Even the Bible Needed Upgrading, but Don’t Let That Scare You

bible upgrade

Wait a minute. The Bible needed an upgrade?

Those sound like fighting words to anyone with a high view of Scripture. An upgrade implies that something needed updating, but the Bible is timeless!

That’s true, but in this case I would have to excuse myself from the ring. I wouldn’t want to tangle with those responsible for the improvements: the biblical writers and, well, the Spirit of God.

Believe it or not, there is evidence that the Bible was updated. That may sound strange, but if you read closely, it’s undeniable. Take Genesis 14:14 as an illustration:

When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men . . . and went in pursuit as far as Dan.

Did you notice the problem? This is the time of Abram, a time before Moses and Joshua—before there was a promised land divided among the tribes of Israel. There wasn’t even an Israel yet. So what’s up with the reference to the land that belonged to the tribe of Dan?

If we plotted out the battle between Abram described in this verse on a map, with place names appropriate for Abram’s day, we’d see that the writer really meant that the enemy was pursued all the way to a place called Laish, not Dan.

Many Bible critics would call this an error, but it isn’t. Much later, in the days of Israel’s judges, Laish was renamed as Dan: “And they named the city Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor, who was born to Israel; but the name of the city was Laish at the first” (Judg 18:29). Evidently, an unnamed editor updated the text of Genesis 14:14 after the name change took place. The editor likely did this to make sure readers of his own day would understand the geography.

In other instances, an editor repurposed something already written in the Bible to make it preach to their community. Psalm 51 is well known as a record of David’s repentance after his sin with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah. The psalm, though, ends by asking God to “do good to Zion” and with the command, “build up the walls of Jerusalem” (Psa 51:18–19). The walls of Jerusalem were not in need of repair until after God’s people were exiled, centuries after David lived. The editorial addition is a masterful literary stroke. Just as King David repented centuries before, an editor sought to move the exiles to national repentance. It was just the kind of example they needed.

Though it seems strange, the updating of Psalm 51:18–19 and Genesis 14:14 gives us an insight into the process of inspiration—a process that included providential editorial work.

why is the bible hard to understandDr. Michael S. Heiser is a scholar-in-residence for Faithlife, the makers of Logos Bible Software. He is the author of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible and has taught many Mobile Ed courses, including Problems in Biblical Interpretation: Difficult Passages I.

 

This article is excerpted from Dr. Heiser’s book I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible.

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Comments

  1. Jeff O'Neal says:

    I do not see the “editing” in light of my understanding that Moses recorded the Pentateuch. In fact, this whole line of thought seems to point to Biblical skepticism. Gen 19:37 & 38 as well as other verses contain the phrase, “…to this day.” These all indicate a later writing (Ex 17:14; Num 33:2; Josh 1:7-8; etc.) rather than a later “editing”

    As for the Psalms, I suppose the prophetic nature of Psa 22 is “evidence” to skeptics of later editing as well.

    • excellent point… I have to agree with you…

    • Doug Sevre says:

      It’s quite easy to have the “later writing” conceot fit with the specific scenarios you describe and to also have the “later editing” concept fit with other scenarios such as the author mentions.

      Both scenarios individually and together underscore with greater strength the doctrine of the divine inspiration of Scripture and the unity of the whole of all of Scripture.
      Minor edits to previously recorded narratives that provide clarity for a current audience emphasize that they were historical incidents that actually happened at a particular place and time while also pointing to their inclusion in the transcendent message of divine revelation that the chain of human authors and editors recognized across time.

  2. Eric Seelye says:

    People have offered other explanations for Ps 51:18-19, here is part of the footnote from Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms:

    “There does not, however, seem to be any sufficient ground for referring the poem, either in whole or in part, to that [Babylonian] period. Neither the walls of Jerusalem, nor the buildings of Zion, as the royal palace, and the magnificent structure of the temple, which we know David had already contemplated for the worship of God, (2 Sam. 7:1, &c.,) were completed during his reign. This was only effected under the reign of his son Solomon, (1 Kings 3:1.) The prayer, then, in the 18th verse, might have a particular reference to the completion of these buildings, and especially to the rearing of the temple, in which sacrifices of unprecedented magnitude were to be offered. David’s fears might easily suggest to him that his crimes might prevent the building of the temple which God had promised should be erected, (2 Sam. 7:13.) “The king forgets not,” observes Bishop Horne, “to ask mercy for his people, as well as for himself; that so neither his own nor their sins might prevent either the building and flourishing of the earthly Jerusalem, or, what was of infinitely greater importance, the promised blessing of Messiah, who was to descend from him, and to rear the walls of the New Jerusalem.”

    Calvin, J., & Anderson, J. (2010). Commentary on the Book of Psalms. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

  3. Glenn Hicks says:

    Brothers, please at least consider that there are other explanations for the use of “Dan” in Gen. 14:14. Dr. William Barrick, from The Master’s Seminary has suggested another approach in the following article:
    https://drbarrick.org/files/papers/other/Genxiv14.pdf

    • excellent point as well…I gather that this makes for one of those cases for which the Apostle advices to, “let every man be persuaded in his own mind”. Not all beliefs need come from nor in a dogmatic way, as in “Authoritarianism”..

  4. What is up with all of the strange and sudden changes in the Bible this year, especially concerning the KJV? For example, when did Genesis 1:1 change from the plural “heavens” to the singular “heaven”? Who is Nebuchadrezzar (as opposed to Nebuchadnezzar)? Have the four “Hallelujah’s” in Revelations always been “Allelujah” ? Why is the word “stuff” found so often in the KJV? Has that always been there? Isn’t that sort of an informal word, at least much of the time?

  5. I forgot to mention the most puzzling one of all. Has the wording always been the lion will dwell with the wolf? (Isaiah 11:6) The wolf? Why does everybody say the “lion and the lamb” and have this on artwork if it has really been the wolf all this time?

  6. Mark S. says:

    Can anyone explain why the person in the Bible who everyone knows, Noah, has been changed to “Noe”? What? Seriously – Noe?? Matthew 24:37, 37, Luke 17:27. Can’t we just leave Noah’s name alone!?

  7. Mark S. says:

    What is with Moses and the ark? Huh? Yes, Moses, not Noah. Why did the editors of the KJV suddenly change Moses’ basket in Exodus 2:5 to Moses’ “ark”? I remember seeing flannel graph’s of Moses’ basket, not his ark?

    And slime? Again, really? Slime? Wasn’t it something like “pitch” or “tar” for the last 300 years in Exodus 2:3. Do the new editors of the KJV think they have to be really cool and use less formal words now like “stuff” and “slime”?