Was Moses really the author of the Pentateuch? William Wood corroborates that the majority of the first five books of the Bible were in fact written by Moses.
Can we be confident that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament? If you’re talking to a conservative Old Testament scholar like myself, almost all of us would ascribe to a view called essential or substantial Mosaic authorship. This means that, by and large, Moses was the actual author of the first five books of the Bible from Genesis to Deuteronomy. And what do we use to argue for this position? If you’re thinking of some proofs, here are a couple.
The internal testimony of the Pentateuch would seem to lead us in that direction. Think of the beginning of Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy. Leviticus and Numbers all begin with the Lord coming and speaking to Moses. And then what’s the rest of the book? It’s the word that the Lord gave to Moses to give to Israel. Or the beginning of Deuteronomy in Deuteronomy 1:1, “The word of Moses given to Israel.”
Other things within the Pentateuch itself. Moses plays a key role from Exodus forward and even the relationship between Genesis and Exodus say Moses is this key author. What do we see with Genesis that has nothing to say about Moses at all? Well the book of Exodus and the book of Genesis are actually joined together in Hebrew was just a simple conjunction vav, “and.” It shows that Exodus is really just a continuation of the Genesis narrative. Where does Genesis end? It ends with the people of God in Egypt under oppression. Where does the Book of Exodus begin? The people of God in Egypt under oppression, and then the raising up of Moses in Exodus 2 and Exodus 3. So we see that Moses, as an internal testimony of the book, plays a central role and is directly seen as the one who is the author of those books like in Leviticus, Numbers, and in Deuteronomy.
According to the testimony of the remainder of the Bible, the Pentateuch is closely related to, even written by, Moses himself.We also see this, an external witness, in the rest of the Old Testament and in the New Testament. In fact, in the book of Joshua, we see references back to what? The law of Moses, which is a reference back to the Pentateuch. In the New Testament, we see references to the Pentateuch under the broad spectrum of just “Moses” or the “law of Moses” as well, which means according to the testimony of the remainder of the Bible, the Pentateuch is closely related to, even written by, Moses himself.
Essential Mosaic Authorship
So why do we say essential or substantial Mosaic authorship rather than just Mosaic authorship? Well, it’s because if you look at the inner testimony of the Pentateuch, it also looks like some of these portions weren’t written by Moses. The key example is Deuteronomy 34. Deuteronomy 34 is the death of Moses. So how can Moses write it? Of course, it’s possible that Moses, prophetically looking forward, wrote Deuteronomy 34. But it doesn’t read that way, does it? It doesn’t read like other prophecies in the Old Testament, instead it just reads like history. So it seems highly probable that Moses commissioned someone, maybe Joshua or another scribe, to finish the book of Deuteronomy for him. Now we also see things in Deuteronomy 34 like, “There has not arisen in Israel prophet like Moses to this day.” That would sound a little bit weird if Moses actually wrote that about himself because he was still alive. So we attribute to Moses essential or substantial Mosaic authorship, saying that the vast majority of the Pentateuch was written by Moses, besides these small portions like Deuteronomy 34 that Moses commissions to be updated or completed upon his death.