Mosaic Authorship

“And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord” (Ex. 24:4a).

- Exodus 24:4a

An evangelical scholar once said that Scripture can mean whatever we want if we ignore the primary intent of a biblical author. Original context always drives proper, biblical interpretation.

However, determining the author, date, and audience of the individual, books of the Bible, so that we can determine original intent, is not always an easy task. Many biblical books (for example, Ruth) are anonymous compositions. But this is not true of Genesis.

For thousands of years, Jewish and Christian interpreters alike  have believed that Moses composed the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy). But since the nineteenth century, many critics have denied Mosaic authorship, largely due to the work of Julius Wellhausen, the most famous advocate of the documentary hypothesis.

Building on the work of earlier critics as well as evolutionary and Hegelian philosophy, Wellhausen contended the Pentateuch resulted from hundreds of years of editorial activity. Based on criteria like different names for God (Yahweh vs. Elohim), and similar stories featuring different characters (Gen. 12:10–20; 26:6–16), Wellhausen said the Pentateuch was a compilation of four different sources all written and combined long after Moses’ lifetime.

Today, many scholars note the flaws in this theory. Comparisons of the Pentateuch with other ancient works along with Wellhausen’s subjective delineation of sources render much of his theory untenable. Still, recent theories typically do not embrace Mosaic authorship, as the documentary hypothesis continues to hold sway.

In the end, there is no good reason to deny the Pentateuch is essentially the work of Moses. Many passages, such as the one for today’s study, assert that Moses wrote down the Law, which Law includes Genesis. Moses likely used sources and stories preserved by the people of Israel to write the Pentateuch, and it is therefore not necessary to argue that he wrote every word. For example, he probably did not record his own death (Deut. 34). However, the Pentateuch, as we have it today, is substantially from the pen of Moses, given to him by the inspiration of God for the guidance of His people.

Coram Deo

Whether or not we affirm the essential Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch has a direct bearing on the Lordship of Christ. Our Savior affirmed that Moses wrote the Pentateuch on many occasions (for example, Matt. 19:1–12; compare to Deut. 24:1–4), and it is difficult to imagine how we could trust Him as Lord if He was mistaken about this. Spend some time reviewing a good, evangelical source that affirms the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

Passages for Further Study

Deut. 31:9–13
Mal. 4:4
Mark 12:18–27
2 Cor. 3:1–18

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.