JEDP Theory - What is it?

The JEDP theory says that the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—were not written entirely by Moses, who died in the 1400s B.C., but by different authors/compliers who lived after Moses. The theory is based on the fact that different names for God are used in different portions of these books, along with detectable differences in linguistic style. The letters of the JEDP theory stand for the four supposed authors: one who uses Jehovah for God's name, one who uses Elohim, the author of Deuteronomy, and the "priestly" author of Leviticus. The JEDP theory goes on to propose that the different portions of the Pentateuch were compiled in the fourth century B.C., possibly by Ezra (since he wrote and composed other biblical writings during that time).

What is the evidence for this view? First, it should be noted that these different names for God are often used within the same context. For example, Genesis chapter 1 uses the name Elohim while Genesis chapter 2 uses the name YHWH. The answer is simple. Moses used God's different names to emphasize a point. In Genesis 1, God is Elohim, the mighty Creator God. In Genesis 2, God is Yahweh, the personal God who created and relates to humanity. This doesn't prove different authors. It's one author using God's various names to emphasize different aspects of God's character.

Regarding the different styles, there has been more hype than substance. An author writing over a forty-year period would be expected to change styles at various points. Also, we would expect an author to have different styles when writing history (Genesis), legal statutes (Exodus, Deuteronomy), and intricate details of the worship system (Leviticus). Proponents of JEDP take explainable and natural differences in the Pentateuch and invent an elaborate and unnecessary theory.

The most powerful argument against the JEDP theory is the Bible itself. Jesus said in Mark 12:26, "have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'?" Jesus clearly noted that Moses wrote the account of the burning bush in Exodus 3:1-3. Luke, in Acts 3:22, comments on a passage in Deuteronomy 18:15 and credits Moses as the author. The apostle Paul's writings also affirm this traditional belief in Mosaic authorship; for example, in Romans 10:5, Paul implies that Moses wrote Leviticus 18:5.

Jesus, Paul, and Luke all spoke of Moses as the author of the first five books of the Bible. Even the religious scholars, consisting of the priests and scribes, did not deny this aspect of their teaching. Moses was the accepted author of the Law from the earliest times. Why? Because he was the author. In order for the JEDP theory to be true, Jesus, Luke, and Paul must either be lying or deceived in their understanding of the Old Testament. (The same would also be true of their original hearers.) Further, the JEDP theory does not explain the affirmation of Mosaic authorship by many other Old Testament writers.

So, there's really no reason to accept the JEDP theory as anything more than a theory. It suggests an alternative view of biblical authorship but does not withstand the historical and internal evidence available today. Let's not doubt the authorship of Moses. Let's read what he wrote and apply it to our lives today.

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