Understanding God

[Taken from my newest pamphlet: Understanding God: The Problem With Grace]

John Reuchlin, (d. 1522), who was the father of Hebrew philology among Christians, in determining the Old Testament Canon adhered almost entirely to Jewish tradition. But the field of investigating the Hebrew language widened gradually in the seventeenth century to include cognate or kindred languages changing scholarship’s understanding of the origin and authenticity of the canon. A fuller study of the historical evolution of Hebrew came in the 1800’s when the linguistic phenomena could be more fully described. Scholars of the day explained the organic connexion (the historical-critical method) of these phenomena in Hebrew by comparison with sister languages: Sanskrit, Arabic, Ugaritic, Aramaic, and other semitic languages, and by employing the general rules of philology which by then had joined the sciences in linguistic research.Two observations were made.

First, The Hebrew language fell into 2 periods: The earlier period before the Babylonian exile and the second after the exile. The Old Testament writings (by and large) belonged to this second period. This scholarly conclusion has become a contentious issue with the fundamental belief in a verbal plenary theory of divine inspiration. How can “every word” be from God when the text dates grammatically hundreds of years after the supposed writers of it.

Another academic blow fell when such observations more and more led to the belief that the original text (wherever it is) has suffered to a much greater extent than formerly admitted by biblical scholarship. There appear unintentional corruptions in copying the text: the interchange of similar letters; transpositions and omissions of letter, words, even entire sentences because the copyist’s eye fell or the missing piece was reinserted in the wrong place because one’s eye lost its place in copying.1 Simply said, the scribe’s eye would wander. This led to erroneous repetitions and misspellings that might represent a different thought. All of this became the work of the “textual” critic to observe in an effort to ascertain, if possible, what was originally written.2  Gesenius, in his grammar, informs us:

“The beginning of …Hebrew literature generally is undoubtedly to be placed as early as the time of Moses, although the Pentateuch [Moses’ writing] in its present form, in which very different strata may be still clearly recognized, is to be regarded as a gradual production of the centuries after Moses.”3

But the critic gave no thought now to divine authorship. Elihu’s comment, offered as a comfort to his friend, Job, has fallen in recent times on deaf ears: [It is] the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding.4 Paul’s encouraging thought also no longer drives the interest of the seminarian:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,5

Perhaps, we need to determine what Scripture is in the “all” or perhaps, the theory that every word is to be considered divinely handwritten needs tweaking. Or perhaps, we need to simply recognize that just having the Bible is the miracle and we need not question the course divine providence took to get it to us. Our focus needs to remain on the message not the philological changes that have not—because they could not—destroy the message of grace contained within its pages. To us, it is and remains the Word of God, not because it is scientifically verifiable nor because we have to blindly assume the text must be grammatically and syntactically perfect. Just because somehow the language (or the oral traditions) of Moses might have been toyed with in the wording or translated into a more current version of the Hebrew language, post-exile, should not shake faith. The message is intact.

The fact that some ancient script which might have been closer to what Moses might have chiseled in stone or scratch on vellum or penned on papyrus came to us changed linguistically should be incidental to our interest in studying the message itself. Let each reader decide for themselves whether or not what he or she is reading is God inspired.

As christians we have been accused of having a cognitive dissonance when it comes to the Bible. We seem naively to endorse the text in our spoken language trusting the translation to provide the inspiration …and rightly so! It is called “faith.” And we live by that. Over the course of decades of studying and teaching this sacred work, I have read nothing that gave me pause to doubt my faith.

….And I am not alone.


1 Consider Isaiah 2:2 written pre-exile and Micah 4:1 written post. Is it possible that whoever wrote Micah penned these words in Isaiah?
Isa 2:2 In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.
Micah 4:1 In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.
2 see Kautzsch. Introduction
3 Kautszsch. Introduction. 13 n
What Gesenius is observing, for example, is the use of certain archaic words of epicene use (a masculine form for both genders), a “boy” also used for a girl or one pronoun used for both genders. Now the critics see this as a later redaction. Deuteronomy 22:15 “the young woman” is written about a girl but says “boy”.
4 Job 32:8
5 2 Timothy 3:16

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