Accounting for Rare Instances of Dictation (Response)

Posted By on October 11, 2008

I’m back – with thanks to all of you for your patience and input on the first of what will be many statements for the “Bellingham Statement” on inspiration and inerrancy.  I think I can manage my schedule now – which means posting at least once a week on each of my blogs.  Here’s the next one – responding to your input.

Several of you pointed out the need to allow for SOME dictation. Agreed. In earlier discussions I had done so, nothing that it happened but what pretty rare.  I had used examples like God’s conversations with Moses on Sinai and the ten commandments. But now that we’re into this subject of necessity, I can’t use that one, since it is problematic.  That is not to say dictation doesn’t happen. It does, but it quite rare, and so I need to reword my first statement. I’ll revisit my statement in the next day or so and offer a revision.

For now, in case you may be wondering about why the ten commandments aren’t a good example of dictation, let me show you. I’ll do this in English, but realize the differences are in Hebrew and more could be added that English obscures. The issue is this: the wording of the commandments, both in word order and content, is DIFFERENT in Deuteronomy 5 and Exodus 20.  If we say God dictated Exodus 20, then the most obvious problems are:

(1) Did God forget the wording in Deuteronomy 5?

(2) If God did not dictate Deuteronomy 5, then apparently it doesn’t matter if later authors change the wording (i.e., dictation doesn’t matter for much)

(3) Wait a minute – if Moses wrote Deuteronomy 5, how come he didn’t get the same dictation from God (did God forget or wasn’t Moses listening as closely)?  Or, How come he was allowed to improvise things later on? Or, Didn’t God mind the changes? Or, How could ANY author feel free to change something dictated? Or, Why would God re-dictate something with changes; was there a problem with the earlier stuff?

You get the idea.  It’s a bad example. Here is a visual of the differences using English (not precise since it’s English, but it gives you an idea).  And this of course doesn’t count the other places in Scripture where commands are quoted without precision – that would rule out dictation as well.

EXODUS 20

DEUTERONOMY 5

2 ”I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

3 ”You shall have no other gods before me.

4 ”You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7 ”You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

8 ”Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 ”Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 ”You shall not murder.

14 ”You shall not commit adultery.

15 ”You shall not steal.

16 ”You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 ”You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

6 ” ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

7 “ ‘You shall have no other gods before me.

8 “ ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 9 You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

11 “ ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

12 “ ‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

16 “ ‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

17 ” ‘You shall not murder.

18 ” ‘And you shall not commit adultery.

19 “ ‘And you shall not steal.

20 “ ‘And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

21 “ ‘And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’

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6 Responses to “Accounting for Rare Instances of Dictation (Response)”

  1. [...] Accounting for Rare Instances of Dictation (Response) [...]

  2. Dave Rymenave says:

    Heisner & Readers:
    The differences between Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy Five are telling. What do they tell? Deuteronomy is a set of three “sermons” given to the Israelites 40-years after they received the original commandments. The people had now accrued wealth/chattel through their battle victories and were in a different set of circumstances.
    Moses was reminding the children of the original Egyptian slaves not to “lord it over” their own newly-acquired slaves. In addition, some of them had recently acquired land on the eastern side of the Jordan river and the rest of them (except the Levites) were about to get land on the west side.
    Moses “changed” the wording of the Ten Commandments in Deut. 5 slightly so that it would apply to his hearers (most of which had not heard the first version spoken by the voice of God from Mt. Horeb). Did he misquote God? No, I think Moses knew (and the Holy Spirit inspiring him knew) exactly the perfect way to teach the law.
    If Moses was here in N.America he would have a few more additions for us uberconsumers.
    -Dave Rymenave

  3. MSH says:

    @Dave Rymenave: one of course has to wonder why they weren’t changed more often – every time a historical circumstance changed. How about when they came back to the land and had no temple? That would seem to have been a good time to change some rules. The community itself, of course, did this, without any need of dictation.

    And if Moses changed the words “led by the Holy Spirit” that doesn’t require dictation – which was the point of the exercise.

    And it’s “Heiser” – not “Heisner”

  4. Dave Rymenave says:

    Heiser: sorry about the name (I realized my mistake shortly after posting and did not know how to go back and change it); for restitution you can call me “nave”!

    The more I think about it the more I like the idea of God’s words being “dynamic” and not “static”

    God did not need to restate the commandments after the exile because the precident was already set. A learned teacher of the Law could read Deut.5 and conclude that, though God’s laws do not change, the circumstances of God’s people dictate that the Law be applied differently.

    Supposing the 10 Commandments were given to us today the subsequent examples would include modern coveteousness and situations (as I implied before).

    You’re right, of course, about the massive change in lifestyle and perspective which the returning Jews must have confronted. It is what it is, unless some new extant text shows up in a cave somewhere!

  5. Dave Rymenave says:

    Dictation is the lowest form of information processing. A person who reconstructs the learning he or she has acquired (and can restate it and apply it) has a better grasp on the concept.

    A person taking dictation (which at times is necessary) is basically a human tape recorder; his or her most important quality is the skill of accurate re-transmission. The tablets upon which the Commandments were written must also have the ability to retain its new grooves.

    The Law was so deeply etched into Moses’ heart he probably didn’t have to bother taking the tablets out of the acacia box he consructed for them – of course he should not have dared to do that.

    The fact that the tablets were incredibly inaccessible might tell us something about relying upon the exact wording rather than the “Spirit of the Law.”

    -Dave Rymenave

  6. MSH says:

    @Dave Rymenave: no problem on the name – it’s not the first time!

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