Defending the Bible

Many Christians accept the doctrine of verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible. Those Christians who hold to this doctrinal view believe that all of the Bible’s words are true and that all its statements are accurate.

Christians who accept and use what is commonly known as Biblical criticism are said to deny that the Bible is the word of God and are no longer within the bounds of orthodox Christianity.

One test that is generally applied to examine orthodoxy is whether one believes Moses wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. Since the Bible is considered to be an inspired book, then the Bible is without error. So, if the Bible says that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, then Moses must have written the five books that carry his name.

There have been many attempts at defending the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible. One of these efforts is the book by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1992). This book is an attempt to provide answers to some of the difficult texts of the Bible.

I have selected one example from the book to show how the Bible is defended. The example I use is taken from their comments on the book of Deuteronomy. The issue is whether Moses wrote Deuteronomy. I cite their statement verbatim from page 113:

DEUTERONOMY 1:1 – How could Moses have written this when biblical criticism claims it was written many centuries later?

PROBLEM: According to this verse, “these are the words which Moses spoke.” However, many biblical critics claim that Deuteronomy was written in the third century B.C., many centuries after Moses’ time.

SOLUTION: There are many arguments that support the claim that Moses wrote the Book of Deuteronomy.

First, there is the repeated claim of the book that “these are the words of Moses” (1:1; 4:44; 29:1). To deny this is to claim the book is a total fraud.

Second, Joshua, Moses’ immediate successor, attributed the Book of Deuteronomy to Moses, exhorting the people of Israel to “observe to do . . . all the law which Moses . . . commanded” (Josh. 1:7).

Three, the remainder of the O’I’ attributes Deuteronomy to Moses (cf. Jud. 3:4; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; Ezra 3:2; Neh. 1:7; Ps. 103:7; Dan. 9:11; Mal. 4:4).

Fourth, Deuteronomy is the book of the Law most quoted in the NT, often with words like “Moses truly said” (Acts 3:22), “Moses says” (Rom. 10:19), or “it is written in the law of Moses” (l Cor. 9:9).

Fifth, our Lord quoted the Book of Deuteronomy (6:13, 16) as the authoritative Word of God when He resisted the devil (Matt. 4:7, 10), and He also directly attributed it to the hand of Moses, saying, “Moses said” (Mark 7: 10) or “Moses wrote” (Luke 20:28).

Sixth, the geographical and historical details of the book display a firsthand acquaintance such as Moses would have had.

Seventh, scholarly studies of the form and content of Near Eastern covenants indicate that Deuteronomy is from the period of Moses (see Meredith Kline, Treaty of the Great King, Eerdmans, 1963).

I sympathize with the authors’ effort to explain some of the difficult passages of the Bible. There are many texts that need explanation and even I have made several attempts in previous posts to explain some problematic texts of the Old Testament. I have also tried to clarify some issues of translations because I believe that the reader of the Bible needs to have a clear understanding of what the Bible says and teaches.

I am not opposed to a book such as this one. What I am opposed to is the way the Bible is defended. If a writer (or writers) desires to defend the Bible and explain some of the problems we find in the Bible then the defense must be honest and deal with the difficult issues raised by the text.

Take for instance the way Deuteronomy 1:1 is defended. I am quoting the book again:

PROBLEM: According to this verse, “these are the words which Moses spoke.” However, many biblical critics claim that Deuteronomy was written in the third century B.C., many centuries after Moses’ time.

I emphasized the text in order to show how the writers explain the problem of Deuteronomy 1:1. However, what they failed to do was to cite the remainder of the text. Here is how the text reads in its entirety:

These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan — in the wilderness, on the plain opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Di-zahab” (Deuteronomy 1:1 NRSV).

The words in italics are the words the authors quoted; the words in bold are the ones they omitted.

The expression “beyond the Jordan” means in this context “east of the Jordan.” Since Moses never crossed the Jordan River, the words in bold were written by someone who lived on the west side of the Jordan.

If Moses had written Deuteronomy 1:1 the text probably would say: “These are the words I spoke to all Israel” or “These are the words I spoke to Israel in the wilderness.” However, since the writer was on the west side, he said that Moses spoke these words while he was on the east side of the Jordan.

This is how the versions understand the meaning of Deuteronomy 1:1:

RSV: “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness.”

NASB: “Across the Jordan.”

NIV, GNB: “ast of the Jordan.”

ASV, JPS: “Beyond the Jordan.”

NEB: “Transjordan.”

LXX: “on the other side of”

There are other examples of the same Hebrew word referring to the east side of the Jordan. For instance, in Deuteronomy 3:25 Moses said to God: “Let me cross over to see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and the Lebanon.” Moses was on the east side and he wanted to go to the west side, that is, “beyond the Jordan.”

In Joshua 1:14-15, Joshua (who was already on the west side of the Jordan) spoke to the Transjordanian tribes: “Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you beyond the Jordan. But all the warriors among you shall cross over armed before your kindred and shall help them, until the LORD gives rest to your kindred as well as to you, and they too take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving them. Then you shall return to your own land and take possession of it, the land that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you beyond the Jordan to the east.”

All translations agree that the Hebrew word translated “beyond” means “on the other side.” All translations have similar reading, except the King James Version. The KJV reads: “These be the words which Moses spake to all Israel on this side of the Jordan in the wilderness” (Deuteronomy 1:1). The translators of the King James Version believed that Moses wrote Deuteronomy, so they tried to harmonize the translation of the text with their view of Mosaic authorship.

The Bible is still the word of God even if Moses did not write the book of Deuteronomy. One can be an evangelical Christian and still accept biblical criticism. Thus, any attempt at defending the Bible should deal with the text in its entirety and deal with the problems of the text with integrity.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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19 Responses to Defending the Bible

  1. >Claude, I appreciate that you occasionally write posts like this one. Too many on the scholarly or academic side seem not to realize that many Christians struggle with issues such as these, which means that too many on the devotional or lay-evangelical side will never hear scholarly opinions presented in anything but a condescending way. Thank you for attempting to bridge the gap.

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  2. >Darrel,Thank you for your nice words. Every quarter I deal with students and lay people who struggle with the academic study of the Bible. Some people believe that if you do not accept some of the traditional views of authorship and dates, you do not believe that the Bible is the word of God.This kind of post makes a lot of people unhappy and the blogger unpopular because it deals with a zone of comfort that helps people feel secure. I am planning to write two more posts on this topic and I know some people may be very upset with my approach.Claude Mariottini

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  3. >Dr. Mariottini,I appreciate your blog, but I think on this one you are not fairly representing theologians who adhere to verbal plenary inspiration. There are many biblical scholars who hold to verbal plenary inspiration that utilize biblical criticism. Daniel I Block would be one of them. He was at Southern Seminary while I was there, and from what I have read of his work it seems to use critical tools in investigating the text. I could be wrong about who you were referring to. Did you mean common church goers? I, at least, do not think that because someone uses critical methods that they are unorthodox, it is all about the way in which you use them. That is were the differences rear their head.Blake Reas

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  4. Nate says:

    >My favorite bit of Torah that confounds Mosaic authorship is Numbers 12:3, when Moses allegedly writes of himself:”Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.”Not very humble. Of course, as you say, the Pentateuch could have been written by somebody else accurately reflecting the words of Moses, it could have been dictated by Moses, it could have been written by Moses and subsequently edited over generations. The truth is we can’t really know, all we can know is that its truth is affirmed throughout Scriptures.

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  5. >Claude,The primary problem I see with this approach is how disconnected it is with providing any defense of Christianity at all. The first five “defenses” are Biblical appeals. If someone does not accept the divine origins of the Bible, why we he be persuaded by any of those arguments? The sixth point is hopelessly vague and unsourced, while the seventh is almost as vague and cites work done forty-five years ago. This is poor rhetoric at its finest.-JAK

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  6. Polycarp says:

    >Dr. Mariottini,Speaking as a fundamentalist, I appreciate the post that you have given here, and see nothing with accepting your assumption, solid as it is, and traditional evangelical inerrancy. Thank you again.

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  7. Dr M says:

    >The Bible needs no defense. It is what it is, and does what it does. What many try to do is defend their favoured form of interpreting of the Bible. A plenary verbal approach is an assumtion about the origin of the Scriptures and has at its core more to do with the hermeneutical approach of the reader than the efficacy of Holy Writ. As long as people insist on a literal reading of the text as foundational to its understanding, they will be forced to try and “defend” what at its heart needs no defense whatsoever.

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  8. J.J. says:

    >Excellent post. I had never noticed this wording at Deut 1:1 before. And I think we all appreciate the way you can present a potentially controversial issue like this with such a kind, gentle spirit. Keep up the great blogging.

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  9. >Dear Blake,Thank you for your comment. I think you missed my point. What I was trying to convey is that there is nothing wrong in believing in the inspiration of the Bible and using Biblical criticism. Some people believe that if you use Biblical criticism then you have departed from orthodoxy. I know many evangelical, committed Christians who use Biblical criticism and have a high view of Scripture.I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. I have a high view of Scripture and I am not ashamed to say that I use biblical criticism in my study of the Bible. I was refused a teaching position in a Southern Baptist Seminary because I did not accept the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.Read my post on Monday.Claude Mariottini

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  10. >Nate,I agree with you. I believe that the teachings and the words of Moses were put together years after the death of Moses. But, just because someone else wrote or edited the Pentateuch, it does not mean that the Pentateuch is not the inspired word of God. The Pentateuch is the word of God even if Moses was not its primary author.Claude Mariottini

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  11. >Dear Justin,Thank you for your comment. Sometimes what we classify as a defense of the Bible is just a reaffirmation of our own views with citations of a few isolated verses from the Bible that prove our point.Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini

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  12. >Polycarp,Thank you for those words. This is what I want to convey to others: that you can accept Biblical criticism and still accept traditional evangelical views of inspiration.Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini

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  13. >Dear Dr. M.,I agree with you. Those who try to defend the Bible at times greatly encourage those who want to criticize the Bible. The Bible has stood the test of time and it has overcome all kinds of criticisms. The Bible will remain the Bible long after you and I are gone.Thank you for your comment.Claude Mariottini

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  14. >Dear J. J.,Thank you for your words. At times we read the Bible and fail to notice a few statements here and there that can really make a difference in the way we interpret the Bible. My desire is to help readers to gain a better appreciation of the teachings of the Old Testament.Claude Mariottini

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  15. >Claude: “I was refused a teaching position in a Southern Baptist Seminary because I did not accept the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.”As your former student I am glad they did refuse you. 🙂

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  16. >Dr. Mariottini,I just found your blog, and I read your article about Deut.1:1. What do you think Moses should have said if he wanted to say that he spoke those things outside of the land of Israel. First of all, he called himself Moses (third person) and not “these are the words I said…” Also, throughout the 5 books of Moses he says Moses said this or did this. If he wrote the Bible, why didn’t he say “I” always. Maybe that is the way he was told to write the Torah. Moses wanted to say that he spoke those words outside of Israel, and I think Deut. 1:1 says that. Would you prefer if he said “these are the words I spoke outside of the land of Israel…” Anyway, Moses knew that the people would read the Torah in the future in Israel, and it was written for the people to read once they were in Israel. Kenneth Greifer

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  17. C Bovell says:

    >Professor Mariottini,Thank you very much for these posts that broach topics of biblical criticism. Some writers are suggesting that the exodus never took place. Some are suggesting that Adam and Eve never existed and that there was no flood. Some are suggesting that there never was an Abraham and that the Moses stories were borrowed from extant literature. Perhaps in order to make the tightest case against these types of claims, some conservatives feel moved to tie the entire Pentateuch to Moses as if by establishing his prophetic authorship for the entire Pentateuch, the case for the historicity of these various stories is somehow strengthened.But you don’t seem affected by such niceties. I commend you.

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  18. >Carlos,Thank you for your nice words. As I said in my post, the Bible is the Word of God even if Moses did not write the Pentateuch. Evangelical Christians need not fear the academic study of the Bible. When all is said and done, the Bible still remains the Word of God.Claude Mariottini

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  19. timruah says:

    >In your attempt to discredit Mosaic authorship, you wrote, "In Joshua 1:14-15, Joshua (who was already on the west side of the Jordan) spoke to the Transjordanian tribes:" But in chapter 1, Joshua is NOT on the west side of the river. He's still on the east side. They don't cross the river until chapter 3. When Joshua uses the expression בעבר הירדן he's referring to the side of the Jordan in which he's currently standing.There are a number of other issues regarding Mosaic authorship. The strict Orthodox Jewish/Fundamentalist Christian perspective is unsustainable in light of such expressions as "unto this day," "when the Canaanites still inhabited the land," "before Israel had a king" and so forth. It's necessary by any reasonable standard to accept some degree of redaction in the text of the Pentateuch. But the use of בעבר הירדן in Deuteronomy 1:1-5 does not conflict with Mosaic authorship.

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