The Divine Stapler

I posted this a while back on Cocceius.  Updating it.  I was discussing inerrancy and bible translations with a guy who has a Reformed background but is disillusioned with the local Reformed churches and thinks a tradition like EO can provide him with absolute epistemic certainty.  This kind of thinking is intellectual death and it is how atheists are made.

I believe in inspiration.  I believe the original mss are inerrant.  But we have to be careful how we gloss inspiration, not only because it is open to rebuttals, but also because there are instances of when the inspired writers appear to be doing their own research and even putting the inspired material in a certain order.  For example, if they were ghost-writing and putting pen to parchment only that which they received in a trance, then why did Luke begin the way he did?  Why did he say that he researched the material?

 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you,

No, Luke.  You ghost-wrote everything from the Holy Spirit when you were in a trance.

Why did Ezekiel switch from 1st person to 3rd person in a matter of verses?

In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and saw visions of God.[a] On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.

Now, you can say that he switched to the first person pronoun so that the reader could know who was writing.  That’s true.  But why did he continue speaking of himself in the 3rd person?  That suggests an editor.

What about Torah? I think we can all agree that the Documentary Hypothesis was an unfunny joke at which liberals are no longer laughing. It’s actually funny to point out the logical fallacies.

Here are the problems I’ve drawn attention to so far, with standard JEDP responses.

1. Nearly 100 instances where two Hebrew source texts disagree as to the name for God (Yahweh or Elohim). JEDP response: sloppy translator; the problem can’t be the divine name criterion.

2. P vocabulary and concepts showing up in J’s version of the flood story. JEDP: that’s the editorial hand; he made it messy; the problem can’t be the vocabulary criterion.

3. A criterion for P (no anthropomorphisms) not being valid. JEDP response: I haven’t seen any specifically, though I’m betting it would be something like, “well, J and E do *more* anthropomorphizing, so they must be different authors with different religious views.” (A “counting noses” answer; the problem can’t be the “view of God” criterion — of course this also ignores later anthropomorphosms outside the Pentateuch, and anthropomorphic portrayals in Jewish literature after the biblical period — never mind that stuff).

However, we still need to avoid the claim that Moses “ghost-wrote-in-a-trance” every idea.  Otherwise, we are left with some silly claims (like Moses claiming he was the most humble person in the world).


This is what Heiser calls “The Divine Stapler.”

Here’s what I mean in another dramatization. A few weeks after his dramatic inspiration encounter, one of Isaiah’s followers wakes up and gets ready for work. His job? Why, following Isaiah around and recording what he says. As he gets dressed he wonders if Isaiah will do anything weird today (helps make the day go faster) or if it’ll just be a normal sermon. He meets his colleagues (Isaiah is training other prophets like Elijah and Elisha – “the school of the prophets”) and they sit down and listen to the man of God. They each write as fast as they can, wishing they could have Isaiah repeat a few things, but they press on. They’ve been doing it for months (a few old timers have been there a couple years), so they’re pretty good at it. The next day they awaken to the shocking report: Isaiah has died! Now what do they do? Gripped by a sense of the need to preserve the prophet’s divinely-provoked sermons and teachings, they agree to get together and see what they’ve managed to record. One of them goes around the room and collects the notes of the others, stacks them neatly in a pile, shuffles them to make sure the edges line up, and then asks, “okay, where’s the stapler?” No one must touch Isaiah’s words since HE was the inspired prophet, not them, so all the notes get stapled together and so we got the book of Isaiah. Sorry, I just don’t believe in the holy stapler.

The Payoff

Adherents to the Documentary Hypothesis aren’t prepared to deal with this counter. It also keeps us from being Docetists and Platonists.


3 thoughts on “The Divine Stapler

  1. I agree with your assessment of Heiser, but that makes the idea of an inspired mss impossible to determine (even if it were more than a theoretical concept). When was Ezekiel inspired? The first draft? After how many editors? There even seems to be play in how Scripture is quoted, as the NT texts have varied citations of the OT, some Septuagint and some that match what becomes Masoretic. Was there a Greek text that matched both? There’s no discovery so far.

    I don’t think EO will give you epistemic certainty that many pine after, but its sense of tradition, and awareness, gives one an authoritative approach to understanding the text, revealing a more basic canon of the Word of God, which is a liminal phenomenon, both in and outside of the inspired Scripture. We take Scripture as inspired because it matched certain criteria that are not only within the text. It’s tradition that tells us the Apostolic authority produced the NT. And thus, while the Church did not *decide* the Bible, and instead submitted itself to it, the Church still had to discern what was in fact apostolic, and here an inspired tradition gives us a sense of how that happened.

    But yes, many AmeriDox are Greek Catholics, looking for a juridically defined magisterial authority, a pope, some epistemic chain of command. And all you will get is a arbitrary standard defined by fiat. That’s clearly not what many genuine 20th century Orthodox thought (esp. Florovsky, Lossky, et al.).


      • It seems to me that the wisest approach is to adopt something akin to how the best minds of Russian Orthodoxy have understood the interrelation (and interpenetration) of Scripture and tradition, unlike Rome’s idea of dual streams between the written and the unwritten arcana. However, this approach doesn’t vindicate Orthodoxy either (their doctrine of icons doesn’t fit apostolic tradition, requiring retrojection and folklore), but requires a semper reformanda spirit. Thus the work of a Richard Bauckham accidentally, perhaps, recovered the traditional identity of John the Elder as distinct from John son of Zebedee and the author of the gospel and letters (including, most likely, Revelation).


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