The Bloodless Speculation of Liberal Scholars

Dale Ralph Davis’ commentaries are some of the best expository commentaries out there. They are not technical commentaries, but pastoral, designed to help the Christian grow in his understanding of Scripture and how to apply Scripture. But that does not mean he is unaware of the technical arguments that dominate most commentaries. He often takes on the liberal scholars. It might come as a surprise to my readers but some scholars think Moses did not write the five books of the Bible, but rather they were compiled over many centuries by various authors who contradict each other. It may be equally surprising that liberal scholars believe many of the historical books, such Joshua and Judges, were written late or at least severely edited late (600-400 B.C.) or that Isaiah was written by several different authors at different times with many of his prophecies being written late. In short, liberal scholars have rejected the traditional authorship of many books of the Bible, have removed many elements of prophecy by dating them late, believe the Bible contradicts itself at places, and that many books were edited by later men to change the meaning.  Here is a a wonderful answer to this nonsense from a footnote in Davis’ commentary on Joshua. Right before this footnote, he says that Joshua was written specifically to remind the Judges generation to be faithful to the Lord.

A number of biblical critics would smile at such a naive proposal. To take the book of Joshua as unified entity at such an early date stretches credulity to say nothing of credibility. For them the hypothesis is too simple and too early. But evidence is not lacking for an early date…Simplicity is, in my book, a plus; the more complicated an explanatory critical theory becomes, the less probability it holds of being correct, since every additional element inserts new (frequently uncheckable) variables into the problem. Multiplying the variables in a theory multiplies the uncertainty of their describing the true course of events. Whether for a book or a chapter, the customary critical proposals inspire less confidence than the naive one. For chapter 22 [of Joshua], someone will hold we have Gilgal tradition and a Shiloh tradition-these may have been in conflict originally. Of course, a Deuteronomic editor contributes his material, and a Priestly hand adds his touches-nor must we forget another post-exilic redactor. Someone else will speculate differently. There are no controls; it is sheer guesswork. What’s more, it seldom makes any difference (except to place question marks after the reliability of Scripture).

The real problem with such bloodless speculation is that, after having done it, its practitioners strangely enough do not bother to tell us what their literary monstrosity has to say to the flock of God. The problem with most commentaries of such genres is that they can in no way nourish the church in godliness. Do they provide technical help-linguistic, archaeological? Yes. But to them the Scripture is not warm. It is an artifact from the past, not an oracle from God. Nor should they wonder if the church finds all their furrow-browed, pin-the-tail-on-the-tradition-center activity next to useless.

To sum up: the liberal theories on Scripture are wrong, far-fetched, impractical, and lack that affection that comes when a scholar believes they are dealing with God’s Word and not an “artifact” to be studied.

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