Re. Angels and the Law

(Posted by Paige)

I’m hoping some of you thoughtful people can help answer a pedagogical-theological question I’m pondering, prompted by my need to explain to some curious laypeople Hebrews 2:2 — “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution…”

I know that while Paul (Gal. 3:19) and Stephen (Acts 7:38, 53) mention the bit about the angels in passing to audiences who apparently knew what they were talking about, we don’t get the background history for this reference in the OT accounts of the giving of the Law. (Maybe vaguely in Deut. 33:2, but not to the extent that we’d be able to say what Paul or Stephen said with just this to go on.)

So how would you explain to curious students how these NT authors got their information? Because it looks like they were repeating a more fully developed Jewish tradition, not an OT teaching. This situation seems to beg a bit of textual apologetics. How would you speak of inspiration and authority in this case?



  1. November 17, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Luke used uninspired sources (Luke 1:1-3) as did Jude. I don’t see why we should suppose that Scripture includes everything, although it does include all that God intended. The references to Enoch in the NT are a clearer example of material not in the OT being cited authoritatively.

    In any case the LXX of Deut 33:2 reads:
    “The LORD came down from Sinai…along with myriads at Kadesh, angels with him at his right hand.’ This is by no means a stretch on the rendering of the Hebrew. The NIV reads “…with myriads of holy ones from the south, from his mountain slopes.” Myriads of holy ones is possible, but ‘from his mountain slopes’ is very doubtful. The parallelism suggests ‘angels’ is OK, perhaps ‘angels from the south’ or ‘angels from his right hand’.

  2. paigebritton said,

    November 17, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Thanks! I guess what has me puzzled is knowing how to speak of the original sources in this case. In Luke’s case, his uninspired sources were eyewitnesses of Jesus. In this case, the extrabiblical source(s) are giving information about a historical-theological event — that is, something that really happened, and something that needs divine interpretation for anyone to know it for sure. Angels, and their purposes, are God’s business. Somehow the information was already authoritative regarding God’s business before it got to Stephen’s lips or Luke and Paul’s pens. Can we draw any conclusions about the original sources of the information? Or are we limited to saying that they got this information right?

  3. Michael said,

    November 17, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    I would back my comments in here by referencing John 7:19 where basically Jesus establishes what Steven did at Acts 7:38. From this basic understanding I would point to Exodus 23 the whole chapter with particular emphasis starting at verse 20.

    We learn as we read about the exploits of these people that in some instances they were not able to drive out the people groups God intended to drive out of their particular inheritance/land by the angels because of their disobedience.

    Had that been the objective God surely would have destroyed these people but did not rather responding to their disobedience like He does there at John 7?

  4. Richard said,

    November 18, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Hi Paige, I am currently working on an essay on Paul’s eschatology which may provide a bigger picture to this. One of the big things to note was his own thinking being shaped by the Jewish apocalyptic worldview which is altogether unsurprising because he was a first-century Jew. When he then penned his epistles, when the NT writers penned their epistles, they did so as first-century Jews and so it is unsurprising that we find them repeating developed Jewish traditions. Does this mitigate the authority and inspiration of the scriptures? Not at all, it just serves to nuance what we understand by inspiration. If a NT writer alludes to an extra-biblical Jewish tradition does that mean that tradition is true? Not at all, this is perhaps a bigger can of worms…I would incline to a more sophisticated model whereby I can say that because Paul believed something does not mean I must too. If your curious lay people are able to handle them I’d recommend Goldingay’s Models for Scripture and his Models for Interpretation of Scripture.

  5. paigebritton said,

    November 18, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Hmm, but this is not an allusion by way of illustration (as a merely literary allusion to a commonly known rabbinical fiction might be); here we’re dealing with historical detail presented as fact. So we ARE expected to believe what Paul believed about it (and Stephen and Hebrews). In the Hebrews passage the whole argument depends on the angels bit being historically true, as the author argues from lesser to greater to show the superiority of Christ and the seriousness of neglecting his gospel.

    What you’re suggesting has a lot in common with Pete Enns’ take on the use of extrabiblical sources by NT writers & speakers: they brought along their cultural assumptions into the mix, like mud on their shoes, and God sort of winked at this and let it be included so that we could be comforted by the earthiness of it — but we don’t have to take it seriously. We are working with different doctrines of inspiration here!

  6. Richard said,

    November 18, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    It strikes me that the point of the writer of Hebrews is getting at is that Jesus was superior to the angels…that was the main point of his sermon. How will he illustrate it? He uses some Jewish tradition for illustrative purpose. I am not convinced that the whole argument depends on the angels bit being historically true.

    The NT worldview is radically different from our own; who today believes in a three tiered universe? We don’t believe that God lives ‘up there’ and Satan dwells ‘down there’ do we? The writer likely believed that the Jewish tradition was true, but this in no way necessitates that we do too. We can take the theological point whilst dispensing with the form in which it was communicated.

    I am partial to Enns’ approach though I don’t think he goes far enough.

  7. rfwhite said,

    November 18, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    Paige: you asked, So how would you explain to curious students how these NT authors got their information? I’d say, the NT author here got his information from a source other than the OT.

    You also asked, How would you speak of inspiration and authority in this case? It strikes me that we’re confusing two categories of text; accurate texts that are not canonical and canonical texts that are accurate. Do we want/need to say that the only accurate texts are canonical texts?

  8. Trent said,

    November 18, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Just seems to me like progressive revelation…

  9. paigebritton said,

    November 18, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    Thanks, Dr. White! It isn’t the accuracy of non-canonical sources that surprises me; it’s the sort of thing they had to be accurate about in this case — things only God could reveal (unless it’s all just legend, as Richard surmises). True things about God’s realm would have to come from a prophetic source. I’m positing an unknown one that existed prior to the few 2nd Temple allusions (Josephus, Philo, Jubilees) to the angels and the law. Any takers?

  10. rfwhite said,

    November 18, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Paige: True things about God’s realm would have to come from a prophetic source. Right. As I understand it, the Spirit of prophecy was active right along during the canonical era in communicating true things about God’s realm not only through but also apart from the canonical process itself. I seem to remember that Longman & Dillard discuss this in their OT intro, or at least refer the reader to the relevant literature.

  11. November 22, 2012 at 12:31 am

    Perhaps the Holy Spirit?

  12. paigebritton said,

    November 26, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Ultimately, yes, that is our confession: there’s one Mind behind it all, superintending what was written. But the process of inspiration can be caricatured or misunderstood, both within and by those outside the church, as amounting to nothing more than dictation from on high, or even “possession” by the Spirit. The simple answer becomes simplistic when it’s twisted like this.

    It’s fair to look at “both/and” — both the Spirit’s superintendence, and the human beings who were involved in enscripturation — and consider what we can say about these two strands of authorship. And about the human beings we can say remarkably diverse things. This one particular puzzle introduces the possibility of an outside-the-bible source that is treated as truthful by NT writers and speakers a couple of times; and as this particular truth is about God’s realm, we must assume the source is among his prophets.

    That’s the orthodox view anyway (and the view that I need to be speaking to my curious friends as I teach them). Of course, if we let go of that ultimate confession of the Holy Spirit’s superintendence, we’d probably end up with very different conclusions about it all — and about a slew of other things besides.

  13. jedpaschall said,

    November 27, 2012 at 10:38 pm


    I would say, very tentatively, that some of the NT authors are building off of the OT understanding of the divine host, which some have argued has functioned somewhat like a royal court, where the hosts had a role, however ambiguously stated in the OT in mediating divine activity in the world. God is often appealed to as “Lord of Hosts”, the Hebrew word being Sabeoth. A study in the OT focussing on the Host, and angelic word groupings might yield a broader view of how the OT views angelic activity in mediating divine activity. My guess is, the NT authors are not engaged as much in exegetical innovation, instead they are picking up on subtelties in the OT. Only after this would I be inclined to look at the interperative traditions of intertestamental lit as having any major influence on the NT authors.

  14. Pete Holter said,

    November 28, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    “My guess is, the NT authors are not engaged as much in exegetical innovation, instead they are picking up on subtleties in the OT.”

    I am writing hastily so that I can get back to my kids, but…

    I think this is right. As Stephen says, “an angel appeared to [Moses] in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush” (Acts 7:30). Moses wrote of his encounter with God in the burning bush by saying that “the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” (Exodus 3:2), and yet the one referred to as, “the angel of the LORD,” is immediately identified as the LORD Himself (Exodus 3:4ff.). We see the same thing happening in Exodus 13 where we are told that “the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night” (v. 21). But in Ch. 14 this figure is identified as “the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel” (v. 19). We see this reasserted again in Numbers: “the LORD, He heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt” (20:16). In Exodus 12 the LORD says of Himself that “I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt” (v. 12). But in verse 23 we find out that it is actually another, “the destroyer,” who is acting as the destroying agent of the LORD. In Psalm 78, we gain further indication that “the destroyer” was in fact one of “a company of destroying angels” (v. 49; cf. 2 Samuel 24:16).

    So when Stephen speaks of “the angel who spoke to [Moses] at Mount Sinai” (Acts 7:38), I think he has these connections in mind. Also, Stephen may have more than just the Law of Moses given at Sinai in mind when he mentions “the law as delivered by angels” (Acts 7:53). He may perhaps have a broader notion of “the law,” and be bearing in mind angelic involvement throughout numerous events of salvation history as recorded in the Torah, such as in Genesis 18-19 and Genesis 28:12, and be referring to this entire history as “the law.” Stephen had just summarized salvation history going back to Genesis, and this would be similar to Paul’s use of “the law” in Galatians where he asks, “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?” (4:21), and then proceeds to draw from the text of Genesis.

    But even if Stephen is following the stricter meaning of the law, as Paul does in Galatians 3:19, I think that there are enough implications being made throughout the Torah to draw the conclusion that the Law on Sinai was indeed given through angels.

    Although… the Sadducees were not convinced. Heh heh.

    With love in Christ,

  15. paigebritton said,

    November 29, 2012 at 7:23 am

    Hi there, Jed!
    Thanks. I agree that the NT writers/speakers were not being innovative — they seemed to assume their audiences would have the same understanding. I am thinking that the influence on the NT writers/speakers was the same as the influence on the 2nd Temple Lit writers — that is, this idea is coming from an older strand than both, whether from the OT itself, as you suggest, or from an extrabiblical but prophetic source somewhere back in Israel’s history.

    But “tentative” is a very good cautionary word there. ;)

  16. Reed Here said,

    November 29, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Paige: you said, “Somehow the information was already authoritative regarding God’s business before it got to Stephen’s lips or Luke and Paul’s pens.”

    Don’t think we need to presume this. Following Dr. White here, accurate – yes, authoritative (normative) – no. It only becomes authoritative when it is inscripturated.

    Heb 1:1 tells us that prior to the Incarnation God spoke to people in numerous ways other than through inscripturating means. Given the variety of examples in Scripture, there does not seem to be any warrant for limiting God’s communicating to individuals in ways that were accurate and limited authoritative (immediate audience?). By way of example, consider the OT prophets not inscripturated (e.g., Gad).

    Or, maybe the sources of this information (angels) came upon information relatively accurate through the ordinary us of human mental faculties. Given what modern physics has been able to induce about an all but invisible realm of quantum physics, why can’t natural man zero in on some more or less accurate facts about the spiritual realm? I think Rom. 1:18-20 makes this clear that at least physical creation provides sufficient evidence for making such inductive extrapolations.

    I think this last point is crucial in our consideration of the “borrowing” from non-Scripture sources by NT writers. Correct me if I’m wrong, but such borrowing never involves wholesale cut/paste. Even what information that is taken from a non-Scripture source in quote form is perfected by the NT author’s use of it (i.e., the contextual usage).

    I admit to at first being surprised, for example, when I learned that Jannes and Jambres were names that came from non-Scripture sources. Yet the doctrine of Scripture does not require any convoluted reasoning to account for this. Some information was accurately secured prior to the inscripturation of these names, either by the Spirit’s outside Scripture ministry of revelation, or the ordinary use of human reason. Either way, it is not given the imprimatur of God’s breath until it ends up in Scripture.

    Just some thoughts.

  17. paigebritton said,

    November 29, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Hey, Reed,
    Good thoughts. I wonder, though, if you’d ever want to say that any words spoken by God that never ended up being “enscripturated” are less authoritative than those that were finally recorded in writing! Certainly we could say this of entirely man-made original sources (those Egyptian aphorisms that ended up in our Proverbs, for example). But words from God are words from God. So if this is words from God, the original (prophetic) source must’ve been authoritative and accurate.

    And as to why I’d lean towards a prophetic source rather than a common-grace one in this instance, it’s because the information is both about heavenly beings, and it interprets their actions for us. The names of Jannes and Jambres didn’t require special revelation to be passed along. This is the reason that I find this particular extra-biblical insertion interesting, because I am persuaded that it must have been part of unwritten special rev.

    But that’s all tentative. :)

  18. Reed Here said,

    November 29, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Paige: agreed. Not saying non-inscripturated words are less authoritative. The authority is absolute, reflecting the character of their Author. We can say, however, that the scope authority is circumscribed, by the boundaries of the recipients for which God intended these non-inscripturated words.

    E.g., we know Gad said lots more, under the authority of God, than we have Scripture record of. This does not mean that those words are not authoritative. It means that God did not intend for anyone other than those who received those words (i.e., the originals hearers at least).

    E.g., we know that Jesus taught more than the Gospels record (John 20:30, teaching always accompanying sign). Those non-inscripturated words are fully authoritative. Yet God did not intend them for anyone other than the original audience.

  19. Reed Here said,

    November 29, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    And yes, to the limits that the non-Scripture source is referenced (I recognize “quoted” doesn’t exactly fit), the fact of referencing them validates their authority and accuracy.

    A couple of caveats though. One, we need to be careful in observing how “strictly vs. loosely” the biblical author references the non-biblical material. I.e., there is not one for one correspondence between the wording and even more between the underlying meaning between the biblical vs. non-biblical author.

    Second, I hesitate ruminate on whether or not there exists non-inscripturated books whose authors wrote under some sort of non-biblical inspirtation mechanism. It is the act of placing the borrowed material in the Bible that gives that material its character as inspired. We’ve not enough information to speculate on its character pre-inscripturation.

    As to the specific example here, I’d want to see the non-scripture sources and make a close comparison before I’d say these were the source for Hebrews, Paul and Stephen. E.g., a comparison between the Akkadian and Egyptian creation stories and Genesis shows that much of the supposed correlation is stretching things to fit an unproven premise. Similarly here, I’d like to see how close the “borrowing” is. It may just be that God gave this directly to the biblical writers, and that the non-biblical writers either came up with: naturally or even supernaturally from sources other than God.

  20. Reed Here said,

    November 29, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    Finally, if this information really is from unwritten spec. rev., then doesn’t the statement in Heb 1:1 provide sufficient explanation to cover?

  21. paigebritton said,

    November 29, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    Thanks for those ideas, Reed. Re. the extrabiblicals, I’ve managed to track down a couple of the known Jewish lit references to the angels and the law — one from Jubilees (c.160-150BC) and one from Philo (De Somniis, part of a commentary on the LXX, from sometime before AD50). Neither is any more comprehensive than the NT references, and it seems unlikely to me that they might be the source behind the story the NT people seem to be alluding to. They all seem to point to something older.

    Re. the NT writers/speaker receiving it directly from God at the moment, this also seems unikely to me: Especially in Stephen’s speech, which occurs with an immediate view to communicating something to the Jews around him, it’s presented as something the audience would have known and identified with — in contrast to the new information about Jesus and their culpability.

    I like your point about Heb. 1:1. God spoke in many ways, indeed.

  22. greenbaggins said,

    November 30, 2012 at 9:34 am

    In addition to these fine comments, I think we can add a few more points. It is the nexus in which they are now placed in the Scripture (with the attendant contextual limitations) that is the inspired element. We do not, therefore, claim that the extra-biblical source was inspired in its original context. It is the use which the biblical author makes of it that is inspired.

  23. paigebritton said,

    November 30, 2012 at 10:36 am

    So, Lane, would the same apply to an extra-biblical but prophetic source? i.e., is “Inspiration” only descriptive of Scripture?

  24. Reed Here said,

    December 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    Paige: if I might answer for Lane, yes. This was one of the points I was trying to make, but didn’t do so clearly enough. :)

    Inspiritation adheres to Scripture, nothing else. This doesn’t deny God spoke to others outside of Scripture, and therefore authoritatively and without error. It is just that the doctrine of inspiration applies to the inscripturated word of God and no others.

  25. Jed Paschall said,

    December 2, 2012 at 10:32 pm


    I have been away for a little bit, so I haven’t had a chance to reply, I think Reed, Lane, and the others have given are very insightful. As to certain extrabiblical source material, especially the Egyptian lit in Proverbs, I would (following James Barr’s work in the area) simply say that correct Natural Theology on part of the Egyptians was enscripturated. This is not to say the natural theological reflections held the same clarity, or authority before winding up in Scripture, it is just to say that man as rational image-bearers can make certain observations about God and the world that are correct, even if these insights aren’t ultimately saving for them.

  26. Richard said,

    December 3, 2012 at 6:46 am

    What happens to our understanding of inspiration when we engage in comparative analysis of prophecy in the Ancient Near East, especially with reference to the Mari texts and Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian prophecy the latter being contemporary with Isaiah of Jerusalem?

    I am thinking of ‘Prophecy in the Ancient Near East’ by Stökl, ‘Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East’ by Nissinen and Seow, ‘Writings and Speech in Israelite and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy’by Ben Zvi and Floyd, and ‘Prophecy in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context: Mesopotamian, Biblical, and Arabian Perspectives’ by Nissinen.

  27. Reed Here said,

    December 3, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Richard: maybe flesh out a bit what you are thinking when you say “what happens”. Not sure how to respond as is. Thanks.

  28. Richard said,

    December 4, 2012 at 6:40 am

    Sorry for being unclear; having studied Prophecy last Term I was struck by how the phenomena of prophecy (a) changes over time within the history of Israel (Isaiah of Jerusalem seems to be different than the ecstatics of 1 Sam. 10), and (b) is not substantially different from prophecy in other Ancient Near Eastern countries.

    When we try and build a doctrine of inspiration much is made of the link with prophecy, but not only do we have the issues of (a) and (b) above, we also need to be cognisant that our data is literary and the Deuteronomistic understanding of prophecy is distinctive and may ‘silence’ other outlooks. So I was left wondering whether our doctrine of inspiration needs to be refined.

    Hope that is clearer.

  29. Jed Paschall said,

    December 4, 2012 at 10:44 pm


    I have read many of the materials you have cited here, and what I think needs to be distinguished is the perennial question of form vs. function. By this I mean we should be very cognizant of distinguishing between literary forms, which the Israelites certainly shared with their cognate cultures, and the theological content in the Hebrew Bible (and Scriptures as a whole) which functioned to deliver the Divine word, which was most certainly unique amongst the Ancient Near East. So similarities in prophetic, hymnic, or historical literature doesn’t equate to a similarity in theological assumptions between Israel and her neighbors. So, while genre may assist in how we understand texts in their original context or the diachronic (i.e. truths revealed chronologically, unfolding in time and place) exercise of exegesis, it doesn’t necessarily bear upon how we derive an overall doctrine of Scripture or inspiration because this is a synchronic exercise (timeless truths, built upon theological assumptions originating in the nature of the God who reveals himself). To me, this is the enduring mistake of higher criticism, is that they conflated form and function, and fell into the trap of parallelomania where they conflated the similarities in literary forms, and thus gutted the OT (especially) of its highly unique theological witness, making it simply one religious text among many. A plain reading of the truth claims of the OT, as I see it, simply will not allow us to do this, especially because Scripture demands through good and necessary consequence certain metaphysical and doctrinal assumptions about it’s own internal coherence and faithful external referentiality or correspondence to the facts of the external world.

    There are many good solid works on literary backgrounds that attest to the uniqueness of Scripture. In the OT there is a great conservative Jewish work by Robert Alter titled The Art of Biblical Narrative that attests to the sheer uniqueness of Hebrew narrative texts (though not everything he concludes would be agreeable to Reformed Christians). The next major work I would reccomend is the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the Old Testament (or ZIBBCOT) written by several different authors. Another shorter work that is great as a reference would be Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context by John H. Walton, where he describes not only the similarities but differences between the OT and its Ancient Near East literary counterparts.

    All this to say, our fundamental assumptions about the inspiration of Scripture or the doctrines of Scripture as a whole are driven far more by prior theological, epistemological, and faith commitments about the Divine Nature, and the manner and quality in which God reveals himself in Scripture, rather than the literary uniqueness of the genres in which he reveals Himself with respect to Scripture.

  30. jedpaschall said,

    December 5, 2012 at 1:13 am


    Sailhamer’s book The Meaning of the Pentateuch is also an excellent answer to OT higher critics and the Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP). Paige did an excellent review series of Sailhamer’s book here. I would definitely reccomend his literary criticism of the OT, even over Atler.

  31. Richard said,

    December 5, 2012 at 7:16 am

    Hi Jed,

    Thanks for the interaction; I understand that your fundamental assumptions about the inspiration of Scripture or the doctrines of Scripture as a whole are driven by prior theological, epistemological, and faith commitments about the Divine Nature, and the manner and quality in which God reveals himself in Scripture, I suppose my query is whether this is legitimate.

    The problem as I see it is that we (a) possess a theological commitment to a doctrine of inspiration based, largely, on a pre-critical understanding of scripture, or one that developed during the early anti-critical period, and then (b) interpret critical insights through that lens rather than testing a. and using b. to reformulate our doctrines.

    Just to be clear, I am not arguing that the scripture need to be unique in their literary form or content to be distinctive; that is a weakness of Enns’ imo.

    Having read Sailhamer, I confess to finding him somewhat of a lightweight; I am far more persuaded by the proposals of Erhard Blum and David Carr, and to varying degrees the insights of Konrad Schmid. This approach, seems inconsistent with the older understanding of how the inspiration of Scripture worked hence my desire to see it re-worked.

  32. Jed Paschall said,

    December 5, 2012 at 10:50 pm


    I am not sure what your confessional commitments are, but, I would suggest that you find a confessional community that aligns with your understanding of the nature of Scripture. This was Machen’s main sticking point with those who were trying to “re-work” their understanding of the nature of Scripture, among other central Reformed dogma’s, they were trying to change a confessional body’s understanding of the matter when they had subordinated themselves to doctrinal standards that a) were quite clear; and 2) were squarely at odds with their newer understanding of Scripture.. I think you should be absolutely free to re-work your own understanding of Scripture, but whether or not “we” should is another question entirely, especially those of us with conscientious confessional commitments.

    I don’t really have the time to elaborate tonight, so I’ll throw a teaser out and hopefully dive in more later this week: I would challenge what seems implicit in your assertions – that a critical, or post-critical understanding of Scripture is preferable to a pre-critical one. It is common for those of modern and late-moderns to be incredibly imperialistic in their thought, and make the automatic assumption that pre-critical exegesis was unsophistocated and pollyannish. But this is built upon the edifice of prior intellectual commitments. Now, I am not much of a presuppositionalist in any way, and would rather deal with the facts of the matter (even pointing out the value of historical criticism in certain areas), but my question would be what Is moving you to grant the exegetical interpretations of these scholars?

    I think that modern criticism spends far too much time behind the text, trying to get back to the history and traditions behind it, when the historical record is rather sparse to begin with (outside the text); and not near enough time dealing with the text on it’s own terms – seeking to understand its unique theological witness.

  33. Richard said,

    December 6, 2012 at 6:15 am


    I in no way wish to denigrate pre-critical exegesis and assign it to the dustbin of history, it was by no means unsophisticated. That said, the question at hand is ‘What is Scripture?’ To answer such a question is to require an analysis of how Scripture came to be, hence the place for source, tradition, and redaction criticism. The weakness of the pre-critical approach was the assumption, say, of Mosaic authorship, one Isaiah, historicity of Daniel, etc. Because these were assumed, the model of inspiration and consequently their doctrine of scripture was what it was, and became confessionalised. As the analysis of how scripture came to be has become more sophisticated following the enlightenment, so the assumptions upon which the ‘old’ model was based have been questioned, and largely rejected. This gives rise to the odd scenario where someone going for ordination in a strict confessional denomination is ‘forced’ to hold an understanding of scripture that is pre-critical even if they recognise the assumptions are wrong.

    Once we allow for a model of scripture that includes the growth of traditions then the God-author-scripture model, upon which the older model was based, is overturned. It seems quite clear to me that many of the earliest materials in Genesis date to the monarchical period, for example we have the Jacob cycle (Gen. 25-35) reflecting a national-historical form wherein Jacob is equated with Israel and Esau with Edom, and Laban with Aram. This has been highlighted by Ernst Nicholson, John Emerton, and Ron Hendel. This Jacob cycle comes to the south following the events of 722 BCE and is merged with the Abrahamic traditions, which itself has undergone growth, to form a patriarchal history. We could debate the specifics of this, but once we grant that this model of composition is closer to what happened than the pre-critical idea that Moses wrote it, we need to think through what inspiration means based upon the evidence, not our prior theological commitments – our theological commitments should be shaped by scripture not determined before we analyse scripture.

  34. Jed Paschall said,

    December 7, 2012 at 4:20 pm


    The weakness of the pre-critical approach was the assumption, say, of Mosaic authorship, one Isaiah, historicity of Daniel, etc. Because these were assumed, the model of inspiration and consequently their doctrine of scripture was what it was, and became confessionalised.

    Forgive me, you aren’t the first Richard I have spoken with – I had assumed you were someone else, but given your Brittish spelling, I am going to assume you aren’t an American (correct me if I am wrong here). I still think you are conflating modes of authorship with confessional statements on Scripture, for example, WCF simply says (in I.4-5):

    4. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.

    5. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

    If you read through ZIBBCOT, or even modern Reformed scholars, you would find that while redaction theories such as the Documentary Hypothesis are not wholly accepted, the notion of composite authorship of say, the Pentateuch is contemplated and to a degree accepted amongst conservative scholars. Personally, I still think that it is immensely easy to get caught up with modes of authorship, and not the message of Scripture, which I do see as stiched together in a unified whole. Literary criticism, and canonical criticism from many scholars have borne this out, and not just by Reformed scholarship, which is why I sometimes appeal to Alter’s criticism, as he see’s the narrative texts in Scripture as a product of one literary genius, regardless of it’s variegated sources. Since there is scant information internally in the OT regarding the mode of authorship, I think there is some latitude in scholarly investigation of these matters. However, I do not see this as warranting confessional revision, since the confessions themselves do not delve into the matter of how we are to construe the human authorship of Scripture, simply how we are to understand and recognize the Divine authorship of Scripture.

    I would simply direct you to any number of conservative scholars, probably starting with Walton, and followed by Waltke, who in various portions of their works do deal in some depth with the problem of authorship, and the resemblance between OT texts and external ANE sources. If you insist on a wholesale acceptance of critical scholarship, you must also grant their historigraphical methods, which are most certainly modern. I prefer a more selective use of critical scholarship, but this is always constrained by my own confessional commitments. I could only wish critical scholarship were so up front with their own epistemological and confessional commitments.

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