September 21, 2017

Higher Criticism: The Documentary Hypothesis

By Jimmy Tuten

This second article on the subject of "Higher Criticism" and the "Documentary Hypothesis" is an effort to present a clear definition of the school of thought which would have us believe that the first five books of the Bible were written by late Israelite editors who pieced together various older traditions of men.

Old Testament critics would have us believe that the Bible is inspired only as other books considered sacred are inspired (the Koran and Book of Mormon, for example). If we accept this, then the Pentateuch (a term signifying the first five books of Moses) is of human origin. But this is not the case. In fact, you must understand this at the outset that no prophecy of Scripture arose from an individuals interpretation of the truth. No prophecy came because man wanted it to: men of God spoke because they were inspired by the "Holy Spirit" (1Pet. 1:20, Phillips translation).

The Bible is a unique book and claims emphatically to be the Word of God. In the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) there are over 700 references in which the claims are made that what is said is the Word of God (Ex. 20; Deut. 31:9, 24-26; Ex. 17:14, etc.). It cannot be said therefore that the Old Testament merely contains some of the Words of God. The claims made therein involve more than merely a speck of divineness showing up here and there from so-called massive humanistic material. The Old Testament is what it claims to be-the Word of God!

What Is Meant by Higher Criticism?

Biblical criticism is divided into two classes:

(1) Lower Criticism-Which concerns itself with the original text of scripture.

(2) Higher Criticism-This field of study concerns itself with authorship, dates and circumstances of origin. This is a legitimate and necessary service provided honestly and fairly if the evidence is handled this same way.

It is a known fact that when one enters into an examination of some document with certain unfounded assumptions, advancement will only go as far as presuppositions will allow. Under these conditions dependable conclusions are almost impossible.1 Criticism in the hands of Christian scholars ("Christian" is used here in the loose sense to include all who accept the Bible as inspired) does not banish or destroy the inspiration of the Old Testament. It presupposes it. 2

Higher Criticism may at one time have been neutral and without bias. Such is not the case now. This school is a negative process, operating under the conviction (assumption would be a better word) that the hypothesis of evolution is true. Emphatically let it be said that the present attack is the result of a rigid recasting of the true Old Testament in the light of evolutionary naturalism. Listen to Harry Emerson Fosdick: "We know that every idea in the Bible started from primitive and child-like origins, and, with however many setbacks and delays, grew in scope and height toward the culmination in Christs gospel. We know now that the Bible is a record of an amazing, spiritual development" (The Modern Use Of The Bible, p. 11). It cannot be denied that the Higher Criticisms view of the Old Testament is evolutionary. It assumes that the laws, institutions, and literature of the ancient Hebrews were a gradual development in the life of the nation, rather than a creation of a series of divine revelations from God. One taking the critical view cannot believe that God gave the law unto Moses, even though both the Old and New Testaments declare that He did. We stand on the knowledge of the fact that "vastly augmented knowledge of Near Eastern religious and literary history, especially for the period 2000-8000 B.C., has now increasingly exposed the weakness of the present Higher Criticisms position.3

What Is The Documentary Hypothesis?

The Documentary Hypothesis is a tenet of Modernism that denies the Mosiac authorship of the Pentateuch. The first basis for denying this was the appearance of two names for God (Yahweh-Jehovah, Elohim-God) in Genesis. This began with Jean Astruc (17th century) who assumed that Moses used two documents to construct Genesis. He believed Moses wrote Genesis, but the same arguments Astruc used are now applied to deny that Moses wrote the Pentateuch.

Observe briefly the process, which is said to demonstrate that a number of documents were used to construct the Pentateuch by numerable writers after the time of Moses: A Judean historian composed a history for Israel about 850 B.C., using the name Jahvist. This is the J Document. A writer from Israel wrote a similar work about 100 years later. He used Elohist. Hence, E Document. These were separate for a time, but later (650 B.C.) joined into one writing and became the JE Document. After a final editing, an introduction and appendix were added. This resulted in the JED Document. Finally a Priestly Code was added resulting in Document P. The final form was completed about 400 B.C. with about 10 men taking part in its development. It is interesting, though pathetic, to see how far men will go in rejecting the Word of God.

There is no agreement among the higher critics concerning this analysis. However, there are several things they do agree on:

11) Moses wrote little or nothing, if he existed at all.

(2) The Pentateuch consists of unhistorical legends.

(3) What is recorded about the Patriarchs (some admit that they did live) is myth.

(4) The denial of the truth of the written records.

Our readers should bear in mind that none of these documents have ever been heard of except in the minds (i.e., imaginations thereof) of naturalistic theologians who needed some method of working the Old Testament into the theory of evolutionary history already accepted by them.

It is admitted that there are some unsolved problems in Old Testament history, "but the story of twentieth century Biblical archaeology is the story of the silencing of the clamorous voices of higher critics by the voiceless witnesses emerging from ancient eastern mounds." 4 The whole problem of modern criticism could almost be cleared up if it were not for reluctance of the critics to part with their traditions.


1. Floyd E. Hamilton, The Basis of Christian Faith, (New York: Harper). p. 210.

2. R. A. Torry, The Fundamentals, (Grand Rapids: Baker, Reprinted 1970), Vol. 1, p. 28

3. J.D. Douglas, The New Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids. Eerdmans) p. 152.

4. Howard Vos. Can I Trust The Bible? (Chicago: Moody Press) p. 139.

November 9, 1972