Saturday, January 24, 2009

EJ Young and OT History

It is often supposed by opponents of Christianity that if they can prove there is a textual background to elements of the Pentateuch such as the Ten Commandments then they have proved that there was not a ‘divine origin’ to the Old Testament and it is therefore not authoritative.

The conservative Christian perspective is often misrepresented as naive and even ignorant of ancient documents that contains similar law codes and covenant treaties. The fact of the matter is that the conservative Christian position is well aware of the ancient literature that bears both similarities and differences. It is not outside of the scope of divine authority for the OT text to contain elements that are not formally unique to the OT. It is naively assumed that the Christian position is that the whole of Scripture fell from the sky instead of the Biblical doctrine of inspiration, which Warfield classifies as a doctrine of concursus.

The doctrine of concursus states that generally speaking God uses the personality of the human author--his personality, vocabulary and literary style--in the writing of God’s Word. The text bears the authority of God as the writers are “carried along” and the words are “God-breathed” (theopneustos).

In relationship to the Old Testament, this means that there can be a related culture background that influenced the way Moses wrote what he did--both in structure, form, vocabulary and genre. This also does not minimize the authority of the final form of the text and preclude it from being ‘God-breathed’ so that the text is exactly what God wanted to communicate.

In representing the historical Christian position, E.J. Young says this:
“To maintain that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch does not imply that he received by direct divine revelation everything that he wrote. Quite probably large portions of the Law had existed in written form before the time of Moses. If this were so it would account for some of the variations in style and emphasis which are often erroneously attributed to different documents. Moses may very well have pieced together different fragments which had been written long before his time. In a certain sense he may have engaged in the work of compiling. He, however, was responsible for the finished work, and in composing this finished work, the writings which we call the Pentateuch, he labored under the superintendence of the Spirit of God.” --The Infallible Word. “The Authority of the Old Testament” p. 65-66


Many assume that the conservative Christian position is naively unaware of that fact that the Pentateuch records the death of Moses. The position that Moses wrote the Pentateuch is easily caricatured by the obvious fact that Moses could not record the events of his own death after it had occurred.

Young also did not disagree that Moses obviously did not write the account of his death. He held to what me called “essential Mosaic authorship” of the Pentateuch.
“Traditionally, both Jews and Christians, Moses has been regarded as the author of these books. We believe that tradition is in this point correct, that the essential Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch may be maintained. There may indeed be certain few minor additions, such as the account of Moses’ death, which were inserted into the Pentateuch under divine inspiration by a later edition, but this by no means runs counter to the common tradition that Moses is the author of these books.” --The Infallible Word. “The Authority of the Old Testament” p. 65


Apart from what some would have us believe, these questions and the answers to them in relationship to the authority of the Old Testament are not exclusively historical. The question and the answers one derives in relation contain a vital theological component. The conservative Christian position regarding the origins of the Old Testament and its divine authority is not naive to the historical difficulties but also is acutely aware of the theological component. It is precisely this theological component that is ignored by the agnostic and/atheist. When one is bent on proving that the Old Testament is not a divine revelation one will go to great lengths to use every piece of evidence as assertive proof that the text cannot be what it claims. In this respect, where you start determines to a large degree where you end.

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