How Important is Mosaic Authorship?

The first five books of the Bible (the Torah, Pentateuch, whichever you wish to call it) are, as most people know, ascribed to Moses.

When I was growing in a Christian setting, I more-or-less just “heard” bits and pieces of what the Bible teaches… It wasn’t until later that I realized I never actually willingly read the Bible — so I wanted to change that and decided to read the whole Bible from cover to cover.

In regards to the first five books I was puzzled as to why they were written by Moses. All the events in the first book, Genesis, takes places thousands of years before Moses is even born. Secondly, every mention of Moses is in the third-person (not in the same fashion as say Paul’s epistles). Thirdly, in the last couple chapters of Deuteronomy it records Moses’ own death!

So my question is this: how important is Mosaic authorship to the Bible, and what are it’s affects on things like divine inspiration and biblical inerrancy? I will list the majored views in three prepositions:

Preposition #1 Moses wrote the entire Torah, word for word.

Preposition #2 Moses wrote the entire Torah, along with editors, scribes to finalize it.

Preposition #3 Moses might have written parts of the Torah, but there’s no reason to think he wrote all of it, or even most of it. The books were ascribed to him most likely because he’s the central figure in the books. There could have been a great multitude of authors.

If preposition 1 and 2 are false, and the third one is correct, what affect does that have on divine inspiration, if any at all?


Tim, there is a fourth option which you didn’t mention which is a variation on Prop. #3 and is accepted by the large majority of non-evangelical scholars. That is, the Torah was written by four different authors over a half-millennium or so, and none of them was Moses. The books have been ascribed to Moses traditionally because, as you noted, he is the main subject. There are many reasons for identifying multiple authors and one or more redactors which I will not address here. If you are interested, read R. Friedman’s “The Bible with Sources Revealed”. I am an evangelical and I have no problems with believing God inspired multiple sources over time. In fact, the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, which was the result of meetings of more than 200 conservative scholars in the late 1970’s accepts progressive revelation and historical-grammatical hermeneutics. I should note, however, that they do not accept multiple-sources. Inerrancy is a different issue since, if you read the Bible carefully as I hope you did, there are multiple versions of the same episode, contradictions, etc. You are going to have problems with it no matter which option you take. Remember, inerrancy as a widespread belief is only a century or so old. Frankly, I am not a believer in inerrancy and, yet, have no problem remaining an evangelical. At the same time, I fully understand others taking the opposite position.


Personally, I don’t feel that multiple authors being involved in the same book is something to be so afraid of. God used at the least 40 some authors, to write 66 books, over the course of thousands of years. Why should the books of Moses demand that they be written by him?

I also acknowledge that when I read certain passages they seem almost clumsy… certain phrases are repeated just 10 verses later, saying the exact same thing…?

Their are certain geographical places that are visited by a certain biblical character. And maybe 10 chapters later, a different biblical character visits that same place, as if it’s completely new, and HE names that place.

I don’t know the history behind biblical inerrancy, but I don’t assume that because one passage is in conflict with another passage, that the “bible is worthless and should be thrown away”… which I have heard some people say.


Hi Tim,

Another data point is that none of the books of the Torah claim to have been penned by Moses. The only Biblical writing that claims Mosaic authorship is Psalm 91, if I am not mistaken.

As for how we process the Bible we have, I highly recommend Pete Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation, recently published in a 2d edition. Pete suggests an incarnational model for Scriptural inspiration–i.e., it fully bears the cultural patterns of the original audience, much as Jesus was very much a first-century Palestinian Jew. The inculturation would go beyond language to include scientific views, literary forms, historiographical standards, and hermeneutical approaches that differ greatly from ours. Pete explores the Biblical data quite thoroughly, along with the implications of the incarnational model. I highly recommend it.

1 Like


I suppose “books of Moses” don’t necessarily mean “written by Moses”. You’re right about the Psalm (but number is actually 90… lol). The problem I have with attributing the first five books of the Bible to one author, is when I analyze it closely, much of it seems very “hodge-podge”… For instance chapter 38 of Genesis (The Judah and Tamar episode)… doesn’t at all go with the flow of the text, and seems to be “inserted” between chapter 37 and chapter 39. The Noah and Flood story doesn’t altogether match up either, with it giving repeated information, and at others contrary information.

Next time I go to the bookstore I’ll look up Inspiration and Incarnation - thanks! :smile:


This topic was automatically closed 3 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.