Thursday, November 21, 2013

The documentary hypothesis

Last week I mentioned the documentary hypothesis, which is about how the Bible was formed into its current form. When I was searching for a website to link my more curious readers to, I was surprised by how negatively Christianity seems to view this idea. When I searched for "Documentary Hypothesis", my first two pages of results consisted of the Wikipedia article about the hypothesis and extremely hostile refutations of the hypothesis on Christian websites. Why are Christians so hostile to this idea? And why are those Christians the ones whose websites appear first on a search? I know plenty of Christians for whom the documentary hypothesis is something they have no problem accepting, or at least considering.

Yes, I know the documentary hypothesis is not perfect. There are plenty of things about it that don't make total sense, like why the sources were put together the way they were (why so many duplicates? Did s/he/they really take sentences from two or three sources and smoosh them together?) (here is where wikipedia talks about it). But the basic idea is sound. I trust the people who've thought about it, much more knowledgeably than me. I've read enough about it and seen enough evidence that I'm willing to say that it makes sense and explains a lot (like why have two versions of creation in Genesis 1-2? Why does the same event, like Moses striking the rock to bring forth water, happen so often on the Exodus?).

So why do so many Christians argue so vehemently against the documentary hypothesis? It is jarring to think of the Bible as something written by real people, with their own culture and personalities and sins and situations, and not just as "perfect" and "one unified book". The Bible wasn't just handed down from heaven on a golden platter in its current form; God worked through broken humans to write the Bible, as He does to accomplish anything here on earth. It raises uncomfortable questions--how should I read the Bible? How do I take the original context into account? Does the Bible contain mistakes?

Yes, such questions are uncomfortable. But what is life without questions? I never want to live in a way that I stop asking questions--even when those questions are uncomfortable, even when I'm not sure that I want to know the answers, even when those questions are deeply unsettling and faith-shaking.

God is big enough for my questions.

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