After turning the initial pages of Holy Writ the first major section of the Old Testament we encounter is the Pentateuch. The five books of Moses rank alongside the Gospels as the two most important sub-sections of the Bible. The Gospels are foundational to the New Testament. The Acts of the Apostles and their Epistles flow out from the life of Christ. In a similar manner the Pentateuch lays down the material upon which not only the Old Testament but the entire Bible is erected. For generations the Books of Moses were the only Bible which God’s people possessed. Indeed much of the Old Testament contains an exposition of the Pentateuch. Ancient Hebrew history can only be understood in the light of The Law. A striking example of this is the great revival in the days of Josiah, which was inspired by a discovery of the ancient writings of Moses, which had been hidden and forgotten (2nd Chronicles 34:14-21). The ministry of the Jewish prophets reminded the people of the terms of The Law applying it’s truth and its warning, often in days of spiritual darkness. The Pentateuch, therefore, is fundamental to and casts a shadow over the Old Testament.
1: The Appellative
The Jews called the Pentateuch “The Torah”. The noun stems from the verb “yarah”, meaning to throw or shoot and generally carries the concept of direction. Therefore the Torah carries words of direction and instruction. This is a most suitable definition of The Law of God. It is truly a lamp for our feet and a light for our path (Psalm 119:105).
The term Pentateuch is derived from two Greek words; “pente” meaning five and “teuchos” meaning volume. The word literally means “The Five Volumed Book”. The word Pentateuch was coined by early Christian writers and remained part of the Biblical vocabulary ever since. In reality, however, the word only describes what Moses, inspired by the Holy Ghost, created, the five books of The Law.
In the Old Testament the Pentateuch is known by the following titles:
a The Law (Joshua 8:34, Ezra 10:3)
b The Book of the Law (Joshua 1:8, 2nd Kings 22:8).
c The Book of the Law of Moses (Joshua 23:6, Nehemiah 8:1).
d The Book of Moses (Ezra 6:18, 2nd Chronicles 35:12).
e The Law of the Lord (Ezra 7:10)
f The Law of God (Nehemiah 10:28,29).
g The Book of the Law of God (Joshua 24:26, Nehemiah 8:18).
h The Book of the Law of the Lord (2nd Chronicles 17:9).
I The Book of the Law of the Lord their God (Nehemiah 9:3).
j The Law of Moses the Servant of God (Daniel 9:11).
In the New Testament the Pentateuch is called:
a The Book of the Law (Galatians 3:1).
b The Book of Moses (Mark 12:36).
c The Law (Matthew 12:5, Luke 16:16, John 7:19).
d The Law of Moses (Luke 2:22, John 7:23).
e The Law of the Lord (Luke 2:23, 24).
Throughout the Bible, therefore, the Pentateuch is said to be a direction, a rule and a power for instruction. It is a legislative document laying down God’s rules for Israel and his moral code for all men. While the Mosaic authorship is emphasised, the Law is God’s, making the Holy Spirit the primary author.
2: The Authorship
While Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy commence with a superscription that Moses was the human instrument,this is not true of Genesis and Exodus. There is no definitive statement crediting Moses with writing the entire Pentateuch. Nevertheless, there is compelling evidence from within the Bible, as a whole, that
Moses was indeed the author:
A The Testimony of the Pentateuch
In six different places Moses is referred to as writing the words at the behest of Jehovah; Exodus 17:14, 24:4-8, 34:27, Numbers 33:1-2, Deuteronomy 31:9 and 31:22. The reference in Numbers 33 is especially useful as it shows us that Moses recorded an itinerary of all the wanderings of the Children of Israel. This would argue for his authorship of Exodus through to Deuteronomy. What then of Genesis? Genesis is viewed as a book which is preparatory to the rest of the Pentateuch. In Genesis the family out of which the Hebrew people would rise, is traced. The account leads into the story of Joseph and the subsequent emigration of Jacob’s family from Canaan to Egypt. Exodus, therefore, opens with the word “Now” which connects the narrative with Genesis. In Exodus 1:2-5, the lists of Jacob’s sons correspond to previous lists in Genesis, 35:23-26 and 46:8-27. Clearly the same author was at work. The argument in favour of Moses is decisive.
B The Testimony of the Prophets and the Writings
Joshua is of particular importance as his authority derived directly from Moses. He acted according to the word which God had given Moses (11:15, 20, 14:2 and 21:2). He also referred to the law as being written by Moses (1:7-8, 8:31-34 and 22:9). References to Moses as the author of the Torah are found through Kings, Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah (1 Kings 2:3, 2nd Chronicles 34:14, Ezra 3:2 and Nehemiah 8:1-8). While the prophets do not refer much to Moses, they do emphasise The Law, and in Israel, there was only one Law, that which was penned by the great lawgiver. Therefore, wherever the law is mentioned, Moses is in view. Daniel and Malachi, however, do refer explicitly to Moses (Daniel 9:11-13, Malachi 4:4).
C The Testimony of the New Testament
While Christ had many quarrels with the Jewish religious leadership he was at one with them on the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Frequently he cited the law as springing from Moses, (Matthew 19:8, Mark 1:44, Luke 5:14 and John 5:47). The remainder of the New Testament is in perfect harmony with our Saviour’s position (Acts 3:22, Romans 10:5, 1 Corinthians 9:9 and Revelation 15:3).
In summary, a denial of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, is a denial of the Word of God itself. The evidence pointing to Moses is beyond all dispute.
3: The Analysis
The Jews called this book after it’s first word, “B’reshith” meaning “In the Beginning”. Genesis summarises the history of divine revelation from creation to the beginning of the sojourn in Egypt. Although it is a lengthy book by Biblical standards, it is a brief account, remembering that it covers a period of 2,500 years.
This book was known after the opening words,”we’elleh shemoth” meaning “And these are the names”. It was the translators of the Septuagint who gave the the book a title which suited the central theme, “Exodus”. This book narrates the deliverance from Egypt, the giving of the Moral Law and Theocratic Legislation. Exodus 20 marks the first division in the Pentateuch as Moses moves out of simple narrative into legislation.
Once again the Jews follow the opening words calling the book “way-yiqra” or “And he called.” The Jews also named it “The Law of the Priests” which prompted the Septuagint to entitle it “Levitikon”. It was Jerome who gave us the name “Levitucus”. It contains the law and procedures which governed Israel in both their religious and their civil life. These followed on from Exodus and were the laws given on Sinai.
The Jews called this book “benmidhbar” (“In the Wilderness” ) or “wayedhabber” (And he spake). Both these phrases are found in the opening verse. Once again the Septuagint coined the title “Numbers” after the numbering and arrangement of the people which occurred in chapters 1-4. The children of Israel are now prepared to journey on from Sinai to the Promised Land. Numbers describes the journey to the tragedy at Kadesh Barnea and onto the plains of Moab, which they reached after forty years of wandering.
This fifth Book of Moses was originally known as “These are the words” (elleh haddevarim or devarim). The Jews also called this book “mishneh hattorah” meaning the “the repetition of the law.” Therefore the Septuagint gave it the title “This Second Law”. This is the meaning of Deuteronomy, the second giving of the law. It contains the last words of Moses to Israel prior to his death and their conquest of Canaan. Rather than being a second law it is a re-emphasis of the major pieces of legislation in the precious three books.