The Hypothesis: The Documents

So I just finished taking my first Old Testament exam in seminary; the documentary hypothesis factored into it heavily.  And I have been wanting to get my thoughts down on something, be it paper or computer screen, about it for a while.
So my thoughts on the Documentary Hypothesis: Whatever.  Ha! I guess that’s just cause I’m a product if the last 5th of the 20th century.  But in all seriousness, whatever.  I don’t think the documentary hypothesis is really that big of a deal, considering it wasn’t until later, like the last half of the 20th century, that the literary approach to Scripture made any headway.  If there wasn’t an emphasis on a literary approach to reading Scripture in academia before that, then the hypothesis is working in a vacuum.  I would think that working in such a vacuum gave it a lot more power and influence than had it been working alongside other theories, like now for instance.  Not to mention that one of it main proponents was an anti-semite, anti Roman Catholic, so I would assume such a bias throws a little speculation into what he was actually trying to accomplish.  Lets not forget as well that the documentary hypothesis is exactly that a hypothesis, it can most definitely be proven wrong, and with other theories about the formation of the Pentateuch circulating one has to pick which one they want, or how they want it.  The biggest point with the fallibility of a hypothesis is that if it is wrong your interpretation based on that will be wrong as well, and if your interpretation is wrong then your application of that would be wrong.  So essentially your theological framework is “at risk”.  (Although I must say, it might be at risk, but I doubt a significant portion would be at risk, and even still its an interpretation based on Scripture. So I would say there is an element of protection there by Providence, or so I would hope.)
Don’t get me wrong, though.  The theory has its strong points.  It gives us a way to look at the world behind the writings.  If the first creation account was written by the Priestly source, and the Priestly source was mainly a product of the exile, then we get a glimpse into the thought behind it, and an intended purpose to it.  Or if the Elohist source was a product of the Northern Kingdom it can gives a picture into the why Aaron is cast in such a bad light.  If the hypothesis is wrong though, then of course all the interpretations therein are wrong too.
I would prefer Brevard Child’s approach of biblical theology.  It’s more of a canonical criticism, we have the Scripture as a whole, and that’s how I think it should be dealt with.  Sure insight can be made by the source backgrounds, but ultimately the sources are now together, they are a unified whole and should be interpreted through that lens as much, if not more so than any other.  We have two creation accounts, one from the P source and another from the J, but we don’t have them separately we have them together, what does that mean for our interpretation?  We have Sodom and Gomorrah, the conquest of the land of Canaan and what some call genocide, but we also have the prophets, epistles and Jesus, so how do we put these things together in the grand story without becoming Marcionist/ites? (That is saying that the Old Testament God is one of wrath and completely different from the New Testament God of universal love.  Marcion created his own canon and it was essentially Luke and Paul’s Epistles.)
Ultimately, in the interpretation of the Scriptures I think its helpful to start from a firm foundation of belief and then pull from many different sources to fill out one’s view.  To limit oneself to one criticism or approach would really prevent one from growing and developing new views, or strengthening their own view.  Its really a practice in formal operations, I would think, to put yourself in another hat, or pair of shoes and fully live that out for just a second. Such a practice can help one to grow in their theological understand, as well as their faith.  Interpreting Scripture should be a challenge, and it should seem dangerous and uncomfortable, God is far bigger than one theological thought, or biblical studies approach can handle.
If we really dig into Scripture and only do so to affirm what we already believe what then are we doing?  We are simply using Scripture as a dictionary or encyclopedia, a reference source for our knowledge, is that what we should do?  I do not think so, not if we want to be corrected, trained, rebuked, and taught in righteousness.
One may have their own bias on theology and approach, I for instance like the canonical approach, and prefer Covenant Theology, but I must at least allow all that to be challenged.  I may argue those views to be right, but I must allow the discussion to happen.


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