NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN
A second critique that should be offered to Sparks’ argument concerns the false perception that biblical critics are the first to notice some of the apparent contradictions or problems in the Bible. When Sparks lays out the many “errs” in the Bible, he acts as if modern critics are the first in history to have noted this.
Before moving on, it should be pointed out that this is not exactly true. Throughout the book, Sparks’ makes use of history when history is on his side and in this case he notes that others in the past have noticed apparent contradictions. However, biblical critics like Sparks oftentimes speak as if they are the first to notice some of the apparent problems in the Bible.
Take the common accusation that Genesis 1 and 2 record two different accounts of creation.* This accusation has been made repeatedly over the centuries and the birth of Darwinism did not force the question. Long before evolution and modern historical-criticism, Christians and Jews were aware of what appears to be two different stories. As a result, answers have been given to explain this. So when persons like Sparks raises the issue, they are making an argument that has been dealt with long ago even prior to the days of Jesus.
Sparks also notes the apparent legal contradictions within the Bible. For example, in the Old Testament certain foods could not be eaten, but in the New Testament one was free to eat virtually anything. Sparks specifically notes the commands to kill the Canaanites – “including men, women, children ,and even animals” – while the New Testament, especially the Gospels and Jesus Himself, commands Christians to love even their enemies.** Sparks calls this theological and ethical diversity within the Bible and claims that such diversity “suggests that the Bible does not speak with one divine voice but offers instead a range of human voices with different judgments and opinions on the same subjects.” In other words, “Scripture does not seem to furnish us with one divine theology; it gives us numerous theologies” (emphasis authors) He then goes on to state, “Any decent solution to the problems presented by modern biblical criticism will need to explain how the Bible can be trusted as an authoritative text when it reflects diverse theological perspectives, which differ not only from one another but also from our modern theological judgments on maters like slavery.”***
One must wonder where Sparks has been all of these years. Christians have dealt with these issues dating as far back as the Apostle Paul. Has he ever read the books of Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews? Christians have always understood what the Law of Moses said and what the gospel says. The gospel explains why the Law was necessary but unable to save. What Sparks presents here is nothing new.
Admittedly, I am sure that Sparks has read the Apostle Paul and the New Testament and is aware of common historical arguments made by Christians here, but at the same time, he writes as if most Christians have never thought about this. It is disingenuous for Sparks to write in a way to lead the reader to think that he is presenting something new here. The “theological and ethical diversity” in Scripture is not a real challenge to Christians, but only enhances the purpose, need, and power of the gospel. The Law reveals man’s inability to be as holy as God (thus deserving His full wrath), but the cross and resurrection of Christ offers us grace that frees us from the shackles of legalism that never could save in the first place (see Romans 3:19-20; 7:7, 12-13; Galatians 3:22; 4:4-5).
Consider also what Sparks says about the Epistle of Jude. At least twice, Sparks notes the problem within Jude where the author quotes from the non-canonical books of the Assumption of Moses and 1 Enoch. Sparks points out that some of the early church fathers, namely Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and others, where aware of this problem, but Sparks goes on to conclude:
. . . the biblical author clearly took [the Assumption of Moses] seriously. This is because the event to which Jude refers – a struggle between an angel and Satan – could only be known to the Assumption through divine revelation. So we may conclude, I think, that Jude’s author accepted the Assumption of Moses as inspired Scripture.****
Sparks goes on to make the same argument regarding Jude’s quotation of 1 Enoch arguing “it is quite natural to conclude that Jude’s author accepted 1 Enoch as a genuine book of prophecies.” His point in all of this is to make the broader argument that “the New Testament authors sometimes embraced an Old Testament canon that differs from our own.”****** However, Sparks using Jude to make his point is rather weak. Christians have always had to deal with the problems of Jude quoting from the pseudepigrapha in his short letter. From its conception, this question has been asked. As a result, Jude became one of several New Testament books doubted but later accepted as canonical almost purely for his quotation from non-canonical books. And yet at the end of the day, Christians determined that Jude was in fact canonical.
This whole debate is not new. Commentators, pastors, preachers, academics, scholars, and average Christians have been forced to deal with the difficulties of this text. Christians have concluded that Jude does not consider the books he cites canonical at all. Simply quoting a non-canonical book does not imply that the writer believes that what they are quoting is inspired by God. Luke quotes a non-canonical phrase of Jesus in Acts 20:35, Paul quotes a Greek poet and philosopher in Titus 1:12 and quotes other non-canonical writers and books in Acts 16:28. By simply quoting from non-canonical books does not necessarily mean that the canonical writer believes that what they are quoting from should be considered inspired by God and part of the canon. Christians have known this from the beginning and Sparks acts as if he is stating something that is beyond dispute.
Finally, a brief critique should be given regarding Sparks’ argument that editors wrote the Torah, not Moses. Again, this is not a new accusation. For centuries Christians and Jews have understood that someone at some point after the death of Moses had to add and contribute to the Pentateuch. Though Sparks wisely does not mention the conclusion of Deuteronomy, the reader is struck by the fact that Deuteronomy, supposedly written by Moses himself, records the death and burial of Moses. How can a dead man write his own obituary? Clearly someone, likely someone like Joshua, concluded Deuteronomy finishing the life of Moses for the reader. This is not a new argument. People have always noted the odd ending of Deuteronomy and even Joshua himself admits to adding to the Torah in Joshua 24:26 (“And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God”).
But Sparks mentions more difficult passages from the Torah than the conclusion of Deuteronomy to make his case for later editors. Perhaps most compelling is his mention of Genesis 36:31 which notes that the Edomite rulers lived “before any kind reigned over the Israelites.”****** Obviously at the time of Moses Israel had no kings and as a result, he could not have written this verse. So who wrote it? Clearly it had to have been added after the time of the crowning of King Saul and perhaps later than that.
Again, this is not anything new. The admission among inerrantists that editors contributed to the Torah has been accepted by Evangelicals for some time now. Are we to be so foolish as to think that Jewish readers prior to the birth of Jesus never noticed these difficulties? Furthermore, as the conclusion of Deuteronomy suggests, it has been well established that there are editorial portions of the Torah. Everybody who knows anything about the Torah is aware of this reality. Sparks inaccurately depicts inerrantists as believing that Moses wrote every syllable in the first five books of the Old Testament but that is simply not true. Inerrantists affirm both Mosaic authorship and mosaic authorship. Moses is the primary author of the Pentateuch but admittedly later scribes and editors (like Joshua and others) contributed to the book for their own purposes.
In addition to this, Christians and Jews have admitted that many of the writers of Scripture, including Moses, used sources in the writing of the Bible. Sparks highlights Numbers 21:10-20 where Moses quotes directly from the non-extant Book of the Wars of the LORD. But this argument could be taken even farther. The Old Testament frequently cites or directs their readers to other non-canonical books. The Old Testament names The Book of Jasher (Joshua 10:13; 2 Samuel 1:18), The Book of Shemaiah the Prophet (2 Chronicles 9:29; 12:15; 13:22), The Manner of the Kingdom (1 Samuel 10:25), The Acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41), The Annals of King David (1 Chronicles 27:24), The Book of Nathan the Prophet (1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 9:29), The Book of Gad the Seer (1 Chronicles 29:29), The Sayings of the Seers (2 Chronicles 33:19), among many others in the Old Testament (and many more could be added with regards the New Testament especially with the Synoptic Problem, Luke 1:1-4, the Epistle of Jude, etc.). The Bible admits that it used sources. Therefore, to suggest that Moses could not have been the author because he used sources is simply wrong. The use of sources only adds to the historicity of a recorded event, not the demise of authorship or accuracy.
At the end of the day, however, the point should be mentioned again. What Sparks presents here is not anything that new. Certainly higher criticism, source criticism, lower criticism, and the rest have gained us some great insights and have forced us to ask difficult questions, but when presented in the format that Sparks has here, I am constantly reminded that many of the arguments set forth by the biblical critics are not new and Christians have dealt with them extensively for centuries before biblical and historical criticism.
* Sparks writes, “There are . . . two different creation stories I Genesis. In the Elohim version of the creation story, the animals are created before human beings (1:1-2:3), while in the Yahweh story the creation order is Adam, then animals, then Eve (2:4-2:25).” He goes on to state clearly that Genesis 1 and 2 are “two creation stories” different from one another written by two different authors. Sparks, God’s Word in Human Words, 83.
** Ibid., 121.
*** Ibid. Sparks is particularly troubled with the theological and ethical diversity of Scripture on the subject of slavery. He suggests that in some places the Bible allows and even endorses the practice while at the same time modern Christians are appalled by it. This is common among those who make an argument against the Bible and like the other issues presented above, this is nothing new to Christians to deal with. Christians have repeatedly dealt with this issue over the years.
**** Ibid., 125.
***** Ibid., 126. Later on in the book Sparks repeats, “As I pointed out in the previous chapter, the author of Jude assumed the authority and historical accuracy of pseudepigraphic books like the Assumption of Moses and 1 Enoch, and he also assumed that 1 Enoch was penned by Enoch himself. So n this case we are more or less forced to choose between embracing 1 Enoch as canonical or admitting that Jude mistook it for an authentic work of Enoch. The second option strikes me as far more sensible than the former. And if the inspired author of Jude got this authorship attribution wrong for 1 Enoch, then we have no strong reason to suppose that similar New Testament attributions of authorship must be correct – even if these were offered by Jesus himself.” Ibid., 165.
****** Sparks makes this point in Ibid., 79.
Reviews - "God's Word in Human Words": A Detailed Critique - Part 1
Reviews - "God's Word in Human Words": A Detailed Critique - Part 2
Reviews - "God's Word in Human Words": A Detailed Critique - Part 3