Speedy writing in Old Israel.

There are a lot of Documentation Formulas scattered all over the Old Testament referring to the work of speedy writers in the prophetical culture of Old Israel. Documentation formulas are really up for grabs. They provide a massive testimony supporting documentation instead of an oral tradition behind the Hebrew Bible.


8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU."
9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.

NASBu  Galatians 3:8-9

Abraham had Scripture

This is a remarkable verse in the Letter to the Galatians. The peculiarity is that the Scripture preached to Abraham … This is so strange that a frequent explanation is that we should read for ‘Scripture’ the word ‘God’. But is that acceptable?

The promises to Abraham

Abraham went to Canaan with great promises of God:
‘And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’

(Genesis 12:2-3)

The apostle Paul says in Galatians 3:8 that Abraham had this message in written form: the Scripture preached the gospel to Abraham. Let’s imagine, … possessing these promises in writing, Abraham could read this prophecy regularly and so he found encouragement to believe in the fulfilment of the promises. From where could Paul develop this ‘theology’?

Remarkable characterization

After Abraham’s passing away we get a characterization of him in Genesis 26:5: ‘…because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.
The phrase ‘My commandments, My statutes and My laws’ refers to written documents. Abraham could not keep the commandments, statutes and laws if he was not acquainted with them. This is the only passage with this message in the Abraham story, so this passage could teach Paul that Abraham had Scripture.

The Hebrew words are: Mizwotai (My commandments), Choekotai (My Statutes), Torotai (My laws). It has always been a riddle why these three words are used together. It seems as if the same thing is mentioned three times. One has tried to distinguish them as being different sorts of decrees: e.g. social, spiritual, cultural rules, however that is not applicable considering other texts which use these words.

Simple meanings

Looking at the simple meanings of the words a total new reality starts to unfold.

(Lexicon Koehler-Baumgartner, 1953, s.v.)
Mizwah: order, commandment.
Choekah: (German: schriftlich festgelegtes – [English: established in writing]) carved, prescribed, statute.
Torah: direction, instruction, law.

The old translation of Choekotai ‘My Statutes’ (KJV) is certainly inspired by the idea that in the past laws were carved in stone and presented in public so that everybody could know what laws were to obeyed. But nowadays we know from archaeological findings the existence of wax tablets in which written messages were inscribed. Choekah is related more to writing in wax than to carving in stone.

Documentation Formula

The triple expression ‘mizwotai, choekotai, torotai’ contains a very meaningful content. When God spoke, it was ‘commandment’. By making a notation of God’s commandment it became ‘prescribed’ or briefly ‘writing’. The written commandment was God’s ‘instruction’ or ‘teaching’. Instead of ‘My commandments, My statutes and My laws’ we may read ‘My commandments, My writings and My teachings’. This formula also implied humanization: the commandment ‘Thou shalt’ became teaching: Understand it, love it and act according to it.

The spoken word of God was immediately important, not some days, weeks or even years later. From the moment of speaking it was important. ‘Speedy writers’ in the prophetical culture of the past were ready for the preservation. The phrase ‘My commandments, My statutes and My laws’ is in fact a documentation formula referring to the recording of direct speech by speedy writers. And there are so many of these documentation formulas scattered all over the Old Testament referring to the work of speedy writing. They are up for grabs. It was documentation, NOT oral tradition, that preceded the Scriptures.

Composing words

In Psalm 119 (NASBu) we find the composing words for the Documentation Formulas:
laws, testimonies, precepts, statutes (writings), commandments, judgements, your words, ordinances.

A documentation formula is made up of two or three of these words and it always contains the expression: statutes/writings.


(from NASBu)
20 … then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do.
Exodus 18:20

37 You shall thus observe all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them; I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:37

3 On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall observe it at its appointed time; you shall observe it according to all its statutes and according to all its ordinances.
Numbers 9:3

45 … these are the testimonies and the statutes and the ordinances which Moses spoke to the sons of Israel, when they came out from Egypt,
Deuteronomium 4:45

3 Keep the charge of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn.
1 Kings 2:3

11 Now this is the copy of the decree which King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, learned in the words of the commandments of the LORD and His statutes to Israel.
Ezra 7:11

13 Then You came down on Mount Sinai, and spoke with them from heaven;
You gave them just ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments.

Nehemiah 9:13

4 Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.
Maleachi 4:4 (last page of the Old Testament)

Documentation theory

The documentation formulas all together provide a massive testimony supporting the prophetical documentation behind the genesis of the Hebrew Bible rather than an oral tradition. It is high time for us to know this and to understand its relevance for the entire book.