In reading Scripture, primarily the Old Testament, we see there are places where the author of a named book simply couldn’t have been the one who wrote certain passages. There had to have been another person – an editor – who wrote parts of the work itself, or at least assembled the writings. That concept tends to rub many of us the wrong way because of the inspiration of the Bible that we attribute to God and His chosen authors.
However, we plainly see this concept in operation in the closing chapter of Deuteronomy with the account of Moses’ death. To choose a couple verses, consider Deuteronomy 34:5-6 which says:
So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day.
Unless Moses wrote this from the grave it’s obvious he didn’t put these words on the holy scroll. And, if he didn’t write them, are they inspired?
Dr. Michael Heiser, author of The Unseen Realm, has a favorite phrase that many seem to attribute to describe the process by which a number of these OT books were written.; he calls it using the Holy Stapler.
It’s probably a little easier to see with the writings of other prophets besides Moses. Let’s consider Ezekiel, as Dr. Heiser describes the undertaking:
Each day that Ezekiel gets up he makes many prophetic declarations; he often does some very strange things in the course of that day. Now, he himself may write down some of the Words the Lord gives him, but he also has followers. These men hang with Ezekiel day in and day out because they’re hungry to know the Word and the will of Yahweh. This group of men came to be known as the School of the Prophets. We see them show up in the accounts of Elijah and Elisha.
As Ezekiel spoke, it would not have been unusual for these men to capture the many things he said for posterity. They never knew what Ezekiel would proclaim on a given day, or what prophetic concept he might act out, such as lying on one side or another for weeks to illustrate what Yahweh wanted conveyed, or going around naked to depict something else. However, these students of the anointed prophet were always ready with pen and parchment to capture what he said and did.
Once the prophet died, someone in the group would likely say, “Hey, we need to put all that we know about Ezekiel together in a book for future generations. Everybody go home and gather up all your writings.” They would do this and bring back all the proverbial slips of paper and notebooks in which they’d written Ezekiel’s words.
The question then becomes: Did they simply assemble all these items into a nice neat pile, aligning all the edges just right, bring out the Holy Stapler, and go cah-thunk? “Okay, there’s the book of Ezekiel – all done.”
Not likely. They probably would have surveyed their group to find who was a good writer and/or someone with editing skills. That person would have taken all these many bits and pieces of Ezekiel’s doings and sayings, put them into an agreed upon order, added some context, and created the book. The concept of the Holy Stapler, where everything is just assembled willy-nilly, doesn’t really make sense. There had to be an editor.
If that’s the case, going back to what we see in the final passage in Deuteronomy, another writer and/or an editor had to have at least put these words about the events surrounding his death into the book. Another clue throughout Deuteronomy may be where Moses is referred to in the third person. Perhaps Moses did that through the humility that’s attributed to him in Numbers 12:3:
Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.
Or, maybe someone else noted that about him. In his humility, would Moses have actually stated that about himself?
This takes us back to inerrancy. If the process of writing many of the OT books included one of assembly and editing, can we consider the result inerrant?
Of course we can! God chose the main characters of these books. He prepared them for what He intended in order to accomplish His purposes. All they’d learned through reading and experience in life brought them to the place that God providentially wanted them to be. If that’s true for Moses in the Old Testament or Paul in the New Testament, wouldn’t that also be the case for anyone else tasked with completing the given book of the Bible? Wouldn’t God’s hand also be on each of those men?
I think we can safely say that would certainly be true. We have the Holy Scriptures. They came about through the inspiration of God working on whomever He chose to make His Word and will known.
We don’t have books created by the Holy Stapler; we have the Word of God superintended by Him to produce exactly what He intended.