- Baptist Press - https://www.baptistpress.com -

Mosaic authorship of Pentateuch should be reasserted: Mathews


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Was Moses the author of the Genesis,
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy? Or were the books compiled by various individuals and ascribed to the great Hebrew patriarch? Furthermore, what difference does it make whether or not Moses wrote the Pentateuch?

These were the questions addressed by Southern Baptist Old Testament scholar Kenneth Mathews in a Jan. 16 address, “Putting the Pentateuch Back Together Again,” at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. A professor of divinity at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., Mathews spoke during the Kansas City, Mo., school’s annual academic convocation.

Mathews is author of the “New American Commentary” volume, “Genesis 1-11,” published last year by the Baptist Sunday School Board.

The assault on Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch by
“historical-critical” scholars since the 19th century is showing signs of weakness, Mathews noted. In light of this, the current “propitious moment” to reassert the traditional view concerning the first five books of the Old Testament should not be missed by conservative scholars.

Although the Pentateuch is technically anonymous, “it is defensible from both internal and external evidence that the Pentateuch is Mosaic in its core, or essentially Mosaic,” Mathews said.

During the last two centuries, the traditional view asserting the literary unity of the Pentateuch and Mosaic authorship has been challenged by the so-called “Documentary Hypothesis.”


This theory holds that Genesis-Deuteronomy is a composite document relying upon hypothetical sources written in different places, at different times over a period of five centuries, long after the time of Moses. These sources, so-called documents “J,” “E,” “D,” and “P,” were finally compiled by an editor in the sixth century B.C.

The historical value of the Pentateuch and the impact on biblical theology are two reasons the unity of the first five books of the Old Testament should be significant to believers, Mathews contended.

“When evaluating the historicity of the patriarchs, the consequence of historical-critical reconstructions has resulted for most modern interpreters to be at best skeptical and at worst nihilistic,” Mathews said.

“Is there a correspondence between what the text affirms and ‘how it really was?'” Mathews asked. “The resounding ‘no’ to this question presently among biblical critics is deafening,” referring to those scholars who accept the Documentary Hypothesis.

According to Mathews, those who question the unity of the Pentateuch also endanger the Christian community in its biblical theology.

If the first five books of the Hebrew Bible are not a literary unit and instead are a compilation of “competing theologies reflecting different viewpoints across many eras,” Mathews said the obvious question arises, “Wherein lies the Word of God?”

Noting that the Pentateuch “was not originally viewed as five distinctive works,” but as one book, “the singular ‘Book of Moses,'” the interdependence of the pentateuchal books, its structure and its theme are “three lines of evidence” which argue for the unity of Genesis-Deuteronomy, Mathews said.

“The ‘Five Books,’ as received in the Hebrew canon, are in fact one story — from creation to the death of Moses,” Mathews said. “These five works may be read as independent books, but they have an interdependence which cuts across the traditional five-fold arrangement.”

The structure of the Pentateuch, Mathews asserted, has “a common rhetorical pattern” found throughout the five books, noting “within the Pentateuch, though possessing diversity and disjunctures, is a unifying strategy for the entire work.”

The “not-yet realized promise of blessing for the patriarchs, or the partially fulfilled promise of blessing for the patriarchs,” is the common theme of the Pentateuch, Mathews said. “The thematic cord” of the blessing includes three elements — the promise of descendants, the promise of relationship with God and the promise of land, Mathews said. Originally given to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, these promises are repeated throughout the Pentateuch.

Although the Documentary Hypothesis has suffered recent scholarly blows, it is nonetheless “still very much alive and remains standard among universities and mainline denominational seminaries,” Mathews said.

The consequences of skepticism with a unified Pentateuch is a “faith tradition without a historical basis,” Mathews warned. In contrast, the acceptance of the “canonical text,” as it has come down through the ages, is the most fruitful approach for biblical interpretation in the church.