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Documentary Hypothesis And Jesus


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I am studying the Documentary Hypothesis and it seems very logical. Yet Jesus makes frequent references to how Moses commanded various laws and he seems to quote from all JEPD sources. How do we reconcile these differences? How would a conservative scholar such as NT Wright reconcile these differences?

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Progressive Christianity itself as it exists here makes no claims concerning the Documentary Hypothesis or any reconciliation of perceived differences from the recorded sayings of Jesus. However since you seem interested in opinions or thoughts of members of this community concerning the topic, which includes a diversity of belief labels , i am moving this thread from the Progressive Christianity area to to the Debate and Dialog section. Also it would be appreciated and helpful to members if you would take the time to briefly introduce and share a bit about yourself in the introduction area since this is your first post.


Welcome and Thanks,

JosephM (as Moderator)

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Doesn't Jesus quote from the Torah, that was formed some several hundreds year before his birth, and which the Documentary Hypothesis suggests is comprised of the JPED sources? I don't understand what differences need to be reconciled.

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To make sure we are starting on the same page... The Documentary Hypothesis answers questions that began piling up about the Law of Moses or Books of Moses referring to the first five books of the Bible (Genesis,Exodus,Leviticus,Numbers,Deuteronomy). Questions like:

How did Moses describe his own death?

Why are there two creation stories?

Why are there two sets of animals in the ark?

Why are there two sets of ten commandments?

Why do each of these duplicate stories refer to God in a different name (Elohim or Yahweh for example. Compare how Genesis 6 refers to two of every sort of animal using the term "God" in our modern translation and Genesis 7 refers to seven pairs of animals using the word "Lord" in our modern translation).

Any one of these could easily be explained by themselves but it became suggested that the reason for the confusion was because a later redactor combined the four sources (JEPD) into one. We also know that these sources were collected and combined at a later date. It seems that Deuteronomy and Leviticus, for example, were written over many centuries. The closest I could come to early Christians being aware of this are the Jewish Christians who followed James the Just. The Nasaraeans (which some scholars believe were Jewish Christians) apparently understood this long before modern scholars:

“The Nasaraeans. They were Jews by nationality... They practiced Judaism in all respects, and scarcely had any beliefs beyond those of the Jewish sects I have mentioned. They too had acquired circumcision, and they kept the same Sabbath and were attached to the same feasts, but they did not introduce fate or astrology. They too recognized the fathers in the Pentateuch from Adam to Moses, who had been conspicuous for excellence of piety... But they would not accept the Pentateuch itself. They acknowledged Moses and believed that he had received legislation – not this legislation, however, but some other [see Jeremiah 8:8]. And so, though they were Jews who kept all the Jewish observances, they did not offer sacrifice or eat meat. They considered it unlawful to eat meat or make sacrifices with it. They claimed that these books are fictions and that none of these customs were instituted by the fathers”

Epiphanius, Panarion, Against Nasaraeans

Jesus refers to Moses frequently in the gospels:

"He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so". Matthew 19:8

For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ Mark 7:10

"Have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ Mark 12:26


There are so many permutations of possibilities that I don't know where to start. The question becomes, if some of the earliest Christians knew about the problem with the books of Moses, did Jesus also know about this? Did Jesus use hyper-legalism and simply work within the confines of the law of his day? Or did these laws come from God? Did Jesus simply refer to the "laws of Moses" or "Moses said" in a figurative way since that is what they were known as at that time? Or did Jesus take the law 100%? I am not sure the best way to reconcile this.
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Thanks for the clarification. Personally, i have no problem with all that because to me, no reconciliation is necessary nor do i think possible without uncertainty remaining in the background of ones mind.


i do not take the Bible as written by God or literal or completely accurate in all regards. Apologetics will obviously have an answer to explain away inconsistencies but to me there is too many to even bother and it really doesn't matter to my personal spiritual walk. In spite of inconsistencies and internal problems i find the Bible does contain many valuable insights into man and his characterization of God along his journey and in the New Testament especially , some deep insight into discovering God for oneself.


You say "There are so many permutations of possibilities that I don't know where to start.". To me that is a good point to begin.... with a "I don't know" and i might add .... one may never know the answers to those questions. Just how important are they to your quest for God? Will we find God in a book?



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From a high level this changes very little but obviously from a detailed perspective it can change a lot.

There seem to be a few ways to reconcile this. Jesus could just be using a figure of speech to refer to the laws of Moses since that is what it was known as to the people of the time. For instance, Jesus calls the mustard seed the least of the seeds which is true for Paletinians but not for other areas of the world. We also have to be slightly leary of what exactly Jesus said since a decent amount of time had passed before it was written down. It might be argued that the story of Moses is based on historical truth but that centuries of oral and written transmission caused it to become heavily layered. Another question becomes whether Jesus knew everything or if Jesus only knew when his Father told him. I believe it is CS Lewis who wrote the following:

This passage (Mark 13:30-32) and the cry “Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) together make up the strongest proof that the New Testament is historically reliable. The evangelists have the first great character­istic of honest witnesses: they mention facts which are, at first sight, damaging to their main contention. The facts, then, are these: that Jesus professed himself (in some sense) ignorant, and within a moment showed that he really was so.To believe in the Incarnation, to believe that he is God, makes it hard to understand how he could be ignorant; but also makes it certain that, if he said he could be ignorant, then ignorant he could really be. For a God who can be ignorant is less baffling than a God who falsely professes ignorance…. The taking up into God’s nature of humanity, with all its ignorances and limitations, is not itself a temporal event, though the humanity which is so taken up was, like our own, a thing living and dying in time. And if limitation, and therefore ignorance, was thus taken up, we ought to expect that the ignorance should at some time be actually displayed. It would be difficult, and, to me, repellent, to suppose that Jesus never asked a genuine question, that is, a question to which he did not know the answer. That would make of his humanity something so unlike ours as scarcely to deserve the name. I find it easier to believe that when be said “Who touched me?” (Luke 7:45) he really wanted to know.

Unfortunately you are probably right in the fact that sometimes we just don't know and might not know until the day that we die.

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