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:
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: “east of the Jordan.”
ASV, JPS: “Beyond the Jordan.”
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.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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