Who wrote the books of Moses? This is a question which has been raised recently as a result of teaching by faculty members at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.
Founded by J. Gresham Machen in 1929 in the midst of the modernist-fundamentalist controversy, Westminster Seminary has always tried to maintain orthodoxy in the Old Princeton tradition, coupled with the best of scholarship. What follows are the responses by three members of the institution's Old Testament faculty.
What is your view of the authorship of the Pentateuch?
Did the historical Moses actually pen the Pentateuch?
"I am always very happy to talk with people about this and other issues, since neither the church nor the academy live in isolation from the other. But, as straightforward a question as this seems, it is actually one that necessarily involves us in a lot of complicated issues that have occupied thoughtful people since at least the early Middle Ages.
"Nevertheless, to answer your question, whether
Moses 'actually penned the Pentateuch,' if by that you mean whether
he is responsible for the final form in which we have it in our
Bibles, I am confident that Moses did not write every word of
the Pentateuch. The standard list of post-Mosaic elements would
need to be explained away in order to maintain that position.
My opinion is very similar to that of E. J. Young as he expressed
it in his Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 45-46.
There, among other things, Young draws a helpful analogy between
the Gospels and the Pentateuch. I express this analogy as follows:
Jesus is 'author' of the Gospels (I think Young's specific example
is the Sermon on the Mount) in the sense that the historical Jesus
is the real historical figure behind the written texts. The actual
Gospel writers, however, wrote at a later time and presented Jesus
in ways that reflected their own particular theological concerns.
(This latter point is one that occupied much of Ned Stonehouse's
academic work.) Likewise, Moses is the real historical figure
behind the Pentateuch, but he did not actually record the words
as we have them."
And when you say that, you're not simply referring to the last verses of Deuteronomy, you're referring to other parts throughout the Pentateuch.
"That is precisely where the discussion begins, because certainly there are post-Mosaic elements in the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy 34, as you mention, being the classic example of that. Other examples include: Num. 12:3; Deut 1:1; list of Edomite kings in Gen. 36; the fact that account of Moses' life is written in the third person. Of course, each of these should be engaged on a case-by-case basis. But the conclusion I have reached at this stage in my thinking is that Moses did not write these elements, and, hence, cannot be considered the author of the Pentateuch in the strict sense.
"These post-Mosaic elements rightly raise the question of who is responsible for the final form of the Pentateuch. This is an unanswerable question academically. As you know, people in the history of scholarship have attempted to locate-whether by conservatives or liberals, the whole gamut-have tried to locate when the final form of the Pentateuch was given its shape. I think those questions are essentially impossible to answer. Hence, I have elsewhere referred to my position as 'reverential open-mindedness'. I think such a posture is very important to maintain.
"I do believe that what eventually became the Pentateuch essentially had its origins in Mosaic times. Moreover, I do believe that Moses wrote, since the point is explicitly made, for example, in Exod 17:14; 24:4; 34:1, 27, 28; Deut 31:9, 19, 22, 24; 32:1. I feel very reticent to add to this more than what I see Scripture allowing. I should also make very clear that I find the classic higher critical explanation, the Documentary Hypothesis, to be an exceedingly poor explanation for the Pentateuch, and therefore wrong.
"But to get to the heart of this, at least in my opinion, the question that always comes up, with the Pentateuch in particular, is 'What is at stake if Moses did not write the final form of the Pentateuch as we have it?' I think that is a more valuable question, at least as a point of departure for the discussion, than 'Who wrote the Pentateuch?' The assumption is often made that if Moses did not write the Pentateuch (except for the last chapter of Deuteronomy, I don't think anyone thinks that he wrote about his death in the past tense), then we have no basis for talking about, for example, credible historiography of the Pentateuch. In other words, if we have no eyewitness to the events, so the argument goes, the facts related in the Pentateuch are less reliable.
"Of course, the problem with that is that if
Moses wrote the Pentateuch, we still don't have an eyewitness
to Genesis, since Moses wasn't alive during that time. Sometimes
that difficulty is resolved by saying that Moses was particularly
inspired to write Genesis. But if we are willing to say that
about Moses and Genesis, why can't Joshua, for example, be inspired
to write the story that commences with Moses, starting in Exodus?
Why can't someone a generation or more after Joshua likewise
be inspired by God to write what God wants to have there? The
assumption is often made that lack of Mosaic authorship impinges
upon inerrancy, upon the authority of Scripture, upon inspiration
and revelation. I feel very strongly that these issues are not
in the slightest bit affected by how we answer that historical
question of how we got the final form of the Pentateuch. No
historical process is necessarily outside of God's sovereign use."
Do you believe that the Old Testament defies systematization?
"I think that the Old Testament is very difficult to systematize. 'Defies systematization' is too strong a way of putting. It is best to think of systematizing the Bible as an open-ended exercise-not one that can be finally and rigidly done at any one point in time. All attempts to systematize are abstractions from the text, which are, to a certain extent, affected by a person's/community's cultural setting. For a person who is systematizing in the 14th century, for example, it will look different than such activity done in the 17th century.
"Of course, I systematize-I do it all the time.
And I do it because I'm a human being. I want to put the pieces
together in a coherent whole. But what can sometimes be lost
in systematizing the Old Testament is the fact that God gave us
the Old Testament in story form, not an abstraction of the story.
Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, what can be lost in systematizing
the Old Testament is redemptive history. That doesn't necessarily
have to happen, but it can and does. We lose sight of the form
in which God chose to give us what He wants us to know, which
is, undeniably, for the most part, in story form and not in systematic
form. In the final analysis, I remain convinced, as does the
Westminster/Old Princeton tradition, that there has to be a constant
going back and forth, balancing between the systematic theology
and biblical theology. But perhaps the most important point to
make is this. I am not so much interested in systematizing the
Old Testament per se. Rather, I am interested in systematizing
Scripture as a whole. And you do that from the vantage point
of the empty tomb. And that brings you back to look at the whole
story in a different and fuller light than what you had before.
And so I think that our systematic theologies should be more
occupied with the canon as a whole than simply the Old Testament.
This is where Vos's work on Biblical Theology, which is itself
an attempt to systematize the OT in light of the NT, remains very
What is your view on the authorship of the Pentateuch?
"In two words: 'Essential Mosaic.'"
What does that mean?
"I think that the core of the Pentateuch was
written by Moses, with other material added later. For example,
the final verses of Deuteronomy, where Moses' death is recorded,
are most likely post-Mosaic."
But other things besides that as well, you would say.
"Quite probably, but I wouldn't want to guess
at how much. The main thing I want to emphasize is that whatever
may have been added after Moses is just as inspired as the Mosaic
material. Whether God inspired Moses or some later editor matters
little. The Pentateuch is inspired because its divine author is
God, not because it's human author is Moses. The precise identity
of the human or humans responsible for the production of the Pentateuch
is not an issue that touches the doctrine of inspiration."
Have you made statements such as, If Moses wrote most of the Pentateuch, or the Pentateuch, that he did a pretty good job of covering it up?
"I don't recall making that comment. What I
do say is that the Pentateuch, by itself, does not claim Mosaic
authorship. The Pentateuch itself presents Moses as a third person
character in the narrative, not as the author of the narrative."
Would you say that other Scriptures claim Mosaic authorship [for the Pentateuch]?
"Other Scriptures connect the name of Moses
with the Pentateuch. One way of explaining this connection is
to say that it points to an 'essential Mosaic' authorship."
What is your view of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch?
"I would affirm an essential Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. . . . Certainly the traditions [whether postmosaica or amosaica] would go back to Moses."
He continued: "I affirm the essential Mosaic
origins of the Pentateuch, though, with E. J. Young and others,
I allow for subsequent editorial activity. I believe Young's discussion
of "What is Meant By Mosaic Authorship" on pages 45-46
of his Introduction (2nd ed.) accurately reflects my own
position on the authorship of the Pentateuch. In this brief discussion
Young allows for another actual 'writer' other than Moses, thus
making possible either Moses' use of sources or another author
actually "writing down" what had come from Moses. Also
with Young, I believe there have been subsequent additions to
and revisions of the Mosaic elements of the Pentateuch. Importantly,
Young strongly affirms, as do I, that later editorial activity
or revisions in no way impugn the inspiration of the final form
of the Pentateuch."
P&R News has asked other seminaries about
the views which these Old Testament faculty members of Westminster
Seminary in Philadelphia have espoused. While none of these responses
should be viewed as being the "official" position of
any of these other schools, we believe nonetheless that they are
Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield, Pennsylvania:
Dr. Frederic Clarke Putnam, Professor of Old Testament: "Thank you for forwarding the transcript of your interview with members of the OT faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary. I read their responses carefully and with great interest.
I unfortunately lack adequate
time to interact responsibly with all the nuances of these statements,
but see no conflict between their essential content and the doctrines
of inspiration or inerrancy, since Moses is viewed as the actual
human source (fons) of all of the materials explicitly assigned
to him by the Pentateuch (e.g., Dt 31.22, 24-26)."
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary,
Taylors, South Carolina:
Dr. Joseph A. Pipa, President: "I would want
a more unambiguous statement concerning the Mosaic authorship
of the Pentateuch, in line with the statements by Allis and Young"
(two scholars associated with Westminster Theological Seminary
in its earlier days). "Dr. E. J. Young, in his Introduction
to the Old Testament, allowed for what any of us would allow,
viz., Moses using other historical documents. Young says, 'The
witness of sacred Scripture leads us to believe that Moses was
the fundamental or real author of the Pentateuch.' He then makes
allowance for his use of existent historical materials, and then
writes: 'Under divine inspiration, there may have been later minor
additions and even revisions. Substantially and essentially,
however, it [the Pentateuch] is the product of Moses.' In The
Five Books of Moses, O. T. Allis says: 'Certainly all would
agree that to assert that Moses wrote the Pentateuch and at the
same time admit that there is any considerable post-Mosaic material
in it would be quite inconsistent. The Pentateuch cannot be both
Mosaic and non-Mosaic.'"
Professor Ben Shaw, Old Testament Professor: "First, a general consideration of their perspective. I do not know any of the men, either personally or professionally, I do not know their where they were educated, or under whom. That being said, I surmise that, while they may have gotten their divinity degrees at conservative institutions, their graduate degrees were earned at 'major' universities or seminaries. In such institutions, the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch is no longer even mentioned, let alone considered as a viable 'scholarly' explanation for the facts of the Pentateuch. Graduate students, with rare exceptions, have neither the time nor the inclination to investigate opinions that are presuppositionally dismissed by their faculty. Investigating the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch in this day and in most university settings is equivalent to investigating the Ptolomaic cosmology in a modern astrophysics program. No one has the time or interest, and particularly, no one is interested in being the local laughingstock.
"Even if someone had the inclination, they probably would not know where to begin. The classic texts in the discussion are not included in the standard bibliographical references. An example of an oft-overlooked source is the extensive debate in the 1890's between William Henry Green and William Rainey Harper on the origin of the Pentateuch. This was in the pages of Hebraica (which has since become the Journal of Near Eastern Studies). Other standard texts which contradict the perspective of these three Westminster Seminary professors are Keil's introduction to the Old Testament, and E. W. Hengstenberg's defense of Mosaic authorship. W. H. Green's major works include a critique of Bishop Colenso's attack on Mosaic authorship, The Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch, and The Unity of the Book of Genesis. Books by two of the early professors at Westminster Seminary-Robert Dick Wilson's A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament and O. T. Allis's The Five Books of Moses and The Old Testament: Its Claims and Its Critics. Another classic scholarly treatement is Jonathan Edwards' "The Pentateuch Written by Moses." This is found in Volume Two of his Works (the Sereno Dwight edition currently printed by Banner of Truth) under the section titled, 'Notes on the Bible.' This work was possibly a response (personal, hence not published) to the introduction to the Old Testament by Richard Simon, a French Roman Catholic of the late seventeenth century, who attacked Mosaic authorship, and whose work was quickly translated into English and widely distributed. Twentieth century defenses of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch include R. K. Harrison's discussion in his Introduction to the Old Testament and Gleason Archer's A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Given all of this conservative scholarship, it is hard to believe that the answers by the three Westminster Seminary professors are as agnostic about Mosaic authorship as they are. They have read at least a few pages from E. J. Young's Introduction, which is terribly brief and not therefore thorough enough to be helpful. In short, my impression is that not one of these three has demonstrated a competence to comment in an educated and intelligent fashion on the questions and issues surrounding the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.
"In responding to particular points, Peter Enns' reference to Numbers 12:3 as post-Mosaic reveals that he either is unaware of and/or rejects E. J. Young's defense of the Mosaic authorship of that verse in an extended discussion in his My Servants the Prophets. Young argues that the Mosaic authorship of the verse is essential to the progress of the argument in the chapter. Enns should at least respond to Young's defense.
"The alleged anachronisms of the Pentateuch have never been demonstrated convincingly to be anachronisms. It is possible that they are (in which case they would have been added by Joshua, Moses' divinely approved successor), but more likely, we simply know too little about the period from Abraham to Moses in the Ancient Near East to say that these must be anachronisms. It is more likely that they are not anachronisms at all.
"Doug Green in essence asserts that it really doesn't matter who wrote the Pentateuch, when he says, 'Whether God inspired Moses or some later editor matters little.' He obviously doesn't see that the self-testimony of the Pentateuch is at stake. The Pentateuch asserts on numerous occasions that Moses was commanded to write this or that portion of the Pentateuch. Two of the most important of these are Exodus 34:27 and Numbers 33:1-2. These both make it clear that Moses was being required not only to write what is in the immediate context, but to provide an entire context for what he wrote. If Moses only wrote the words immediately following what he is told to write, nothing makes any sense, because there is no context for understanding it. That is why it is necessary for Moses to have written Genesis-it provides the context for the entire remainder of the Pentateuch.
"The allusions of the Enns and Kelly to E. J. Young I find especially disturbing. Is it perhaps the case that the two of them, finding their views under attack, went running for a quick read of a few pages from Young, and found there, in a careless reading, a view to bolster an unread agnosticism? In sum they say, 'Our view must be right. See, E. J. Young himself held to it.' That is the worst kind of appeal to authority, because it doesn't even bother to understand the authority accurately.
"I know this critique may seem harsh, but I have heard and read these views too many times to have much sympathy for it. Those who hold these views take men sent to them to be trained for the ministry of the Word, and teach them that the testimony of that Word is itself unreliable. They then defend their unbelief with ignorant appeals to authority in regard to essential issues that they themselves have never adequately studied. When men come to us to study for the ministry of the Word, we are answerable not only to them, not only to the church, we are answerable to God for what we teach. When we teach them that the Word doesn't mean what it says, that it really doesn't matter who wrote the Pentateuch, because after all, God is sort of basically responsible for it anyway, we must answer to Him.
"The comparison of Mosaic
authorship of the Pentateuch to Jesus' authorship of the Sermon
on the Mount is particularly misleading. None of the gospels
claims to have been written by Jesus, while the claim to Mosaic
authorship of the Pentateuch is part of the warp and woof of the
Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi:
Dr. John Currid, Old Testament Professor: "1) For one to take a position called 'Essential Mosaic' probably leaves the barn door open. What would keep one from arguing for an 'Essential Isaiah', and then having later editors add to the work-like Deutero-Isaiah and Trito-Isaiah? What about an 'Essential Mark' preceded by Q and others, and then followed by yet others?
"2) Who and how does one define what is 'essentially Mosaic'? What are the criteria and parameters for making such distinctions? Really, is that not what the source critics are doing?
"3) Two of the professors mention Moses' life being written in the third person as evidence of another writer. That is bogus. Much ancient Near Eastern literature is written that way. Also, the New Testament writers often refer to themselves in the third person-see the Gospels of Mark and John. It is simply a common device in ancient rhetoric. God even refers to himself in the third person at times; see Amos 4.
"4)That Moses could have penned his own death
is not a problem. Do we want to deny the possibility of prophecy
at work here? Certainly God is the first and greatest Prophet
and Moses was well-known as a prophet too-could they not have
worked together to relay the information about Moses' death?"
Westminster Theological Seminary in California, Escondido, California:
Dr. Iain Duguid, Old Testament Professor: "Enns,
Green and Kelly claim to share the opinions of E.J. Young, the
former professor of OT at Westminster in Philadelphia. In his
Introduction, Young in turn identifies his position with that of his predecessor Robert Dick Wilson. This position may be stated as follows: 'That the Pentateuch as it stands is historical and from the time of Moses;
and that Moses was its real author, though it may have been revised and edited by later redactors, the additions being just as much inspired and as true as the rest' (Wilson, cited in Young, Introduction, 46).
"This position asserts two basic truths: 1) the Pentateuch, as it stands, is basically the work of Moses; and 2) there are a number of later (inspired) editorial revisions and additions.
"Taken at face value,
the position outlined by Enns asserts the same basic truths. Moses
is 'the real historical figure behind the Pentateuch', just as
Jesus is the real historical figure behind the Sermon on the Mount.
However, certain minor details (e.g. Deut. 34; Num. 12:3; Gen.
36) may well have been added later by inspired editors. Nevertheless,
on closer inspection differences seem to emerge. Young's position
assumes that the Pentateuch (with the exception of very minor
details) is essentially complete by the
death of Moses and is the book subsequently referred to in Joshua as 'The Book of Moses'. Enns, however, seems to allow considerably more room for additions when he states simply that 'what eventually became the Pentateuch essentially had its origins in Mosaic times', and that it could equally well
have been composed a generation or two later. The difference is more clearly stated by Green, who remarks: 'The core of the Pentateuch was written by Moses, with other material added later'.
"What Wilson meant (and by inference Young, since he edited and revised Wilson's A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament in 1959) by Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch is this: 'Whoever wrote the book meant to imply that the authorship of Moses extends to the laws and visions and commands
God gave to him in the same manner that the Code of Hammurabi was the work of the king whose name it bears. That is, the laws came through him and from him' (ASIOT, p.49). This obviously leaves room only for minor editorial updating and comment, but not for major additions to a Mosaic core. There is no room in their conception for substantial (inspired) additions 'in the spirit of Moses' which cover subjects that Moses never addressed. Nor could the Pentateuch itself be dated much later than Moses, since for Young the repeated ascriptions in the Book of Joshua to 'the book of the Law of Moses' are part of his case for Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (IOT, p.44).
"The parallel with the
gospels is apt. No one doubts that the Gospel writers, under the
inspiration of the Spirit, framed their report of the words of
Jesus to suit their own narrative goals. Nonetheless, conservatives
would assert that the Gospels were composed from the evidence
of eye witnesses, close in time to the events themselves. Moreover,
in shaping their material the gospel writers never invented new
sayings, which they then attributed to Jesus, nor did they so
selectively quoted Jesus as to misrepresent what he actually said.
The Gospels are therefore an accurate historical record of what
Jesus really said. Likewise, for Young and Wilson, the Pentateuch
is an accurate historical record of what Moses really said.
"In principle, then, we are all agreed on the two points asserted by Young and Wilson, that the Pentateuch as it stands is essentially the work of Moses and that there are inspired revisions and editorial additions. For Young and Wilson, those details were demonstrably small and of minor
significance. It remains to be seen whether Enns and Green have retained exactly the same conception of the authorship of the Pentateuch or have, in fact, left room for much larger camels to enter the tent. I hope that it is the former."