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Could Multiple Authors and Redaction be Inspired?

April 19, 2010

Today, I would like to present a couple of alternative hypothetical theological arguments.

There are two characteristics concerning the Bible I believe many modern evangelicals are quite concerned with, and often head towards a Slippery Slope Fallacy when they are confronted with opposing information.

The first is that they usually perceive the Bible and its literature as sui generis. They often have a concept of the books, especially of the OT, as unique. I wouldn’t be surprised if this concept is very closely associated with “inspiration.” God wrote it, it must be unique! However, an examination of the literature of the cultures that surrounded ancient Israel soon reveals cosmologies, flood stories, poetry, laments, law codes, etc. As I have stated before: this should be expected; all human discourse, even if divinely inspired, must take place within linguistic, literary, and cognitive frameworks that exist to convey meaning. In other words, ancient Hebrews did not write in English or compose science manuals.

Second, many people have a synchronic understanding of the texts of the Bible: they believe that most, if not all of the books, were written by a single author, in a single moment of time. Some people do not believe this. They believe that the books which comprise the Hebrew Bible bear evidence of having been written over a period of time; diachronic authorship. But why is one preferred over the other? Once again, I would think that the preference of synchronic authorship may have something to do with inspiration, and probably, what we value in modern culture about literature and writing. However, I am wondering whether diachronic authorship is actually a theological concept with equal validity towards “inspiration.”

An event is not any more intrinsically intelligible or unintelligible because of the pace at which it moves. For a man who does not believe in a miracle, a slow miracle would be just as incredible as a swift one. The Greek witch may have turned sailors to swine with a stroke of the wand. But to see a naval gentleman of our acquaintance looking a little more like a pig every day, till he ended with four trotters and a curly tail would not be any more soothing. It might be rather more creepy and uncanny. The medieval wizard may have flown through the air from the top of a tower; but to see an old gentleman walking through the air in a leisurely and lounging manner, would still seem to call for some explanation. ~ G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

In fact, I would suggest one could argue that multiple authorship over a long period of time could be considered more miraculous, and in need of much more providential divine oversight than God using an author as an amanuensis.

Finally, using either the most conservative or liberal estimates for dating the books of the Bible, one can see that the  texts which make up the Bible were themselves collected over a period of time! This would mean then, if one held to diachronic authorship or redaction, a kind of consistent irony. Not only is the collection developed over time, but the books that are in this diachronic collection were themselves developed and redacted over a period of time. In my mind the necessity of God’s hand in this process to form a consistent “theological core” to the material would be arguable, and be much more sustainable as a hypotheses under scrutiny to the evidence the texts bear themselves.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 19, 2010 10:54 am

    I think Josh McDowell might be making that argument?
    …the Bible did not consist of merely ten authors, but forty. It was not written in one generation, but over a period of 1,500 years; not by authors with the same education, culture and language, but with vastly different education, many different cultures, from three continents and three different languages, and finally not just one subject but hundreds.

    McDowell veres away from your conclusion (I think) however. It sounds like you are describing God’s hand at work through the redactor’s hands? Where I would expect McDowell would leave the redactors out of the picture entirely, believing more or less that the original biblical texts have been essentially delivered to us in their original form. Not sure I am understanding your “…would be arguable” though.

  2. April 19, 2010 11:59 am

    McDowell is making an argument about the collection of books into the Bible… the canonical process. However, I imagine that he would greatly disagree with me about the authorship of those books. I’m fairly certain that he would argue for Mosaic Torah, one Isaiah in the 8th century, Ezra for Ezra, etc.

    My “would be arguable”… basically what you get with my blogposts are what is called “zero-drafting” in the writing process. In a nutshell, I sit down and write what comes in my head, I see if there are any red squiggly lines for spelling errors, and if not, I post. On the other hand, good writing consists of many drafts, and editing and re-writing. I’m not going to go through that process for a blog. Sorry! 😉

    So what you have from me with that line is a redundant obvious statement. Clearly I think inspired redaction is arguable as I just spent a few paragraphs arguing it! Probably, I meant something along the lines of, “I believe this hypothesis is reasonable on theological grounds, and would sufficiently account for the historical and textual data of the biblical texts under rigorous academic investigation.”

    Or something like that! I don’t know… I need an editor!

  3. April 19, 2010 1:07 pm

    this is a very good post, scott.

  4. atimetorend permalink
    April 19, 2010 1:12 pm

    Thanks for the reply comment. I hope you didn’t think I was being critical about your editing, or lack thereof, I just wanted to make sure I understood you correctly. I appreciate the nuance of your discussion.

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