Is the Bible the “Word of God?”

“As far as Dan” Is Anachronistic

Revised: 2019 Jan 28

It is widely believed and taught that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible referred to by Jews as the Torah. However, in Gen. 14:14, we are told that Abraham “went in pursuit as far as Dan” (NRSV throughout). This is clearly anachronistic. According to the historical record presented in the Bible itself, Moses could not have known where the tribe of Dan would settle. He died long before their territory was allotted. (See Josh. 19:40.) The northern Canaanite city of Laish was conquered and renamed “Dan” even later. (See Judg. 18:29.) The tribe of Dan had not even crossed the Jordan River into Canaan when Moses is supposed to have received the Torah. Most any commentary will acknowledge the problem. The following comments are typical:

By inserting this name a scribe has clarified the location of the region.[1]

Obviously a later editor or scribe is making updates![2]

An editor apparently updated the text so that later readers could identify this city.[3]

Genesis has been modernized somewhat, but this is to be expected in a sacred text preserved for the instruction of later generations. If they were to understand the text, place names and archaic language would have had to be revised.[4]

So, the Bible has been “modernized” — “somewhat.” How much is “somewhat?” If we discover that something in “God’s revelation to humankind” has been changed based on some man’s idea of clarifying or modernizing, how can we have confidence in any of the text? In an article entitled “Even the Bible Needed Upgrading,” Heiser writes, “Though it seems strange, the updating of…Gen. 14:14 gives us an insight into the process of inspiration.[5] What sort of insight one is supposed to gain from this Heiser doesn’t say. He doesn’t have access to the original text, he doesn’t know who updated it, nor does he know where, when or how much it was updated. Nevertheless, he takes divine inspiration of this “strange” updating process for granted.

All the quotations above appear to assume that whatever changes may have been made are inconsequential. Jews and Christians would love this to be true, but is it a safe assumption? Since it is clear someone was presumptuous enough to edit text supposedly inspired by God, how can we really be sure this daring editor left the rest of the text unaltered or didn’t succumb to the temptation to insert his own opinions? How do we know he didn’t have a personal agenda? Of course he did — everyone does. Resting assured the editor’s work was limited to one word (“Dan”) or assuming he was careful to never alter the meaning of the text is for wishful thinkers. Quite simply, the book of Genesis has been corrupted and none of it can be trusted.

Supposedly, modernizing “is to be expected in a sacred text preserved for the instruction of later generations.” However, such an open-ended view implies never-ending adjustments to the “inspired” text. Furthermore, who today has the authority to carry out such revision? And, if no one does or ever will again, how will the Bible be “preserved for the instruction of later generations?” Yes, there are plenty of legitimate translations that attempt to make the Bible clearer for modern readers. However, that is far different from revising the Hebrew source text. If divine revelation needs to be updated so later generations will be able to find certain places in the Middle East, then the updating process has been an abysmal failure because there are numerous places mentioned in the Bible that scholars cannot locate.

A book believed to be the “Word of God” cannot be deemed something akin to flakey computer software requiring regular bug fixes. Nevertheless, someone did revise Genesis at some point, and since the original text no longer exists, we can only speculate as to the accuracy of the current version.

[1] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Gen. 14:14.

[2] Bob Utley, The Patriarchal Period: Genesis 12-50, Study Guide Commentary Series (Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 2009), 36.

[3] New Living Translation Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2008), Gen. 14:14.

[4] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 39.

[5] Michael S. Heiser, “Even the Bible Needed Upgrading” in Bible Study Magazine, Nov. & Dec. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 34.