Mosaic Authorship and Conservative Pentateuch classes

Where to begin? Yesterday was my first Theology of the Pentateuch class session. It’s a requirement for graduating from the M.Div. program here at GCTS (well, either that or OT Intro, but I thought Theology of the Pentateuch would be more helpful for me). I was hoping for a class that could introduce me to some of the critical issues surrounding the Pentateuch and also look at what theology the Pentateuch really espouses, and perhaps the differences between that theology and Christian dogmatic theology. Of course, I should have known better.

Dr. Neihaus is teaching the class. I haven’t had him yet, so it’s good that I get to take a class with one of the few OT profs here that I haven’t had yet. The class started out well enough, with us discussing three different form critical approaches to Genesis 1. I’m not sure if any of the approaches we looked at completely fit, but it was interesting. Then, somewhere along the line we ended up in Genesis 3, with Satan “possessing” the serpent. Which is something I’ve heard of before. But with the mention of possession we somehow ended up in the New Testament and for the next twenty minutes heard about demon possession and what not. Now, I’m not trying to be insensitive here. I know that many people feel that demon possession is a very real and present issue. I don’t take that road, but neither do I reject entirely the possibility of such things. Either way, it is my opinion that such discussion has no place in a Theology of the Pentateuch class, unless perhaps we’re talking about ANE ideas about demonic possession, or Azazel, or something. After this we meandered a bit, but eventually ended up on the topic of Critical approaches to the Pentateuch. I was enthused–for all of five seconds.

It became quickly apparent that Dr. Neihaus subscribes to the idea of Mosaic authorship of the Torah. This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. I know many people who feel that Moses wrote the Torah (or at least huge chunks of it) and they are capable of researching things, and doing real scholarship. They’re also okay if you don’t think Moses wrote the Torah. Dr. Neihaus, however, very nearly equated belief in Moses writing the Torah with belief in Jesus as the Son of God. Such things are ridiculous. I actually asked him, during class, why we were assuming that Moses had to have written the Torah, since I didn’t remember anywhere within the Torah where it was claimed that Moses wrote it (of course, I’m of the opinion that even if it did claim such a thing that doesn’t require one to subscribe to Mosaic authorship of the entire thing). He agreed that there wasn’t much within the Pentateuch itself, so again we jaunted over to the New Testament and began talking about how Jesus says “Moses gave you the law,” which must clearly mean that he wrote the entire Torah. Himself. In the 2nd Millennium BCE. Except the part after he died. Because that would be crazy.

After a quick Bible search I see no reason that one who wanted to take a very conservative view of Scripture would be forced to conclude that Moses authored the Torah. In the Gospels Jesus often refers to the Torah by saying “Moses commanded such and such.” But this does not mean that Moses had to have written the entire thing. It would be much like saying “The founding fathers wrote in the constitution…” when we are actually talking about the Bill of Rights, or another later addition to the constitution. It is not inaccurate to use the former designation, now does it in any way whatsoever twist the truth. In addition, there are a few times were Jesus refers to the Torah as the Law of Moses, which I take to be a colloquial designation for the books, not an authoritative statement regarding their authorship. I’m honestly mystified as to why Mosaic authorship of the Torah is such a massive issue in conservative circles. I think one could even fuller affirm the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and not hold to complete Mosaic authorship of the Torah. I’m of the opinion that the authorship of the Pentateuch is somewhat superfluous. To be sure, Seitz im leben can be helpful to interpretation. But ultimately the Torah tells us a story, and that story is true regardless of who wrote it.

Now, in fairness, I will be introduced to critical methods of examining the Pentateuch. It will just be from the perspective that those methods are invalid and wrong – perhaps borderline “unChristian.” I doubt we’ll do much looking at the Theology of the Pentateuch as compared to Christian dogmatics or to the rest of the Hebrew Bible. I thought quite hard about dropping the class. Mandy is of the opinion that as much as I need to read people who disagree with me on the “left” I also need to hear people who disagree with me on the “right” and decide for myself. She’s normally correct about such things. At least she and Adam are taking the course with me. All hope is not lost.


8 thoughts on “Mosaic Authorship and Conservative Pentateuch classes

  1. As much as I want to jump on this bandwagon and complain about how narrow-minded faith (if there can even be such a thing) is harmful to the overall health of the community I’d encourage you to sit back and keep asking questions. Push back when you hear something that doesn’t sit right.

    Engage in dialogue with the professor during class that will offer alternatives to what is being taught. Instead of dropping the class ask yourself ‘how can I make this into a profitable experience?’. I’m pretty sure that it’ll be 10x worse for you in an OT Survey course.

  2. Interesting thoughts, Calvin. Very different from my first day of OT in seminary when the prof began the class by stating that the Bible, the Torah in particular, is not primarily historical but is, rather, theological. Throughout the course he debunked much of what we had assumed about the OT, including Mosaic authorship, but I came out the other side of the semester with a much deeper appreciation and understanding of those ancient texts. It will be interesting to see if your quite different educational experience will do the same for you.

  3. @Earl – it would be worse in an OT Survey course. Which, aside from having Mandy and Adam in the class, will be one of the few things that sustains me. Though I’m sure I will learn things.

    @Brian – To some extent, I had a similar experience in undergrad. My OT Prof didn’t out and out challenge Mosaic authorship. But he made the point quite clearly that such things were besides the point. I know that as I went through Bible college I grew to really appreciate the Hebrew Bible, far more than I ever had before. I hope that that continues in my graduate education. We shall see–and you’re right, it will be interesting.

    @Wezlo – Thanks. Also, thanks for being kind and not saying, “I told you so.”

  4. The most fun way to push back on the whole Jesus and Moses thing is Phil. 2 and the Creeds. Too often Evangelicals push Christ’s divinity at the expense of his humanity.

    If Jesus was fully human, why would we expect him to know everything? Mark 5 and the woman with an issue of blood is a good example of Jesus’ limited knowledge (and his divinity!) at play.

  5. Brian — where’d you go to seminary?

    Calvin — ugh! This is really disappointing to hear. We evangelicals IMHO have to get over our fear of the human aspects of the Bible. Otherwise we’ll become (or maybe “remain”) largely irrelevant to thinking people. Now, please don’t tell me this Prof. insists on taking Chapters 1 and 2 “literally,” whatever that would mean…

    I like your analogy to the founding fathers here BTW. We also use a similar kind of idiom when we say “Congress passed Senator Buffoon’s tax bill…” Senator Buffoon likely didn’t actually write the statute, it was written by staffers and worked over by later redactors on various committees, but Senator Buffoon is the nominal author because he sponsored the bill. If Jesus were on earth today and talking to us about Senator Buffoon’s tax bill, he’d use our idiom rather than the more precise “the tax bill sponsored by Senator Buffoon, drafted by his three staffers, and revised over the course of the year by the six members of the taxation and finance committee….” — and that wouldn’t be “error.”

  6. Jim – I may try something in that direction. Though I imagine that it will be a fruitless effort. Hopefully this afternoon’s class session will be more profitable than last week.

    David – It is extremely disappointing to hear. I agree completely that we will probably remain irrelevant to intellectual, thinking people. I’m not sure what his stance is on Genesis 1-3 specifically. I know Meredith Kline (former professor at Gordon-Conwell, and author one of the textbooks for this course) allows for the days of creation not being literal days. On the other hand, Dr. Neihaus has required us to purchase and read, Darwin on Trial by Johnson. Normally I might think that the professor wants us to simply see both sides of the issue, but my experience so far is telling me that isn’t the case.

    I think your analogy with “Senator Buffoon’s bill…” is even better than mine. These are the kinds of things I try to help the students in my youth ministry understand.

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