Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Who Wrote the First Five Books of the Old Testament?

by Laura Springer, M.Div., Th.M.

The first five books of the Old Testament, also known as the Pentateuch or Torah, are foundational to the entire Bible. The rest of the Old Testament and the New Testament unpack and bring to completion the basic truths God revealed there. The Torah's foundational nature makes its reliability of critical importance; authorship is key to reliability.

Two theories are most common. Some scholars believe various persons compiled the Torah from various sources from the mid-900s BC through the mid 400s BC. This theory is called the Documentary Hypothesis; it suggests four sources, each having its own characteristics. There is little agreement on exactly which portions of the Torah come from which sources.

Other scholars believe Moses wrote the Torah in the mid-1400s BC, using written and oral source materials; I hold this position. What follows is a short argument for Mosaic authorship, summarized from The Pentateuch as Narrative, by John H. Sailhamer, "An Introduction to the Pentateuch," by David Malick, and "Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch" (

  • The Torah itself is anonymous; the collection never states the author's name.
  • The Torah itself, and the Old and New Testaments claim Moses as the author.
    • Torah Evidence: 17:14; Ex 24:7; 24:27-28; 25:16, 21-22; Num 33:2; Deut 28:58; 29:20, 21, 27, 29; 20:10, 11
    • Old Testament evidence:Joshua 1:7-8; 8:32, 34; 22:5; 1 Ki 2:3; 2 Ki 14:6; 21:8; Ezra 6:18; Dan 9:11-13; Mal 4:4
    • New Testament evidence: Matt 19:18; Mark 12:26; Luke 2:22; 16:29; 24:27; John 5:46-47; 7:19; Acts 13:39; Rom 10:5
  • Moses used various sources when he wrote the Torah, much like a historian does today. This is very similar to the method Luke used when he wrote Luke-Acts (see Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-3).
  • Despite the differences in style coming from the various sources Moses used, the Torah has an essential unity, revealed in the strategic placement of story sections, genealogies, and law sections throughout the collection. If you would like to know more about this strategy, I highly recommend Sailhamer's book.

Why is this important?
  • The Torah is foundational to the entire bible; its reliability is critical.
  • The Old Testament testifies that Moses is the author.
  • The New Testament testifies that Moses is the author.
  • Jesus testifies that Moses is the author.
  • Therefore, the authorship of the Torah is tied to the reliability of the Bible.


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