Mosaic Authorship of the Bible

Today, Mark Driscoll published about his belief in Moses being the author of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These first five books of the Bible are referred to in shorthand as either the Torah (Hebrew for “law” since Israel’s Law is given in these books) or as the Pentateuch (referring to the five books, hence the “penta-” prefix). But really he gives an overly simplistic explanation that ignores the whole of the debate.

Driscoll’s logic for believing that Moses wrote it reveals his fundamentalist’s paradigm: The Bible says it, therefore I believe it.

The author of Exodus is Moses, as Jesus instructed (Mk 7:10 cf. Ex 20:12, Ex 21:17Mk 12:26 cf. Ex 3:6, Lk 20:37). While some commentators have attempted to deny Mosaic authorship, any attempt to do so would be a clear declaration of Jesus’ ignorance and false teaching on the issue. Numerous Old Testament authors also recognized Moses as the author of Exodus. Joshua recognized this fact, as did DavidJosiahDanielEzra, and the Old Testament concludes with Malachi’s recognition of Moses as the author of the law.

In addition, New Testament authors recognized Moses as the author of the Pentateuch. For example, Mark 12:26 describes Exodus 3:6 as from “the book of Moses,” and Luke 2:22–23 places Exodus 13:2 as within “the Law of Moses.” John 7:19 also declares Moses as the author of the law. And Paul, in Romans 10:5, attributed Leviticus 18:5 to Moses. Internal evidence also indicates that Moses is the author. On a number of occasions the book claims the authorship of Moses (Ex 17:14, 20:22–23:33, 24:4, 34:4, 34:27–29). The great amount of detail also suggests that the author was an eyewitness to the recorded events.

I need to say at the first that I’m not an OT studies expert. I don’t know everything that goes into this issue, nor do I pretend to know it. What I do know tells me it’s not as simple as Driscoll is presenting the issue. And that concerns me. I look at two of the citations that Driscoll adduces to support his claim for Mosaic authorship of the books themselves, not the narrative claim that God gave Israel her Torah through the mediation of Moses, and the texts just don’t say what he wants them to say–even in his beloved ESV.

  • Joshua 1:7 — Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. (NIV)
  • 2 Chronicles 34:14 — While they were bringing out the money that had been taken into the temple of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord that had been given through Moses. (NIV)

These texts create an interesting way to understand the phrases “Law of Moses” and “Book of Moses” in the Bible. The phrases aren’t pointing to Exodus or Genesis or Numbers and the literary work that is the Pentateuch. Rather these point to the actual law given by YHWH to Israel through Moses. It tells us that the “of” relationship in the phrases doesn’t insist on Moses writing the entire books. But Driscoll just asserts that everything he cites must mean Moses wrote the five books, as opposed to Moses being the mediator between Israel and YHWH in the giving of the divine law.

Furthermore, he doesn’t go into the actual controversy that has come out of linguistic studies of the Pentateuch. Wikipedia has an acceptable summary of the Documentary Hypothesis which has really fueled the controversy. This hypothesis suggests that different portions of the Pentateuch have different authors, writing at different times between 950-500 BCE. This puts the Pentateuch being written down around the time of the split of Israel and Judah into two separate kingdoms on into the Babylonian Exile. Those are major events that would need a pastoral response from YHWH to his people.

This hypothesis has been challenged by further studies of the Pentateuch. A 2003 book argues that the vocabulary of the Pentateuch reflects a culture dominated by contact with Egypt. Yet other studies show the syntax of the Pentateuch to reflect a culture dominated by contact with Babylon. The only period for contact with Egypt would be during Israel’s time of captivity, which was ended by Moses. The only time that Babylonian influence could happen in Israel’s history would be its exile in 586/587 BCE. Is one theory the correct way to go? Is there a way to synthesize these studies together? Could the stories originate from Israel’s time in captivity but have been shaped by later writers to address new circumstances?

What he’s not taking into consideration is that while the stories may have originated from the time of Moses, that doesn’t mean the books we have in our possession can’t date to the exilic period in Babylon and later. Jesus can be citing tradition held by the Jews that believed these stories originated with the prophet but this doesn’t necessitate what we Christians have in our Bibles was the pen of Moses (or chisel). It’s not necessarily a flat-out denial of Moses’ role in constructing the stories at all.

My question is why create such an oversimplification of the issue. Why not take the time to educate his readers and his preaching audience about these issues and seriously interact with them? The problem with this kind of fundamentalistic, overly simplistic logic is that it perpetuates itself. It prevents people from being critical thinkers. When someone from Driscoll’s camp encounters these kinds of difficult issues they can’t think through the problem. They will either adopt the fundamentalist paradigm and refuse to think. Or they could go the way Bart Ehrman, who abandoned his Christian faith because of textual issues like this.

Driscoll is not following his pastoral duties in helping his sheep be able to think Christianly. He’s not creating thinkers at Mars Hill. Instead he’s creating fundamentalistic simpletons who can’t think for themselves. And the result is that they have to rely on him to think for them. These aren’t people who can be sent out into the nations and make disciples. These are only people who can demand conversion and create more simpletons in their own image. And that gets me thinking about Driscoll. Was he made into this kind of simpleton by someone else who didn’t teach him to critically think through these issues? He’s not showing anything to lead me to think otherwise.

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~ by hankimler on October 8, 2013.

2 Responses to “Mosaic Authorship of the Bible”

  1. Excellent discussion of the details here, Henry!

  2. I was very confused recently when my teaching pastor said offhand that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, or at least most of it. He is usually very good at saying “I think this; others think this; or this; or this…” Maybe I read too much into a quick answer to a question, but it seemed out of place. I went to an admittedly more liberal seminary but the idea that Moses wrote it was never seriously considered, and even without that I think my analysis would be more like yours: there is little to no reason to believe that Jesus’ reference or any of the other references meant that Moses was the author of the books we have today.

    And of course you’re hitting on the big problem it is symptomatic of: fear of letting your congregation think for themselves. It’s based in his problematic conservative modernist understanding of the Bible and of faith in general. I think we’re very much missing the point when we argue over the “facts” of the Bible and forget to see its message, which is largely the story of 500 years of Protestantism.

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