Julius Wellhausen


I.          Biography

II.         Philosophy

            A.        Higher Criticism

            B.         Rationalism, Evolution & Liberalism

            C.        The Documentary Hypothesis

III.       Conclusion


            Biography. Julius Wellhausen was born in 1844 in Westphalia, Germany. After his undergraduate studies Wellhausen attended seminary. His ability to think theologically earned him a position at a seminary after graduation. During his ten year tenure, year by year, step by step he moved away from the idea that the Old and New Testaments came to man by divine inspiration. In turn, he developed a method of interpreting the OT which was later called higher criticism.

Higher Criticism. Higher criticism is concerned with studying the literary type, the content, and its conformity with the social customs of the times. Some of this research sheds additional light on the text and is helpful. However, these higher critical methods eventually became negative higher critical methods. Negative higher criticism assumes that the evolutionary history developed by modern philosophical science is basically correct. Upon this assumption, the Bible becomes subject to this pre-established evolutionary history. In short, the Bible is twisted to fit the evolutionary model. These non-biblical presuppositions become the final criterion for the critics evaluation of the Bible. The ultimate result is that the living Word is reduced to a mere human drama, a dead book. Thus, negative higher criticism is unacceptable to the conservative student of Scripture who accepts the Biblical text as the final criterion for life and practice, regardless of the conclusions of modern scientific and philosophic speculation.

            Rationalism, Evolution, and Religious Liberalism. Two factors played a role in the development of Wellhausens philosophy. First, rationalism. Rationalism supposed that mans finite reason was an adequate final reference point for knowledge. German rationalism had been on the rise for many years after the Enlightenment in Europe and Wellhausen adopted this rationalistic framework of thought applying it to the interpretation of the Bible. Second, Darwins evolution. Darwins Origin of Species in 1859 advanced Wellhausens rationalistic tendencies by providing an evolutionary framework to interpret reality and harness rationalism. Because Wellhausen was a Christian and had influence at the Seminary level, rationalism eventually crept into orthodox Christianity, resulting in what is commonly called Religious Liberalism. Darwins framework of evolution deeply influenced other Christian scholars as well, causing them to deny the biblical doctrines of Creation, the Fall, the Flood, the Noahic Covenant, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection and any other supernatural events because they didnt fit the uniformitarian premise of naturalism. Everything in the Bible was re-interpreted in a way that =91supposedly correlated with the scientific data.

The Documentary Hypothesis. The product of Religious Liberalism was Wellhausens Documentary Hypothesis. This work interpreted the Scriptures compilation from a strictly naturalistic framework. The Documentary Hypothesis challenged the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and the date of writing by placing it much later. Below is a summary of Wellhausens conclusions:

            Genesis 2:4b-4:26 is attributed to J; 1:1-2:4a belongs to P

            Genesis 5:29, J; 5:1-28 and 30-32, P 

            Genesis 6:1-8, J; 6:9-22, P

            Genesis 7:1-5; 7, 10, 12, 16b, 17b, 22a-23a; 8:2b-3a, 6-12, 13b, 20-22; 9:18-27, J

            Numbers 15:1b, JE; 14:3-4, J; 14:8, 9, 11-25, JE; 14:1a, 2, 5-7, 10, 26-30, 33-38, P

Deuteronomy 34:1b-6, E; 32:48-52, P; 34:1a-7, 12, P

Deuteronomy 7:6, 8-9, 11, 13-16a, 17a, 18-21, 23b-24, 8:1-2a, 3b-5, 13a, 14-19, 9:1-17, 28-29, P


Code: J Jahveh, a man who lived around 900BC; E Elohist, lived around 750BC; JE Jahveh/Elohist, an editor who added to prior resources; D most of Deuteronomy, the law found by Josiah in 621BC; H Holiness Code in Lev. 17-26 around 600BC; P Priestly Code, priests during the exile around 400BC.[1]


Of course, Wellhausens conclusions can only be drawn by denying the authority of the Bible and its claim that Moses was the sole author of the Pentateuch. Since Wellhausen assumes the evolutionary premise is true he subsequently concludes that pre-historic peoples were polytheists and later historic peoples evolved into higher, loftier monotheists, such as the case of Israel. From his perspective he doubted whether Moses could even read or write, thus, denying his authorship of the Torah from square one. By subjective methods of interpretation Wellhausen deconstructed the text and proposed unnamed authors.

Wellhausens presuppositions have led to the downfall of orthodox Christianity. Most Christians and certainly all non-Christians assume that the Bible is a mere human book and that finite limited man is the seat of true rationality. The supernatural accounts in the Bible were written by superstitious observers and must be interpreted in some naturalistic way. And all this is based on what? Limited observations by finite fallible men of current scientific laws.

Conclusion. Lets face it, Wellhausens rationalism resulted in a religious liberalism that has destroyed the Churchs faith in Gods words. We ask as Satan once asked Eve,Has God said? Has God really said this or is it just compilations of human writings? Is it just a human book? Wellhausen so destroyed the authority and surety of Gods word that there are few left who believe that God has said it once for all. Few follow the maxim that Gods word is the sole authority in every area of life and every area of life equally. Most, even within Christianity, are enslaved by the universally-embraced origin myth of evolution.


[1] Pache, Rene, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture (Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company, 1992), 251-252.