after the time of Moses (which also means Moses could have written Deut 15 with the same elements of Exodus 21, but someone came along later and removed it for theological reasons – to its use as a rationale for idolatry).

And so, what we have here is an alteration of one biblical text by a later hand, and for theologically understandable reasons. So my question stands: if we have to have God giving the words to Moses in Exodus 21, why didn’t God anticipate, through his foreknowledge, the problem that would occur later?

My view is that God prompted and oversaw (without “giving” the words) Moses and whoever else to write what they did, when they wrote it. It was subject to change and that was fine with God. It was what he wanted written at the times the texts were written. We don’t have an omniscience problem because we don’t have a dictation problem. And yet God approved of both.

The next example, the changes in Passover laws, are even starker – since, if they were written by Moses, and if they were “given” by God, believers are left with a tough choice of how to obey Passover – since the laws CONFLICT. Again, they reflect divergent historical circumstances, so this is no problem for my view of inspiration (or for inerrancy, I might add). It’s a problem for more traditional views, though. We’ll get to that one in a bit.