Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

The Documentary Hypothesis


Criticism against the inspired status of the Old Testament is nothing really new. With the rise of Gnosticism in the second century A.D. the Church witnessed the first onslaught of destructive criticism, and this, interestingly enough, was directed against the Old Testament. Epiphanius recorded that a certain Simon denied the divine source and inspiration of the Law and the Prophets. The Ophites, who were the precursors of the Gnostics, scorned the God of the Old Testament as wicked and ignorant. Valentinus led an assault upon the text of the Old Testament and this prominent Gnostic leader rejected certain parts of the Torah and the Prophets as unauthentic. Andreas Rudolf Bodenstein (1480-1541), a contemporary and rival of Martin Luther, argued that Moses could not possibly have written the account of his own death in Deuteronomy, and thus he proceeded to reject the Mosaic authorship of the entire Law. Richard Simon (1638-1712), a Roman Catholic priest, concluded that the Law of Moses could not possibly be the work of Moses, and he declared that the historical books were the result of a long process of compilation and redaction of annals and chronicles by a guild of public scribes. Since this time it has become fashionable to believe that the first five books of the Old Testament is a result of a compilation of various documents labeled, J, E, D, and P, which were eventually put together by an editor in its present form about 400 B.C. The modern name for this theory is the Documentary Hypothesis or the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis. One writer notes,

“The documentary hypothesis, the theory that the Pentateuch was a compilation of selections from several different written documents composed at different places and times over a period of five centuries, long after Moses had its beginning with Jean Astruc, a French physician who became interested in the literary analysis of Genesis. He was intrigued by the way in which God was referred to only as Elohim in Genesis 1 and mostly as Jehovah (Yahweh) in Genesis 2. He tried to account for this by the supposition that Moses used two different written sources which gave two different accounts of creation” (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Gleason L. Archer, pp. 81-82).

“For want of a better theory, therefore, most nonconservative institutions continue to teach the Wellhausian theory, at least in its general outlines, as if nothing has happened in Old Testament scholarship since the year 1880” (Archer, p. 88).

Motivation Behind This Theory

The denial of the Supernatural:

This theory started with the pure assumption (which they have hardly bothered to demonstrate) that Israel’s religion was of merely human origin like any other. Its underlying premise is that the Bible is not a supernatural revelation from God to man because there can be no such thing as supernatural revelation. Such is not a very scholarly or objective way to study something. Honesty demands that we put away any preconceived ideas or bias and simply let the evidence determine whether or not the supernatural exists. It is clear that God does exist and once that is established, there is no problem in accepting the truth that such a God would communicate with His creation (2 Timothy 3:16). One writer noted, “Those who advocate that Moses is not the author (of the Pentateuch) usually hold to the idea that there is no supernatural work of God in the world, nor has there ever been. Thus, it would be foolish to believe all the historical information written about the creation of the world, the crossing of the Red Sea, God speaking to Moses, or even the historical evidence that Moses, a prophet of God, wrote the account in the first place. What they fail to do is consider the evidence because of their view of the world. This type of reasoning is faulty. First, one examines the evidence and then decides his case (and not the reverse)” (Answers to Tough Questions, McDowell/Steward, pp. 20-21). Compare with 2 Peter 3:4ff. 
The attitude that God could not have spoken to Moses is surely rebuked in God’s response, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14).

Evolutionary Thinking

Behind the above theory is the belief that the Israelite religion is the product of evolution, that is, the Israelites must have begun with a crude animism and polytheism and then evolved into a monotheism. In like manner, their Scriptures must have evolved as well. Here we see one of the dangers of evolution. Often evolutionists try to argue that theologians should deal with religion and they should be allowed to have science as their exclusive realm. Actually, the theory of evolution never stays in the realm of nature or science. Evolutionary theory has been applied to all sorts of things, including religion. “First, it is alleged that just as biological organisms have evolved across the ages, even so religious ideas have evolved. It is common to assert, for example, that man’s initial religious impulses were polytheistic personifications of nature’s forces. Later (8th century B.C.), it is alleged, Israel evolved the concept of a personal God. Second, it has been argued that ethical and theological concepts have developed progressively across the centuries of biblical literature. That is, that every idea in the Bible started from primitive and childlike origins. Liberal theologians, highly influenced by the evolution concept, claim that human sacrifice, common among primitive peoples, is at the root of the New Testament doctrine of the atoning work of Christ. Again, the theory has no basis in fact. The Old Testament condemned human sacrifice (Deut. 18:10). Moreover, the vicarious death of Jesus was in the mind of God long before there were paganistic sacrificial rites (Genesis 3:15; 1 Peter 1:19-20)” (Reason and Revelation, “The Influence of Evolution Upon Religion”, Wayne Jackson, August 1995, p. 60). The idea that the Israelite religion evolved from crude beginnings to a more advanced faith is the reverse of what happened throughout the Old Testament. The actual account of the Old Testament is that of Israelites departing from monotheism and going backward (Deuteronomy 28-30; Judges 2:9ff; 2 Kings 17). The book of Romans chapter 1:18-32 argues that everyone, Israelites and non-Israelites, believed in the true God and then departed from Him and ended up perverted and depraved. Archaeology and the study of other religions confirm the same truth as that taught in Romans 1.

“Even in the field of religion, to which the social evolutionists at first turned with such confidence to find the proof of progress and evolution upward, it is now known that the tendencies have been downward rather than the reverse” (ISBE “Evolution”, p. 1048). The final verdict of history is that religions have not come up through animism to polytheism, and from polytheism to crude monotheism, and from that to a higher and spiritual monotheism, but rather the reverse. The earliest forms of religion among the primitive peoples such as the Africans, the Battaks of Sumatra, the ancient Indians, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, and other people of the past, were not crude and degraded, but that they were pure and high, and that in each case there was a degeneration into grosser and lower forms. In Greece, for example, Max Mueller and others have made clear that there was a pure monotheism long before the later polytheism. “Taken together, they show that, as the Bible asserts, man at the very beginning of history knew the one true God. This implies a revelation of some sort, and traces of that revelation are still found in many ancient faiths” (ISBE, p. 1048). We need to remind ourselves that the faith of the Old Testament did not evolve into Christianity, but rather, Christianity was predicted in the Old Testament by divine inspiration(Isaiah 2:2-4; Daniel 2:44; Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Inconsistent Assumptions

The above theory argues that Hebrew writers such as Moses differ from all other authors in that they alone are incapable of using more than one name for God; more than one style of writing, no matter what the difference in subject matter; more than one of several possible synonyms for the single idea; or more than one theme. “Connected with these, and in a sense underlying them all, was the belief that a book like the Pentateuch could not have been written as early as the time of Moses” (The Old Testament Its Claims and Its Critics, Oswald T. Allis, p. 241). Graf and Wellhausen cited the Moabite Stone (850 B.C.) as the earliest example of writing in Palestine. Yet, archaeological evidence demonstrates that writing was in evidence all the way back to 3500 B.C. Many tablets dating to about 3500 B.C. have been discovered in Uruk (the Erech of Genesis 10:10) and Kish. The Sumerian flood narrative found at Nippur dates from about 2100 B.C. In Egypt we find hieroglyphic script dating from 3100 B.C., and papyrus was used for writing as early as 2500 B.C., 1000 years before the time of Moses. This agrees with what Stephen says about the education of Moses in Egypt (Acts 7:22), and the highly advanced culture we find in Genesis chapter 4:16ff.

What the Bible Says

The first five books of the Old Testament testify that Moses is indeed the author (Exodus 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Numbers 33:1-2; Deuteronomy 31:9-11). Other books in the Old Testament affirm the same truth: Joshua 1:7-8 “be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you”; 8:31 (Exodus 20:25). 1 Kings 2:3 “according to what is written in the law of Moses”; 2 Kings 14:6 “according to what is written in the book of the law of Moses” (quoting Deuteronomy 24:16). 2 Kings 21:8 “according to all the law that my servant Moses commanded them”. See also: Ezra 6:18; Nehemiah 13:1; Daniel 9:11-13; and Malachi 4:4.

New Testament Endorsement of Mosaic Authorship

Matthew 19:8 “Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives”. Jesus certainly knew that Moses wroteDeuteronomy 24. John 5:46-47 “For if ye believed Moses, ye would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words”. John 7:19 “Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you doeth the law?” Mark 12:26 “have you not read in the book of Moses” (quoting from Exodus 3:6). Luke 16:29 “They have Moses and the prophets” Mark 7:10 “For Moses said” (quoting Exodus 20:12). Luke 5:14 “just as Moses commanded” (quoting Leviticus 13:49). All the previous quotations are from the lips of Jesus. The above theory is forced to conclude that Jesus was in error on this point, which means He was not God in the flesh. Once again we find that the inspiration of the Bible and the deity of Jesus Christ are inseparably connected. One either believes that Jesus is the Christ and the Bible is God’s word, or one is forced to reject both the Bible and Jesus. Acts 3:22 “Moses indeed said, ‘A prophet shall the Lord God raise up unto you’ (quoting Deut. 18:15). Romans 10:5 “For Moses writeth that the man that doeth righteousness” (quoting Leviticus 18:5).C.S. Lewis illustrations from personal experience, when he writes about the critic’s application of their methods to his words: “What forearms me against all these Reconstructionists is the fact that I have seen it all from the other end of the stick. I have watched reviewers reconstructing the genesis of my own books in just the same way. Until you come to be reviewed yourself you would never believe how little of an ordinary review is taken up by criticism in the strict sense: by evaluation, praise or censure of the book actually written. Most of it is always taken up with imaginary histories of the process by which you wrote it. What the value of such reconstructions is I learned very early in my career. I had published a book of essays; and the one into which I had put most of my heart, the one I really cared about and in which I discharged a keen enthusiasm, was on William Morris. And in almost the first review I was told that this was obviously the only one in the book in which I had felt no interest” (McDowell/Morris, pp. 18-19).


Those who have accepted the Documentary Hypothesis either adopt the following conclusions, or accept the Documentary Hypothesis because they already embrace the following false ideas:

  1. The Old Testament is essential unhistorical. That is, the Old Testament does not contain an accurate history of Israel. Thefollowing chart illustrates what the Bible teaches verses the Documentary View:
  2. Israel’s religion is totally natural, not supernatural in origin and development. In other words, God did not really act in Israel’s history; the Hebrews only thought He did. 
  3. The history and religion of Israel are basically fraudulent. “Deuteronomy if not published until 621 B.C., yet professing to be from Moses’ mouth and pen, cannot be cleared of the suspicion of pious forgery” (More Evidence that Demands a Verdict, McDowell, p. 93).

Thus, either the men who wrote the Old Testament were inspired by God (2 Peter 1:20-21), or they were liars and frauds. There is no middle ground, either the Bible is the Word of God or it is the most evil book ever written.

The Unity of the Bible

When a person actually sits down and reads the Bible they discover that far from being a disconnected story from all sorts of sources, the Bible presents a very definite theme and each book is interconnected.

“The redemptive thread that runs through the Scriptures is wonderfully illustrated by a comparison between Genesis and Revelation, the first and last books of the holy canon. In Genesis the origin of the heavens and earth is revealed (1:1), while in Revelation the consummation of earthly affairs is effected, and the old order is replaced by a new heaven and earth (i.e. heaven itself), spiritual in nature. Man, who was originally perfect, but who fell into sin (Genesis 3:6) is, by virtue of his obedience, granted the opportunity to become perfect again (Revelation 7:14; 22:14). All of this is made possible, of course, by the seed of woman (Genesis 3:15), the offspring of David (Revelation 22:16). Thus, the sorrow of Eden (Genesis 3:16) will be transformed into the joy of heaven (Revelation 21:4)” (Reason and Revelation, May 1998, p. 18:5:39).

Each book of the Bible complements the others in a single plan. In Genesis, there is the account of man’s condition of innocence, followed by a tragic fall into sin. A specific family line was selected to provide a remedy for that disaster (Genesis 12:1ff). Man needed to learn what sin is, thus the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy document the giving of the law for this specific nation (Galatians 3:19). The historical books of the Old Testament reveal man’s inability to keep God’s law perfectly (Galatians 3:10) and therefore dramatically present the need for a Savior. The prophets in the Old Testament heralded the arrival of that Savior (Luke 24:44) and more than 300 prophecies focus on the promised Messiah.


Final Thought

As I put together this lesson I pondered why scholars who hold to the above theory would spend their entire lives picking apart a book that they did not believe was from God. Why would such men throw themselves into such endeavor, if the object of their work was nothing more than a forgery? I am forced to reach the conclusion that in the back of their minds, such men do not fully believe their own theories, that is, and they attack the Bible with such zeal because they are trying to convince themselves that what it teaches it not true. Like Adam and Eve (Genesis 3) or the people in Romans 1, they are trying to hide from God and get God and their accountability to Him out of their minds.