Vol. 7, No. 8
~ Page 8 ~
[Publishing Peace. D. Gene West, ed. Moundsville: West Virginia School of Preaching. Nov. 2005: 3-4, 7-8.]
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy together form one continuous whole--one unit of Scripture--known as the Law (Torah, in Hebrew). The names given to the books in the English translations originated from the Septuagint. In the LXX, the books were named according to their content. Later, Latinized substitutions and/or word endings were used in the Vulgate. From these Latinized forms the English names were derived. In scholarly circles, especially, this unit of Scripture is often referred to as the "Pentateuch."
The term "Pentateuch" is derived from the Greek and is a contraction of "pente" (five) and "teuchos" (volume). When used to modify "biblios" the meaning becomes "five fold book" or "five volume scroll"(Aalders). As Aalders notes, "Obviously this name emphasizes the unity of the five Books of the Law while it also recognizes the fact that the book falls into five sections"(2).
Originally, the Hebrews also recognized a five fold division to the books as well. The Hebrews referred to the writings of Moses not only as the Torah (law or instruction) but also as the Humash (the five fifths). The names designated by the Hebrews for the books of the "five volume scroll" were different from the names by which most refer to them today.
The Jews would most often refer to the books by their opening words (not word, as some mistakenly state). Thus, Genesis was known as the beresit (in the beginning). Exodus was known as the semot (names). Leviticus was known as wayyigra (and he called). Numbers was known by the fourth word in the Hebrew text bemidbar (in the wilderness). Although the synagogue probably retained the first words as the title to the fourth book, more commonly, the fourth word was used to avoid confusion between the fourth and fifth books of the Torah; both of these books began with a form of the Hebrew term for "words"(Noordtzij 1). The last book, Deuteronomy, was known as debarim (words).
The value of the Pentateuch can hardly be overstated. Chronologically, it involves more time than the rest of the written record combined (Jackson 1). In order to read the equivalent volume of material in the New Testament, one would have to read Matthew through Ephesians (Smith 18).
Historically, the Pentateuch covers the period of beginnings (Genesis 1-11), the Hebrew family (Genesis 12-50), the Egyptian bondage (Exodus 1-19), Israel's encampment at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20-Numbers 10), the wandering in the wilderness (Numbers 10-21), and the period of preparation prior to the conquest and settlement of the land of Canaan (Numbers 22--Deuteronomy 34).
In addition, the Pentateuch, when studied closely, shows itself to be an authoritative document revealing the mind of God through the pen of Moses. Although the limited space for this article does not permit a refutation of the various false theories of authorship, men such as Oswald T. Allis, William H. Green, Edward J. Young and others, all have shown the Pentateuch to be an authoritative document from God, written by Moses. As one writer notes, "It need scarcely be added that the theology and ethics of the Pentateuch, not to speak of the New Testament, far transcend all the attainments of unassisted human reason" (Murphy 4).
The Pentateuch is important sociologically. It reveals the origin of God's plan for meeting man's social needs, the family. Much of the instruction found in the "five fold book" reveals information valuable to the happiness of the home and family.
The Pentateuch has great theological value. From a study of these books there is provided an explanation of man's sin problem. The origin and consequences of sin and the necessity of redemption through shed blood are revealed in the Pentateuch. The answer to the sin problem through the "Messiah" is first vaguely revealed and then more fully typified in the sacrificial system of Israel. Typological revelations of the "Messiah" range from men such as Adam, Abel, Melchizedek and the high priest to animals such as the red heifer, scapegoat, brazen serpent and Passover lamb. Jesus himself pointed out to the Jews that Moses' writings should have produced belief in him (John 5:46).
The value of the Pentateuch cannot be conveyed in such brief space. It is valuable legally as it contains one of the oldest and the most influential law codes known to man (Smith 18). It is valuable practically as it "embodies timeless truths for everyday living" (Jackson 3). It is valuable scientifically as it reveals the origin of the universe, which man's independent studies could never ascertain. The value of the Pentateuch seems almost limitless.
The Pentateuch serves as the foundation for the rest of the revelation of God. In God's great scheme of redemption, the Pentateuch provides the basis. Perhaps Edward Garrett stated it as well as any when he wrote, "The Pentateuch is the thread of gold which runs--now latent, now prominent--throughout the whole body of the Scriptures. Retain it in its place, and the whole is united by a consistent purpose from end to end; take it away, and all the rest of revelation becomes a mass of inextricable confusion" (qtd. in Allis 2).
Aalders, Gerhard Charles. The Bible Student's Commentary: Genesis. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.
Allis, Oswald T. The Five Books of Moses. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1949.
Jackson, Jason B. The Pentateuch: The Cornerstone of Scripture. 28 Apr. 2004. 26 Apr. 2005 <https://www.christiancourier.com/archives/pentateuch.htm>.
Murphy, James G. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Exodus with a New Translation. Andover: Warren F. Draper, 1878.
Noordtzij, A. The Bible Student's Commentary: Numbers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983.