How Was the Old Testament Written? – Program 5

By: Dr. Gerald Lrue, Dr. Walter Kaiser, Jr.; ©1989
Are the biblical stories about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob largely legends that grew up over time? Or are they actual historical figures?

Did Abraham, Isaac and Jacob Actually Exist?


Tonight, John Ankerberg will investigate the topic: How was the Old Testament written? The Holy Bible is like no other book in all the world. It claims to be the written revelation of the one true God, and gives proof of this claim by presenting infallible evidence. Other religious documents such as the Qur’an may claim to be the very word of God, but they contain no such self-authenticating proofs as does the Bible. Only the Bible validates its claims by prior prophecy and subsequent fulfillment. But professors in American universities are teaching our students the theories of the higher critics who declare that the Bible is merely a product of human origin. The higher critics assert that the Old Testament can be dealt with in a purely literary way, and naturalistic explanations must be found for every account which depicts the supernatural.

In tonight’s program John will examine the theories that the higher critics have put forth denying the Bible is historically accurate. One of these assertions is that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch. Julius Wellhausen, the founder of the documentary theory, has stated, “Writing was virtually unknown in Israel during Moses’ time, and consequently Moses could not have written the Pentateuch.” If the higher critics are correct, then the Bible is in error. Even Jesus Christ Himself was wrong when He taught that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch. The higher critics have also written that the Bible is not historically trustworthy, pointing to the fact that they have never heard of any evidence of a nation revealed in the Bible called the Hittites. What about this? And finally, the higher critics claim they alone are scientific in their assumptions of approaching the Old Testament. But have they really given the Bible the benefit of the doubt in what it states, or have they approached the Bible with an anti-supernatural bias? These questions will be answered tonight as John examines the evidence from archaeology and history. Find out whether the JEDP theory of the higher critics has been demolished by the evidence or whether it still stands. We invite you to join us.


Tonight, John Ankerberg examines the question, “Are the 39 books in the Old Testament of the Bible an authentic, credible and reliable source of revelation from God? The Hebrew/Christian Scripture, which formerly was almost universally accepted as the genuine self-disclosure of God is now hotly disputed and has become a vigorously debated issue.

The authority of Scripture is the watershed of theological conviction between conservatives and liberals. If Scripture is not the revelation from God, then what fountainhead do people look to for information to form their doctrinal models and test their spiritual hypotheses? What is the standard which will be used to measure and authenticate the subject matter for preaching and guiding people’s lives? The Bible presents itself to mankind as the written revelation of God, a book in which God gives us the answers to the great questions which concern us. It comes to us with the claim that the words are from God himself, “thus saith the Lord.”

But, does this book contain errors of various kinds, or is it one that is free from all error? If this written revelation contains mistakes, then it can hardly fulfill its intended purpose to convey to man in a reliable way the will of God for his salvation. Christians have always held that whatever the Hebrew Scriptures affirm, whether in regard to history, theology or science, it was assumed to be trustworthy and accurate at every level and in every detail, according to the intention of the original author. But critics of the Bible attempt to show that the Scriptures contain various discrepancies and contradictions and demonstrable errors in matters of history and science. Such charges are to be taken quite seriously; they cannot be brushed off as matters of minor consequence. At stake is the credibility and reliability of the Bible as authentic revelation from God.

John’s guests are Dr. Gerald Larue, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology at the University of Southern California, a scholar who holds to the Documentary Hypothesis and rejects Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. John’s second guest is Dr. Walter Kaiser, academic dean and professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. We invite you to join us.

Ankerberg: Welcome! Tonight, we are talking once again about how the Old Testament was written. My guest tonight, Dr. Larue, you’ve made some statements yourself, and I’d like you to comment on these. You have said in one of the documents that I have read here, “The actual existence of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and others, cannot be proven or disproven. The stories of their adventures must be treated largely as legend.” Or, in another one of your articles, “That there is no supernaturalistic, paternalistic deity who has revealed his will for man, for humans. We have no revealer of ultimate truth. No Moses, no Torah, no Jesus. We have no belief in an afterlife, no resurrection, no immortality, no reincarnation, no heaven, no hell, nor anything in between. There are no sacred scriptures, no salvation, or deliverance from the reactions of a demanding god. No need to beg divine forgiveness for human error.”
Now, let me ask you this, Gerry. How in the world, if that is that which you start with, when you say that you’re going to be objective about the biblical texts of the Old Testament, and you start off by saying “There is no God,” doesn’t that then force you when you see God speaking to Moses and the prophets—and they claimed that He did—how can you be objective in saying, “Well, I’m going to look at that and see if there’s real evidence that God actually did speak?” What’s your answer to that?
Larue: First of all, let me comment on the article that you made reference to. That was given at the American Psychological Association. And on the platform there was an Evangelical Christian, there was a Roman Catholic, and there was a Jew, each presenting the position of their particular belief system. What I was saying there was not that there is not for me these things, these religious overtones.
How do I approach this objectively? What I must say to you is that I came out of the Christian position. I was brought up in the church—first Catholic, then Protestant. I was ordained as a minister in the United Church of Canada. I served with the Methodists and the Congregational Churches here. It is my scholarship that has led me away from the positions that are held by Evangelical Christians. I no longer can respect the positions of theology, I will say this, of the Old Testament. I don’t like the image of God. I don’t like a God who tests Job. I don’t like a God who has people kill other people for all sorts of reasons. I don’t like a God that has sacrificial demands.
And the New Testament God offends me even more, because I cannot understand a God who would sacrifice His own Son—to me, my son is sacred—and can’t or is not imaginative enough to come with a better solution to meet His estranged people. So that I have come to this position out of a lot of wrestling. This is not simply a bias, “You’ve come up with this.” My Old Testament scholarship was done as part of my training as a clergyman, and I have moved into that, when I got my doctorate into the university setting and it’s out of this exposure and analysis of the Scriptures that I have moved to this position.
So, when you say I have a bias, I have a real respect for Walter and his position; I can’t buy it. It isn’t mine. Nor can I buy some of my Jewish or Catholic friends! But I don’t attack them as persons. We have a difference in belief systems, and if they want to believe there’s an afterlife, that’s fine. I don’t know this. I can’t prove it or disprove it. I live as if there is no God, and therefore my responsibility is simply to you, and to you, and to you as persons. And my commitment is to bring out the best in you as I bring out the best in myself, contribute to the future. You can find this in Christianity; you can find it in Judaism; it’s in Buddhism. This is the universal religion of which I’m a part.
Ankerberg: Well, I sure appreciate your sharing like that, and I appreciate when somebody opens up and just tells me exactly where they’re at, and I think the folks at home do as well. But let me come back on that, and come to you, Dr. Kaiser. And that is, I think that Gerry here, Dr. Larue, has very concisely put the pilgrimage of what many students at the university face as well. And the problem, though, is they are coming to the documents. But the documents all of a sudden are not proof. In fact, the documents are turned around and it seems to drive the people away. Some of them find, and Dr. Larue said he didn’t like what he found there, now, what would you say to those students that are in that same pilgrimage? What do you say to a Dr. Larue who says he doesn’t “like” what he found there? What do you say concerning this as evidence about a real God that is there that does speak and that really our “likes” are not the thing that’s at issue here?
Kaiser: Well, I appreciate it and thank you for your kindness, and I think that’s where it ought to rest, where we have respect and regard for one another, but we go at the issues.
Larue: Right.
Kaiser: And so I too have really appreciated you as a person. But now let me go at the issue now, too, and show respect for what you have done for me. I have a little quote that is sort of interesting. A book that is currently appearing by a favorite author of my wife’s—I happen to be her favorite author!
Larue: Oh, I love it!
Kaiser: Walter Wink, one of the great teachers of our time in New Testament and in one of the great Protestant seminaries of our day has said, “There can be little quarrel that the historical significance of the Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis”—that’s this JEDP that we’re talking about—“had its usefulness as a method for destroying the conservative view of biblical origins and inspiration, and thereby destroying the entire ideology.” Now, you just heard a testimony to that effect. We’ve got a living witness here of what has happened. And he is telling the truth. He said, “Far more fundamentally”—this man [Wink] is not an Evangelical Christian; he’s not coming from that side of the fence—“Far more fundamentally than revivalism, biblical criticism shook, shattered and reconstituted generation after generation of students.”
Now, if you wonder, “What’s all this fuss about JEDP! Who cares! It blesses me. Let it go at that. I mean, let the scholars fight all they will. I’ve got a witness it’s down in my heart and you can’t scratch it. And no one’s going to meddle with me.” My answer is, “Now, wait a minute. We’re talking about high stakes here. We’re talking about men and women’s lives who at one time were people of faith who committed themselves and said, ‘Well, the text claims this! This man Moses claims he heard the word of God. I sure would like to know if there is a God. Has He spoken anywhere?’” And the claim of the biblical writers is simply this: “We were there, Charlie. We heard the trees fall. We had to say this.”
Well, you say, “Yes, but there are a lot of people going around today and saying, ‘I heard the voice of God.’ So how do you know? Everyone on every street corner is saying, ‘Believe, believe!’ Into whose arms should you jump?” And the answer is, “The one who can give the evidence, because the truth is what is going to set us free.” Jesus said, “I have come that you might know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [John 8:32] The answer seems to me comes back once again, we ought to at least give the documents a fair shake, and now we’re dealing with a theory that more than any other theory has been, I think, the basis for destroying conservative faith.
People want to know, “Why are the Evangelical seminaries burgeoning these days? Why is the Conservative Movement so large?” I’ll tell you. Hunger! Hunger for truth. And in that search, I think men and women can be led back. But what stands as one of the great impediments, I think one of the great impediments of our day, as Walter Wink here points out, is the Graf-Kuhnen-Wellhausen theory—JEDP. That’s one symbol that has been responsible more than anything else for changing the whole religious panorama of our day.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break here. We’re going to come back and I want to ask you one more question and then we’re going to come back to Dr. Larue. So please stick with us.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back, and we’re talking about the JEDP theory and the bias that was part of the formulation of that. As you go back and you listen to the authors that originally developed that, was there bias, an anti-supernatural bias? And if their biases were, as Walter was reading from that quote, to destroy the old traditional views of Judaism and Orthodox Christianity, should we then view those views in light of that? As well as the fact of, Walter, even if you say, okay, listen, they had that as their purpose, there’s nothing wrong in one sense for them to have that purpose if they think that the Orthodox Christian view, the Orthodox Jewish view, is wrong. So now you’ve got to come back and you say, okay, we don’t like to hear of Dr. Larue coming out of the ministry and leaving the faith because of the documents and because of the theory, but you’ve got to replace that with evidence. What is the most crucial evidence for students and other professors that are listening and Gerry himself who is sitting next to you?
Kaiser: Well, I think we’ve got to eventually get around to the message of the Bible. It can’t be treated as an artifact in which we constantly talk about geography and history and culture. What about the message? And the message claims to be a single message. I mean, that has to be heard somewhere. It’s pointing toward someone coming out of the Jewish people who eventually will be the Messiah, who will demonstrate that He is from God by dying and coming back again from the dead. I mean, we looked for Houdini on his anniversary to come back, and thus far, as far I know, he hasn’t shown up. But can someone tell us? Can someone who has been to the other side tell us? Gerry, you talked about, “You don’t know whether there is or is not life after death.” But that’s rather important. If there is, why, that’s a big gamble. You know, Paschal’s wager here.
Larue: Yes.
Kaiser: You’ve lost everything. You know, if you used that kind of logic in the stock market, perhaps it wouldn’t work as well. So my answer is, we’ve got to come back to the message here which focuses in. And I think when you throw down the biggest evidence that you have, it’s got to be Easter Sunday morning. Here God sort of drops the whole evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Ankerberg: Yeah, let me see if I can focus this for students that are listening, okay? There was a hypothesis at one time that said that the world was flat. And somebody had to have the courage to try and break that by actually investigating the evidence and sailing over the edge. There was a time when if anybody had said we’re actually going to have a man walk on the moon, a hundred years ago they would have said you need to be locked up., okay? Now, you are proposing that the documents are proof that there’s a God that exists, and that there’s a person that, in advance, it was said that He was going to come on the scene and do these things that would meet our existential needs, our longings and our need for love and so on, okay. Talk about that; document where you see that message; because you don’t see this in the classroom, what you’re talking about now.
Kaiser: Well, an eighth century prophet, one of the prophets here, Micah, is talking about the fact, “Look down to Bethlehem. Look to the house of Judah,” in Micah 5:2, for example. Now, I don’t know of any scholar that puts that back into the Christian era. I think everyone says that’s pre-Christian era. But yet, on the other hand, why would anyone go down to that particular town? Even the prophets themselves said that it’s the least in the tribes here. It’s the smallest. It doesn’t seem to fit. It’s out of harmony. That’s part of the evidence, it seems to me.
And not only so, but the life and the ministry: what He would do; how He would heal the blind, the sick, the lame; the Isaiah 61 prophecy; the Isaiah 53 prophecy. Again, it seems to the very letter. So much so that when He does come and go through this, why immediately there comes evidence. You have a build up. The evidence sets such a high priority for the fact that indeed He is whom He claimed to be, that you have to ask, “What’s the evidence on the other side that weighs against this One, that He is from God and has the point of view from God?” For, indeed, this same Jesus pointed to the Old Testament. Not in an accommodating way, by the way; He’s not trying to placate the Jewish audience and play to the audience and say, “Well, your book, you know, as Moses said. Since you all agree it’s Moses, I’m not going to fight that. I’ll accommodate you, I’ll placate you.”
On the other hand, why didn’t He remember to placate them when it came to the temple? For He attacked the other sacred thing in their history. If the book was sacred and the temple was sacred, why did He say with regard to the temple that there’s going to come a day in which one stone is not left upon another? And that was the charge that was brought against Him for the cross. Did He forget to accommodate the people? No, I don’t think so. He didn’t accommodate on either grounds. And since the evidence is high for Him being Who He claimed to be, then we ought to hear His testimony about the Old Testament. “These are the texts,” He said, “that speak of me.” [Luke 24:27] And that’s your point of entree into the biblical material.
Ankerberg: Okay, Gerry, I think you’ve been over this before. And I can agree we might like to have God do this; we might like to have certain things do this way, but the fact is, the Old Testament and the New Testament is coming to us with saying, “These are the revelation from God.” These men are saying that they heard God speak. They are giving what God said. The question is, if God actually did do that, if God actually did speak, alright? You’re saying, what about that message? You’re saying you don’t like the message that you hear.
Larue: No, you put the big word in—“If. If. If.” “If” Jesus was resurrected—there’s no evidence; an empty tomb proves only a tomb is empty. I’ve been in dozens of them. The resurrection—where did He go? You always have to get rid of risen bodies, so He goes off into space somewhere. We have He’s supposed to return. You talk about waiting for the Messiah. Where is the promise of His coming? All of these things. You mixed a whole series of things in here. The Isaiah 52:13, 53:12 is a takeoff on the Akiku festival in Babylon, the scapegoat that was led through the streets and put to death for the sins of the city. These are motifs, and their interpretations.
When I say, “I don’t like this,” I will not, I cannot, respect a God that has so limited imagination that He has to kill for His appeasement! That does not touch me at all! Nor, as you speak about “inspired” Scriptures, what is the evidence that the Qur’an is not inspired? It is believed by 600 million people to be inspired. Mary Baker Eddy claims inspiration. And we have all these channels who are now getting inspiration. How do you test this? How do you test it? You speak of the prophecy in Micah, we have two stories in Matthew and Luke telling how Jesus got down to Bethlehem. They’re almost desperate to make Him be born there because this is where the Messiah was going to come from. One says His family was there. The other says, “Oh, no, no, He went down there for tax purposes.” We have two conflicting accounts. We have the tracing of His genealogy. These are efforts by the Christian Church to prove to skeptical Jews that this is the Messiah.
Ankerberg: Well, let me start off here. You’ve got the anihu sayings that Jesus hooks Himself up with that you’re familiar with the Hebrew. So He’s claiming to be God…
Larue: No, no. The Christian writers hook Him up with.
Ankerberg: Well, you’re saying then that they’re saying something that Jesus Himself didn’t say?
Larue: No, there’s no evidence He said this.
Ankerberg: I think there’s lots of evidence, and I’ll give it back to the scholar at that point. Let’s talk about those documents on the other side.
Larue: I resent that because you’re implying I’m not! You said “the” scholar!
Ankerberg: What I was getting to is the fact is, Mary Baker Eddy and Muhammad never claimed to be God and Jesus did, so there’s a big difference in the claims right there.
Larue: But they claim to have inspired scriptures.
Ankerberg: Yeah, but let’s talk about the thing that it’s founded on. Jesus Christ is what Christianity is founded on. If you get rid of Him, you’ve gotten rid of Christianity.
Larue: Also, on the Old Testament, which He claimed to be….
Ankerberg: That’s what we want to get to. Is the proof concerning Jesus Christ real proof? If it is, then let’s say it. If it’s not, let’s get rid of it. I agree. And that’s why we’re coming to you, Walter.
Kaiser: Well, again, I think that the whole matter of the New Testament narratives, here again, you are lining them up as if they are antithetical, but I don’t know of them existing separately like that. The way in which that story first developed was to prove that the Gospels were late and that the Gospel of John particularly, which was the most theological of all, and was the most interpretive it was said, had to be second or third century AD.
Larue: Second.
Kaiser: Second century? Alright! But still quite late. And then along comes the John Rylands Papyrus…
Larue: 125 AD.
Kaiser: …in 125 AD, and Albright says, “Look at this. This thing’s in circulation deep down into Egypt.” He said, “John’s Gospel has got to be written in 45!” Now, no one ever claimed that. I thought 90 was good enough for John’s Gospel—85 or 90 of the AD Christian era. And the point, though, is the closer you get to those Gospel narratives, and make them written while the contemporaries are still on the scene, the harder it is to pull a job, such as you were saying there, piecing it together out of whole cloth. Surely there’s going to be someone that’s going to say that.
Ankerberg: Alright. Where are you going with that and then we can debate that evidence next week a little bit more. But where would you go with that? You’re saying, okay, you’ve got accurate information in the documents. So what?
Kaiser: When the text is written in the same period in which the events took place, it’s harder to fool the people. You may be able to fool the people later, but you can’t fool your contemporaries by trying to pull a story over them.
Ankerberg: Therefore?
Kaiser: Therefore that biblical text is what it claims. It does come from the hand of the living God, and its claims are to be taken seriously.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to look at this, and I’m sure Dr. Larue wants to get in on this, and we’re going to talk about the documents surrounding the life of Jesus and how this bears back on the Old Testament. And, Dr. Kaiser, you’ve got a couple of books just on that very topic of how you take the verses from the Old Testament and how they are used in the New, and are those verses proof? So please join us.

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