Documentary Hypothesis Essay

by Matt Slick

It is not my intention to attack the character of those who advocate the Documentary Hypothesis. But the Bible says in Rom. 1:18-21 that men suppress the truth of God's word in their unrighteousness.  This is what is happening here.  They are suppressing the truth.  They are devising elaborate methods to deny the inspiration and authenticity of the Bible, particularly the Pentateuch. Nevertheless, there are several issues worth examining when answering their claims.

1. Presuppositions:

By far, the majority of those holding to the JEDP theory presuppose that the miraculous cannot happen.  Therefore, they must conclude beforehand that the Pentateuch is not inspired, and Moses could not have written it.  They must find another explanation for the Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible.

Such a presupposition does not allow a proper examination of the documents and will result in inaccurate conclusions.

2. The Critics are claiming a great deal.

The Pentateuch was written centuries ago in a different language, in a different culture, and a different land.  The critics are claiming that "they are able to decide exactly what a writer could or could not say, and on this basis to determine what part of the document belongs or does not belong to him."1 In other words, the critics are basing their argument on their own ability to read a document that is 3000 years old, divide it up into word usage groups, and assert hidden divisions and separate authors.  And not only this, but they are claiming they can do it on a consistent basis.  This is hardly an exact science and is open to a wide range of error--depending upon the presuppositions and purposes of the critic.

3. Writing Styles change within Writers

What writer writes with a consistent style?  Yes, there are styles to writers, but the subject matter affects the content.  A technical work is different from a narrative or historical piece.  The Pentateuch has components of all of these. Therefore, different styles are expected.

Additionally, what the writer has in mind can easily cause him to use a different concentration of words.  Should the intention change so would the word usage.  Did Moses sit down at one sitting and write everything out?  Of course not. Upon reflection, reading, prayer, etc., his focus and purpose within sections of Scripture can change as he moves to a new subject.

4. One writer can produce different analysis results

WordPerfect has a Grammar Analyzer for readability.  I ran both the paper explaining the Documentary Hypothesis and this paper refuting it through the analyzer.  The results are interesting.

AnalysisExplaining JEDPAnswering JEDP
Flesch-Kincaid grade level13.6410.35
Passive voice (% of finite verb phrases)9%9%
Sentence Complexity (100 = very complex)6043
Vocabulary Complexity (100 = very complex)3822

We could conclude that though there are similarities, there must be two authors due to definite differences.  After all, the first paper has both more complex sentences and more verb complexity than the second as well as being 13th-grade level.  The funny thing is I wrote this in two sittings: One before church and the other after church on the same day.

5. A look at the actual analysis

In the back of Oswald T. Allis' book, pages 291-293, is a breakdown of the JEDP analysis of the Pentateuch.  I chose a small section dealing with Genesis 1-7 and supplied the verses (NASB version), so you can see for yourself if these divisions are warranted.


Text of Genesis

2:4b- 4:26  
 5:1-28v. 28, "And Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and became the father of a son."
5:29 v. 29, "Now he called his name Noah, saying, 'This one shall give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed.'"
 5:30-32v. 30, "Then Lamech lived five hundred and ninety-five years after he became the father of Noah, and he had other sons and daughters."
7:1-5 v. 5, "And Noah did according to all that the Lord had commanded him."
 7:6v. 6, "Now Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of water came upon the earth."
7:7-10 v. 7, "Then Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him entered the ark because of the water of the flood."
 7:11v. 11,"In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened."
7:12 v. 12, "And the rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights."
 7:13-16av. 16a, "And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him. . ."
7:16b v. 16b, ". . . and the Lord closed it behind him."
 7:17av. 17a, "Then the flood came upon the earth for forty days"
7:17b v. 17b, "and the water increased and lifted up the ark, so that it rose above the earth."
 7:18-21v. 18, "And the water prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 And the water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. 20 The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered. 21And all flesh that moved on the earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind,"
7:22-23 v. 22-23, "of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died. Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark."
 7:24v. 24, "And the water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days."

As you can see, the first seven chapters of Genesis are chopped up into bite-size pieces.  In some places, sentences are cut in half and attributed to different sources.   I cannot see any reason to divide the sections of scripture up the way they have.

6. Jesus attributed the 5 books to Moses

Whether or not a biblical critic wants to take Jesus' word for anything is up to the individual.  But no less a person than Jesus authenticated the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.  Jesus divided the Old Testament into three sections in Luke 24:44: Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms. Also, he attributed all the individual JEDP defined sections of the Pentateuch to Moses.

In Mark 10:4-8, Jesus quoted Gen. 2:24, which would be J--as coming from Moses.  Mark 7:10, Jesus quoted the Ten Commandments, which fall into the E category--as coming from Moses.  In Mark 10:3, Jesus refers to Deut. 24:1f, which would be D--as being from Moses.  In Matt. 8:4, Jesus quoted Lev. 14, which would be equivalent to P--as coming from Moses.

This is a brief look at the Documentary Hypothesis.  In my opinion, it is a fabrication based upon false presuppositions and inaccurate analysis.  It contradicts what Jesus said, and it is an unreliable way to analyze a document that is thousands of years old.


This article is also available in:Español, Indonesia

Some of the critics of the Bible have come up with some sophisticated arguments in their attempts to disprove its authenticity and reliability.  One of these attempts is known as the Documentary Hypothesis, or the JEPD theory.  In short, this theory states that the first five books of the Bible, called the Pentateuch, consisting of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, were not written completely by Moses, who died in 1451 B.C. according to Bishop Ussher's Chronology, but by different post-Mosaic authors.  It is alleged that these authors are detectable through the variations of usage of different words within those books.  These supposed authors are known as the Jehovist, the Elohist, the Priestly, and the Deuteronomist.  These supposed authors are known as the Jehovist, the Elohist, the Priestly, and the Deuteronomist.

If you are not aware, YHWH (not to be confused with JEDP) are the four letters used to represent the name of God in the Old Testament.  From YHWH we get the word Jehovah, or Yahweh, the name of God, mentioned in Exodus 3:14.  The word in Hebrew "elohim" is simply the word 'god.'  So, YHWH is the name of God.  Please note, however, that "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" is not really the exactly pronunciation of God's name.  We do not know how it is exactly pronounced.

According to Oswald T. Allis, there were four main areas considered by these critics when supporting the Documentary Hypothesis:1

  1. The Variations in the Divine Names in Genesis;
  2. The Secondary Variations in Diction and Style;
  3. The Parallel or Duplicate Accounts (Doublets);
  4. The Continuity of the Various Sources.

One of, if not the earliest, appearances of this type of approach to Scripture was by H.B. Witter in the early 1700s, who asserted that there were two parallel accounts in the creation story that were distinguishable by the word usage in the text.

This method of analysis really took root in 1753 when a French physician named Austruc analyzed the book of Genesis and asserted that it had two main sources: a Jehovist and an Elohist.  However, he did not deny Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch at this time.

What this analysis entails is the assumption that where the word Jehovah appears in large quantities in a section of writing, it is the result of an author who used the word "Jehovah" or the tetragramatton YHWH predominantly.   Additionally, it is stated that where the term "Elohim" appears more frequently, it is the result of an Elohist, or someone who used that word more frequently than another person.

Another person to use this method was Eichhorn, whose analysis of 1787 was similar to Austruc's.  However, neither of these men denied Mosaic authorship and neither carried the analysis past the book of Exodus.

A few years later, a gentleman named De Wette (1805), assigned Deuteronomy to the time of Josiah (post-Mosaic period).  This prompted other writers to tackle the issue. In 1823, Eichhorn had given up on his claim of Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch.

The letters associated with this issue are J and E.


In 1853, Hupfeld proposed that there are two Elohistic source documents in Genesis: chapters 1-19 by one author and chapters 20 - 50 by another. He also put great importance upon the redactor, or the one who assembled the various documents, who used editor rights during the compilation of the book of Genesis.   Therefore, his arrangement of the documents was thus: First Elohist, Second Elohist, Jehovist, Deuteronomist: J, E, and D.


Later, Karl H. Graf in the 1860's and Julius Wellhausen in the 1870's said that "according to the historical and prophetical books of the Old Testament, the priestly legislation of the middle books of the Pentateuch was unknown in pre-exilic time, and that this legislation must therefore be a late development."2 The letter P became associated with this view.

Basically they arranged the Pentateuch authorship in the following manner:

  1. "The earliest part of the Pentateuch came from two originally independent documents, the Jehovist (850 B.C.) and Elohist (750 B.C.).
  2. From these the Jehovist compiled a narrative work (650 B.C.).
  3. Deuteronomy came in Josiah's time and its author incorporated this into the Jehovist's work.
  4. The priestly legislation in the Elohist document was largely the work of Ezra and is referred to as the Priestly Document.  A later editor(s) revised and edited the conglomeration of documents by about 200 B.C. to form the extant Pentateuch we have today."3

There have been slight modifications of this list, but it is basically the same form used by those holding to the Documentary Hypothesis.


This article is also available in:Español, Indonesia

0 Replies to “Documentary Hypothesis Essay”

Lascia un Commento

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *