Borrowed or Returned?
The Bible writers declare that God is the source of their words. “All Scripture is inspired by God . . .” (2 Timothy 3:16). “. . . men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). Divine inspiration gives the Bible its accuracy and authority.
Many deny this claim, saying that the Bible is inspired only in a broad sense that might be attributed to other great historical works. Modernists point out parallels between Biblical accounts and the literature of various ancient civilizations. They would have us believe that the Bible writers borrowed their ideas, or at least their imagery, from pagan neighbors. Accounts which the Bible depicts as history—creation, Adam and Eve’s sin, the flood, Jonah, etc.—are dismissed as folklore.
Several questions occur to me. Do parallels necessarily indicate that someone borrowed from another? If they do, why is it generally assumed that the Bible writers were the ones who did the borrowing? Is it not just as feasible that others borrowed from the truths that were being recorded in sacred writ and embellished them to fit their own ends? If modern liberals rewrite history to make it read as they prefer, why could not heathens of old have built their legends around kernels of truth, the truth that God saw fit to record for us?
Another approach to this subject is suggested by Tremper Longman III in his book How to Read the Psalms. Discussing the depiction of God slaying a multi-headed sea monster Leviathan (Psalm 74:13-14), Longman writes:
Interestingly enough, this is imagery based on the religions of Israel’s neighbors. . . .
. . . both the Canaanites and the Babylonians believed that their main god destroyed the sea monster. . . .
What is the psalm saying then? Is it agreeing with the pagan religions of their neighbors? Far from it! God’s destruction of Leviathan in Psalm 74 is an image of his power. Further, there is a message to the pagan nations here and to those Israelites tempted to worship foreign gods. That message implicitly stated is: “Your gods are nothing; our God is everything. You think your gods showed their power by defeating the forces of chaos (for this is what the sea stood for). You are wrong. It was Yahweh the God of the Israelites, our God.”
Such allusions are not uncommon in the Psalter and elsewhere. They are not borrowings from the surrounding religions, but rather a form of missions, particularly to the Israelites who had gone over to their neighbors’ religion.
If Bible writers ever “borrowed” any imagery from their idolatrous neighbors, they did so with a view of returning it, exposed for the sham that it was. Let us confidently take our stand on the Bible, the inspired word of God.