An Israeli Algorithm Illuminates Biblical Authorship


Biblical authorship: what saith the computer . . . and should we care?

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An Israeli team of computer scientists has developed software to analyze literary authorship and applied their technique to the Bible. By analyzing literary styles and word choices, they tried to scientifically assess the authorship of portions of the Old Testament.

Their program confirmed that the Bible contains a variety of literary styles consistent with the many human authors whom the Lord utilized to record His Word. This finding should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever read the Bible. God breathed out His Word (2 Timothy 3:16) and by His Holy Spirit communicated it to many human authors (2 Peter 1:21). He used their personalities and styles while superintending their writing so as to prevent the introduction of error.

The team’s findings, however, are consistent with some of the claims of “higher criticism.” For instance, it also concluded that Isaiah had two authors, although it placed the division at a non-traditional location. What should we make of this? Has the weight of science applied to Scripture proven the higher critics right?

“Higher criticism” is founded on the humanistic assumption that the Bible is just a product of human efforts. This philosophy views much of the Bible as a collection of myths, ridicules the miraculous, scorns prophecy, and denies that the Bible is the Word of God. “Higher criticism” was popularized in the late 18th century and has eroded trust in the Bible as the authoritative Word of God.

Since the programmers already accepted some tenets of “higher criticism,” it is not surprising that the software reached similar conclusions.

The “higher critics” began with the idea that differing styles proved multiplicity of authors and then wrote God out of the picture. While the Israeli team plainly admits that it cannot assess the question of divine authorship, the conclusions it does make are only as good as the assumptions on which they are based. Keep in mind that the computer software can only operate upon the assumptions that are programmed into it by its developers. Since the programmers already accepted some tenets of “higher criticism,” it is not surprising that the software reached similar conclusions. If the programmers had designed the software with ideas shared by conservative Christians, then the program would have reached conclusions that line up with conservative views.

By assuming that alterations in style indicate change in author, the software writers share an assumption with the “higher critics.” This bias leads to the infamous “two Isaiahs” conclusion. Liberal theology insists that prophetic details concerning the downfall of Babylon could not have been written centuries before the fact. To admit such foreknowledge would require belief in divine inspiration. Therefore, the “science” of “higher criticism” is invoked to “prove” that the 66 chapters of Isaiah were cobbled together after the events they describe.

Ample evidence undergirds the position that “Isaiah, son of Amoz” wrote the entire book over a period of years long before the fall of Babylon. Volumes have been written arguing this issue. During those years, Isaiah’s writing style may have matured or—brilliant writer that he was—he may have simply used two different styles. The book of John refers to both “parts” of the prophecy and attributes all to Isaiah. (John 12:38–41 quotes from Isaiah 53:1 and Isaiah 6:1.) Just as Jesus referred to the writings of Moses (John 5:46), the first man and woman (Matthew 19:4–6), the Flood of Noah (Matthew 24:37), and Jonah’s days in the whale (Matthew 12:39–40), so the Gospel writer assures us of the authenticity of Isaiah’s authorship.

Christians and anyone else seeking to know the truth should avoid the slippery slope of ignoring the witness of Scripture in favor of any external commentary. Computer analyses, like anything mathematical and scientific, offer the illusion of infallibility. But those analyses are no better than the assumptions on which they are based. Furthermore, such an analysis of the Bible’s authorship cannot be independently verified. And as the software developer said in reference to how different styles were woven into the whole of Scripture, “No amount of research is going to resolve that issue.”

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