Reading the Bible as a Covenantal Document

One of the prominent features of contemporary historical criticism is to dissect the bible into discrete units which are taken to represent the earlier historical sources and literary traditions which underlie the biblical text. Having identified these historical sources, critical scholars then analyze how they are pieced together into the various books of the bible. As an example, critical scholars argue that the Pentateuch is a compilation of four originally independent documents: the Jahwist (J), Elohist (E), Deuteronomist (D), and Priestly (P) sources. According to critical scholars, the Pentateuch did not originate with Moses (~1400 BC), but were finally complied by some unknown redactors during the Jewish Babylonian exile (~400 BC).

Presumably, this critical historical exercise would enable scholars to gain insights into the literary intentions or ideological biases of the final redactors of the presently preserved biblical text. This exercise may enable scholars to speculate on the history of the composition of the text. But one wonders whether the critical approach may lead scholars to miss the forest for the trees, that is, to be so focused on the discrete and artificially constructed fragments of the text that they overlook the meaning of the bible which becomes evident when one reads the books of the bible holistically.

An alternative approach to the historical-critical reading of the bible would be to take the bible on its own terms, that is, to read the bible holistically. Meredith Kline argues that such a holistic reading is necessary because the bible is in its literary-formal form a covenantal document, and that biblical canon must be read holistically as a treaty-canon. Continue reading “Reading the Bible as a Covenantal Document”

Between Babylon and Egypt: Mythology or Historical Traditions in the Book of Genesis. Part 3

The Literary Structure and Unity of the Book of Genesis

The problem with scholars who apply the historical-critical method (premised on methodological atheism rather than on believing, critical realism) on Genesis is that they refuse to acknowledge what is in plain sight, that is, the unity of Genesis. One of the clues to the unity of Genesis is found in the way in which the phrase “These are the generations of” (’elleh tôledôt) is used ten times at crucial transitions of the narratives in Genesis.

Nahum Sarna explains,

The ’elleh toledot formula is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Book of Genesis. In each of its other ten occurrences, it introduces what follows, invariably in close connection with the name of a person already mentioned in the narrative. Its use indicates that a new and significant development is at hand. Deriving from the verb y-l-d, “to give birth,” the noun form would mean “begettings” or “generations,” and in most instances it precedes genealogies that are sometimes interspersed with narrative material. In 25:19 and 37:2, where no family tree follows but only stories of subsequent events, the formula is used figuratively for “a record of events.” This is the meaning it bears in the present passage. In this sense, the entire verse may be understood as a unity referring to what follows. Further support for this interpretation lies in its parallel structure, not to mention its poetic chiasm, “heaven and earth,” “earth and heaven.” [Nahum Sarna, Genesis (Jewish Publication Society, 1989), pp. 16-17] Continue reading “Between Babylon and Egypt: Mythology or Historical Traditions in the Book of Genesis. Part 3”

Between Babylon and Egypt: Mythology or Historical Traditions in the Book of Genesis. Part 2

Part 2. The Egyptian Origins and the Levitical Transmission of the Historical Traditions of the Book of Genesis.

Duane Garrett makes a startling pronouncement at the beginning of his book, Rethinking Genesis, “The time has long passed for scholars of every theological persuasion to recognize that the Graf-Wellhausen theory, as a starting point for continued research, is dead. The Documentary Hypothesis and the arguments that support it have been effectively demolished by scholars from many different theological perspectives and areas of expertise.” [Duane Garrett, Rethinking Genesis (Grace Focus Pub, 2000), p. 11]

Nevertheless, the Documentary Hypothesis [DH] remains a major operating framework in Pentateuchal studies among critical scholars, even though its methodology has been shown to be based on flawed linguistics (Umberto Cassuto). Its reconstruction of the literary sources has also been shown to rely on arbitrary literary criteria and circular arguments (Oswald T. Allis and Gleason Archer). Finally, Egyptologists like Kenneth Kitchen have exposed the weakness of its historical foundations as new archaeological evidence shows that the historical milieu of the Pentateuch is more likely to be that of the milieu of Palestine in early second millennium BC rather than that of the milieu of Babylonian exile in the 5 th century BC. The DH is like a splendid academic castle floating magically in air since its foundations have been demolished even though its proponents continue to abide in it simply because they cannot agree on what new structure should replace it. Continue reading “Between Babylon and Egypt: Mythology or Historical Traditions in the Book of Genesis. Part 2”

Between Babylon and Egypt: Mythology or Historical Traditions in the Book of Genesis. Part 1

The Documentary Hypothesis (DH) posits that the Pentateuch is a compilation of four originally independent sources which Old Testament critics designate as J (Jahwist), E (Elohist), P (Priestly) and D (Deuteronomic). Julius Wellhausen, one of the chief architects of the DH suggested the following dates for the documents: J c. 850 BC, E c.750 BC, D c. 622 BC and P c. 500 BC. He further surmised that the documents were merged together by Jewish scribes during the Babylonian exile, so that the final redaction of the current Pentateuch was completed in the time of Ezra during the fifth century BC. However, critics of the DH have identified intractable problems which undermine the theory. As such, not many Old Testament scholars today overtly promote the DH. However, in the absence of an alternative critical theory, the DH remains the operating framework for many Old Testament critics today.

Two wide-ranging implications arise from the DH. First, if the Pentateuch assumed its conclusive redaction during the Babylonian period, that is, six centuries after Moses, then it cannot be relied on as reliable historical source of the Patriarchal period. Second, based on the DH, critics argue that the composition of Genesis 1-11 was influenced by Babylonian myths. Conversely, the purported influence of Babylonian myths in Genesis is forwarded as evidence of the DH.


Part 1 seeks to demonstrate that the theory of Babylonian mythological influence on Genesis 1-11 rests of precarious foundations and thereby questions one of the assumptions of the DH that the book of Genesis (and the Pentateuch) was essentially shaped in a Babylonian context.

Part 2 offers an alternative understanding of the trajectory of the historical traditions of the book of Genesis developed by Duane Garrett who argues that the historical setting of the sources of the book of Genesis is Egyptian. In particular, it was the Levites who recorded and preserved the historical traditions of Israel handed to them by Moses. Continue reading “Between Babylon and Egypt: Mythology or Historical Traditions in the Book of Genesis. Part 1”

Monotheism in Ancient Israel

Introduction: One of the presuppositions held by many contemporary critical scholars of the Old Testament is that it is inappropriate to introduce the idea of revealed truths into their academic discipline. Instead, the Old Testament should be studied like any literary text set within the backdrop of Ancient Near Eastern Texts (ANET). Since the Old Testament inescapably shares the cultural and religious mindset of its milieu, it should be analyzed with reference to the dominant thought forms of the Ancient Near East in order to arrive at an accurate understanding of the text. It is natural that these scholars regard the (spiritual) insights found in the Old Testament to be the fruit of the religious genius of the Jewish people developed through their painful experience of history rather than to be truths of divine revelation.

However, Yehezkel Kaufmann (1889-1963), challenged the reigning paradigm of critical scholarship and argued that the ideas found in the ANET are not comparable to the distinctive ideas that flow from the monotheistic religion of ancient Israel. In this regard, a pertinent question to ask believers who have adopted the fashionable methods of critical scholarship today is whether faith for them is founded on the Old Testament, with the distinctive ideas of the Old Testament as its determining factors or whether faith is built on a sophisticated eclectic system which combines refine ideas of the Ancient Near East milieu. [c.f. Norman Snaith,  p. 187] Continue reading “Monotheism in Ancient Israel”

The Suffering of Job: From Tragedy to Triumph

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:25-27).

We secretly relish in schadenfreude when misfortune strikes a wicked man, but we can only be bewildered by the disproportionate suffering that afflicts a righteous and blameless man, like Job. To be sure, we are given a glimpse of divine mystery when the prologue of the book of Job explains that Job’s sufferings are due to a wager between God and Satan. Satan sneers at God and insinuates that his kingdom is based on expediency since Job’s loyalty to God is gained through the blessings of God. God allows Satan to hurt Job, confident that the outcome will conclusively prove Satan wrong. Continue reading “The Suffering of Job: From Tragedy to Triumph”

The Immutable God Who Cares. Part 1

James 1:17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” [παρ ᾧ οὐκ ἔνι παραλλαγὴ ἢ τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα, par hō ouk eni parallagē ē tropēs aposkiasma]

During my younger days, I used to dabble in linguistic philosophy (obviously in an amateurish way) and German historical criticism of the Bible. However, the forays into these avant garde trends left me with a sense of spiritual desiccation. It was in the midst of theological ennui that I stumbled on Abraham Heschel’s seminal work, The Prophets. I was swept by the spiritual and fervent vitality that flows through Heschel’s powerful and passionate prose.

However, Heschel’s exposition of the prophet’s teaching of the pathos of God both excited and troubled me. It is exhilarating to realize that God has a stake in the human situation. This is a stunning contrast to the god of the Greeks. For example, Aristotle taught that God is entirely self-centred. “It would be out of question for men to attempt personal intercourse with Him…those are wrong who think that there can be a friendship towards God. For (a) God could not return our love, and (b) we could not in any case be said to love God…He does not know this world and no Divine plan is fulfilled in this world. [Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy. Vol.1 pt.2 Greece and Rome (Double Day Image Book, 1962), pp. 59-61]

In contrast, the pathos of the God of the biblical prophet assures us that God intimately and passionately cares about human welfare. This assurance will certainly generate hope for believers who find themselves feeling hopeless as they are psychologically crushed in the midst of dire situations. Continue reading “The Immutable God Who Cares. Part 1”

Daniel Prophesied Christ’s Death 500 Years (Seventy-Sevens) Before It Happened

Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Sevens
Guest writer: Dr. Leong Tien Fock

[The Book of Daniel prophesied that the Messiah will be killed during the time of the Roman Empire. The prophecy was fulfilled 500 years later when Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans]

The Book of Daniel, written by about 530 BC, laid out in advance the historical time-frame within which the Messiah would come. Through dreams given to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2) as well as to Daniel (Daniel 7 and 8), God revealed that the Babylonian Empire (Dan. 2:38) would be subsequently replaced by the Medo-Persian Empire (Dan. 8:20; cf. Dan. 5:28), the Greek Empire (Dan. 8:21), and an unnamed fourth kingdom, which we know from history to be the Roman Empire (for a thorough defense that the fourth empire is the Roman Empire, see Young 1977: 275-94).

It is specifically revealed that the Kingdom of God would come during the fourth kingdom to replace all earthly kingdoms (Dan. 2:44-45). And this would happen when “one like a Son of Man” is given “dominion … and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and languages should serve Him” and whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion” and whose “kingdom is one which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14). In other words, the Messiah would come during the Roman Empire…

Continue reading “Daniel Prophesied Christ’s Death 500 Years (Seventy-Sevens) Before It Happened”

In Defence of Prophetic Authorship and Unity of the Book of Isaiah. Part 2/2

I. Summary of Defence of the Isaianic authorship by Gleason Archer
[Gleason Archer, the legendary professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Chicago (he modestly told me in 1984 that he only knew 28 languages although rumours were that he knew many more), wrote the following discussion as a supplement to his rebuttal of the critical arguments for source division of Isaiah 1-39 and Isaiah 40-66 based on “Alleged Differences in Theme and Subject Matter,” and “Alleged Differences in Language and Style.”]

Additional Proofs of the Genuineness of Isaiah 40–66

1. First of all it should be noted that Jesus ben Sirach (48:22–25) clearly assumes that Isaiah wrote chapters 40–66 of the book of Isaiah. E. J. Young notes, “The tradition of Isaianic authorship appears as early as Ecclesiasticus.

2. The New Testament writers clearly regard the author of Isaiah I and Isaiah II to be one and the same. Many of the New Testament quotations could be interpreted as referring to the book merely according to its traditional title, but there are other references which clearly imply the personality of the historic Isaiah himself. Continue reading “In Defence of Prophetic Authorship and Unity of the Book of Isaiah. Part 2/2”

In Defence of Prophetic Authorship and Unity of the Book of Isaiah Part 1/2

The Authorship of Isaiah: A Straight-Forward Biblical Defence
by Dr. Leong Tien Fock, (PhD in Semitic Languages and Literatures)

Assessment of current scholarship, both critical and conservative

According to An Introduction to the Old Testament, an “evangelical” book that is slightly “liberal,” by Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard (2006: 309-10):

In many respects, contemporary critical opinion about Isaiah has recovered from the excesses that characterized scholarship in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The consensus among critical scholars has moved in the direction of acknowledging much of what was dear to conservatives: that Isaiah is not the result of a haphazard accident and internally contradictory, but rather the book as a whole shows a unity of themes and motifs. The tenor of much of the debate has shifted from focus on dissecting the text to recover sources and settings to efforts to expound the coherence and unity of the text as it exists. Arguments from conservatives for unity of authorship based on common themes and vocabulary have now in large part been taken over and pressed into service as arguments for a redactional unity in the book [italics added].

To be sure, critical and conservative opinion remain divided on the issue of authorship. Although there is a growing consensus about the overall unity of Isaiah, for critical scholarship it is a unity forged through a history of redaction rather than a unity that derives from a single individual author. Continue reading “In Defence of Prophetic Authorship and Unity of the Book of Isaiah Part 1/2”