The Modernistic Interpretation of Scripture (Part II)

  1. Its Method and Result

The composition of Scripture was thus conceived of as a conglomeration of patched and repaired myths, confused traditions, strange fancies, actual mistakes, and continual (year by year, century by century) emendations appended to or inserted in the text.  The implication was that the compilers, J.E.P. D and R. and their various subordinates, though separated by time and place, and having nothing in common as to theme, thought, history or life development, yet had a basic commonality in forgery.  It was R’s (the redactor’s, the editor’s) work to put all these fragments of fragments into some sort of order, making constant additions of his own, even transposing entire sections, in order to give a semblance of unity to the documents, thus attempting to weld together a harmonious whole.

There were said to be as many different authors of any one book as there were language differences and vocabulary distinctions. (5)  The expression “male and female” was said to have been penned by one writer, E, whereas a similar expression, “a male and his female,” was regarded as the peculiarity of the other writer.  J.  Does this theory of a long dynasty of ghost writers have sufficient evidence to entrench it firmly against the possibility of valid challenge?  Do we not find many instances in the literary field where a given writer is most fertile and proficient in the use of synonyms?  Is it not the purpose of synonyms to present principally the same meaning, but with a different shade of thought?

It depends upon what the writer had in mind when he wrote, “a male and a female.” or “a male and his female,” or whether simply, “man and woman.”  Upon what authority, or for what earthly reason, are we bound to believe, as the critics claim, that no one man can be the author of two different styles of writing?

It must be admitted, however, that these literary deductions came about only after thorough and scholarly examination of the Hebrew manuscript and versions, and after systematic study of history, archaeology and contemporary writings.  The facts, and all available material, have been carefully examined and scrutinized.  But the trouble is that the explanations given the facts and data consist of philosophies and hypotheses.  From objective phenomena we are led to learned suppositions.  The drawback is the supernatural element in Scripture, and the rationalistic interpreters have always rejected it on the grounds that it is more of a detriment than an asset to the cause of Christian truth.  The Old Testament was explained as an outgrowth of the myths and folk-lore of the heathen nations surrounding Israel.  Over against this, we believe that the only explanation perfectly in agreement with the facts is that the Old Testament is the revelation of God.  By the revelation of God we do not mean the self-accumulated information the human mind acquires in meditative gropings for God, thus making “revelation” a product of man’s intellectual achievement.  But by revelation we mean the reception of truth at the disclosure, and on the authority of God.  To us it is much more staggering to the human mind to believe that the compiling of the Penteteuch as we now have it came out of the labyrinthine patchwork of modernism, than to believe the simple miracle of an original composition given by God through the hand of Moses.

  1. Its Inaccurate Representations

Is there any central and basic argument appealed to in support of this smithereen-theory of the structure of Scripture?  There is; the gist of it being that the E author states in Ex 6:2 that the name Jehovah was not revealed until the time of Moses.  Therefore, the passages in Genesis, where the name Jehovah appears, were not written by the person who recorded these  Exodus words of God to Moses, for he would not put this name in the patriarchs’ mouths as though they were familiar with it.  He would not, this means, create an anachronism, i.e., the misplacing of historic language, and assign it to a period earlier than when it came into existence.  (Further illustration of an anachronism we have in the use of cannon in Shakespeare’s “King John,” as cannon were not employed in England until 100 years or more after his reign).  It was a different writer, J, who made his contributions to the book of Genesis at an age far later than the time of Moses.

But it cannot be that by the name Jehovah, God was not known until after the call of Moses, for in this very chapter (Ex. 6) Moses’ mother, Jochebed, is mentioned, and her name consists of the abbreviated form of Jehovah: Jo plus chedbedh equals Jehovah is glorious.  Besides, we may take Ex. 6:2 as a question (rather than a negative declaration), which was asked, “by My name Jehovah was I not known to them?”  The questions requires the self-evident answer that He was so known.  Jochebed’s parents must have so known Him. (6)  Intellectually they had this knowledge, but they did not know in the fullness of religious experience the complete significance of this name Jehovah.  This could not be until their redemption from Egypt.

Since we have so many diverse documents, written by so confusing an array of compilers, as E and three others of his school, J and three lesser J’s, C (covenant code), D, P and his subordinates, with no one knows how many R’s (editors), how can we believe that there is any unanimity of thought between them whatsoever?  How may we be sure of the identity of the J passages, the E, etc., when the modernist scholars do not agree among themselves?  De Wette, Knobel and Bleck say one thing, Stahelin another, Kuenen with still a different opinion:  Ewald had his peculiar view, and Hartmann, Bohlen and Wellhausen, although agreeing with each other, differ from all the rest.  For while denying that Moses was the author of Genesis, of either the J or E sections, or that he was even the compiler, R, some critics attribute the authorship to Samuel, some to Hilkiah, others to Jeremiah, still others to Ezra, others to someone after the captivity, while a few hold Genesis to be a collection of the labors of all these mentioned.  How then may we even speak of a modernistic theory, when that has not earned the recognition and reputation of a theory which is only a private opinion held among scores of conflicting opinions and jumbled irrelevancies?


  1. Its Attack on Old Testament History

One of the most fundamental contentions  of this modernistic theory (?) is that the religion of the Old Testament, and the book of Genesis in particular, make “no claim to being in any way supernaturally furnished,” and that “the early narratives of Genesis respecting the Creation, the Fall, and the Flood are based upon myths and traditions which the Israelites inherited in common with other branches of the Semite family.” (7)

It has always been naturalism’s pet argument, in the attempt to be rid of the supernatural element, to affirm that the Old Testament has very little, if any, historical accuracy.  Its basis is therefore not historical, but mythological.  The Creation, the Fall, the Flood are not objective, historical events, but since these accounts so closely resemble the popular legends then current among the surrounding heathen nations, they must have had their origin there and were adopted therefrom, the eventually came to be regarded as part and parcel of Israel’s own religious fictions.  These accounts have value in that they may stimulate your imagination as to what the history of Israel may have been like; but they are useless as a guide to historical truth.  But to return to the matter of their origin:  “the labours of Rawlinson, Lenormant, George Smith, Schrader, Sayce and others have shown indisputably the affinity of the Israelite with the Chaldean cosmogony.” (8)

Mark, it is not, as we Reformed would say, “the affinity of the Chaldean legends to the Israelite cosmogony.”  The statement as it stands means, as the word “affinity” brings out, that the Israelite records have a connection through casual relation with the Chaldean, I.e., the Chaldean source is the cause and origin of the Israelite stream.  But is this a correct picture?  The Flood legends are, indeed, found among every people, but these fables do not in any way gain an ascendancy over the pseudepigrapha (false-writings), to say nothing of the fact that they come no where near the high quality of the Holy Scriptures.  But is it reason to argue that because there are legends of the Flood everywhere in the world showing similarities to the biblical account, that therefore the biblical account itself must be a legend and of legendary origin?  One may sensibly aver that because there are Coca-Cola signs in every foreign country in the world bearing resemblances to similar signs in our country, that therefore Coca-Cola must be of foreign origin!  Furthermore, how would the Chaldeans, Greeks, Hindus, Phyrygians, Chinese, Polynesians, Mexicans and Cherokee Indians all independently stumble on the same myth, if theirs was not a tradition of the same historical event?

Next month, its view of science and Scripture.


  1. Hastings Bible Dictionary II. Arts. “Genesis” and “Hexateuch” Scribner’s N.Y. 1900
  2. Old and New Testamenet Biblical Theology. G. Vos, p. 73, Theol. Sem of the Ref’d Epis Ch., 1934
  3. II. B. D. II Genesis 146
  4. ibid