The Five Books of Moses

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The Five Books of Moses

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The New Testament tells us that Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and many scriptures show us that Moses was responsible for the first five books of the Bible. These books are usually called the Torah, a Hebrew term, and sometimes referred to as the Pentateuch, a Greek expression. According to Jewish tradition, another hand, possibly that of Joshua or Ezra, added the account of Moses' death to the end of Deuteronomy—and made other adjustments to complete the text we read today.

Early Jewish tradition is unanimous in accepting Moses' authorship of the Torah. The last of these books tells us that this prophet wrote the law in a book and gave it to the priests so they could read it to the people (Deuteronomy 31:9-13). It was also placed at the side of the ark of the covenant (Deuteronomy 31:26). Although it is presented in five parts, the Torah is one integral book.

In all four Gospels Jesus Christ repeatedly referred to Moses as the giver of the law (Matthew 8:4; Matthew 19:8; Mark 1:44; Mark 7:10; Mark 10:4-5; Mark 12:26; Luke 5:14; Luke 20:37; John 1:17; John 5:46; John 7:19).

What did God tell Moses to do? Did he obey the Lord's instructions?

"Then the LORD said to Moses, 'Write this for a memorial in the book' . . ." (Exodus 17:14).

"Then the LORD said to Moses, 'Write these words' . . ." (Exodus 34:27).

"And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD" (Exodus 24:4). Although these are limited commands to write specific portions of God's Word, the principle is clear. Moses is the prophetic scribe through whom God worked. Remember that he "was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds" (Acts 7:22).

Does Numbers, the fourth book attributed to Moses, say anything about his literary activity?

"Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the LORD" (Numbers 33:2).

Although some scholars question Moses' authorship of Numbers, this passage near the end of the book cannot be dismissed (compare Numbers 36:13). The Bible attributes this whole section to Moses. Many other sections of Numbers begin with the words "the LORD said to Moses . . ." The book of Leviticus does not specifically mention its author, but the contents from first to last record God speaking directly to Moses (Leviticus 1:1; Leviticus 27:34).

At the time of Moses the art of writing had been developed in Egypt and the Mesopotamian region. Permanent museum records inscribed on obelisks and cuneiform tablets provide clear evidence that writing was well established before and during the time of Moses.

What is different about Genesis?

The historical activities recorded in the book of Genesis occur before Moses was born. Clearly, he had access to written records or accurate oral traditions, or God dictated the contents to him.

Genesis is a Greek word meaning "beginning." What is the significance of the name of this biblical book?

Is there an obvious genealogical structure to the book of Genesis?

"This is the history ['These are the generations,' KJV] of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens" (Genesis 2:4).

"This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God" (Genesis 5:1).

"This is the genealogy of Noah" (Genesis 6:9; compare Genesis 10:1; Genesis 11:10-27; Genesis 25:12-19; Genesis 36:1-9; Genesis 37:2).

Here we have the literary structure of Genesis in briefest outline. It is made up of 11 "books" or "genealogies." Genesis tells of the beginning of all things, how the population of the earth grew and how God began to work through one man's family, that of the patriarch Abraham. The Genesis story is told through the framework of family histories.

Genesis is the beginning of the knowledge of God. It has been preserved down through the ages for our benefit. It begins the precious knowledge of God's great purpose that we can learn from no other source. Genesis doesn't contain all knowledge, but it represents the essential spiritual foundation that is fundamental to the understanding of the rest of the Bible.

It reveals, for example, that we are created in the very image of God and that Adam and Eve chose a path that would take them and their descendants—every one of us—away from a relationship with God. The prophets had much to say about this latter point.