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What is Redaction Criticism?

Bobby Killmon

by Bobby Killmon


What is “redaction criticism” and why should we know about it as Apostolics?

Redaction criticism is a liberal method that attempts to “investigate” Scriptures to make judgments about their authorship, historical trustworthiness, and date of writing. This method is mostly used to destroy the credibility of Scripture. The reason we need to be aware of it is because of the growing influence of liberal critical scholarship in the books we read (even in typically more conservative evangelical scholarship), the teaching of all major universities and institutions, and the growing prevalence of these views dominating digital media and publications. I own books from many of these sources, but knowing the difference between “eating the meat” and “spitting out the bones” is critical to healthy theological digestion. 


Redaction criticism questions the genuineness of Scripture by asking: When was it actually written? Who really wrote the text? The point to catch is redaction critics do not believe in the inspiration or inerrancy of Scripture, as Apostolics define these, and typically avoid using the terms.

For instance, liberal critics believe the OT was compiled from oral traditions or sources, and not even written down in the form we have them, until after Israel was carried into captivity in Babylon (586 B.C.). However, Scripture says itself Moses is the author of “the Law” or the Pentateuch and quotes him as such (Exo. 17:14, 24:4, 34:27; Num. 33:1-2; Deut. 31:9-11; Jos. 1:7-8, 8:31-32, 23:6; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6, 21:8; 1 Chron. 22:13; Ezra 6:18; Neh. 13:1; Dan. 9:11-13; Mal. 4:4; Mk. 12:26; Matt. 8:4, 19:8; Jn. 5:45-47, 7:19; Lk. 16:29, 24:27, 24:44; Jn. 5:46, 7:22; Acts 3:22, 15:1, 28:23; Rom. 10:5, 10:19; 1 Cor. 9:9; 2 Cor. 3:15). If Moses did not really do this, liberal critics could point out that these claims are errors in Scripture and justly dismiss Scripture’s authority. 

So, redaction criticism is an attempt to deny the possibility of a preserved, accurate written record of God’s Word. Paul shows us how the Word was recorded (2 Tim. 3:16). God moved the writers of Scripture to record the very words He wanted written. Peter affirms the same in 2 Pet. 1:21. It was God who was behind the authorship and preservation of the Scriptures.

Though biblical writers arranged or commented on events, this is not the writer “breaking” or “reframing” the text. It is God inspiring the writer to say exactly what He intended. One can believe Joshua could have written the ending of Deuteronomy recording Moses’ death. That does not destroy Mosaic authorship. Arranging the collection of the Psalms by putting them into categories doesn’t affect their inspiration, integrity or inerrancy at all. Quoting outside historical references for factual data in no way reduces inspiration of Chronicles, or any part of the Bible. The inspired writer simply quotes other sources, though while not inspired were accurate. The point is if the original writings were inspired, no one would need to alter the text.

Harold Lindsell said this about using these methods, “This may be done, and often is, under the illusion that by this method the opponents of biblical inerrancy can be won over … But practical experience suggests that rarely does this happen and the cost of such an approach is too expensive, for it gives credence and lends respectability to a method which is the deadly enemy of theological orthodoxy.” In short, we must “spit out the bones” of these approaches lest redaction criticism destroy inerrancy and inspiration.