Jesus Affirmed the Old Testament, but does your Bible teacher agree?

One score and several months ago I embarked on collegiate education, in religious liberty, dedicated to the pursuit of an equal education.

In the land of sweet (liber)tea, at a conservative Christian college in the southeast, I got a different education than my forefathers bargained for. My Old Testament (OT) Bible teacher was a dignified cosmopolitan man with a mixed British accent (I don’t hold that against him). He stood out a bit from his peers, because of his European culture and verbal lilt. Everyone else was typically midwest or southern in culture, with rich southern accents that drip like molasses. But my OT teacher stood out from his peers in another way. Despite the fact that this liberal arts university was a conservative Christian school, and despite that fact that it was fixed like a buckle on the Bible belt of America, this teacher taught something surprising for his field. He taught that Jesus wasn’t God.

People leave the faith sometimes. And people teach overt heresy, veer into heterodoxy, or just get confused in their beliefs. That stuff happens all the time. But my teacher was not one of those. At least, when I knew him he wasn’t like that. No. His heresy was subtler than that; it might have been an accident. If you had asked him after class what he believed about Jesus, he’d probably affirm all the ecumenical councils and creeds, and point to strong Bible passages about Jesus like Colossians 1:15-20; Philippians 2: 5-11; and John 1:1-18; etc. This teacher wasn’t even a bad teacher, all things considered, but he was critically wrong on an important teaching about the OT. And if you have done any significant study into the leading views on the OT you have probably run into the same theory that he was teaching.

JEDP Theory

He taught us the Documentary Hypothesis. Also known as “JEDP theory” or the “Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis.” This theory, simply put, says that Moses didn’t write the first five books of the Bible as Jewish and Church tradition have customarily accepted. But, instead, those books are composites derived from the collective effort of four different schools of writing/editing:

  1. Yahwistic – “J” the oldest school, noted by its use of the name Yahweh (which begins with a “J” in some languages)
  2. Elohistic – “E” the second oldest, noted by its use of “Elohim”
  3. Deuteronomic – “D” the second youngest, noted for it’s didactic and law-code tone
  4. Priestly – “P” the youngest, noted for it’s ecclesiastical/Levitical code (priestly classes were thought to be a later stage of religious evolution and thus assumed to be last included in Scripture)

Now, I’m not going through a full critique of that theory here. I’ve already dug through it before in another paper. I’m not a big fan of this theory though I admit it has a lot we can learn from it. And there are probably ways to adopt certain aspects of it so that Moses is still the author but consulting oral traditions and writings in the course of composing the first five books of the Bible. That option, however, would no longer by the JEDP theory anymore. With the JEDP theory properly speaking, whatever good may come of it, we cannot accept it, in total, without throwing out the proverbial baby Moses with the bathwater. In this case, we have a dire, critical, horrible, and really really bad problem if we go the whole way to embrace the JEDP theory.

What’s the Big Problem?

Simply put, the problem is that: If Moses didn’t write the books that Jesus said he did, then Jesus is a liar. If Jesus is a liar, then Jesus isn’t God.

Ideas have consequences, and the idea that the first five books were misattributed all the way up to and including Jesus, that idea has some faith-shaking consequences. Fortunately, there are plenty of great reasons to believe Jesus on this one and doubt the JEDP theory. JEDP theory is fashionable, but for different reasons, it doesn’t stand up under pressure. Jesus, however, Jesus stands up under the worst pressure imaginable, literally. He stood up and walked out of the grave.

Something else Jesus did was affirm the Mosaic authorship of several passages in Scripture.[1]

  • Mark 7:10 “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’” (ESV; cf. Exod. 20:12; 21:17; Lev. 20:9; Deut. 5:16)
  • Mark 10:3 “What did Moses command you?” (ESV; i.e., the Mosaic law)
  • Mark 12:26 “And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?” (ESV; Exod. 3:2, 6, 15, 16).
  • John 5:45-47 “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?””(NIV)

My Old Testament professor was evidently well-educated on the Old Testament. But even in one’s field of expertise, there are stacks of books and an ocean of ideas to swim through so that it’s entirely possible for well-learned people to swim their hardest through treacherous waters of research, exercising their education to the fullest, till they finally arrive in the most incredible and sophisticated new realm of wrong.

It can be fashionable to deny the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (Gen, Ex., Lev., Num., and Deut.), or Isaiah’s authorship of the book of Isaiah. It can be fashionable to deny the historicity of the Exodus or reject any literal Adam and Eve. It can be fashionable to treat most of the OT books as late-dated so that any miracle claims or prophecies can be chalked up to legendary editing. All of these historical-critical trends are popular in elite biblical scholarship since at least the late 19th century. But many of those critical scholars are still willing to admit a high place for Jesus. For example, consider how many seminaries are willing to soften or abandon inerrancy before they abandon their Christology. Perhaps they like the concept of Jesus better than all that theocratic Jewish history. Perhaps they prefer a single God-man over the strange reports arising across the Old Testament narrative. Whatever the reasons may be, critical scholars have generally favored Christology over bibliology, more quickly sacrificing whole chunks of the OT before giving up on the deity of Christ, the truth of his teachings, and so forth.

Now, there are some great historical and evidential reasons for affirming the orthodox view of Scripture (see, Apo315Bible, Tekton OT, Tekton NT, TektonHist.Cont.). But on top of those evidences, I’d like to suggest that there are reasons in the words of Jesus for affirming the traditional-Christian view of the Old Testament. There is still plenty of room for historical-critical scholarship, as well as philosophy of history, archeology, and a range of fields to investigate the nature of history and the Bible. But, there is also a good set of reasons within the teachings of Jesus which affirm a high view of OT Scripture.

According to Jesus the Old Testament…

  1. Is Authoritative, and thus reliable and true (Matt. 19:4)
  2. Is Historically Accurate (Matt. 19:8-9).
  3. Is Relevant (Mark 12:29-31; Luke 16:29-31)
  4. Is a Consistent Witness Pointing to Himself Christ (Matt. 1-3; Luke 24:27-43; John 10:39)
  5. Is Consistent with Jesus’s Testimony (Matt. 5:17-19)
  6. Is Divinely Inspired in the Sense of Plenary Inspiration (true to the very tense of verbs; Matt. 23:32-33).
  7. Is authored also by Human Beings (Luke 4:17; Matt. 15:7; cf. Isaiah 61:1-2 [LXX] or 58:6)
  8. Is authored by Moses from Genesis to Deuteronomy (Mark 7:10; 10:3 12:26; John 5:45-46)
  9. It must be fulfilled since God’s word cannot fail (Mark. 14:49).
  10. It is unbreakable (John 10:35).

Another point that bears mentioning is how Jesus makes abundant use of the phrase “it is written” (a reference to the inscripturation of God’s word), and refers to the Old Testament as “Scripture.” In Jesus’s view, the Hebrew Bible was God’s word written, it is Scripture. The term Jesus uses for “Scripture” is a translation of graphe meaning “the words” or “the writing.” This not just a writing, or some writing, it is the writing. It’s sort of like how saying “a man” or “that man” has a very different force compared to saying “The Man.” In this case, the term “Scripture” is a Hebrew convention which implicitly asserts divine authorship. In this way, Jesus can rebuke Satan 3x’s saying, “it is written…” (Matt. 4:4,7,10). And He can say, without need of explanation – since his audience fully understood this convention – that “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

What Happened to that Bible teacher?

I never openly confronted my Bible teacher. I would ask questions in class, even challenging some of his claims. But in all honesty, he was a good communicator, he knew a lot, he was a dynamic teacher, and there was a lot I learned from him. He was a good teacher, heresy notwithstanding. I had no ill will towards him. At the time I was taking his class, I’m not even sure I realized that his teachings amounted to a denial of the deity of Christ. I did, however, make clear notes of his problematic teachings when we were doing student-evaluations. Most every college has student evaluations as a part of their accreditation criteria. So there is room for feedback and critique if any teachers go overboard. Most of the time student evaluations were just a formality and don’t amount to much. But in this case, I think they made a difference. To my knowledge, that teacher did not teach again at the school. Over the next three and a half years while I was there, he didn’t teach there. I don’t doubt that he found somewhere else to teach. His day job, however, was pastoring at a local church (Anglican I think). He seemed to affirm a high Christology (Doctrine of Christ), and in all likelihood, he continued to affirm a soft view of Scripture (errancy, fallibilism). But I doubt he ever connected the dots in his own theology to see how his low view of Scripture also brings down his Christology.

If we love the Lord we’ll love His word; but if we reject one, we reject them both.


[1] Now, I’m fully aware that a clever hermeneuticist could infer that Jesus meant something like “the author formerly known as Moses [but was probably someone else].” Or perhaps he could have meant the name Moses, with extra-big scare quotes as in the supposed, theorized, hypothetical, rhetorical “Moses” figment who is altogether non-historical but still a useful label till we finish neutering religious history of any power whatsoever. I just don’t have the energy right now to argue through all the different imaginative ways people can obscure the perfectly fine, plain, normal, and face-value meaning of this text of Scripture. It’s not like we just dropped into the Apocalypse of John or one of Daniel’s dreamscapes. We’re just dealing in the teaching-passages of Christ’s earthly ministry. As far as interpretation goes, these are JV level difficulty. When Jesus says that Moses said something, we should assume he meant just that, unless we have overwhelming and compelling evidence to justify a different reading of that passage. In this case, Jesus attributes to Moses key Old Testament texts from the “mosaic” books, also known as the Torah or Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy)

3 thoughts on “Jesus Affirmed the Old Testament, but does your Bible teacher agree?

  1. I have to say I think you are overstating your case for the Mosaic authorship of the Torah. The verses you cite (Mark 7:10; 10:3 12:26; John 5:45-46) only go so far as demonstrating that the Torah was called the book of Moses (which doesn’t necessarily mean that it was written by Moses – could just mean that it is closely associated with Moses, or substantially about Moses), and that Moses commanded and wrote some things that ended up in the Torah (so parts of the Torah have a Mosiac core, but could easily have been compiled along with other material at a later date).
    The Torah itself never says that it was written by Moses, although it says that Moses wrote down the commands received at Sinai (but again, those commands could have been compiled into the Torah later). And it almost always refers to Moses in the third person – it reads like something written about Moses rather than something written by him. Most instances where it refers to Moses in the first person are in quotations, that is, a section that follows something like “Moses said…”
    So it isn’t unreasonable to think that Moses did not write a significant amount of the Torah, and you can think that while still completely affirming the inspiration of the OT.

    1. Fair point. I didn’t go into the full argument for Mosaic authorship in this post. And for the sake of length I didn’t go into the different nuanced alternatives about how to interpret Jesus’s use of the books of Moses. That said, I did acknowledge some wiggle room, and I did add some comments on them in the endnotes. In Mark 7 Jesus does say, “Moses said…” And the most natural, unforced reading of that verse is that, in fact, Moses did say what Jesus says he said. The other passages cited there are less clear, but still apt and fitting with the normal view (Mosaic authorship) across church history, Jewish history (including Jesus’s day), and conservative scholarship today. I generally don’t trust the skeptical starting points of (German rationalist influenced) higher criticism. I find there too heavily laced with antisupernaturalism and faulty skeptical epistemology. Instead, I grant the declarations of Church tradition and Jewish tradition, on a provisionary basis, unless and until I have better and overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In that way, I don’t grant deutero Isaiah, JEDP, Q, or the synoptic problem. I do grant that those theories expose some explanatory challenges that should be met with sound and scholarship research. But I don’t dismiss 3,500 years of religious tradition as if it’s a baseless starring point.

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