Defending the Bible – Rationally

Defending the Bible is at times, tough, and there are times that we simply do not have the answers to the questions people ask. These situations create problems, especially if we respond with simply ‘Because the bible said so,’ or ‘Just believe.’ To those that are needing answers, these comebacks rarely provide help. Paul told us to always provide a good answer, and to be ready in an instant to do so. Granted, I find it difficult at best to amend myself to Paul’s demands, but I am trying. One of the issues that we face with an unbelieving world is biblical inerrancy. I believe that every word in our bibles came from the breath of God, but does this then disallow text criticism?

I am not going to get into that here; however, this past week, one my favorite bloggers posted something that, although I may at times disagree with, gives a biblical response – reasoned, rational, and within the scope of biblical inerrancy – to a question concerning the authorship of Deuteronomy. You and I may disagree with him, but his style of answer is biblically based, which is more than ‘Because the bible said so.’

I encourage you to read it, whether or not you agree with his outcome, and at the very least appreciate the manner in which he answers.

PROBLEM: According to this verse, “these are the words which Moses spoke.” However, many biblical critics claim that Deuteronomy was written in the third century B.C., many centuries after Moses’ time.

The Bible is still the word of God even if Moses did not write the book of Deuteronomy. One can be an evangelical Christian and still accept biblical criticism. Thus, any attempt at defending the Bible should deal with the text in its entirety and deal with the problems of the text with integrity.

I emphasized the text in order to show how the writers explain the problem of Deuteronomy 1:1. However, what they failed to do was to cite the remainder of the text. Here is how the text reads in its entirety:

These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan — in the wilderness, on the plain opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Di-zahab” (Deuteronomy 1:1 NRSV).

The words in italics are the words the authors quoted; the words in bold are the ones they omitted.

The expression “beyond the Jordan” means in this context “east of the Jordan.” Since Moses never crossed the Jordan River, the words in bold were written by someone who lived on the west side of the Jordan.

If Moses had written Deuteronomy 1:1 the text probably would say: “These are the words I spoke to all Israel” or “These are the words I spoke to Israel in the wilderness.” However, since the writer was on the west side, he said that Moses spoke these words while he was on the east side of the Jordan.

This is how the versions understand the meaning of Deuteronomy 1:1:

RSV: “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness.”

NASB: “Across the Jordan.”

NIV, GNB: “east of the Jordan.”

ASV, JPS: “Beyond the Jordan.”

NEB: “Transjordan.”

LXX: “on the other side of”

There are other examples of the same Hebrew word referring to the east side of the Jordan. For instance, in Deuteronomy 3:25 Moses said to God: “Let me cross over to see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and the Lebanon.” Moses was on the east side and he wanted to go to the west side, that is, “beyond the Jordan.”

In Joshua 1:14-15, Joshua (who was already on the west side of the Jordan) spoke to the Transjordanian tribes: “Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you beyond the Jordan. But all the warriors among you shall cross over armed before your kindred and shall help them, until the LORD gives rest to your kindred as well as to you, and they too take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving them. Then you shall return to your own land and take possession of it, the land that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you beyond the Jordan to the east.”

All translations agree that the Hebrew word translated “beyond” means “on the other side.” All translations have similar reading, except the King James Version. The KJV reads: “These be the words which Moses spake to all Israel on this side of the Jordan in the wilderness” (Deuteronomy 1:1). The translators of the King James Version believed that Moses wrote Deuteronomy, so they tried to harmonize the translation of the text with their view of Mosaic authorship.

Dr. Claude Mariottini – Professor of Old Testament: Defending the Bible.

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