Is the Bible the “Word of God?”

Introduction to the Torah

Many Jews and Christians believe Moses authored the first five books of the Bible commonly referred to as the Torah (Heb. תּוֹרָה) or Pentateuch (Gr. Πεντάτευχος). They may assume God’s revelation to Moses was passed down to us as follows:

  1. God spoke to Moses;
  2. Moses wrote it all down in Hebrew;
  3. The Hebrew words Moses wrote constitute the source text for our English translations.

Unfortunately, the matter is not so simple. Even if Moses did record words given to him by God (see Exod. 24:3-4; 34:27; Deut. 31:9), there are numerous difficulties with the Hebrew Masoretic text suggesting it is not consistent with any ancient text Moses could have authored.

Little of what I say on this topic is new. Scholars have been studying the issue of Torah authorship intently for well over a century, and a great number have concluded it is the product of multiple authors writing over a period of several centuries. This view is known as the Documentary Hypothesis (DH). Prof. Richard Elliott Friedman says, “…there is hardly a biblical scholar in the world actively working on the problem who would claim that the Five Books of Moses were written by Moses—or by any one person.[1] I am simply summarizing the results of this scholarly work, which, at this point, the general public is largely oblivious to. In the late nineteenth century, Washington Gladden commented on the view Moses wrote the Torah saying, “It is held to-day by very few eminent Christian scholars.”[2] He further lamented, “…the results of conservative scholarship have been very imperfectly reported to the laity of the churches. Many facts about the Bible are now known by intelligent ministers of which their congregations do not hear. An anxious and not unnatural feeling has prevailed that the faith of the people in the Bible would be shaken if the facts were known.[3] Sadly, the situation has not changed appreciably in over a hundred years.

Some will argue the DH has been debunked. This is wishful thinking. Although some aspects of the DH are speculative, and opposing arguments have been offered, it is still the dominant view among scholars because there are so many solid arguments remaining when the more speculative are set aside. Ultimately, even if the DH is only partially correct, the implications are devastating for those Jews and Christians who feel the Torah must be absolutely free from error or any human editing to be a reliable source for their faiths.

Next: Moses Could Not Have Written the Torah

[1] Richard E. Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?, 28 (New York: Summit Books, 1987).

[2] Washington Gladden, Who Wrote the Bible?, 27 (Charleston: BiblioBazaar, 2006).

[3] Gladden, 11.