The Bearing of New Testament Statements upon the Authorship of Old Testament Books.

By Prof. George B. Stevens, Ph. D., D.D.,

Yale University, New Haven, Conn.


It is justly felt by all reverent students of the Bible that great importance attaches to those references to the books of the Old Testament which are made by our Lord and his apostles. That they ascribed divine inspiration and authority to those books there can be no doubt. Did they make statements equally explicit and intentional regarding their authorship? By most persons it will be felt that a greater degree of importance attaches to what Christ may have said or implied on this point than to that which may be found in the writings of the apostles and other New Testament writers. For whatever the degree of their inspiration, or even infallibility, regarding religious truth, it is rarely claimed that they were omniscient respecting historical and literary questions. On the problem of the authorship of a book—which, indeed, was not a problem in their time—they might receive the traditional opinion and express themselves accordingly without forfeiting their claim to be competent and authorized interpreters of Christian truth, even if subsequent investigation should prove the assumed opinion to be erroneous. Most persons would admit this possibility as being involved in the limitations of their knowledge regarding subjects lying outside the range of essential spiritual truth.

But while the Christian world has never claimed omniscience for the apostles, it has made this claim for Christ, at least in regard to the matters where he mentioned no limitations upon his knowledge (cf. Mk. 13:32),—matters upon which he has made some declaration. It becomes a question of great interest, therefore, to the Christian, whether Jesus has stated anything in regard to the authorship of Old Testament books; and if he has not stated anything explicitly, whether any opinion is implied in his language. If he has explicitly stated that Moses wrote the whole Pentateuch, then the conclusions reached by many critics regarding the composite character of those books are in conflict with Christ's authority, and the alternative is: (a) Are these conclusions in error? or (b) Was Jesus fallible in his knowledge in regard to this (and perhaps similar) subjects? There are scholars who espouse each of these views. Is there any other view more tenable than either of them?

Much will depend upon how explicitly Christ has spoken upon these points. Has he made any statement with the intention of maintaining that a particular person (as Moses or David) wrote a particular book or psalm? or has he simply spoken of such compositions by the names which were universally associated with them in his time, it being no part of his purpose to affirm anything regarding their authorship? Do his allusions hinge upon the question of authorship, and are they intended to bear upon it? or are they intended to serve purposes which are not really affected by that question?

Recourse must be had to the passages. A complete induction of all the New Testament passages which would be in point, is impossible in a brief article. But for the reason stated, the words of Christ are most important. I consider two questions: (a) What is the bearing of Christ's words upon the question of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch? (b) Does Christ mean to authenticate the Davidic authorship of Ps. 110 in Mk. 12:35-37 (parallel passages, Mt.22:41 sq.; Lk. 20:41 sq.)?

The ten most important and decisive passages in the Gospels bearing upon the first question (the only ones, counting parallel passages as one, having any direct bearing) may be classified thus:

(a) Passages in which a command is referred to Moses: (1) Mt. 8:4 (par. pass. Mk. 1:44; Lk. 5:14) " And Jesus saith unto him, 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." The reference is to Lev. 14:4 sq., and the command there imposed is said to issue from Moses. (2) Mt. 19:7,8 (Mk. 10:3-5) " They say unto him, Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives," etc. The reference is to Deut. 24:1. It is the Pharisees who refer to the command as Moses'; but the same idea is implied in Christ's answer: " Moses suffered," etc.1

(b) One passage in which an Old Testament commandment is characterized as something which "Moses said": (3) Mk. 7:10, "For Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother," etc. (Exod. 20:12). In the parallel passage, Mt. 15:4, the expression, "for Moses said," is replaced by "for God commanded, saying." According to Mark, Jesus speaks of one of the ten commandments as something which Moses said; but taken in connection with Matthew, if the two expressions used are considered as substantially equivalent, the result would be that this passage refers the commandment to God as its source, and to Moses as the accredited human agent through whom it was proclaimed, rather than to him as the writer of the book in which it is found, or even of the passage itself considered as a part of a book.

(c) Passages in which Moses is said to have written something: (4) Mk. 12: 19 (par. pass. Mt. 22:24; Lk. 20:28), "And they (the Sadducees) asked him, saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man's brother die, and leave a wife behind him, and have no child, that his brother should take his wife and raise up seed unto his brother " (Deut. 22:5). It is the Sadducees who speak of Moses as writing this commandment. " Moses wrote unto us." Are they thinking of literary authorship or simply of the authority with which the command referred to came to them, namely, that of Moses? Does the silence, or perhaps the acquiescence of Christ in what they say, commit him to the position that Moses was the literary author of Deuteronomy, or, at least, of so much of it as the Sadducees quote?

(d) Passages which speak of the " book of Moses." (5) Mk. 12:26 (par. pass. Mt. 22:31; Lk. 20:37): "But as touching the dead, that they are raised; have ye not read in the book of Moses, in the place concerning the Bush, how God spake unto him, saying," etc. (Exod. 3:6). In the parallel passage we find instead of the expression, "book of Moses," (Mt.) "Have ye not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying," and (Luke) "Even Moses showed, in the place concerning the Bush, where he called the Lord the God of Abraham," etc. The "result is that, according to Mark, Jesus refers to Exod. 3:6 as being in the book of Moses "— a current name for the Pentateuch. The passage is spoken by God (Mt.) and Moses is represented as " showing " (Luke), that is, establishing a certain conclusion by means of it. Does the use of the passage in any way turn upon the authorship of the book called the "book of Moses "? Certainly not. Does then the allusion to the book as Moses' commit Christ to the opinion of its Mosaic authorship? It cannot be maintained that it was any part of his set purpose to refer to the subject. If the passage authenticates the Mosaic authorship, it can only do so by a tacit assumption of it, at most. The question was not consciously before the mind of Christ or before the minds of his time. Unless some passage or set of passages can be produced which is equivalent to Christ's saying that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, it is competent to maintain that the language in which he spoke of such subjects was the language of his time, and was conformed to the universal opinions of his time which he had no occasion to consider, much less to discuss or to pronounce upon. May not Christ have referred to the Pentateuch by a current title, " the book " or " books of Moses," without pronouncing any literary judgment or being in any way implicated in a literary problem arising centuries later, as well as one might now refer to the Homeric poems without thereby in any way committing himself or making himself responsible for any literary opinion in regard to the unity of the Iliad and Odyssey, or as to their composition throughout, in their present form, by a man named Homer?

We have (e) references to the " law of Moses." (6) Lk. 2:22: " And when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were fulfilled," etc. (Lev. 12:2). (7) Lk. 24:44: " All things must be fulfilled which are written in the law of Moses, and the prophets," etc. (8) John 1:17,45: "The law was given by Moses," etc. "Philip findeth Nathanael and saith unto him, We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write," etc. (9) John 7:19,22,23: "Did not Moses give you the law?" etc. " Moses hath given you circumcision," " That the law of Moses may not be broken," etc. (10) John 8:5: " Now in etc. the law Moses commanded us," etc. (Lev. 20:10).

In this set of passages we have undoubted references to the Pentateuch as the "law of Moses." Not only is a certain ritual requirement (Lev. 12:2) spoken of as a part of the "law of Moses," but the prophetic element, which is evidently thought of as pervading in the Pentateuch, is said to find its fulfillment in Christ. It is not to be doubted that Christ thinks and speaks of the whole Pentateuch under the term " the law of Moses." The passages of John are in harmony with this supposition: "The law came by Moses " (1:17); " Moses gave you the law" (7:19).

Are these allusions to the Pentateuch as the "book" or the "law of Moses " fairly equivalent to the statement that Moses was its literary author in its present form? Many will declare that they are and that this settles the question. Others will take the same view, and since they believe that critical research does not confirm the statement, will impute error or ignorance to Christ. It is to be noted that these opinions coincide in one premise, but, differing in the other, they reach opposite conclusions. The arguments may be thus represented (using the terms "orthodox view" and "rationalistic view" to designate them, for want of better names) :—Orthodox view: Christ said that Moses wrote the Pentateuch; whatever Christ said must be true; therefore Moses did write the Pentateuch. Rationalistic view: Christ said that Moses wrote the Pentateuch; it is found that Moses did not write it; therefore Christ did not know, and was in error.

It is to be noticed also that critics of both the types named deal with the passages in the same way. They maintain or assume that the words of Christ refer to literary authorship, or at least apply to it, when that question arises. This is the assumption of both schools. Is it a fair and warrantable assumption? If it is, then the mind which hesitates to hold that Christ is committed to such a question of historical investigation and critical research is at liberty to sift the passages and demand that, on the assumption that it is fair to apply Christ's words to literary authorship at all, he be made responsible for absolutely nothing which he himself did not say. With this view let us classify again our ten passages on a new basis.

In two cases (Mt. 19:7,8; John 8:5) it is the Pharisees who speak, referring two commands to Moses, to one of which Jesus alludes as a permission of Moses. It will hardly be contended that these statements apply to literary authorship, and whatever their reference, there is no explicit assertion of Christ.

In one case (Mk. 12:19) it is the Sadducees who speak, referring to Moses as writing a certain Old Testament passage (Deut. 25:5). Even if this statement of the Sadducees were authoritative, it is not equivalent to the affirmation that Moses wrote the whole present Book of Deuteronomy, much less the whole Pentateuch.

In one case Luke (2:22) speaks of a passage (Lev. 12:2) as a part of the " law of Moses;" in one (John 1:17) John the Baptist states that the law "was given " by Moses, and in one (John 1:45) Philip speaks of Moses in the law writing of Christ. The last is the only one in which anything is said about Moses writing anything, and this is said with distinct reference to his writing prophetically in the law about Christ. Do Philip's words fairly apply to the authorship of our present Old Testament law books? The reader must judge. But six of our ten passages have been passed in review and yet we have no affirmation from Christ himself.

In four cases the Gospels introduce Christ as speaking in reference to the matter. In two of these (Mt. 8:4; Mk. 7:10) he refers two commands (Lev. 14:3 sq.; Exod. 20:12) directly to Moses. Moses gave these commands. They emanate from that lawgiver. Is more than this contained in them? Are they fairly equivalent to the statement that Moses wrote the books in their present form in which those commands are found? In one case (Mk. 12:26) Jesus speaks of a passage (Exod. 3:6) as being found in the "book of Moses," and in another (Lk. 24:44) says that all the prophecies written in the "law of Moses" concerning Himself must be fulfilled. That the Pentateuch was universally called by these names is certain. Does Christ in using these universal designations mean to affirm anything touching authorship? Can his words be fairly thus applied? They explicitly affirm nothing more than that Moses is the (human) source of these specific commands referred to. If they necessarily imply writing, they do not imply it to the extent of the whole Pentateuch in its present form. The person who holds that it has been ascertained by study that only the fundamental legislation of the Pentateuch emanates from Moses and that our completed "books of Moses " are not the direct product of his hand, may safely challenge his opponents to bring any word of Christ which conflicts with his opinion. Christ refers specific commands to Moses; he speaks of the Pentateuch under the popular designations; but there is not a passage (unless an exception be made in favor of Mk. 10:5; see note on page 165) in which Christ explicitly states that Moses wrote a single verse of the Pentateuch.

To many there will seem to be something harsh and perhaps forced in this method of handling the passages, confining them to what they explicitly say and not letting them make their own natural impression. The method is no favorite with us. But if one school of interpreters insists upon applying these passages to literary authorship and making them a make—weight in the discussion of the literary problems connected with the Pentateuch, it is fair for another school, as against these, to insist that the passages shall be used for what they say only. To say that Christ's language naturally implies a certain opinion is too easy a mode of disputation. That position may always be challenged. Does it necessarily imply any particular opinion on Christ's part or any committing of himself to it? Those who use the supposed implications of his allusions in this peremptory way and as an authority precluding discussion may properly be reminded how much of their ground is of the nature of supposition and inference, and how little of it (if any) is found in the explicit words of our Lord.

The two views which we have characterized (with no fondness for either term) as rationalistic and orthodox, assume, more or less distinctly, that it is fair to apply the words of Christ to the question of Pentateuchal analysis and authorship. The latter view lays much emphasis upon this; the former generally assumes at least so much as that Christ shared the belief of his time on the subject. Does not our review of the passages rather lead to the conclusion, on the one hand, that he did not intend to affirm and has not actually affirmed any opinion on the question, and on the other, that the state of his mind on the subject is at most a matter of speculation and not of testimony? The practical result in the orthodox view is that it decides a literary problem by the alleged authority of Christ, or in other words, that, for all investigators of the subject, it insists upon pivoting the authority and trustworthiness of Jesus as a teacher upon the decision of a critical and historical problem. This imperils faith in Christ far more than the rationalistic view, because it is possible to hold (as many do) that literary (and kindred) subjects lay outside the sphere of Christ's knowledge in his incarnation (as did the day of his coming), but that the former limitation no more disproves his authority as a divinely sent teacher than the latter.

We prefer to hold that we are neither compelled to affirm the rationalistic assumption on the one hand, nor to accept the orthodox dilemma on the other. Christ did not design to teach and did not teach anything upon the authorship of Old Testament books. His mission was immeasurably grander than such a supposition implies. His concern was with the truths of eternal life in God's kingdom and not with literary questions. This is the more certainly true since those questions have been developed from modern investigation and did not exist at all in his time.

Our next inquiry concerns the bearing of Mk. 12:35-37 (par. pass. Mt. 22:4146; Luke 20:41-44) upon the Davidic authorship of the 110th Psalm there quoted. The passage reads: "And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool. David therefore himself calleth him Lord, and whence is he then his son?" (Ps. 110:1).

Here Jesus seems plainly to base an argument upon the view that David wrote the 110th Psalm. Moder criticism finds from a study of the Psalm itself great difficulties in the supposition that David wrote it. These it does not belong to us to discuss. The only question is, whether if we conclude that David did not write that Psalm we should be denying or depreciating the authority of Jesus.

It is evident, in the first place, that the three verses in which we have the narrative, give us but a fragment of the argument of which the statements recorded form a part. The expression, " Jesus answered " (35), implies an argument with the Jews in which they had tried to " catch him in talk " (Mk. 12:13). The earlier portion of the chapter narrates three such attempts. May not Jesus here have retorted with a question which none of them could answer? All the Jews assumed that David wrote the 110th Psalm, and that in verse 1 he spoke of the Messiah. Now how could the Messiah be David's son (as they said) and his Lord at the same time (as the Psalm calls him)? If he wished thus to put them in a dilemma, this question would certainly do so. But many shrink from supposing that Jesus used a method of argument so nearly like that which the scribes and Pharisees employed against him.

Let us then suppose that Jesus spoke after the universal manner of his time of the Psalm as written by David. The important question is: Does the point of what he here says depend upon the direct Davidic authorship of the Psalm? If it does, then we must either suppose, as many do (though granting the great difficulty of the supposition) that David wrote the Psalm, since Jesus virtually said so, or that Jesus here based his argument upon an incorrect opinion. But if the argument does not depend upon the Davidic authorship, then we are at liberty to say that Jesus simply referred to the Psalm, as it was universally the custom to do, as David's, but that the essential point which he wishes to make, and therefore the nerve of his argument, does not depend upon whether David actually wrote it or not. What is that point? It is this. How can the scribes maintain that the Messiah is merely a descendant of David, when, in the 110th Psalm, he is spoken of by the regal title of Lord, and is accorded by Jehovah a seat at his own right hand? The purpose of Jesus is to set over against the low Jewish conception of the Messiah as a great human monarch in David's line, his own idea of his true, divine mission and character. If the 110th Psalm is Messianic, he establishes his point, whether it is Davidic in authorship or not. The true Messiah is no mere son of David—a second Solomon—who shall reign in earthly splendor; his is a mightier sceptre, a grander position, a more enduring throne. The edict of Jehovah has placed him on that throne. The whole argument turns on two conceptions of the Messiah, that of the scribes and that of Jesus, which alone rises to the full dignity of such Messianic passages as Ps. 110:1.

Jesus spoke of the passage as what David said. Whether he consciously turned his mind to the question of authorship we need not speculate. It was no part of his work to discuss such questions. In reference to all such universal beliefs, where no essential moral principles were involved, he spoke the language of his time as truly as he spoke the dialects of the lands where he labored and taught. How immeasurably inferior to what it is would his teaching have been if he had mingled in his instruction concerning the kingdom of God some lessons on the authorship and composition of some of the Jewish sacred books! How incongruous with his character would such a course have been!

The Psalm in question is variously interpreted. Some suppose it to refer directly to the Messiah; others, indirectly, the primary reference being to the king of Israel as a type of the Messiah. Christian scholars are well agreed that it is Messianic, and this position is all that need concern us here. David may have written it; but if he did not, the force of Christ's thought is not broken. In this case the reference to David belongs to the drapery of his argument. It is an example, of which there are multitudes, of his using the thought—forms of his time. In those forms he has embodied the essential, imperishable truths of his kingdom. That which he has here embodied is the truth of his superhuman character and divine, spiritual kingship. This truth gleamed from the pages of the Old Testament, and the Jews might have seen it, had not their eyes been blind to the import and bearing of their own prophetic types and symbols. It was a glimpse into the deeper import of prophecy which Jesus would give the captious scribes, when, teaching in the temple, he propounded the question: How the Messiah could be merely a descendant of David, when, in ancient prophecy, he is called David's Lord, and is assigned a seat at Jehovah's right hand.2



1) Mk. 10:5 (par. to Mt. 19:8) reads: " But Jesus said to them, On account of the hardness of your heart, he (Moses) wrote you this commandment." The parallel expression to " he wrote " is "he permitted," showing that the Mosaic concession to the rude conditions of the time is what is referred to. We follow here the narrative of Matthew as being, probably, the more original (so Meyer in loco.). But if Mark is followed to the neglect of Matthew, no thought of literary authorship can be associated with the words. If Mark were here followed, this instance would fall under (c).

2) Since the discussion of this passage has been necessarily limited in scope, I will add a few sentences from two eminent scholars, illustrating and confirming the view taken:

"Christ quoted the Psalm in order to unfold the higher idea of the Messiah as the Son of God, and to oppose, not the idea that he was to be Son of David, but a one-sided adherence to this, at the expense of the other and higher one.... He used Ps. 110 to convince them that the two elements were blended together in the Messianic idea..... In this regard it is a matter of no moment whether David uttered the Psalm or not."—Neander, Life of Christ, pp. 402,3 (Bohn ed.).

"Looked at closely, the appeal (to this Psalm) is merely the form in which Jesus brought home to the scribes the incomparableness of the true Messiah, well attested in the Old Testament." "The fulfillment of this Psalm in its highest significance was claimed by Jesus as something raising him above David. And certainly, as those expressions were inspired by the Spirit of God, they first found their fulfillment in David's perfect Son."—Orelli, Old Testament Prophecy, 154,157.