Who wrote the Bible? Just about all universities—even Christian universities—teach that it was massive fraud.
Theology students are taught that Moses is a figure of legend. The books of Moses—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, also known as the Pentateuch—are really the work of a compilation of priests and other authors, probably assembled sometime after the Jews had returned from Babylonian captivity. Daniel wasn’t written in Babylon by a Jewish youth taken there as a prisoner, as it claims. Instead it is the work of a much later “pseudo-Daniel.” Isaiah was written by three “Isaiahs” who lived hundreds of years apart.
These theories, under terms like “historical criticism,” “higher criticism” or “source criticism,” are mainstream. Modern scholarship generally says that if you believe them, you are educated, rational and scientific. If you disagree, you are ignorant or prejudiced. You are letting religious dogma and preconceived ideas blind you to the real facts of history.
Is this true? Is the Bible just some nice ideas produced by ancient men? Or is it literally the Word of God?
This question is fundamental to a Christian’s worldview. These theories have fueled a fundamental shift in Christians away from viewing the Bible as God’s inspired Word, with authoritative laws and revealed prophecy, to something less inspired and less reliable.
The Bible itself exhorts us, “Prove all things …” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). It is not wrong for a Christian to examine the foundations of his faith; in fact, he is commanded to do so. Can we know who wrote the books of the Bible? The answer may surprise you.
If books like the Pentateuch or Isaiah are written by multiple authors hundreds of years apart, it should be easy to spot. It doesn’t take an expert to tell the difference between William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, for example. We’re not reading the Bible in its original language, but even so, surely a detailed analysis shows a clear difference in word choice, grammatical structure and subject?
No—the modern scholars admit.
Bible scholar Jeffrey Tigay wrote that “the results of” source criticism “are impressive and command the field to this day.” But he admitted, “The degree of subjectivity which such hypothetical procedures permit is notorious.” “[N]o suitable criteria exist by which to separate later glosses from early writings,” writes Edward L. Greenstein, professor emeritus of Bible at Bar-Ilan University. Instead, “[e]ach scholar defines and adapts the evidence according to his own point of view” (Essays on Biblical Method and Translation). “[T]here is no sound objective method for recognizing the different sources, there is also no real consensus about the character and extent of sources,” wrote Prof. Gerhard Larsson, formerly a professor at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
There is simply no objective evidence that different parts of the Pentateuch were written during radically different time periods.
The closest anyone has come to finding this kind of evidence is to point to “stylistic differences.” John Barton writes in the Anchor Bible Dictionary that parts of the Pentateuch are written “in a lively narrative style akin to that of the books of Samuel, while others are marked by a stylized and repetitive manner, full of recurring formulas, lists and technical terms.”
So when Moses outlines the content of the tabernacle, his writing is a bit different from how he tells the story of Joseph in Egypt. But that is inevitable. When Dickens wrote his shopping list, it was in a different style to Oliver Twist.
Instead of a clear difference in writing style, most critics point to repetition and alleged contradiction.
Genesis 1 describes the creation of the universe, and then the seven days of the creation week, including the creation of man. Genesis 2 also describes the creation of man. “Where this kind of repetition is found, the simplest explanation is often that two versions of the same story have both been allowed to remain in the finished form of the book, not reconciled with each other,” writes Barton.
But is it? Genesis 1 gives the broad overview of creation and man’s place in it. Genesis 2 zooms in on man’s creation, giving more detail on how it happened and what instruction man was given.
Barton’s main example of a contradiction comes from King Saul’s appointment as Israel’s first human king. In 1 Samuel 8, God condemns Israel’s request for a king as the Israelites rejection of Him. But in 1 Samuel 9:15-16, God personally selects Saul. “The simplest explanation is that the compiler of the books of Samuel used more than one already existing account of the origins of the monarchy, and that these accounts did not agree among themselves,” he writes.
Again, is it? Isn’t the simplest explanation that Israel’s request for a king was a rejection of God—but that God still chose to be involved in the selection process? Generally these supposed contradictions are simply things these “experts” don’t understand because they lack the humility to dig into them.
This lack of evidence is starting to bother some at the cutting edge of this field. “Many contemporary biblicists are experiencing a crisis in faith,” writes Greenstein. They’re being forced to doubt not the Bible, but their own theories about it. “The objective truths of the past we increasingly understand as the creations of our own vision,” he writes.
This is illustrated by one of the earliest theories of source criticism, now largely defunct: the documentary hypothesis. This maintained that one source of the Pentateuch used “Elohim” as the name for God—the “E” source. Another used yhvh—the “J” source. Then there was a priestly source (P) and a Deuteronomist historian (D). The theory got more convoluted over the years, with D sources being split into two different people, a redactor added in, and more.
The documentary hypothesis was largely rejected by academia decades ago. There was simply no evidence that the Pentateuch could be divided up this way. It has been replaced by theories much more general, that don’t point to specific bits of the Bible and say this was written then. This makes it infinitely adaptable: It can always be adjusted to fit the evidence on hand. That way it can never be disproved the way the documentary hypothesis was.
Why is source criticism so popular? If you suspect the Bible is the work of men, why theorize that its books are the compilation of many different individuals, and not one later fraud? After all, as Kenneth Kitchen writes in his book Ancient Orient and Old Testament, “Now, nowhere in the ancient Orient is there anything which is definitely known to parallel the elaborate history of fragmentary composition and conflation of Hebrew literature (or marked by just such criteria) as the documentary hypotheses would postulate.”
The problem for these theorists comes from Bible prophecy.
The Problem With Prophecy
Many passages of the Bible claim to foretell the future—and not in a vague, Nostradamus kind of way. Isaiah 44 and 45, for example, name Cyrus as one who will conquer Jerusalem and allow the temple to be rebuilt. It describes exactly the means the Persians used to conquer Babylon: entering through the river gates that had been left open.
Cyrus lived from 559 to 530 b.c. The Prophet Isaiah is generally dated to have lived 760 to 710 b.c.
If Isaiah is genuine, then critics have no choice but to acknowledge an all-powerful God who can predict the future, and the Bible is His Word. Daniel 8 and 11 pose a similar problem, with their clear descriptions of the conquests of Alexander the Great and the wars of his successors. So do several other passages.
If you want to reject the Bible, you have one option: Maintain that these books are in some way frauds, written after the events they claim to prophesy.
But claiming that the whole of Isaiah, or any other book, is a later fraud leads to more problems. Parts of these books so clearly and accurately describe the world of their day, that it’s hard to believe they are later fictions. A modern author pretending to live at the time of Shakespeare or even Queen Victoria quickly gives himself away, describing inventions, techniques or places not yet developed. Instead, many biblical books include small details confirmed by archaeology. Isaiah gives a detailed history of Assyria’s attack on Jerusalem that has been corroborated by Assyrian records. It accurately describes plants and trees found in Jerusalem that an author exiled to Babylon, as one of the Isaiahs was supposed to be, could not know of.
For Isaiah, there’s an even bigger problem. A clay seal impression, or bulla, found in 2015 in Jerusalem all but names “Isaiah the prophet” and dates from the eighth century b.c. In the ensuing 3,000 years, the edges to the bulla were chipped, chopping off two letters, but the message of the bulla is clear. Just a few feet away from it, in the same strata of soil, was another bulla, this time complete—belonging to King Hezekiah. To anyone with an open mind, the bulla shows that the Prophet Isaiah was a real historical figure who served in the court of King Hezekiah, just as his book claims. Isn’t it more logical and scientific to believe he wrote his book?
Many fragments of biblical text have been found. An amulet dating to the seventh century b.c. containing text from Numbers 6:24-26, for example, was discovered in 1979–80. This passage was supposedly written by the “P” author, hundreds of years later.
These kinds of discoveries would be a death blow to any theory that said the whole of the Pentateuch was written after Judah’s return from captivity in the sixth century. But source criticism gives critics so much more flexibility. A fragment of Isaiah or Daniel could be discovered, dating from before their prophecies were fulfilled, and critics could still dismiss the book as a whole. “OK,” says the critic, “that bit of the book is genuine. But the verses containing prophecy are still a fraud.”
What Will You Do?
Who then really is being unscientific, refusing to follow the evidence because of preconceived ideas? The scholars and skeptics? Or the supposed simpletons who believe that Moses actually wrote the Pentateuch, or that there was just one Isaiah?
Of course, some Bible authors used other source material. In many cases they cite it (e.g. 1 Kings 11:41; 14:19, 29; 1 Chronicles 29:29, 2 Chronicles 9:29; 12:15; 20:34). And some of these books were edited. Moses clearly didn’t write the account of his own death and burial in Deuteronomy 34:5-12. An editor also updated place names and added in parenthetical statements, like the one found in Numbers 12:3.
But clearly the logical, rational, prejudice-free conclusion is that the books of the Bible are inspired and were written by the authors it claims wrote them. For Christians, the New Testament provides additional evidence: Jesus Christ confirmed the authenticity of many of these books, repeatedly establishing Moses as the author of the Pentateuch, for example (e.g. Luke 16:31).
But the skeptics are right about one thing: Accepting the authenticity of these books is a big deal. These books claim to be the Word of God, with laws we must follow and authoritative instruction on how to live a successful life. They claim supreme authority over you. They demand that we value them, dig into them, and live by them.
If you can come at the Bible without prejudice and preconceived opposition, you can prove that it is the Word of God. But that done, these books present you with a supreme challenge: What will you do about it?