Why We Should Read Critical
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Question
Why is it important for evangelicals to become familiar with critical approaches to the Pentateuch?
Answer
Well, it's important for evangelicals to become familiar with critical approaches to the Pentateuch because as you read commentaries, as you read the literature you'll be exposed to it. You need to understand the background of some of the things that are said so that you know the presuppositions and the methodology. Sometimes some Bible interpreters or pastors might not realize that they're buying into a critical approach that might end up undermining faith in their audience or their own faith if they don't understand the background of what's behind it.

So, the book of Deuteronomy is rather an unusual not to say unusual, it's a good test case because we're told a half dozen times in the book that Moses delivered this particular speech, and then after we finish one of the speeches in the book, we're told that Moses then handed this speech, or this Torah, this instruction, to the priests. And then the priests took that written speech and, we're told several time in the book, they stored it in the ark of the covenant, or placed it next to the ark of the covenant, and then Moses instructed them that every seven years the Israelites would come and they were to take it out and then to read it to the Israel to the nation. So, what the book itself then tells us, part of the process of the preservation of the text, that Moses had a series of speeches that he wrote, delivered orally, and then handed these texts to the priests that preserved them. So, it appears that at the beginning of what we call now the book of Deuteronomy was originally made up of several different literary pieces that Moses handed to the priests, and then at one point, maybe by these priests, or we don't know who did it, then cobbled these speeches that Moses had written and handed them and cobbled them together and gave us the book of Deuteronomy. Now, at the beginning of the book, chapter 1 verses 1 to 5, we have a narrative: this is the law that Moses began to teach the Israelites on the other side of the Jordan. And at the end of the book we've got a third person narrative about Moses' death, so it gives us kind of these endcaps to the book. And because it tells us that Moses wrote this law on the other side of the Jordan and, of course, Moses didn't get onto this side of the Jordan it sounds like that's from another hand. That third person narration then becomes the bridge throughout the book that bridges one speech to the other, so we're able to see, if you will, the process of composition, that somebody at some time we're not quite sure who or when took these materials Moses gave to the priests and then gave us our book.

Answer by Dr. Gordon H. Johnston

Dr. Gordon Johnston is Professor of Old Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary