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Feedback archiveFeedback 2020

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?

, CMI-US, responds:

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Helpful Resources

How Did We Get Our Bible?
by Lita Cosner, Gary Bates
US $3.50
Soft Cover
The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
Hard Cover

Readers’ comments

Red S.
When someone tries to late-date the Bible, I ask them where’s Nero? He was a major figure 30 years after the crucifixion. He was proof the devil wanted to kill all of us then. Where is the destruction of the temple? That would have been added as a major proof of Jesus’ prophecy. Mt. Vesuvius? God’s wrath on Rome’s summer senate. Caligula, driven insane as was King Saul. Yet, we find nothing about major events that spread Christ through the Empire and beyond. Scribes were very meticulous. They feared God’s anger is they changed anything or made mistakes. Why would they risk their souls to edit? I am an editor, and when editing, the last thing I want to do is make changes. All God’s enemies have left is 19th century fairy tales and outdated myths. Walk in God’s beauty.
Barry B.
I can think of other examples. Numbers 12:3 says that Moses was the most humble man in all the earth. Could Moses (or any humble man) write that about himself? Again as is well known Moses appears to have described his own death and burial. Other hands have been involved in writing the books of Moses.
David B.
One thing I’ve started to use is the fact that when Jesus argued with the Jewish leaders, they didn’t argue about the accuracy of the scriptures. They didn’t argue about who had the more accurate text. You would think that would have been a significant topic in their day if it was an issue. It wasn’t.

That shows that, in their minds, in their time, they had the accurate Word of God. They were more concerned about what it said about Jesus, not the accuracy
David G.
People I've encountered also don't understand that the many translations of the Bible are translations of a set of well established original language texts. They seem to think that each translation is a re-translation of a previous translation and is 'different' and 'corrupted'.
While this is staggeringly ignorant, its good to question people when they talk about changes to the Bible.
Another similar story I've heard is that 'they' changed the Bible in NT times. A simple question as to how 'they' could run around the Roman far west and 'change' thousands of manuscripts usually ends that furphy.
John P.
Lita, a terrific answer to a topic that keeps "popping" up. After years of clear and careful scholarly refutation by CMI (and others) of such claims, it is amazing that scriptural confusion like this persists in 2020. The internet provides both access to teachers of the truth as well as purveyors of falsehoods.

Truth always triumphs, and CMI is its vanguard. God bless your ministry!
Joshua B.
What of the position that Genesis is a compilation by Moses of the records of 10 separate authors starting with God and the authorship changing each time the phrase "These are the generations of..." is used?
Lita Cosner
Moses lived long after even the last events in the book of Genesis, so he likely did use prior records, just like Luke recorded the testimony of eyewitnesses in the New Testament. Those 10 separate accounts may form a basis for the book, but there is a literary unity in the text that suggests that Moses edited extensively.
Peter T.
Just another attempt to deny God’s Word. The ancient texts still prove the veracity of our present Bible.

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