Does It Really Matter Who Wrote the Pentateuch?
Since the “period of Enlightenment,” liberal scholars have been extremely critical of those who teach that Moses was the inspired human author of the first five books of the Bible. These critics teach that the Pentateuch was compiled from four original source documents—designated as J, E, D, and P—which supposedly were written at different times by a different author (or authors), and eventually were compiled as the Pentateuch by a redactor (editor) around 200 B.C. This theory, which wears various names (Graf-Wellhausen Theory, Documentary Hypothesis, JEDP Theory, etc.), has becoming increasingly popular through the years. Numerous commentaries, religious journals, and Web sites promote it. And many professors who teach religious courses espouse it. Undoubtedly, it is the champion among topics discussed in classes on a critical introduction to the Bible. In most “scholarly” circles, if one does not hold to the Documentary Hypothesis (or at least some form of it), he is considered fanatical and uneducated. In fact, we at Apologetics Press received an e-mail some time ago inquiring as to why we do not hold to this theory, since “it is accepted by almost all scholarly interpreters.” In his book The Darwin Wars, Andrew Brown mentioned an interview he had with the rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in which Dr. Sacks defended the proposition that Moses wrote or dictated the first five books of the Bible. Brown’s response was: “That is the most shocking thing I have ever heard an intellectual say” (1999, p. 167).
Since the theory that Moses did not write the Pentateuch has become so widely accepted by “intellectuals,” many Christians are “caving in” under pressure and declaring that “it doesn’t really matter who wrote the first five books of the Bible as long as we believe they are inspired.” This certainly is true of other books of the Bible, so why not the first five? We do not consider it a necessity to know whom God inspired to write the book of Job or the epistle of Hebrews. We do not draw lines of fellowship over who wrote 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles. Why, then, should the discussion of who penned the first five books of the Bible be any different? The difference is that the Bible is replete with references attributing these books to Moses.
Within the Pentateuch itself, one can read numerous times how Moses wrote the law of God.
“And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord” (Exodus 24:4).
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write these words…’ ” (Exodus 34:27).
“Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the Lord” (Numbers 33:2).
“So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests…” (Deuteronomy 31:9).
Bible writers throughout the Old Testament credited Moses with writing the Pentateuch (also known as the Torah or “the Law”). A plain statement of this commonly held conviction is expressed in Joshua 8:32: “There in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua copied on stones the law of Moses, which he [Moses—EL] had written” (NIV, emp. added). Notice also that 2 Chronicles 34:14 states: “…Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord given by Moses” (emp. added; cf. Ezra 3:2; 6:18; Nehemiah 13:1; Malachi 4:4). As Josh McDowell noted in his book, More Evidence that Demands a Verdict, these verses “refer to an actual written ‘law of Moses,’ not simply an oral tradition” (1975, pp. 93-94).
The New Testament writers also showed no hesitation in affirming that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. John wrote: “The law was given through Moses” (John 1:17). Luke recorded of the resurrected Jesus: “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them [His disciples—EL] in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself ” (Luke 24:27). Referring to the Jewish practice of publicly reading the Law, James affirmed Mosaic authorship: “For Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21). With this Paul concurred saying, “For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, ‘The man who does those things shall live by them’ ” (Romans 10:5, emp. added; cf. Leviticus 18:5). In 2 Corinthians 3:15 Paul also wrote: “Moses is read.” The phrase “Moses is read” is a clear example of the figure of speech known as metonymy (when authors are put for the works which they have produced). Today, we may ask someone if he has read Homer, Virgil, or Shakespeare, by which we mean to ask if he has read the writings of these men. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, one can read where Abraham spoke to the rich man concerning his five brothers saying, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). Were Moses and the Old Testament prophets still on Earth in the first century? No. The meaning is that the rich man’s brothers had the writings of Moses and the prophets.
Furthermore both Jesus’ disciples and His enemies recognized and accepted the books of Moses. After Philip was called to follow Jesus, he found his brother Nathanael and said, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45, emp. added). Notice also that New Testament Sadducees considered Moses as the author, saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother” (Mark 12:19, emp. added; cf. Deuteronomy 25:5).
A final reason that one must defend the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, instead of idly sitting by and claiming that “it doesn’t really matter who wrote it,” is because Jesus Himself claimed “the Law” came from Moses. In Mark 7:10 Jesus quoted from both Exodus 20 and 21, attributing the words to Moses. Later in the gospel of Mark, we read where Jesus asked the Sadducees, “Have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ ” (12:26, emp. added). But, perhaps the most convincing passage of all is found in John 5:46-47 where Jesus said: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (emp. added; cf. Deuteronomy 18:15-18). The truth is, by claiming that Moses did not write the books of the Pentateuch, one essentially is claiming that Jesus is not God. As M.R. DeHaan explained in his book, Genesis and Evolution:
Prove that Moses did not write the books of the Pentateuch and you prove that Jesus was totally mistaken and not the infallible Son of God he claimed to be. Upon your faith in Moses as the writer of the five books attributed to him rests also your faith in Jesus as the Son of God. You cannot believe in Jesus Christ without believing what Moses wrote. You see, there is much more involved in denying the books of Moses than most people suppose (1982, p. 41).
Indeed, believing that Moses wrote the Torah is very important. It is not a trivial matter that we should discuss frivolously while suggesting that “it really doesn’t matter.” It matters because the deity of Christ and the integrity of the Bible writers are at stake!
Brown, Andrew (1999), The Darwin Wars (New York: Simon and Schuster).
DeHaan, M.R. (1982), Genesis and Evolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
McDowell, Josh (1975), More Evidence that Demands a Verdict (San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ).
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