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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Words of the Bible

Don Stewart :: Could There Have Been Additions to the Autographs of Scripture by Later Biblical Writers?

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Could There Have Been Additions to the Autographs of Scripture by Later Biblical Writers?

The Words of the Bible – Question 11

Could later biblical authors edit or bring up to date the work of a previous author? Would they have the right to change anything that an earlier author wrote? If this did happen, then which one of the two would be considered divinely inspired? Would it be the original, the later additions or both? These are some of the important questions that arise when we consider the possibility of later changes to the biblical text.

Were the Writings of Moses Brought up to Date?

This type of change in the text has been claimed to have had occurred in the Old Testament; particularly with the first five books of Scripture, the Books of Moses. The reasons for this claim are as follows:

An Area Was Called Dan Before Dan Came into Existence

The writer of Genesis records the account of Abram, or Abraham, and his men pursuing those who had taken his relative, Lot. The text says that they went as far as the area of Dan in their pursuit:

When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. (Genesis 14:14 TNIV)

The use of “Dan” in this verse is seen by many as an updating of an ancient place name. We read in the Book of Judges that the original name of this city was Laish, or Leshem:

They named it Dan after their ancestor Dan, who was born to Israel—though the city used to be called Laish. (Judges 18:29 TNIV)

At the time that the event in Genesis 14 occurred, there was no tribe of Dan. Indeed, Dan had not even been born. The birth of Dan is recorded later in Genesis:

Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son. Because of this she named him Dan.” (Genesis 30:6 TNIV)

We are also told that the tribe of Dan did not settle in that geographical area until after Israel entered into the Promised Land. This was after the death of Moses. The city of Dan received its name when the Danites conquered that particular area. We read in Joshua:

(When the territory of the Danites was lost to them, they went up and attacked Leshem, took it, put it to the sword and occupied it. They settled in Leshem and named it Dan after their ancestor.) These towns and their villages were the inheritance of the tribe of Dan, according to its clans. (Joshua 19:47-48 TNIV)

The term, “Dan,” was commonly used later in Israel’s history to refer to the northernmost part of the Promised Land. Since that area was not named Dan until long after the death of Moses, it would not have been possible for the place to have been called Dan during the time of Abraham, some four hundred years before Moses. Therefore, Moses would not have been able to call this particular geographical place “Dan” as it was later called by Israel.

Consequently, it is argued that a later writer of Scripture brought this ancient place name up to date so his readers would understand where this episode took place.

It Could Have Been a Different Area Called Dan

There are some scholars who argue that Dan was the ancient name of the place where these events occurred in the time of Abraham. They contend it was not the same place that later received the name “Dan.” Therefore, we have an ancient area named Dan that existed before the time of Moses, and a later area called Dan that was named after the ancestor of the tribe. They were not the same place.

The Death and Burial of Moses Is Recorded in the Books of Moses

There is another case of a portion of Genesis to Deuteronomy that does not seem to be the work of Moses. If the Book of Deuteronomy was actually written by Moses, then why does it include the account of his death and burial?

So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, as the LORD had said. He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab facing Beth-peor, and no one to this day knows where his grave is. (Deuteronomy 34:5 HCSB)

How could Moses record his own death and burial? There are two possible answers to this often-made assertion. First, we do not have to assume that Moses wrote the last chapter of Deuteronomy. His writing ended in the previous chapter. Someone, likely Joshua, added the last chapter to close out the career of Moses.

Others argue that Moses did write this chapter. Knowing that he was about to die, he wrote this chapter prophetically of his impending death.

The List of Edomite Kings Before There Were Kings in Israel

The Book of Genesis contains a list of Edomite kings that ruled before there was any king in Israel:

These are the kings who ruled in the land of Edom before any king ruled over the Israelites. (Genesis 36:31 HCSB)

Genesis 36 then goes on to list a number of different kings of Edom. To many, this seems like something that was written after the time of Moses. There were no kings in Israel until the time of Saul, hundreds of years after the death of Moses.

So here is the question: why does the writer name these kings of Edom that existed hundreds of years before there were kings in Israel? The simplest answer seems to be that this list was not written by Moses, but rather inserted into the text long after his death.

These are three of a number of examples where it seems that Moses did not write the text that is traditionally credited to him. What are we to make of this? How should this question be answered?

What Do We Make of These Possible Changes?

If these changes did indeed take place, then how should they be classified? There are different views that Christians hold with respect to this issue.

These Changes Are Called Scribal Additions, Not Additions to the Autograph

It is usually argued that any later addition to the writings of Scripture were works done by scribes who were copying the text. Since the ancient terms had become incomprehensible to the later reader, the scribe, copying the text replaced the ancient term with the more understandable one.

Therefore, the changes were made to allow the readers to understand exactly where the event took place.

In the case of the Edomite kings, the scribe added the fulfillment of the prophecy that there were eventually to be kings from Jacob’s family. The fulfillment occurred during the time of Saul.

The Text Was Updated by a Divinely Inspired Prophet

Others hold that a later prophet, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, brought the text up to date. Instead of considering it the work of a scribe copying the text, it was actually the work of a prophet of God who was divinely led to update the text.

It has been suggested that the changes could have been made by either the prophet Samuel, King David or the scribe Ezra. Each of them was divinely inspired of God to write Scripture. Therefore, it would not be inconsistent to argue that God used them to update the text in a few small places.

Objections to the Idea That Changes Were Made by Later Prophets

Those who believe that these were not changes made by later prophets make the following arguments:

There Were No Changes Made in the Original

Some argue that none of these so-called scribal additions ever occurred. They argued that everything that is presently found in Genesis through Deuteronomy was originally written by Moses. They offer a number of alternative explanations for the so-called scribal additions.

For example, it is argued that Moses could have spoken prophetically. He could have written the names of the cities as they would eventually be called, not what they were originally named.

While this is certainly possible, it would mean that the text of Scripture would have stood for a number of years without anyone understanding it. Only when the names of the cities were changed would the story make sense.

Only the Original Writer Was Divinely Inspired

It is also contended that only the original writer of the document was divinely inspired. Therefore, any later changes, additions or subtractions would be categorized as the work of scribes copying the text.

These changes, even if true, are not to be considered divinely inspired Scripture. It would be the same situation as later scribes copying the text. Their changes are not to be given the same status as the original text. Of course, the problem with this view is that all we have in manuscript form is the text as it stands today. The original names, if they were there, are not found in any copy of the Old Testament. This would seemingly mean that we do not have the divinely inspired Scripture in these cases, only later scribal changes.

Where Do We Stop?

There is also the concern that once we allow for later changes in the original text of Scripture, there is no place where it stops. Why stop with just a few instances? Why not argue that certain books were not really the work of the traditional author, but rather later additions by a person or persons who used the name of the biblical author?

Indeed, once we allow any changes to the divinely inspired text, there is no reasonable place to stop. This is exactly what the unbelievers argue. They assume prophets like Isaiah or Daniel did not actually write the books that are credited to them. However, this is not where the evidence leads us.

Furthermore, it is not necessary to assume that this practice was widespread. One can argue that this happened in only a very few instances rather than assuming this was a standard practice.

Thus, we are dealing with a small number of instances where the text may have been updated by either a later scribe or by an inspired prophet of God. Whatever the case may be, it does not affect the meaning of the message, nor does it contradict the idea of the divine inspiration of Scripture.

Summary – Question 11
Could There Have Been Additions to the Autographs of Scripture by Later Biblical Writers?

There is question as to whether or not later authors updated some of the place names that were used by earlier authors. Could this have happened? If it did then which would be considered the autograph? Would it be the original writing by the biblical character?

It seems that there are a few places in the Books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy, where the text was later updated to be more understandable by later generations.

There are a number of ways in which believers deal with this issue. One perspective is to deny that there were ever any changes made. What we have today in the first five books of Scripture is exactly what Moses originally wrote.

Others do not feel this is a satisfactory answer. Some contend that any changes that were made were scribal changes to the text. As the text was copied, the scribes changed the ancient name to the more modern name to make it understandable to the readers. There are others who believe that the changes were not made by scribes, but rather by prophets who had written other parts of Scripture under divine inspiration.

In these cases, the divinely inspired authors brought the ancient names up to date. The meaning of the passages certainly would not change with the updating of place names.

It does not seem inconsistent with the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture that later prophets could do some small editing in the work of former prophets—particularly if the meaning of the text was not altered by the changes. In any case, these changes were rare.

What Exactly Does the Term, “Autograph of Scripture” Mean? ← Prior Section
How Does the Practice of Textual Criticism Relate to the Idea of a Divinely Inspired Bible? Next Section →
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