Did Jesus Intend to Teach that Moses Wrote the Pentateuch?

By Rev. W. P. McKee,

Olivet Baptist Church, Minneapolis.


So far as the New Testament records go, just what did Jesus say on this matter?

“And Jesus saith unto him [the man cleansed of leprosy]. See thou tell no man; but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.” Matt. 8:4.

At most, Jesus here only allows that Moses had to do with making certain regulations concerning leprosy. Nothing is taught as to the authorship of the Pentateuch.

“Why then did Moses command to give her a bill of divorcement, and to put her away? He [Jesus] said unto them, Moses, for your hardness of heart, suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it hath not been so.” Matt. 19:7, 8.

Here Jesus tacitly disapproves of an act of Moses, but he utters no positive teaching as to the authorship of the Pentateuch.

“For Moses said, honor thy father and mother.” Mark 7:10.

At most Jesus admits that through Moses came this commandment. Nothing is said about the authorship of the mass of literature of which this was a part.

“But as touching the dead, that they are raised; have ye not read in the book of Moses, in the place concerning the Bush,” etc. Mark 12:26.

Manifestly, the Jews believed Moses wrote the Pentateuch as a whole, with the exception of the "last eight verses, which were added by Joshua ” (Toy). Jesus is confronted with the crucial matter of the Resurrection. An answer to that question is urgently, clamorously demanded. Does he turn aside from that vital matter, to discuss the point of the authorship of the record in which this incident is found? In presence of a question of first importance, he ignores the question of secondary moment. At most, here, Jesus allows the current view of the authorship of the Pentateuch to pass unnoticed. He utters no teaching upon that point.

“They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.” Luke 16:29.

Here Jesus, in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, is striving to rebuke the Pharisees for their inordinate, soul- destroying love for money. (Lk. 16:14). The question of authorship is not before the Saviour.

“And he said unto them. These are my words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, how that all things must needs be fulfilled which are written in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me.” Lk. 24:44.

As above, Jesus’ purpose in this utterance is foreign to any question of authorship.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." John 3:14.

It may be claimed that here Jesus, by using this incident as an illustration, asserts its historicity. No more can be claimed, and even this might be disputed.

“For if ye believed Moses, ye would believe me, for he wrote of me." John 5:46.

This would agree with the theory that Moses wrote the whole of the Pentateuch. But this statement, as it stands, need not imply that. Moses could have written of Christ without writing five books of considerable proportions. So far as this Scripture is concerned, a single passage in which Moses made reference to the Christ would be enough to fill up the necessary implication in the Master’s words. The most that can positively be asserted of this passage then is, that in one place Moses wrote of Christ. And even then it is to be kept in mind that Jesus was arguing from the point of view of the Jews, and on the basis of their own beliefs. He was not at all discussing a question of authorship. He was rebuking the Jews because they did not believe in their sacred writings. Practically, he asserts here that they do not believe the Old Testament, and that unbelief in it is the reason for their unbelief in Him. Mere matters of authorship are far from his purpose.

“Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you doeth the law?” John 7:19.

Plainly, at most here, the Saviour only assumes that Moses was an historical person who had to do with giving the law to Israel. The question of the original authorship of a great book is not under consideration. Similar remarks may be made on verses 22, 23, following.

We may omit Jno. 8:5 as being in a doubtful passage. Moreover it offers no facts beyond those considered already. Beyond these, I find no record of any important sayings of Jesus, touching this matter. Certainly, if Jesus says any-where that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, he says so here. What then can be our answer to the question: Did Jesus intend to teach that Moses wrote the Pentateuch ? Only this: We have no record that Jesus intended to teach, or did teach, anything whatever concerning the authorship of the Pentateuch.

The weighty words of Professor S. R. Driver, (Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, p. xviii), upon the general question of the attitude of our Lord to the Old Testament, may be quoted here:

“That our Lord appealed to the Old Testament as the record of a revelation in the past, and as pointing forward to Himself, is undoubted; but these aspects of the Old Testament are perfectly consistent with a critical view of its structure and growth. That our Lord, in so appealing to it, designed to pronounce a verdict on the authorship and age of its different parts, and to foreclose all future inquiry into these subjects, is an assumption for which no sufficient ground can be alleged. * * * In no single instance (so far as we are aware) did He anticipate the results of scientific inquiry, or historical research. The aim of His teaching was a religious one. * * * He accepted, as the basis of His teaching, the opinions concerning the Old Testament current around Him; He assumed, in His allusions to it, the premises which his opponents recognized, and which could not have been questioned, * * * without raising issues for which the time was not yet ripe, and which, had they been raised, would have interfered seriously with the paramount purpose of his life. There is no record of the question, whether a particular portion of the Old Testament was written by Moses or David or Isaiah, having ever been submitted to Him; and had it been so submitted, we have no means of knowing what His answer would have been.”



Taken from THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT STUDENT 1892-03: Vol. 14 Iss. 3