Bible Literary Criticism:Higher Criticism


              I believe that Higher Criticism was necessary to determine the authenticity of the books that we look to that make up the Bible.  The problem lies in that there have been those throughout history whose goal was and is to discredit the authenticity of the scriptures. There have always been critics of the word of God.   The very basic flaw was that unbelievers were the critics.  If one truly believes in the Sovereignty of God and that he through the Holy Spirit breathed those words that we read as the Bible, the voices of the critic fall on deaf ears.  I can see how those weak in faith would be swayed by intellectuals.  If we are prepared through in depth study, we will be able to withstand the attacks on our beliefs. That is the basic belief that all scripture is inspired by God and we should accept them as such.  I believe we should pay more attention to the subject of Biblical Criticism as hard as it is at first, so that we as Christians are better prepared to deal with those critics who discredit God's Word.

            The study of Higher Criticism is of great importance to the student of the scriptures.  All criticism is not bad.  There was some criticism necessary when the books of the Old Testament were put together.  However, it is important to remember some of it is theory based upon the ideas of those who wish to discredit the believer’s faith in the written word of God. 







            It is virtually impossible to assign a date to the first criticism of the Bible.  There have been students of the scripture as well as skeptics since the word was written.  The problem of higher criticism is that most of the critics are unbelievers.  Their primary goal is to discredit the Bible as the inspired word of God.  They do so hiding under the veil of education and attempting to sway opinion with their educational influence.  The term “higher criticism” has to do with the study of the sources, times, and the authorship of the various books of the Bible, especially the Old Testament.  If the critic can prove the first five books of the Bible were written at times later that we believe or were not written by Moses as we believe, they have basically destroyed what we believe in. 

The nineteenth century brought a new onslaught to the inspired word of God.  This attack came from intellectuals in Germany.  Gary North says in his book, The Hoax of Higher Criticism, 

“These men were dedicated to the destruction of orthodox Christianity.       Their primary goal was to discover defects in the existing texts of Scripture, as well as to discover internal inconsistencies in the Bible’s overall message.”[1]



            All criticism is not bad.  There is a certain amount of criticism required in any study of the Bible.  It is important to know when the book was written and by whom.  There had to be a certain amount of literary criticism used to determine what books were allowed to be included in the canon.  There were those who tried to include books that were not inspired but with scholarly review based upon the basic points of higher criticism, those men were able to determine what belonged in the canon and what did not.

            We must draw the line there.  When critics carry their theories beyond the realm of basic discovery and extend it to discrediting the inspiration of the scriptures they have gone too far.  You then have to examine their motives for such actions.  What you begin to see is a complete disrespect for the infallible word of God.  The critic seeks to destroy the very basis of our beliefs.  If he can discredit the writer or the time it was written, this has a devastating affect on what the scriptures actually say.  If he changes the date of a predictive prophecy, he turns it into a story told instead of an event foretold.

            The modern founder of what is known as the higher or destructive criticism of the Bible was a French physician named Jean Astruc[2].  He was born in France in 1684.   His theory was known as the early document theory.  He claimed that Moses compiled the works of two already existing documents in the writing of Genesis.  He also said that Moses used as many as ten minor documents relating chiefly to foreign nations that did not immediately affect the Hebrew people. 

            Alexander Geddes and others who followed after him sought to establish what is called the Fragmentary Hypothesis.  This theory extended the analysis that Astruc took and extended it through the Pentateuch.  They took the position that the first five books were miscellaneously thrown together and were not the work of Moses. He did not accept the two document theory of Astruc.  This theory was thrown out after a few decades.

            The Supplementary Hypothesis was advanced by several different critics.  Some of them were Thomas Paine (1794), DeWette (1817), Bleek (1822), and Von Bohlen (1835).  This theory made the Elohim or “God document” the foundation of the Pentateuch and the Jehovah document being a supplemental document with additions and changes.  This was soon discounted because when you remove the Jehovah document, it left the rest almost unintelligible.  This same group also denied that Moses wrote the Pentateuch.  Bleek extended this hypothesis to the book of Joshua.  He added it to the first five books of Moses and called it the Hexateuch.   The one part of the Supplementary Hypothesis that is still held by critics is in regard to the book of Deuteronomy.  They put the writing of the book is placed at the time of the reign of Josiah, 623-621 B.C.

            The Developmental Hypothesis is another theory given by the critics.  It is also referred to as the later Documentary Hypothesis.  Graf (1866) took all of the scriptures found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers that had to do with the Law, the sacrifices, and the requirements associated with the tabernacle and gave it the name of the Priest’s Code.  He assigned a date of writing to the time of the Babylonian captivity, sometime after 586 B.C.   Wellhausen adopted this theory but placed the Priest’ Code at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, somewhere around 444 B.C.

            Julius Wellhausen was the first to say that the Pentateuch was composed from four different sources, called JEPD.  The J source uses the name Jehovah, the E source uses the name Elohim, the D source is the book of Deuteronomy, and the P source is from the priests.  His position was based on the conclusion that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch because he did not have the ability to write.  This was proved to be entirely wrong with the discovery of ancient writings dated more than five hundred years prior to Moses day.

            The theories of the critics have been proven to be incorrect time and time again.  There have been archeological findings of ancient writings such as the Code of Hammurabi which dates back to the time of Abraham, over five hundred years prior to the time of Moses.  This refutes the theory that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch because there were no written languages at the time of Moses. 

            The first thing the student of the Bible must look at when examining the writings of the literary critics is to examine the motives of the critics.  You have to ask were they trying to honestly research the material or were they trying to disprove the basic tenants of the scriptures.  If they do not believe that all scriptures are inspired from God, (2 Tim 3:16), is their research truly honest? 

            The very continuity of the Pentateuch suggests that it was written by one author, that being Moses.  The flow from one book to the next suggests that one author composed all the writings.  There is a flow from the creation through the birth of a nation and the social, political, and religious practices that affect each aspect of the very life of that nation.  That nation being God’s chosen people through whom the Messiah would come.      

            The rest of the Bible gives credit to Moses as to his authorship.  There are numerous references to the law of Moses throughout the Old Testament.  David charged his son Solomon to keep what was written in the “law of Moses” (1 Kings 2:3).  The ten tribes were carried away into captivity because they transgressed what Moses had commanded (2 Kings 18:12).  Daniel refers to the writings of Moses in Daniel 9:11, 13.  Malachi wrote what considered to be a defining statement in Malachi 4:4.  "Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.”   Malachi identifies Moses as the recipient of the statutes and ordinances, where he received them, Horeb, and who it was for, all Israel. 

            The New Testament refers to the book of Moses in Mark 12:26.  When our Lord referred to the Pentateuch in this verse it affirms in the believer’s mind that not only was Moses the author, but also it was written just as it claims to have been written.   The apostle Paul referred to the writings of Moses in 2 Corinthians 3:15. 

            To accept the literary critic’s views is to reduce the scriptures to something less than what it is.  It is the inspired Word of God and should be handled as such.  The discrediting of the Pentateuch is just the tip of the iceberg in the attempt to discredit the Scriptures in their entirety. The student of the Bible must be strong enough in the word to be able to disprove these theories and not let our faith be shaken.





























Campbell, John D.  The Bible Under Fire, New York: Harper and Brothers,1928.


Green, William Henry.  The Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch, Grand Rapids MI: Baker Book House,1978.


Hague, Canon Dyson.  The History of Higher Criticism, Vol 1Ch. 1, Chicago: Baker Book House, 2002.< 1/chapter 1/hague.html


Lyons, Eric and Smith, Zach.  “Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch-Tried and True” in Reason and Revelation, issue 23. Montgomery: Apologetics Press<


McGarvey, John William.  The Authorship of the Book of Deuteronomy, Montgomery, AL: Alabama School of Religion,1902.


North, Gary.  The Hoax of Higher Criticism, Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989.<,htm


Sayce, A.H.  Monument Facts and Higher Critical Fancies, London: The Religious Tract Society, 1904




[1]Gary North, The Hoax of Higher Criticism, Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989,

[2]Campbell, John L. The Bible Under Fire, New York: Harper and Brothers (1928) 6