The Documentary Theory, also known as the Graf-Wellhausen theory, is a hypothesis that states that the Pentateuch, (the first five books of the Bible) were not inspired by God and written by Moses during his life, but were actually written by a conglomeration of at least four authors/editors centuries after Moses’ death. The hypothesis states that these authors, over a period of about 500 years, between 950 B.C. and 450 B.C., compiled and edited various writings, and did not originate from the time of Moses at all. Though there are different variants of this idea, and they can arguably be traced back much further, this modern theory can certainly be traced back at least as early as the 1600’s, when Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher and political historian first proposed this idea.
This theory is based solely on the idea that since there appears to be different writing styles throughout the books, and even different names for God, such Yahweh (Lord, Jehova) and Elohim, (God), given throughout the books, that there must have been different sources for the information that these authors used. These sources that are claimed to be used are mainly oral traditions that were passed down from generation to generation, including other religions, and over a period of time. There is henceforth no real historical evidence that support these claims.
Jewish and Christian teachings claim that the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were indeed written by Moses himself, with some possible additions to his writings by Joshua. (i.e. to record Moses’ death) Does this mean that Moses did not use any other sources or documents to write these books? Of course not. Moses could have had many sources passed down to him, including from the time of Adam himself. This is supported both historically and Biblically.
Many supporters of the documentary theory claim that Moses’ couldn’t have written these books simply because there was no well-established form of writing in Moses’ day. This simply is not true. There is a form of writing, known as Cuneiform Script, which consists of wedge-shaped characters carved onto clay tablets. This was a well known form of writing, which dates back as far as 3000 B.C. This is obviously well before Moses’ time. It is very likely that Moses would have been taught this form of writing, as he was raised as an Egyptian prince by the Pharaoh’s daughter. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Moses wouldn’t have received the best education of the times.
Several verses of the Pentateuch also identify Moses as the author.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this down in a document as something to be remembered, and recite it in the ears of Joshua: I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens.” – Exodus 17:14 NASB
Moses then wrote down all the words of the LORD and, rising early the next day, he erected at the foot of the mountain an altar and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. Then, having sent certain young men of the Israelites to offer holocausts and sacrifice young bulls as peace offerings to the LORD, Moses took half of the blood and put it in large bowls; the other half he splashed on the altar. Taking the book of the covenant, he read it aloud to the people, who answered, “All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.” – Exodus 24:4-7 NASB
By the LORD’S command Moses recorded the starting places of the various stages… – Numbers 33:2 NASB
When Moses had written down this law, he entrusted it to the levitical priests who carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel. – Deut. 31:9 NASB
Please see also Exodus 24:37, Deut 31:22 and Deut 31:24. If these books were not authored by Moses himself, then who did? What on earth would be the author’s reasons for remaining anonymous, especially when they all lived centuries apart from each other? This just does not make sense. In fact, it makes more sense that Moses would have written and compiled them, and the linguistic changes throughout the books are no more than representative of the changes of time and style of the sources he collected to compile these books.
But what about the different names for God used throughout the Pentateuch? Let’s first talk about what the different names represent. The first name for God found in Genesis is Elohim. Elohim is a Hebrew word which literally represents a divine power. A majestic being who is all-knowing and all-powerful; a creator who is above all things in the universe. On the other hand we find the tetragrammaton YHWH (Yahweh). This name is often translated to Jehovah. This name simply shows a different nature of God. This is a more personal representation of God, as a loving, promising God. A God who establishes covenants (promises) with his people, and walks along side of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When Moses wrote of the creation of Adam and Eve, it makes perfect sense that he would have used the name Elohim to represent God, as this name describes a powerful creator. It makes sense to apply the different names to God when His name is used in a different context. The fact that different names are used for God in different contexts is absolutely no reason to believe that any author other than Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible.
Not only did the Old Testament itself identify Moses as the author of the Pentateuch, but Jesus himself references Moses’ writings.
Then Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one, but go show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” – Matthew 8:4 NASB
For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’ – Mark 7:10 NASB
As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God told him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, (the) God of Isaac, and (the) God of Jacob’? – Mark 12:26 NASB
Could our Lord and Savior be misrepresenting these texts? Could he perhaps just be ignorant? If so, wouldn’t this undermine the entire validity of Christianity as a whole? There is no reason to believe that this is the case.
The Documentary Theory also claims that because there are different writing styles of the books, that there must be several different authors. This fact just simply does not prove anything. Think about this. You write a letter to your grandmother by hand and mail it to her. You would probably use a completely different tone of voice, set of vocabulary and grammatical style than you would if you were to type an email to your brother. Different subjects and audiences often require a different writing style. This is not a new phenomena. Moses lived a very long time, and God prepared Moses from his birth to write these accounts of the Old Testament. Moses was guided by the Holy Spirit through his education and through his life he collected the sources of information he needed for the Pentateuch. Notice the words of Peter.
Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the Holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God. – 2 Peter 1:20-21 NASB
It is obvious that the Documentary Theory was concocted by secularists in order to deceive people, and to weaken the validity of God’s Word in an attempt to push their own agenda. Supporters of the Documentary Theory regard most of the Old Testament as story-telling, imagination, and folklore, and henceforth disregard any form of revelation by God to mankind. To them, the idea that supernatural intervention could not exist allows secularists to support their claims that their must be another explanation. Even though there is no other explanation, and nothing in the Bible has ever been dis-proven, supporters continue to hold on to this theory. This type of thinking has even made it’s way into mainstream evangelicalism, and well known and highly regarded authors, such as Tim Keller, can even use this to teach their false ideas of evolution within the Church. But, this in effect essentially breaks down the entire righteousness of the teachings of the Bible. If we as Christians cannot believe who wrote our scriptures, then what can we believe?
Not believing that Moses wrote the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy is dangerous in the eyes of God. Jesus warns us of this
For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” – John 5:46-47 NASB
If you reject that Moses wrote the Word of God, and was inspired by the Holy Spirit to do so, then in effect you are nullifying the validity of your faith altogether. Are you denying Jesus’ words? If so, why are you a Christian? Are you denying the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Are you denying your salvation in Christ? Denying the Word of God is denying Christ himself.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God… – John 1:1-2 NASB