Better Bible Study Tip #71: The Bible Had Editors, and That’s Okay

There was a time when the idea of someone “editing” the Bible really bothered me. I was taught that it was wrong to add to or take away from the Bible (cf. Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18-19). After all, the Bible is God’s word, and God’s word is perfect (cf. Ps. 19:7). It doesn’t need editing, and it would be wrong to do so.

I still believe that. It is for that reason that I am convinced that it is important to take God’s word as it is, not as we wish it was (see Tip #66: Don’t Second Guess God’s Choice in Inspiration). With that in mind, consider what we read in the first four verses of Ezekiel.

In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. 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.

As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal.

Ezekiel 1:1-4 (emphasis added)

The first verse uses the first person, “I was among” and “I saw.” This gives us the impression that Ezekiel is writing about himself. But then it switches to the third person. “The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel” and “the hand of the Lord was upon him there.” Then in verse four, it switches back to first person, “As I looked.”

I suppose it’s possible that Ezekiel just liked to talk about himself in the third person. But when the text switches to the third person, it certainly gives the impression that someone else other than Ezekiel is speaking, that is, an anonymous author who took Ezekiel’s first person account and wove it together into the book we now know as Ezekiel. That’s a not a theory that arises from doubting God’s inspiration, but from wresting with the impression given by the inspired words given in the Bible.

Even if the Bible had editors, that doesn’t make it any less inspired. God inspired many books with anonymous authorship (Tip # 69) and God could have easily inspired the words of the editors themselves. In fact, the book of Jeremiah gives us a glimpse of how editing was part of the process by which we ended up with the book as the final product we have today.

Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah, who wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them.

Jeremiah 36:33 (emphasis added)

God had Jeremiah write out a second version of the prophetic words he had already written down once before. But when they were dictated the second time, similar words were added to them. This wasn’t the same thing as “adding to” God’s word. It was simply part of the process by which God used Jeremiah and Baruch to produce the book of Jeremiah just as He wanted it to be in it’s final completed version.

Recognizing the existence of inspired editors is important because it enables us to avoid unnecessary confusion, and even false teaching that arises from those who haven’t considered this point.

Imagine if John, upon completing his account of the gospel, sends out multiple copies to various churches. In the copy he sends to Peter, he asks for feedback. “Is it all accurate? Did I leave out anything important?” Now imagine Peter responds to John and says, “I really think your book looks great, but I think you should consider including an account of the woman caught in adultery.” John, after receiving Peter’s feedback decides, “Yes, that was an important event. I better add it in.” But in the meantime, multiple copies of an earlier draft, without the woman caught in adultery, were already in circulation. So what happens? We end up with manuscripts with different versions of the book of John (as can be seen in your Bible’s footnotes on John 7:53-8:11).

As skeptic might look at the fact that we have differences between manuscripts as an opportunity to attack the reliability of the Bible. But if we realize that inspired scripture likely went through multiple inspired revisions, resulting in the possibility of multiple inspired versions which could have circulated at the same time, the skeptic’s attack is exposed as powerless.

Likewise, just because the book of Deuteronomy records the death of Moses (Deut. 34 was clearly written by someone other than Moses), this is no reason dismiss the Mosaic authorship of the law. We can trust that Moses received God’s Law at Sanai (Ex. 19), and what he wrote down (Ex. 24:4) is the essentially the same law we can read today. The fact that in inspired editor collected Moses’s law into the final forms of Genesis-Deuteronomy is no reason to reject the books as inauthentic in their origin.

No, we should not add to, take away from, or otherwise edit God’s word today. What we have now is the completed product. But since we take the Bible as it is, and the Bible presents itself as an edited book, we can believe that God used inspired editors as part of the process of inspiration.