Was the Bible updated?
Published: 18 July 2020 (GMT+10)
Tim L. from the U.S. writes:
I’m quite familiar with the arguments against the Documentary Hypothesis, but I have been seeing some people who claim to be conservative say that they think some editing of the text of the OT did occur during (and/or possibly before) the exile, though they reject the extent to which the Documentary Hypothesis says the editing went. My question is, to what extent can we confidently say that there was no editing of the text during the exile? Related to that, it’s quite clear that the scribal practices after the exile were very careful to not alter the text, but what do we know about the scribal practices before the exile? Could editing have occured then? As an example, some argue that the word “nephilim” comes from a Babylonian word that means “giant” and Genesis 6:1-4 was therefore inserted by a scribe, who was inspired, during the exile. Is it possible that even though the Documentary Hypothesis is wrong as a whole, it could be correct in some instances?
Thanks for writing in. While we would wholly reject the documentary hypothesis, as you can read in many articles on our site by searching for “Documentary hypothesis” and “JEDP”, it is clear that scribal edits and updates did happen. These were limited to what would have been necessary to keep the text understandable to the audience. We wrote about the idea of textual updating in The inspiration of Scripture comes in various forms.
The JEDP theory says that the Scriptures only existed as miscellaneous source documents prior to the Exile. These documents were authored by people or communities they name J, E, and D.1 Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the theory states, were composed by the Priestly community around the time of the Exile by combing those source documents. However, the internal evidence of the books themselves indicates this is not what happened, as we document in several articles.
Conversely, the substantially complete manuscript appears to have been carefully edited and updated over time to preserve the message and keep it understandable for the contemporary audience. Comments stating that something exists “to this day” indicate the hand of someone removed in time from the events the biblical book is describing, for instance. When the Exodus says the Hebrews built the city of Rameses, we know that at the time it was called Avaris. The biblical scribes updated the word so their readers would understand what they were talking about. It would be like modernizing a book that talked about New Amsterdam by changing the name to New York. But such changes do not change the meaning of the text.
Also, we know what the religious establishment did when they wanted to add extrabiblical information to their Scriptures—they added a layer of oral tradition which was later codified in the Talmud. But Jesus always treated the Old Testament Scriptures as inspired and authoritative, and He never indicated they were changed—and we know He had the same Old Testament that we do today. So we have a pretty good idea what sort of changes the scribes made, but even if we can’t detect all of them, we can trust the Old Testament that we have, because Jesus authenticated it in His day.
Regarding a possible Babylonian etymology for Nephilim, I wasn’t able to find anything about it in a quick search, and in any case it is unnecessary to appeal to Babylonian etymology because there is a good Hebrew explanation for where the word comes from. According to the NAS exhaustive concordance, it comes from the Hebrew word naphal which means “to fall”. Thus, the word Nephilim, means ‘fallen ones’. The word ‘giant’ in the KJV is taken directly from the Greek gigantes, which was transliterated into Latin and influenced the English translation (or secondary transliteration) of the word.2 Modern translations use more accurate words. The ESV does not even translate it, simply using “Nephilim”. See Who were the sons of God in Genesis 6?, which is an outtake from the book Alien Intrusion. You can also search creation.com for additional articles on the subject.
I hope these thoughts help.
References and notes
- J stands for Yahwist, the author or community who supposedly wrote many of the sections of the Torah that predominately use Yahweh. E stands for Elohist, the author or community who produced the sections of the Torah that predominately use Elohim. D stands for Deuteronomist, the author or community who produced material in Deuteronomy. Return to text.
- The word gigantes come straight out of Greek mythology. And while the gigantes were giants in this myth, there is no etymological link between the Hebrew word nephilim and the Greek word gigantes. The translators of the Latin Vulgate were simply doing their best to find a word that made sense in their culture, and the Romans were certainly familiar with Greek mythology. Return to text.