October 28, 2020

The Purpose of the First Testament

Destruction of Jerusalem under the Babylonian rule, Nuremburg Chronicles

Why did the Jews compile sacred books together and form a canon of Scripture known as the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh?

For what purpose did they put together what Christians have traditionally called the “Old Testament”?

I believe they brought the canon of the Hebrew Bible to completion, at the end of a long process, because of the theological crises raised by the Babylonian Exile.

The Purpose of the First Testament
The Hebrew Bible in its present form was edited and put together to remember how God called Israel to be his people and faithfully cared for them in the past, to explain how that relationship went bad, and to encourage the people that there was still hope for the future.

After 35 years in pastoral ministry and Biblical study, I’m convinced that many if not most Christians have a simplistic view of “The Bible” and how it came to us (if they even think about that question at all).

When we pastors and teachers talk to them about “The Law of Moses,” for example, most people imagine that the Pentateuch we have today — Genesis-Deuteronomy — was simply produced by Moses. He sat down and wrote some books, people read them, the priests taught them, and everybody knew “The Torah” in the same way that we know “The Bible” today. If Barnes & Noble had been around then, you could have walked into the store and picked up a copy of one of Moses’ books.

Of course, this is a child’s Sunday School view of Scripture. Even a passing knowledge of history and a cursory acquaintance with the Bible itself reveals that we are dealing with something much more complex and nuanced.

  • First of all, Biblical books like the Pentateuch do not tell us who the author was. There are texts in the Pentateuch that say Moses received communication from God and others that note he recorded laws and covenantal agreements and deposited them with the priests to be kept in the Tabernacle (e.g. Exodus 17:14, 24:7; Deuteronomy 31:24-26). Occasionally, those documents were brought out and read to the people (the vast majority of whom did not read or have books of any kind). But nowhere is Moses indicated as the one who put the book together in its final form. In fact there are many factors that make that impossible, including the fact that the book contains the account of Moses’ death!
  • The Pentateuch also records the existence of other books (e.g. Genesis 5:1, Numbers 21:14) that Moses (or other authors or editors) used as sources.
  • In addition, the sections in the Pentateuch which contain laws for the community consist, by and large, of case laws: laws based on rulings by judicial authorities that were given to answer certain situations that arose. Therefore, they reflect the ongoing development of Israel’s community life before they were recorded together as a group in a “book.”
  • Furthermore, it is likely that many stories and episodes had a long history of oral transmission and liturgical and pedagogical use before they were woven together in the form we have today in our Old Testament. Walter Brueggemann calls this the process of “traditioning” through “imaginative remembering.” As he describes it: “The remembering part is done in the intergenerational community, as parents tell and retell to children and grandchildren what is most prized in community lore” (Intro. to OT).
  • Finally, it is clear that the entire Old Testament, as well as particular sections such as the Torah, has been edited and shaped into a final form, the form we have today. This is the end result of the long “traditioning” process referred to above, and it culminated in the days of the Exile and afterward. The “Old Testament” in the form we have it is a product of the Babylonian Exile. The “Pentateuch” we read today is not the “Pentateuch” to which the people in Moses’ day had access. It was developed as the Israelites and their teachers remembered these stories and laws generation after generation, and then were moved by the crisis of the Exile to further compose, edit and shape the text into its final form. Those who did this are mostly unknown to us, but they left us with a priceless treasure.

Brueggemann summarizes:

First, there was a long process of traditioning prior to the fixing of the canon as text in normative form. Much of that process is hidden from us and beyond recovery. But we can see that in the precanonical traditioning process there was already a determined theological intentionality at work. Second, the actual formation of the canon is a point in the traditioning process that gives us “Scripture” for synagogue and for church. We do not know much about the canonizing process, except to notice that long use, including dispute over the literature, arrived at a moment of recognition: Jewish, and subsequently Christian, communities knew which books were “in” and which were not.

An Introduction to the Old Testament

Here is one simple example of the process and how it would have spoken to the Jewish people in exile, as noted by Brueggemann:

In Exodus 12-13, there is a pause in the narrative in order to provide detailed guidance for the celebration of the Passover that will remember the exodus as here narrated. It is curious that in the very telling of this defining wonder of deliverance, the tradition pauses in telling to provide for subsequent celebrations. It is, moreover, noteworthy that while Christians tend to glide over these two chapters of instruction easily and quickly, Jewish readers give primary attention to this material of instruction, for it is the repeated celebration of the memory of the exodus that sustains Jewish identity when it is under threat from dominant culture. I suspect that the tradition pauses so long and goes into such detail about celebration because the inculcation of the young was urgent and could not wait, not even until the end of the narrative of deliverance. The instruction, in its final form, aims at the young in exile who may be ready to turn away from the community into dominant culture. (IOT)

We will discuss many more such examples in the days ahead, including a detailed look at how the “creation” stories in Genesis 1-3 have been shaped to instruct and give hope to the exilic and post-exilic communities. Indeed, the entire introductory section of the First Testament — Genesis 1-11 — has a distinct “Babylonian” flavor to it. In the past generation, it has become clear that The Book of Psalms has been edited and shaped to answer questions raised by the Exile, and we will examine that as well. We will discover that comparing books which deal with the same historical time periods, such as Kings and Chronicles, can be most enlightening in this regard.

And we must not forget the big picture. When you step back and look at the final canonical shape of the Hebrew Bible as a whole (especially in the way the Jewish people organized it as “Tanakh”), it becomes clear that a book which many have understood as law has actually been transformed into a book of eschatology, designed to encourage a displaced and downtrodden community of exiles to embrace the hope that God will yet fulfill his promises to them.


  1. Re: Genesis 5:1, Numbers 21:14 – and other sources. Wow, never had that pointed out to me before!

  2. Yes Michael I thought the same thing. And I never even thought about the record of the death of Moses!

    This is a very good post Chaplin Mike ~ a “re-introduction to the Old Testament for me.”

  3. One of my favorite books on this, admittedly by a non-specialist, is Donald Harman Akenson’s “Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds.” He identifies several phases of editing: an initial Genesis-through-Kings collection assembled during the Babylonian exile; and the later compilation of the Tanakh, New Testament, and Talmuds. (His Appendix D concludes with a baseball analogy, comparing the quest for the historical Jesus with the historiography pertaining to Casey Stengel.)

    An interesting, and perhaps key, feature of the entire genre is the way in which it incorporates disasters which would otherwise tend to discredit the religion. For example, the Hebrews went into exile, it is claimed, because of their disobedience to God, primarily in the form of idolatry. This has given the Hebrew Bible resonance during later ages and later disasters.

  4. Marcus Johnson says

    God: A Biography by Jack Miles is an excellent supplementary read for this discussion. Granted, the theology is suspect, primarily because Miles is trying to write about God purely as a literary character in the Tanakh, but it is still a fascinating read.

  5. In “Genesis for Normal People”, Enns and Byas touch on the Exilic Period origin of the Old Testament we know today. That perspective does make more sense out of Genesis in particular. I especially like the perspective of the Genesis depicting the God of Israel as triumphant over the gods of Babylon.

    • However, I am not a fan of literary criticism as applied to scripture in the past. I don’t know how to avoid it, if the theory is that the Old Testament we have now is a re-telling of the ancient oral traditions by Exilic scribes. Perhaps the follow-up to the Jesus seminar will be the Moses seminar. I once again find myself caught between two extremes (fundamentalist literalism and modernistic literal criticism) and wishing there was a viable middle ground.

      • +1. The way I see it, there can be some value in this historical scholarship, but just like any hermeneutic there are those who would use it to dismiss inconvenient portions of scripture. But the approach of faith is to hear the word of God and accept it as true PRIOR to understanding it completely. The question is not whether Moses wrote it or if it’s mythical. We believe it is true, and the struggle is to understand how, and the question is, “What does this mean?”

  6. Since many of us cannot go back to anything like an original naivete regarding the nature of Scripture and its interpretation (although I, for one, sometimes wish it were possible), and historical and scholarly research can only yield limited and quite often contradictory conclusions about the purpose, meaning, history and composition of the Scriptural texts, I tend to think that the only viable option left for the church(es) is to acknowledge that, after a reasonable but modest and limited contemporary scholarly assessment , as those who confess faith in Jesus Christ, we intentionally hold a canonical bias and choose to reflect and form our theology and spirituality from within the canon and with the help of the consensus of historic Christian belief reflected in the Creeds (Sorry for the run-on sentence; stylistic deficiency of mine. At least I have the consolation of knowing that Herman Melville, that giant of the Western literary cannon, wrote even longer sentences than the previous.). This is the methodology that Luke Timothy Johnson suggests in his various books, most importantly in “Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel”. He also reminds us that to get to the truth of something, especially a faith, does not necessarily mean having to know what the exact historic sources of that truth were; and to know Jesus now does not mean that we have to know exactly what his contemporary followers knew about him, or that the Scriptures accurately reflect their knowledge about him in every detail; that is, history as a discipline (and by extension biblical scholarship, which depends on historical studies) only has limited value in determining the truth about Jesus Christ and who he is NOW. Jesus is not some historical artifact buried in the past who depends for his continued existence on being excavated, dusted off and deciphered by scholars; he is the Living Lord of the church, and we have testimony that he was present then, and is present now in the church catholic. The Bible generally, and the NT emphatically for Christians, testifies to the experience that the early communities of believers had regarding God and Jesus. It would be odd if we had to demand that our experiences of the Lord should be exactly the same as theirs for our faith to be authentic; rather, we would expect that, as in any relationship, there is growth and change, both for each individual believer and institutionally for the Church, even as there is an element of continuity down through the ages and in our individual lives. Sober scholarship can help us keep the balance, but only as one counterbalance among others, and only if we are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ to begin with.

    • David Cornwell says

      Recently the writings of Luke Timothy Johnson have made a huge impact on my faith journey. His understanding of the creeds, the historicity of Jesus, and the witness of His first followers have stretched my thinking. To me he represents a moderating influence between the extremes, while expressing a strong witness to the living Christ.

      Or maybe he is a radical departure from the extremes, rather than a moderating voice.

      His approach to the study of scripture finds application to both testaments, as he connects the prophetic voice of the First to that of the prophetic character of Jesus.

      • Amen, Brother David! I’m afraid some of our evangelical friends may find him too radical, and some of our progressive friend may find him too conservative, but I think the real tragedy would be if his subtle incarnational understanding of the ongoing and growing relationship between Christ and the church were mistaken for a kind of doceticism.

    • Obviously you’d make a lousy engineer. 🙂
      (We’re all about getting the details right. To a point.)

      At least I have the consolation of knowing that Herman Melville, that giant of the Western literary cannon, wrote even longer sentences than the previous.

      It’s my understanding that one of Paul’s letters contained a 100+ word sentence in the original Greek. And it was grammatically fine for Greek of the time. Which is why literal translations are a myth. At least in a readable form.

      • OK based on the discussion of “myth” downstream I’ll change the phrase “myth” to “not really possible without losing the ability to be read and understood in the new language”.

      • David,
        I’m afraid the documents that are translated into our New Testament contain no punctuation, so it’s impossible to know how long a sentence might or might not be, including “Jesus wept,” John 11:35, claimed to be the shortest sentence in the Bible. Which is another reason why literal translations is a myth. In view of the aforementioned, no one can claim that the punctuation in their Bibles is inerrant and infallible.

  7. Thanks for beginning this new year at the beginning, Chap. Mike. I’ve also read that the Babylonian exile was the first time the Israelites were cut off from the temple & in their minds cut off from God. Therefore, the priests felt that it was necessary to write down what had been oral as a means of survival in a foreign land. The Babylonian exile also coincided with the rise of Greek philosophy/culture. According to Jonathon Sacks the Greeks expressed a philosophy of universality & reason where the Hebrew/Abrahamic tradition expressed a God of the particular & revelation, as in “knowing us in our mother’s womb”. It was important to bring this view of a personal God forward in writing as Greek culture spread throughout that region through war/conquest.
    But in my view, it’s more important to contemplate how the stories we only know through written tradition were once only passed on through oral tradition. An oral tradition is not about documenting history but conveying meaning. Understanding this alone would/should prevent anyone from coming to scripture literally.
    Look forward to the rest of your posts on this subject.

  8. David Cornwell says

    I’m really glad you are doing a series on the First Testament. Each year our pastor spends a period of time preaching from the lectionary passages of this testament. When we study those passages in a bible study group prior to that Sunday, the writings of Brueggemann almost always come into play. I continue to be amazed at the shallowness of my knowledge, even after all these years.

  9. Come on, deal with the controversy instead of disparaging opponents as ignorant and having a “Sunday School” view. It’s not only stupid snake handlers that believe in Mosaic authorship. Many conservative scholars accept Mosaic authorship, and they have good reasons for their beliefs, and it would be more honest to consider their arguments as well instead of glossing over them with cop out phrases about what is “likely” or “clear”. For example, this issues etc interview with Andrew Steinmann presents both sides and doesn’t merely attack strawmen. http://issuesetc.org/2011/06/

    This is what the mainline Christian churches do, they present secular theories about Scripture and history to believers as fact, undercut their faith, and don’t present the other side to leave them with anything except goofy exhortations about the merits of myths. But as a myth, Christianity sucks. It would be way cooler to believe in Odin.

    • Here’s Steinmann’s fantastic book putting the OT into a coherent timeline in light of archeology and the historical record.


      and his awesome timeline:


    • Boaz if you read carefully, you would note that I never denied Moses having a hand in composing at least parts of the Torah. I would be surprised if he didn’t play a part, perhaps even a major part on the early stages of composition. But all of that is supposition. We’re dealing here with the final form of the First Testament. No matter who first began to tell or write down these stories, it is undeniable that they have been edited and shaped by the post-exilic generations.

    • My experience is that most Christians do have a “Sunday School” view, and when pushed beyond that they feel that their faith is being threatened. This doesn’t simply apply when dealing with things like the OT authorship and inerrancy, but all sorts of issues. The problem with this is that it ends up treating everything as an all or nothing proposition – you have doubts about Mosaic authorship of the Torah, well, then you’re not a true Christian.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The problem with this is that it ends up treating everything as an all or nothing proposition – you have doubts about Mosaic authorship of the Torah, well, then you’re not a true Christian.

        Just like Young Earth Creationism, Paedo- or Credobaptism, and Secret Rapture Pre-Mil Eschatology.

    • boaz,
      I’ve spent most of my adult life in mainline churches, and the depiction you give of them is a caricature with some true content, but a caricature nevertheless. I could just as easily assert that the evangelical/charismatic/fundamentalist churches I’ve visited were places where, if you didn’t affirm the absolute inerrancy of Scripture but had questions regarding the inspiration of the Bible due not to secular theories but to internal inconsistencies, you were pointed in the direction of resources that provided harmonizations that were plainly silly and could not justifiably be held based on the internal signals of the text but only on special pleading and turning a blind eye; if you had any questions after that, your faith was questioned. But that too would be a caricature, although containing some truth, so I won’t assert it.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      A) Christianity is not a myth, and no one here suggested that it was. Myths are stories; Christianity is a belief system. I suspect that definition is going to become very important over the next few weeks.
      B) Biblical narratives are myths, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The full definition of a myth (at least, the operating one I believe we should use) is a story that serves to reveal or define the worldview of a culture or people, or explains a practice or belief. Using that definition, the Bible is the very definition of a myth; it is not a derogatory term, nor does it mean that those stories should not be used to define our faith.
      C) I don’t think it’s disparaging to acknowledge a lack of progression within mainstream Christianity, in terms of our understanding of who God is, and how the Bible should be used to understand who we are in relation to who He is. Practically all academic research starts from the acknowledgement of a problem or a discrepancy that needs to be addressed. I’m not saying that you’re being unnecessarily defensive but, if the suggestion that Moses didn’t write every single verse of Genesis through Deuteronomy puts you on edge, then maybe that’s a belief that deserves some real exploration.
      D) I don’t know much about your personal experience, but from what I have seen, most Christian communities could really benefit from this discussion. As the old saying goes, “Truth is the best defense against slander.” For example, many professed Christ-followers agreed with Huckabee when he suggested that the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings were the result of us denying God’s presence in schools. Because much of the justification for that statement would probably come from the Old (First) Testament, it seems wise to go back and examine the soundness of that belief.

      • Is it really possible for a myth to be “true,” in any sense other than the metaphoric, or is this just an attempt to tap-dance around the problem?

        You guys are questioning / rejecting the notion that Moses wrote the Torah, but biblical scholars (and here I am thinking particularly of Israel Finkelstein, but there are many) have moved on to questioning / rejecting the very existence of Moses. His genealogy, the basket-in-the-river thing, the flight from Egypt, the Ten Commandments–all seen to have been cobbled together in the 7th century BC or thereabouts, based on scattered myths and traditions which are also attested in other ANE religions.

        • Uh-huh. And other “highly-esteemed scholars” are beyond question apostolic authorship of the Gospels and questioning / rejecting the very existence of Jesus. Meanwhile, the rest of the world and academic community rolls their eyes.

          I personally do not have enough faith in the science of history to make such authoritative statements about the 7th century BC based on a few assembled document fragments. The distance between “there were similar stories at the time” and “therefore the Jewish narrative was plagiarized” is too far a leap of logic for me. Influenced, maybe. But I am highly skeptical about the kind of definitive statements that come from the revisionist history camp.

      • Marcus Johnson says

        Nothing in the definition of a myth suggests that it is inherently not true or fact-based, only that it should reveal or define the worldview of a culture or people, or explain a practice or belief. Granted, folks tend to attach a stigma of “make-believe” or “falsehood” to myths and the mythology of cultures, but that stigma has no place in legitimate exegesis or other forms of literary criticism.

        • Gerald,
          I think that the word “myth” as used in its primary definition does usually include the idea that there are legendary elements included. I think we are using the word “truth” in two different ways, and that is leading to confusion. As an example, I believe the creation accounts (and there are two, not one) in Genesis are myths that are almost completely legendary in the sense that they are not based in factual history, so they do not convey much historical truth with regard to specific events that occurred in the past; they do, however, convey meaningful, I would even say foundational, existential truths about the human condition, so they contain invaluable truth in narrative form. Also, a myth may have more or less of either legendary or historical content and continue to operate both as legend and/or history. If our faith depends on knowing exactly what Moses himself may or may not have written in the Pentateuch, then we are in deep trouble, because not even the most accomplished experts in the field, whether liberal or conservative, can possibly have access to epistemological certainty about what redactional alterations may have been made to the multitude of documents that have culled from to establish our canon. Remember, we do not have the original autographs for any of the books in the Biblical canon, and since inerrancy, even if true, can only be claimed for the original autographs, what we have are millions of imperfect copies. We should take heed of the fact that the God of Israel inspired his people to form narratives about their experiences of him rather than dictating a book filled with only logical assertions about his nature and what he expects of us. We cannot master him by mastering the facts; we can only respond to him as he communicates himself, mostly in narrative, in the midst of the church, our lives and the Scriptures.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            Robert F, I think that is a great perspective to take into this study of the Old (First) Testament. However, I think that, for most people, it is a lot like that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indy has to make a leap of faith from the lion’s head into a cavern, and it doesn’t look like there is a bridge beneath him. Unless they can see the bridge, some people just won’t jump.

          • Marcus,
            There is no faith without risk.

  10. I’m just doing a study with a small group on the Pentateuch. We are reading it as a whole periodically to keep a perspective.and I have been guided somewhat by Sailhamer’s, The Meaning of the Pentateuch. He has some excellent points about this as well. Now I would like to read Brueggemann as well. And quickly! Do we have a link to Amazon whereby this group can be rewarded by our purchases?

  11. Christiane says

    “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old
    and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New”

    St. Augustine

  12. Christiane says

    “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New”

    (St. Augustine)

  13. Perhaps our tendency is to oversimplify. How many think of the Old Testament as being the time of God Almighty or God Most High, the Gospels as being the time of Jesus, and the rest of the New Testament as being the time of the Holy Spirit? There you have it, three neatly divided sections of scripture, one for each person of the Trinity. But like you said, it’s a little more complicated than that.

    In the first chapter of Genesis (I know, you’re getting there shortly) God says “Let us make man in our own image.” Who is he talking to? David questions in Psalm 139 where he can go to hide from God’s Spirit. Specifically “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” David was aware that God was greater than to be contained in a box and hid behind a curtain. But isn’t that how we typically consider their understand of God in the Old Testament? In the Gospel accounts, consider the Magnificat or Zechariah being filled with the spirit and prophesying of both his son John and the coming Messiah.

    Sometimes we present the Pharisees as the bad guys because of their strict adherence to the Law. Jesus criticized them nor for learning and teaching the Law, but for keeping the letter of the Law and neglecting the spirit of the Law. They tithed out of the spice rack and let the widow starve in the street. We can learn a lot about God by reading the Old Testament. I’m going to repeat that. We can learn a lot about God by reading the Old Testament, way beyond “Here’s a bunch of rules.” In the first place, the Law was the Word of God, and had depth and richness beyond merely being a list of statues and regulations. That why David said the righteous “meditate on it [the Law] day and night.” Secondly, consider Jesus’ response when asked about the greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and likewise love your neighbor as yourself. He didn’t just make those up on the spot or toss the 10 commandments in favor of some new ones. Those two commands, to love God and neighbor, he quoted from Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

    There is a lot more going on in the Old Testament than many Christians give it credit for. Sermon over.

  14. Jesus Christ referred to Moses as the author of the Pentateuch. To say that Moses didn’t write it is to call Jesus ignorant or a liar.

    • Way over simplifying a statement. Way way way.

    • My snarky reply is that plenty of Christians call Jesus a liar by their actions everyday already, so what’s the big deal? We’ve decided He was wrong on all sorts of other things – blessing those who curse us, praying for our enemies, etc.

      But seriously, though, Jesus refers to Moses as the one who gave the Israelites the Torah. He never explicitly refers to him as the author. Although, I will say, that Mosaic authorship was a given at the time of Jesus. I’ll also say that the ancient idea of authorship was different than what we think today. Acting as a person’s agent in writing something under their name wasn’t always seen a fraudulent act.

      • Exactly. I don’t think the terms editor, producer, writer, compiler, etc… existed then they way they do now. Really.

      • It’s the authority of Moses that Jesus and others appeal to, not his authorship of any particular books. Moses’ authority came from his role as mediator of the Sinai Covenant, not because he wrote the Pentateuch. He had authority as the head of a living tradition and not simply a book. As mediator of the covenant, the work that defines and describes that covenant is in his name.

        • Jesus said that Moses wrote of Him (John 5:46). You simply cannot adopt higher critical views of Scripture without contradicting Christ.

          • The unnamed (and unknown?) author/editor of “John” wrote that Jesus said that Moses wrote of (peri) Him.

          • Nicholas, this is simplistic thinking. Jesus was not arguing for Mosaic authorship. He was referring to the book that everyone associates with Moses. And please remember — this is not my argument anyway! Whoever composed certain parts of the OT is not what I’m writing about. I’m saying that it was put together in its FINAL FORM after the exile.

          • This is kind of proving the point I made above. By saying that by even daring to question the issue of Mosaic authorship of Torah one is contradicting Christ, you’re making this is a primary issue as it relates to one’s salvation. That’s patently ridiculous.

          • Phil, arguing for the truthfulness and internal consistency of scripture is hardly a peripheral concern. If God’s word is suspect, it becomes reasonable to not believe it. Is that not the antithesis of faith?

            But I do not view the issue of authorship requires us to question the truthfulness of God’s word. Jesus was appealing to a culturally accepted norm. As God he could have known if Moses didn’t write it, but that was quite likely a very bad line of reasoning for him to approach the Jewish religious leaders with. The point was that the scriptures pointed to him, not that the human agents of authorship pointed it to him. In fact, if we hang our hat on the human authorship issue, we’re practically arguing against divine inspiration, because regardless of whether Moses wrote the actual document, Christians believe the actual author is God himself. Jesus is not appealing to the opinion of Moses or any other man.

          • If God’s word is suspect, it becomes reasonable to not believe it. Is that not the antithesis of faith?

            It depends on what you mean by the word “suspect”. I don’t think trying to hold Scripture to some sort of modern standard of internal consistency or historical accuracy is wise or even necessary. I also think that many Evangelicals misplace Scripture. In a sense, they end up placing Scripture above Christ. To paraphrase Greg Boyd, I don’t believe in Jesus because I believe Scripture is true; I believe in Scripture, because I believe Jesus is true. Scripture derives it’s authority from God, not that other way around.

          • I don’t believe in Jesus because I believe Scripture is true; I believe in Scripture, because I believe Jesus is true


            In a sense, they end up placing Scripture above Christ.

            If this happens, it is a sure-fire guarantee that Scripture is being misunderstood, since its purpose is to reveal Christ. The written word points to the living Word, and yes, this is quite often missed.

            I don’t think trying to hold Scripture to some sort of modern standard of internal consistency or historical accuracy is wise or even necessary.

            Quick reaction: Those do seem to be somewhat post-biblical categories of concern. And the there is the issue of doctrinal consistency versus historical and factual consistency. I’ve heard it said that it probably wasn’t possible to shake the hand of any guy before Genesis 12. But as long as the words are considered true nonetheless, I personally don’t loose a whole lot of sleep over it.

          • Sorry for bold. Not quite sure how that happened.

          • Miguel,
            Do you believe Jesus in his human nature could not be wrong about factual matters, for instance regarding the authorship of the Pentateuch?

          • I’m not really sure what the “correct” answer is there. I’m gonna say it doesn’t matter either way, because if he did know, he wasn’t lying because he was appealing to their “knowledge,” but if he was no wiser, then he was certainly privy to such information apart form the limitations of human nature he voluntarily assumed. Like I said, I do not believe the issue of authorship requires us to question the truth of God’s Word. I think that would be missing the forrest for the trees.

  15. Chaplain Mike,

    Amazingly timely, this post. I mean, I could say in Holy Spiritual proportions. But perhaps that’s too mystical a statement for this forum.

    I am wanting to lead a small group at our church for the purpose of understanding the Bible with an approach that is light years ahead of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

    I am wanting to read a book together that an intelligent person could digest, but a book with scholarly merit. A survey of the OT is just what I’m looking for. Althoguh I’m guessing Brueggeman’s Into to OT might not be the best choice for this venue — correct? A little too much for a group of non-academics that will meet once a week for 8 weeks?

    Can you comment? Can you recommend some resources that might be a good fit?

    (I have a degree in religious studies, so i’m no novice — but it’s been a long time & 12 years of motherhood since the classroom)

    Can you comment

    • I’ll do some checking for you.

      If you would like to start with a book on Genesis that includes a perspective that will bring many of the points that I make in this post to the fore, I would recommend Genesis for Normal People, by Peter Enns and Jared Byas.

      • Hi, Chaplain Mike.

        Just wondering if you have any other ideas on good study material for a group of people who desire something more scholarly, but who don’t have time for hard-core higher-ed syllabus stuff. Something that would lend itself to group discussion.

        Your offer to look into this for me was so very generous. But I feel audacious in following up.

      • Hi, Mike.

        I’m favoring going through “Genesis For Normal People” in the small group I’ll be leading as of Feb. 11. I suspect that most people who will be in the group come with the assumption that if the OT says that Moses wrote Genesis, then that settles it – he did. I know “Genesis For Normal People” puts for the argument that Mosaic authorship is not plausible.

        I want to prepare myself as much as possible for comments and questions (so I can respond intelligently, rather than “gee I dunno”). I think I need to get better informed on the argument in favor of Mosaic authorship. (or, perhaps the argument NOT in favor of the JEDP theory). I know this is not light reading.

        Can you recommend a scholarly book or article/s (from respected theologians) written for a “normal person” such as myself that addresses this?

        Again, many thanks to you.

        Sincerely, Scottie

        • Peter Enns’ other book, The Evolution of Adam, has a good section on the development of biblical criticism and the way it has affected our view of Genesis in particular. What he says in Genesis for Normal People is a condensed and lighter version of that, so that would be a good place to start. You might want to check out his blog, too. There may be articles or resources he mentions that would be helpful. I wrote Pete and asked him for suggestions, but haven’t heard back yet.

  16. Thanks, Chaplain Mike. This is my VERY LUCKY day!

  17. Is your initial boxed The Purpose of the First Testament summary statement yours, or is it a quote from Brueggeman? A wise and concise statement that I think I might like to quote somewhere.

  18. Very interesting post. Count me a one of those who, until recently, had “a child’s Sunday School view of Scripture”. I’m too old to remember what they taught me in my Sunday school experience. The understanding I had of the Bible came from what I was taught as an adult in Sunday preaching from the pulpit. So my question is how do these guys get away with misrepresenting it so much? I pulled out my ESV and read in the introduction to Genesis: “Most Jews and Christians recognize Moses as the author of Genesis, which he probably wrote sometime after the Exodus from Egypt (about 1445). This gives the impression that the book of Genesis in my hand consists of the words that Moses himself wrote down, translated into English, doesn’t it? Is there an agenda behind this kind of misrepresentation of the facts? I don’t know. All I know is that a lot of what I was taught was questionable at best. I am doing my best to educate myself and enjoying the learning process.