Saturday, 19 July 2014

The "aha" moment - Biblical Scholars Tell Their Stories. Part 8: Michael Ruffin

Part 8 of Peter Enns' series of posts from Christians relating the moment when their detailed study of the Bible exposed them to the reality that the fundamentalist / Biblicist approach to exegesis was untenable comes not from a professional Biblical scholar, but from Michael Ruffin, a pastor of a church in Georgie, USA. [1] Ruffin's story of growing up in a small American town where most of the citizens were manual workers, worshipping at the local Southern Baptist church, and eventually being drawn to university to fulfil his ambition of studying theology is hardly unusual, particularly as he relates how his academic studies introduced him to material (such as the documentary hypothesis) that he realised would have horrified his old hometown pastor. Where the story takes a different twist is the reaction he received from his father when he raised this subject with him.

Ruffin continues:
On a trip home I decided to broach with my Baptist deacon, long-time men’s Sunday School class-teaching father the subject of the liberalism to which I was being subjected. I figured (and probably hoped) that he would tell me to go pack my bags, come back home, and enroll in some safe state school. 
The conversation went like this: 
Me: “Do you know what Dr. Giddens and my textbook say about the Pentateuch?” 
Dad: “About the what?” 
Me: “The Pentateuch. The Torah. The first five books of the Old Testament.” 
Dad: “Oh. No, what do they say?”
Me: “That Moses didn’t write everything in those books.” 
Dad: “Really?” 
Me: “Yes, really.” 
Dad: “Huh. Well, I always wondered how Moses managed to write about his own death.”
That Ruffin's father did not react in the way he'd expected not only ensured that he continued in his academic studies but to quote him had the privilege of having his eyes opened to "all the biblical wonders." It also shows that laypeople are receptive to an approach other than the sterility of Biblical literalism if framed properly.

While the Documentary Hypothesis as formulated by Wellhausen has significant problems, this however does not mean that the fundamentalist view that the entire Pentateuch was written by Moses in the 15th century BCE is automatically correct. Far from it. As OT scholar Peter Enns notes:
The Pentateuch was not authored out of whole cloth by a second-millennium Moses but is the end product of a complex literary process—written, oral, or both—that did not come to a close until the postexilic period. This summary statement, with only the rarest exception, is a virtual scholarly consensus after one and a half centuries of debate. To admit this point does not in any way commit someone to one particular theory of how the Pentateuch came to its present form (and it does not in and of itself disallow some writing by Moses, hypothetically). It is only to admit that what we have cannot be explained as an early (second-millennium-BC) document written essentially by one person (Moses). Rather, the Pentateuch has a diverse compositional history spanning many centuries and was brought to completion after the return from exile. [2] (Emphasis in original)
What is worth noting is that at least one early Christadelphians, whose high view of scripture can hardly be doubted, did not dismiss this possibility. Bro Welch, in an article criticising 'higher criticism' nonetheless reminded his readers:
What matters it whether Moses or Joshua or some other person wrote the Pentateuch, whether Daniel or some other person wrote Daniel, or whether Paul or some other person wrote Hebrews? If the Spirit of God is the main actor in the case, the authorship of the various books making up the Bible, so far as the human agents are concerned, has too long since been settled to be disturbed at this late day, especially when this disturbing influence cannot affect in the slightest degree the real authorship of the Bible, or overthrow the wonderful and beautiful unity of purpose and doctrine pervading each one of the books making up the complete Bible record. [3]
It is of course impossible to say what the 19th and early 20th century Christadelphians would have thought about the scholarly consensus on how the Pentateuch reached its final form, but that is not the point. Our goal is not to slavishly follow what they said, but rather to emulate their approach of intelligent, critical engagement with modern scholarship, rather than to follow the YEC  fundamentalists in our community.


1. He was a former professor in the the School of Religion at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee and has authored a number of books.
2. Enns, Peter. The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012. p 23
3. Welch ‘The Fundamental Fallacy of “Higher Criticism”’, The Christadelphian (1895) 32:.292