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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Are the Right Books in the Old Testament?

Don Stewart :: Were the Writings of Moses Considered to Be Scripture?

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Were the Writings of Moses Considered to Be Scripture?

Are the Correct Books in the Old Testament? – Question 5

One of the most important parts of the Old Testament is the first five books—the writings of Moses. These writings were considered to be Scripture from the time they were written.

The evidence is a follows:

1. The First Five Books Were the Work of Moses

The first five books of Scripture were basically the work of one man—Moses. The Bible says that God spoke face to face with Moses. In the Book of Numbers, we read the following account:

Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood at the entrance of the tent, and called Aaron and Miriam; and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words: When there are prophets among you, I the LORD make myself known to them in visions; I speak to them in dreams. Not so with my servant Moses; he is entrusted with all my house. With him I speak face to face-- clearly, not in riddles; and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them, and he departed. (Numbers 12:5-9 NRSV)

Moses had a unique relationship with the Lord. We read more about this in the Book of Deuteronomy. It says:

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt-- to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (Deuteronomy 34:10-12 NIV)

Moses spoke God’s word to the people. In addition, God caused Moses to write down authoritative Scripture. While both forms were God’s Word, the only permanent form was that which was written.

2. The Books of Moses Were Written Under God’s Authority

Early in the history of the nation Israel there was evidence that certain writings had God’s authority behind them. These writings served as a standard for belief and practice. The first five books of the Old Testament are known variously as the Law, the Law of Moses, and the Torah. They are also called the Pentateuch (literally meaning “five in a case”). This refers to the five books, or scrolls, that were kept in a case.

The idea of a fixed canon of Scripture goes back to Moses’ writings; God’s law in the wilderness. The Book of Exodus says:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:14-16 NIV)

Moses was recognized as writing with the authority of God. The Lord told him to write down certain things. The Bible says:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” (Exodus 34:27 NIV)

Moses obeyed and recorded the words of the Lord.

3. The Evidence Is That Moses Wrote Genesis Through Deuteronomy

The writings that came from Moses were the books of Genesis through Deuteronomy. Moses seems to have used earlier documents to write Genesis. For example, we read the following in Genesis about a written record:

This is the written account of Adam’s line. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. (Genesis 5:1 NIV)

It seems that Moses collected some written records to compile Genesis. Just who wrote these earlier accounts is not known.

In Exodus, it speaks of Moses writing down God’s words. We read the following:

And Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said. He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. (Exodus 24:4 NIV)

The Book of Numbers says that Moses chronicled the journey of Israel. It reads:

At the LORD’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey. This is their journey by stages. (Numbers 33:2 NIV)

In Deuteronomy, we also find that Moses wrote down certain things. It says:

Therefore Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the children of Israel. (Deuteronomy 31:22 NKJV)

We find that in the books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy there are specific references of Moses writing things that the Lord had revealed to him.

4. The Writings of Moses Were Placed in a Book

Therefore, from the beginning, we find God ordering certain things to be written down and placed in a book. Scripture says that Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord in the Book of the Covenant and then read it to the people. We read the following in the Book of Exodus:

Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said. He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” (Exodus 24:4-7 NIV)

This shows that the people regarded the Book of the Covenant (probably Exodus 20-23) as a standard of what to believe and how to behave.

5. The Sacred Writings of Moses Were to Be Preserved

The Law of Moses was to be preserved for future generations. The king of Israel was to have his own copy of Scripture. Moses wrote:

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:18-20 NIV)

The writings were also to be a witness to the people. They were stored next to the most sacred object ever constructed—the Ark of the Covenant. We also read in Deuteronomy:

When Moses had finished writing down in a book the words of this law to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying, “Take this book of the law and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God; let it remain there as a witness against you.” (Deuteronomy 31:24-26 NRSV)

The fact that they were stored next to the sacred Ark spoke of their value; they were considered to be holy.

6. The Priests Were in Charge of the Safekeeping of Moses’ Writings

The Law of Moses assigned specific responsibility to various Old Testament groups and officials. To the Levites was given the custody or care of the written Scriptures. The Bible says:

So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel. (Deuteronomy 31:9 NIV)

These people had the sacred duty of looking after the holy writings.

7. Moses’ Writings Were to Be Read Out Loud Every Seven Years

The people were held responsible to obey the Law. The Bible says that at the end of every seven years the Law was to be read out loud to the people of Israel. We read:

He [Moses] commanded them: “At the end of seven years, at the appointed time of the release, at the Feast of Temporary Shelters, when all Israel has come to appear before the Lord your God in the place he has chosen, you must read this law before them within their hearing. Gather the people?men, women, and children, as well as the resident foreigners in your villages?so they may hear and thus learn about and fear the Lord your God and be careful to do all the things contained in this law.” (Deuteronomy 31:10-12 NIV)

This commandment assured the writings would be preserved.

8. The Writings of Moses Were Accepted as Authoritative by Those Afterward

Those who came afterward accepted the Law of Moses as an authoritative work. The Book of Joshua accepted that Moses’ writings were absolutely authoritative. The Lord told Joshua the following about the writings of Moses:

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8 NIV)

The Message translates this verse as follows:

And don’t for a minute let this Book of The Revelation be out of mind. Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it. Then you’ll get where you’re going; then you’ll succeed. (Joshua 1:8 MsgB)

Later, Joshua built an altar according to the way Moses commanded. The Bible says:

Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses-- an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it they offered to the LORD burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship offerings. (Joshua 8:30-31 NIV)

We also find that the people were supposed to obey what was written in the Law of Moses. At the end of his life, Joshua said the following to the nation of Israel:

Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you are to hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have until now. (Joshua 23:6-8 NIV)

Obeying the Law of Moses was not a suggestion, it was a commandment.

9. The Testimony from the Book of Judges

In the Book of Judges, we are told that the fact of the survival of certain pagan nations around Israel proved the truth of what God had said to Moses. We read the following:

These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience): the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath. They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the LORD’s commands, which he had given their forefathers through Moses. (Judges 3:1-4 NIV)

This is another indication of the authority of the Law of Moses. There is no doubt that it has always been considered as authoritative Scripture.

10. Later Generations Accepted Moses’ Writings as Authoritative Scripture

Later generations considered the writings of Moses as authoritative. There are many Old Testament references that confirm this to be true. For example, in the Book of First Kings we are told that those who keep the Law of Moses will prosper. It says:

When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.” (1 Kings 2:1-3 NIV)

In Second Kings, we find a specific law about how to treat the children of murderers. Their source was the book of the Law of Moses:

Yet he did not put the sons of the assassins to death, in accordance with what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses where the LORD commanded: “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sins.” (2 Kings 14:6 NIV)

The Law of Moses was the written authority concerning how the people were to behave.

11. The Book of the Law Was Rediscovered in the Sacred Place: the Temple

Earlier, we read that the writings were kept in a sacred place—the sanctuary. Scripture says:

Samuel explained to the people the regulations of the kingship. He wrote them down on a scroll and deposited it before the LORD. Then Samuel dismissed the people, each to his own home. (1 Samuel 10:25 NIV)

In 2 Kings 22, the Bible records the account of the rediscovery of the book of the Law in the temple by Hilkiah. It says:

Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it. (2 Kings 22:8 NIV)

Again, we find the Scriptures kept in a sacred place. The Law was then read to the good king Josiah. The Bible says:

Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king. When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. (2 Kings 22:10-11 NIV)

The King, in turn, had the Law read to the people:

Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the LORD with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets-- all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD. (2 Kings 23:1-2 NIV)

Once again, we find the people were expected to obey that which was written in the Law.

12. The Kings Were Judged According to the Law of Moses

We also discover that the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, were judged according to how they obeyed or disobeyed the Law of Moses.

For example, Jeroboam, the king of Israel, was judged for disobeying the Law of Moses. The Lord said:

Go, tell Jeroboam that this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I raised you up from among the people and made you a leader over my people Israel. I tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you, but you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commands and followed me with all his heart, doing only what was right in my eyes.’ (1 Kings 14:7-8 NIV)

In another instance, Hezekiah the king was blessed for obeying God’s commandments. The Bible says of him:

He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses. (2 Kings 18:6 NIV)

Josiah was a good king faithful to the Law of Moses. The Bible says the following about him:

Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did - with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses. (2 Kings 23:25 NIV)

The actions of all of these kings were evaluated by how they obeyed the Law of Moses. It was the final standard by which everyone in the nation was judged.

13. The Babylonian Captivity Was a Result of Disobedience to the Law of Moses

The Babylonian captivity was a result of the disobedience of the children of Israel to the Law of Moses—specifically they started worshipping idols. We read the following in Kings:

All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced. (2 Kings 17:7-8 NIV)

This sin of idolatry caused the people to be under the judgment of the Lord.

While in Babylon, Daniel confessed the sins of the people when he prayed to the Lord. He said:

All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. “Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you.” (Daniel 9:11 NIV)

The Lord sent the people away into captivity for disobeying His law; the Law which was given to Moses.

14. The People Obeyed the Law of Moses after the Babylonian Captivity

After the captivity, the people began to obey the Law of Moses again. We read the following in the Book of Ezra:

Then Jeshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. (Ezra 3:2 NIV)

The priests were installed based upon the requirements given in the Law of Moses. The Bible says the following:

And they installed the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their groups for the service of God at Jerusalem, according to what is written in the Book of Moses. (Ezra 6:18 NIV)

The nation learned their lesson from the Babylonian captivity; they no longer worshipped idols.

15. The Law Was Read Out Loud to the People

After the return from the Babylonian captivity, Ezra read the Book of the Law to the people. The Bible records the events as follows:

The priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers and the temple servants, along with certain of the people and the rest of the Israelites, settled in their own towns. When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. (Nehemiah 7:73-8:1-3 NIV)

It then says that Ezra explained what the text meant:

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. (Nehemiah 8:8 NIV)

The result is that they observed the Law of Moses. Scripture records the following:

Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the feast for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly. (Nehemiah 8:18 NIV)

The Law had again become their guide.

16. The Lord Promised Not to Remove Them Again If They Obeyed the Law of Moses

If they obeyed His commandments, the Lord made His people a promise. He promised never to remove them again from the land. The Bible records Him saying:

I will not again make the feet of the Israelites leave the land I assigned to your forefathers, if only they will be careful to do everything I commanded them concerning all the laws, decrees and ordinances given through Moses. (2 Chronicles 33:8 NIV)

The Message reads:

He had promised, “Never again will I let my people Israel wander off from this land I’ve given to their ancestors. But on this condition, that they keep everything I’ve commanded in the instructions my servant Moses passed on to them.” (2 Chronicles 33:8 (MsgB)

These passages make it clear that the Law of Moses was considered to be the authoritative Word of God to the people of Israel. They were expected to obey the commandments contained within the Law. If they did not obey, then they would be subject to the punishment of God. The entire history of the nation of Israel is based upon its obedience, or disobedience, to the Law of Moses. However, the Law of Moses was not the end of God’s revelation to Israel.

Summary – Question 5
Were the Writings of Moses Considered to Be Scripture?

It is clear from the evidence that the writings of Moses were considered to be authoritative from the moment they were written. The history of the nation Israel testifies to the fact.

Time and time again the Law of Moses was cited as the authoritative standard from which the people were to live. There is no doubt that it was always considered to be the divine Word of God.

How Was the Old Testament Canon of Scripture Put Together? ← Prior Section
How Were Books Apart from the Writings of Moses Determined to Be Scripture? Next Section →
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