The Bible’s So-called Anachronisms
AN ARGUMENT popular with critics of the Bible is that it could not be the inspired Word of God because it contains anachronisms. What is an anachronism? It is “a misplacing or error in the order of time; an error in chronology by which events are misplaced in regard to each other.”—Webster.
To illustrate: No literary essay written before 1939 would refer to the war that began in 1914 as “World War I” because up to that time there had been only one world war. That war simply was known as “the World War.” Therefore, if it is claimed that an essay was written by one who died before 1939 and yet it contained the expression “World War I,” obviously such a claim would be questioned because of the anachronism.
However, it is possible that many years from now a copy of such an essay could have a reference to “World War I.” For instance, if it had been copied and reprinted time and again the expression “the World War” may have been changed to read “World War I,” either due to oversight or deliberately to avoid ambiguity. The presence of this anachronism in a copy many years hence therefore would not of itself prove that the original essay was not written by one who died before 1939.
Because very early manuscripts of the Christian Greek Scriptures have been discovered we can tell just what copyists’ errors crept in through the centuries and when. It may be that someday the same may be more true of the Hebrew Scriptures than is now the case. However, judging by the Isaiah Dead Sea Scroll, it is clear that God’s holy spirit saw to it that such errors were indeed few and mostly inconsequential. If we are willing to examine into and reason upon the Scriptures, we will find that time and again what appeared to be an anachronism may not have been such after all.
Among the first seeming anachronisms found in the Hebrew Scriptures is the reference to the city of Dan at Genesis 14:14, where we are told that Abram chased certain kings “up to Dan.” But at Judges 18:29 we read that the Danites, after entering the land of Canaan, renamed the city of Laish Dan. Since Moses died before the name was changed, it is argued that he could not have written the book of Genesis.
However, certain Bible scholars insist that there was more than one city by the name of Dan. They point to the city of Dan mentioned at Deuteronomy 34:1 and to Dan-jaan referred to at 2 Samuel 24:6. Nor can the possibility be ruled out that the reference to Dan at Genesis 14:14 is due to a copyist’s error or deliberate choice so as to avoid ambiguity. Whichever the case may have been, certainly here we do not have any evidence disproving that Moses was the writer of the book of Genesis.
The triumphant song of Moses, recorded at Exodus, chapter 15, telling of the victory over Pharaoh’s hosts at the Red Sea, is also challenged as an anachronism. According to the modernist Interpreter’s Bible, it could not possibly have been composed by Moses because it tells of the effect that the miraculous deliverance of the Israelites and the death of Pharaoh’s hosts in the Red Sea had upon the inhabitants of Philistia, the sheiks of Edom, the despots of Moab and because it makes mention of Jehovah’s sanctuary. These, it holds, are anachronisms and prove that the song must have been composed not only after Israel had traversed the wilderness and came upon these peoples, but also after Solomon’s temple had been built with its sanctuary, by one who imagined himself in Moses’ position and attributed these words to him.
But all such does not necessarily follow. During his forty-year sojourn in the land of Midian Moses doubtless learned much about the surrounding lands and people, if he was not already cognizant of them due to his learning in Pharaoh’s court. Besides, the song puts everything in the future tense, it really being a prophecy. Those pagans must or will hear, fright must or will take hold upon them, and Jehovah will bring his people to his sanctuary. All who grant that Jehovah God in times past used his servants to utter inspired prophecy will have no difficulty in accepting the fact that Moses actually did write this song.
Genesis 36:31 has been referred to by Bible critics as another instance of a glaring anachronism. Written more than four hundred years before there were kings in Israel, it states: “Now these are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the sons of Israel.” A little reasoning, however, will show that Moses could well have made this statement even though there were no kings in Israel at the time. How so? In that Moses was familiar with Jehovah’s promise to Abraham that “kings will come out of you.” Further, Moses himself foretold that his people, after entering the land of Canaan, would ask for a king to rule over them. He even gave instructions on who may and who may not be selected and what such a king must do. (Gen. 17:6; Deut. 17:14-20) And here again the critics are also silenced in that it just possibly might have been an interpolation, for an almost identical statement occurs at 1 Chronicles 1:43 that deals with the same genealogical record.
Still another so-called anachronism is found at Exodus 16:35. It reads: “And the sons of Israel ate the manna forty years until their coming to a land inhabited. The manna was what they ate until their coming to the frontier of the land of Canaan.” True, it is not likely that Moses penned those words at the time he wrote the original record about the Israelites’ receiving manna, but who could argue that he himself did not add these words at the end of the forty-year trek in the wilderness when he stood at the frontier of the land of Canaan, knowing that his people would thereafter no longer be eating manna? Whether he or another added these words, they of themselves certainly cannot be used to argue that the entire book of Exodus was not written by Moses.
The conclusions of the books of Deuteronomy and of Joshua have been called anachronisms because they tell about the deaths of their respective writers. But a far more reasonable position to take is that these postscripts were providentially added to complete the record of their writers and do not at all prove that the books themselves were not written by Moses and Joshua. Such weak arguments merely show the lack of objectivity of the Bible critics.
If we read the Bible for the purpose of finding fault with it, to find some excuse for not accepting it as God’s Word and our Guide, we will find apparently what we are looking for. But if we are looking for the truth with an open mind we will find that and we will not be stumbled by so-called anachronisms. Surely the wealth of evidence in support of the Bible’s authenticity cannot be laid aside on the basis of such weak arguments as the so-called anachronisms.