Who Wrote the Book of Genesis?

Title: Who Wrote the Book of Genesis?

Text: Genesis 2:4

Time: May 3rd, 2010

The other day I watched a documentary produced in High Definition by the BBC entitled, “Who Wrote the Bible?” But instead of an interesting survey of the Old and New Testaments I encountered a sustained attack on the Bible from a modern academic perspective. The narrator seemed friendly enough in his introductory remarks, but only a couple of minutes into the documentary the truth of his agenda was fully presented – and that was to totally overthrow the traditionally accepted view of the Bible. The Bible presents itself and believers have always assumed also that the Bible was written and recorded by the actual names on the individual books. For example, in the Old Testament, the books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible called the Torah or Law, were really written by Moses. That the Book of Isaiah was really written by the prophet Isaiah – and so on. In the New Testament, the assumption has always been similarly that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John actually wrote the books that bear their names. Paul, it is believed, also wrote his Epistles or letters, such as the Epistle to the Romans. But more and more as I listen, watch and observe in today’s contemporary world, I run into people who try to debunk the Bible and argue that hardly anybody whose name appears on a biblical book actually wrote the book itself; instead, other unknown authors and editors wrote nearly all the books of the Bible. Now I’ve been to seminary, both at the master’s degree level and also at the doctorate level, so I’ve heard all the arguments before – they are the so-called higher critical theories of biblical authorship. But I’ve never heard or seen these academic theories pushed on the general public as much as I’ve experienced lately. In addition to the BBC documentary I’ve already mentioned, I was reading along in a book I picked up at a used book sale called “The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels” by Thomas Cahill. I expected to read about how the Jews influenced Western culture, but what I encountered was a full-scale assault on the Old Testament of the Bible. Listen to what the author says, for example: “It is no longer possible to believe that every word of the Bible was inspired by God. Fundamentalists still do, but they can keep up such self-delusion only by scrupulously avoiding all forms of scientific inquiry.” He goes on and teaches us that not only are the books of the Bible not written by the designated authors, even much of what the unknown authors and editors recorded isn’t true. But the attack on the Bible doesn’t stop with television and books, the Bible is also assaulted in college and university classrooms – sometimes even as early as high school in classes taught under the label “The Bible as Literature.” Send a child to the Encyclopedia Britannica and he’ll likely find information explaining how Moses did not write Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers or Deuteronomy. So what should be our response to all of this? We need to be fully informed about the arguments against the Bible and be ready to present the best arguments in defense of the Bible to counter the attacks. “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created,” Genesis 2:4. Who wrote this account, Moses or some unknown person? Let’s explore.

First, there is the argument against Moses writing the Book of Genesis. Genesis 2:4, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” Whose account is it we read in our Bibles, is it Moses’ or some unknown author or authors? In most of the academic world the answer is an unknown author, not Moses. Why do they doubt that Moses wrote the account? Or put stronger, why do so many intellectuals today argue against Moses as the author? Because they subscribe to something called the Documentary Hypothesis or the JEDP theory of biblical authorship. It’s also called the Higher Critical theory of the Bible. This theory starts with a careful examination of the Book of Genesis, as well as all the other books of the Old Testament — but we’ll just deal with Genesis. Using a certain number of literary devices scholars notice that in the original Hebrew language of Genesis, for example, two forms of the name for God are used – sometimes the Hebrew word Elohim is used, other times the Hebrew word Yahweh is used. From this scholars assume that there must have been two different authors writing independent of each other and then only later someone else came along and edited their two accounts together into one. In addition, they claim that there are actually two separate creation accounts, not just one. Genesis 1 is supposed to be a different account than Genesis 2, therefore, Moses couldn’t have been the original author because he would never have made two different accounts of creation that we see included in the Bible. These scholars then move on from here and go through the entire Book of Genesis, then on to the rest of the books in the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible, dissecting each book, section, paragraph and even sentences into different sources and different authors. When they get finished hardly anything is left of Moses or the first five books of the Bible except a patchwork of cut and paste edited fragments of unknown documents compiled by unknown editors. Now how are we to respond to such an approach to the Bible? First of all, we need to know that it is totally unnecessary. It’s unnecessary to assume that just because an author uses different names for God that there must be two authors not one. Moses, according to the Bible, was educated as a prince in Egypt. He had access to a wide range of vocabulary and literary devices as a member of the educated elite class. It makes perfect sense that he could have used more than one word for God in his writings, just as we do today, for example, describing God as a “Lord” or “the Almighty.” Moses also could have presented creation from two different angles, using Genesis 1 as a more general account, then using Genesis 2 as a more detailed account of the creation of mankind. Nothing the higher critics theorize can’t be explained under the assumption of Moses as the sole or primary author of Genesis. There are more reasons for believing Moses wrote Genesis than believing he didn’t.

Second, there is the argument for Moses writing the Book of Genesis. Genesis 2:4, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” One way to defend Moses against his critics is to go down into the trenches of biblical analysis and fight it out book-by-book, section-by-section, paragraph-by-paragraph, sentence-by-sentence, or even word-by-word. Some high-level technical conservative biblical scholars have done this. For this approach I recommend my old professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Gleason Archer in his books, “Survey of Old Testament Introduction” and “The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties.” Archer and other conservative biblical scholars refute higher critics point by point. But for us today – and for most Christians – I’d like to approach the topic from a different angle. Instead of answering the critic’s charges against the Bible blow-by-blow, I’d like to simply ask one question: what did Jesus and the apostles believe about Genesis? As Christians, our faith is in Jesus and we trust the testimony of the apostles as the foundation for our faith. So instead of arguing for the reliability of the Old Testament from the Old Testament, let’s go to the New Testament and the words of Jesus and the apostles. Whatever Jesus teaches us, we believe. Whatever he passed on to his apostles, we believe. So we go to the New Testament to validate the Old Testament. So first of all, what did Jesus believe about the Book of Genesis? Did he believe that Moses wrote Genesis? And the answer is — “Yes, Jesus fully believed that Moses wrote the Book of Genesis.” For example, in Mark 10:2-6 it says, “Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ ‘What did Moses command you?’ he replied. They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.’ ‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,’ Jesus replied. ‘But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female.’” Here is just one example in the New Testament Gospels where Jesus assumes that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, including the Book of Genesis. He quotes from the creation account in Genesis and assumes the mosaic authorship of it. We don’t have time to examine every passage were Jesus mentions Moses, but for further study and to convince yourself, go home, take a little time and go through the Gospels and get a feel for Jesus’ understanding of Moses and the Old Testament. He fully accepted that Moses wrote the books ascribed to him. And so did the apostles believe that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. So, if it’s good enough for Jesus and the apostles, it should be good enough for us today. Do we trust Jesus? If so, let’s trust him in this. According to Jesus, Moses wrote Genesis. That’s good enough for me.

Third, why does this matter anyway? Genesis 2:4, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” Somebody may respond, “What difference does it make who wrote a certain book of the Bible? We believe by faith anyway so why does it matter?” It matters because it’s an issue of truth, what is the truth. Unlike some religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, Christianity rises and falls on truth, not just one’s own personal experience. The central teachings of the Christian faith such as the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ rise and fall on whether or not they actually happened. Our Christian faith depends on them actually happening. What does the Apostle Paul say? — “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith,” 1 Corinthians 15:14. So the matter of truth and trustworthiness is very important for the Christian faith. If Moses didn’t write the first five books of the Bible ascribed to him, then Jesus and the apostles were wrong in the New Testament because they are described and quoted as fully believing that he did. If the New Testament is wrong, or if Jesus and the apostles are wrong, then that calls into question the validity of our Christian faith. So then it’s very important that what the Bible says or claims is true. It’s very important that Moses wrote the Book of Genesis because its authorship is tied to Jesus and the apostles – and our Christian faith is tied to Jesus and the apostles! It’s complete nonsense to say, as some misguided people say, that it’s irrelevant whether Moses or any of the biblical books were actually written by any of the authors that bear their names. They say that it’s completely irrelevant whether the biblical books were written by the name ascribed to it or to another unknown author or even a committee of editors; all that’s important is our faith. But this approach is truly wrong, because it belittles the importance of truth and believing the truth. It’s not just about how faith makes me feel; it’s not about how faith or belief “works” for me – as if faith only came down to its usefulness to us. Now we surely want a faith that works in the real world, or in other words, we want a practical faith. But that’s not the foundation for faith, it’s practicality, as if it all boils down to human psychology of religion. No. When we say we believe in Christ, that means we trust in him and we trust in his truthfulness and the truth he teaches. He teaches us, among many other things, that Moses wrote the Book of Genesis. That’s how we can know and believe in the total truthfulness of the Genesis account of creation – and everything else recorded in the Book of Genesis. We don’t have to fight it out verse-by-verse against the higher critics of the Bible. We simply turn to Jesus and follow him – as we should in all things — in his handling of the Bible, believing what he believes, following what he follows. So if you ever begin to have doubts about the Book of Genesis, whether over the creation account or over any other part, simply turn to Jesus and follow him. He’ll lead you to believe all of Genesis – and every other book of the Bible too.

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2 Responses to “Who Wrote the Book of Genesis?”

  1. Scotti Says:

    if you ever begin to have doubts about the Book of Genesis, whether over the creation account or over any other part, simply turn to Jesus and follow him. He’ll lead you to believe all of Genesis – and every other book of the Bible too.

    Wow… that’s a lot of nothing.

  2. jeffshort Says:

    scotti, it may be a lot of nothing for an unbeliever like you, but for Christians it’s the truth. if we can trust Jesus in the New
    Testament, then we only have to determine what he believed and simply believe the same. Obviously, you don’t believe in Jesus enough yet to trust him in all things, because if you did, you too would believe in the Creation account in Genesis because the New Testament describes Jesus believing it. Wow is right, wow, how blind you can be for not trusting Jesus, the Incarnate Word, God-in-human-flesh.

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