Building a Library: Books on the Pentateuch

An excellent overview on writings covering the first five books of the Old Testament.

The division of the OT into the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets does not rest on the authority of Jewish tradition, but on the authoritative teaching of the Risen Lord. “And He said unto them, These are the words that I spoke unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning Me” (Luke 24:44). The Law of Moses here refers to the first five books of Scripture. These are commonly termed the Pentateuch.

This word is derived from two Greek words, pente meaning ‘five’, and teuchos meaning a volume, thus signifying the fivefold volume connected in one unbroken scroll. A more accurate and informed term is used in the Jewish tradition itself, namely, the Torah, which means instruction. This name suggests that the purpose of the Mosaic writings was to educate Israel regarding the general meaning of creation, history, redemption, and their future in the purpose of God.

The Pentateuch

A. Its Signature

The four Gospels clearly reveal the Lord’s testimony to the Mosaic authority of the Pentateuch. In the latter part of John Chapter 5, the Lord Jesus is reproving the unbelief of the Jews. He points out the abundant witness to His Person and mission. John the Baptist testified to Him (vv 32-35). The character of the works He was doing in obedience to His Father testified to Him (v 36). The Father Himself testified to Him (v 37). And the scriptures, which it was their duty to search, likewise testified to Him (v 39). Yet in spite of this fourfold testimony the Jews refused to acknowledge Him.

The Lord Jesus solemnly warns them of the gravity of such an attitude of unbelief. Not that He would accuse them to the Father regarding their hardness of heart, but Moses in whom they trusted and boasted, would rise up in judgment upon them. “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father there is one that accuseth you, even Moses in whom ye trust. For had you believed Moses, you would have believed Me: for He wrote of Me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe My words?” (vv 45-47).

In these verses the Lord Jesus emphatically proved that Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was the author of those books commonly ascribed to him: “for he wrote of Me.” This Scripture,”he wrote of Me,” indicates a unity of purpose. And the indication of this lofty objective in the writings of Moses is by no means confined to these verses. The Lord Jesus pointed out the same thing to His disciples after His resurrection. To the dejected and disappointed pair on their way to Emmaus, He said, “0 fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses, and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself” (vv25-2 7).

Other references in the Gospels (Mark 12:18-23; John 1:45) also agree in teaching that the Lord Jesus leaned on the whole weight of His authority to Moses’ authorship of the Pentateuch.

B. Its Significance

The position of the Pentateuch, at the beginning of every known arrangement of the biblical canon, is in itself a confirmation of the premise that these five books are the fountainhead of theological inquiry (Beckwith). The very order of the books, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, is intrinsic to original Mosaic composition as well as final canonical shape. We could not think of putting the Pentateuch in any other but its present place, at the beginning of the entire book of inspiration. Morally, historically and theologically, it forms the introduction to all that comes after.

It is important to see how the historical and biographical facts, the account of the moral condition and development of the human race, and of Israel as a nation, the nature of the revelation of God to man in its inception and progressive character are all recorded in the Pentateuch. Likewise they are absolutely essential to our understanding of what comes after, either in the Old or New Testaments.

C. Its Structure

The Pentateuch is marked by a delightful and distinctive unity. The unity of character, design and style pervading these five books shows they are not a series of unconnected fragments.

1. Organic Unity.

This is evident in the structure of the Pentateuch. The symmetry of its literary structure is characteristic of the Scriptures as a whole.

2. Spiritual Unity.

There is not only consecutive history covering the first 2400 years of human history, but a spiritual unity setting forth the experiential enjoyment of fellowship with God.

From the human standpoint, we observe in:

Genesis – Ruin through the disobedience and folly of man.
Exodus – Redemption by blood and power.
Leviticus – Restored fellowship by atonement.
Numbers – Reliable direction for pilgrimage.
Deuteronomy – Regulatory instruction for the Land of Canaan.

From the divine standpoint, we observe in:

Genesis – The Sovereignty of God in creation and election.
Exodus – The Salvation of God through grace and redemption.
Leviticus – The Holiness of God in ceremony and conduct.
Numbers – The Patience of God seen in care and chastening.
Deuteronomy – The Faithfulness of God providing incentive to obey.

The ways of the Pentateuch 

Genesis – the way down through Rebellion.
Exodus – the way out through Redemption.
Leviticus – the way in through Sanctification.
Numbers – the way through calling for Separation.
Deuteronomy – the way up leading to Possession.

D. Suggested Books for Study on the Pentateuch.

Genesis to Deuteronomy – Notes on the Pentateuch by C H Macintosh has been a tremendous blessing to many for the past 120 years. It was first published in 1880. Andrew Miller, a warmhearted Scottish evangelist and contemporary of CHM, wrote in the preface, “… the most popular and extensively circulated of all the varied volumes on this subject.” This continues to this day.

The Pentateuch by S Ridout, is extremely helpful. It is a much shorter treatment of the Pentateuch, but it has excellent outlines and it provides a concise yet comprehensive summary of the five books of Moses.

Studies in the Pentateuch by W R Newell is likewise useful but lacks the spiritual depth of the books by CHM and Ridout.

The Numerical Bible – Genesis to Deuteronomy by F W Grant is a very illuminating, scholarly and expository presentation.

A Biblical Theology of the O.T. by Eugene H Merrill may be more directed to the contemplative student of scripture.

There are also single volume books on the Bible, which are worth considering in assisting in the study of this fundamental section of the Word of God. Some of these include:

Gaebelein’s Concise Commentary.

The Believer’s Bible Commentary by Win. MacDonald.

Commentary on the whole Bible by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown.

This list would not be complete without reference to the writings of the late Mr William Kelly on each book of the Pentateuch.