The Pentateuch, or books of Moses, are the first five books found in the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These five books ascribed to Moses have a peculiar place in the structure of the Bible, and an order which is undeniably the order of the experience of the people of God in all ages.
The Name “Pentateuch”
The term “Pentateuch” does not occur in Scripture, nor is it surely known when the text was thus separated into five parts: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Presumably, that was done by the LXX. translators. Some modern critics speak of a Hexateuch, introducing the Book of Joshua as one of the group. But this book is of an entirely different character from the other books and has a different author. It stands by itself as the first of a series of historical books beginning with the entrance of the Israelites into Canaan.
Summary of the Pentateuch
Genesis is the book of origins–of the beginning of life, and of ruin through sin. Its first word, “In the beginning God,” is in striking contrast with the end, “In a coffin in Egypt.”
The English title, Genesis, is Greek in origin and comes from the word geneseos, which appears in the pre-Christian Greek translation (Septuagint) of 2:4; 5:1. Depending on its context, the word can mean “birth,” “genealogy,” or “history of origin.” In both its Hebrew and Greek forms, then, the traditional title of Genesis appropriately describes its contents, since it is primarily a book of beginnings.
Genesis speaks of beginnings — of the heavens and the earth, of light and darkness, of seas and skies, of land and vegetation, of sun and moon and stars, of sea and air and land animals, of human beings (made in God’s own image, the climax of his creative activity), of marriage and family, of society and civilization, of sin and redemption. The list could go on and on. A keyword in Genesis is “account,” which also serves to divide the book into its ten major parts (see Literary Features and Literary Outline) and which includes such concepts as birth, genealogy, and history.
Exodus is the book of redemption, the first need of a ruined race.
“Exodus” is a Latin word derived from Greek Exodos, the name given to the book by those who translated it into Greek. The word means “exit,” “departure” (see Lk 9:31; Heb 11:22). The name was retained by the Latin Vulgate, by the Jewish author Philo (a contemporary of Christ) and by the Syriac version. In Hebrew the book is named after its first two words, we’elleh shemoth (“These are the names of”). The same phrase occurs in Ge 46:8, where it likewise introduces a list of the names of those Israelites “who went to Egypt with Jacob” (1:1). Thus Exodus was not intended to exist separately but was thought of as a continuation of a narrative that began in Genesis and was completed in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Exodus lays a foundational theology in which God reveals his name, his attributes, his redemption, his law and how he is to be worshiped. It also reports the appointment and work of Moses as the mediator of the Sinaitic covenant, describes the beginnings of the priesthood in Israel, defines the role of the prophet and relates how the ancient covenant relationship between God and his people (see note on Genesis 17:2) came under a new administration (the covenant given at Mount Sinai).
Leviticus is the book of worship and communion, the proper exercise of the redeemed.
Leviticus receives its name from the Septuagint (the pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT) and means “relating to the Levites.” Although Leviticus does not deal only with the special duties of the Levites, it is so named because it concerns mainly the service of worship at the tabernacle, which was conducted by the priests who were the sons of Aaron, assisted by many from the rest of the tribe of Levi. Exodus gave the directions for building the tabernacle, and now Leviticus gives the laws and regulations for worship there, including instructions on ceremonial cleanness, moral laws, holy days, the Sabbath year and the Year of Jubilee. These laws were given, at least for the most part, during the year that Israel camped at Mount Sinai when God directed Moses in organizing Israel’s worship, government, and military forces. The book of Numbers continues the history with preparations for moving on from Sinai to Canaan.
Numbers speaks of the experiences of a pilgrim people, the redeemed passing through a hostile scene to a promised inheritance.
Numbers relates the story of Israel’s journey from Mount Sinai to the plains of Moab on the border of Canaan. Much of its legislation for people and priests is similar to that in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. The book tells of the murmuring and rebellion of God’s people and of their subsequent judgment. Those whom God had redeemed from slavery in Egypt and with whom he had made a covenant at Mount Sinai responded not with faith, gratitude and obedience but with unbelief, ingratitude and repeated acts of rebellion, which came to extreme expression in their refusal to undertake the conquest of Canaan (ch. 14). The community of the redeemed forfeited their part in the promised land. They were condemned to live out their lives in the desert; only their children would enjoy the fulfillment of the promise that had originally been theirs.
Deuteronomy, retrospective and prospective, is a book of instruction for the redeemed about to enter that inheritance.
Deuteronomy locates Moses and the Israelites in the territory of Moab in the area where the Jordan flows into the Dead Sea (1:5). As his final act at this important time of transferring leadership to Joshua, Moses delivered his farewell addresses to prepare the people for their entrance into Canaan. In them, Moses emphasized the laws that were especially needed at such a time, and he presented them in a way appropriate to the situation. In contrast to the matter-of-fact narratives of Leviticus and Numbers, here the words of Moses come to us from his heart as this servant of the Lord presses God’s claims on his people Israel.
That Babylonian and Assyrian monuments contain records bearing a grotesque resemblance to the majestic account of the creation and of the Flood is true, as also that these antedate Moses. But this confirms rather than invalidates inspiration of the Mosaic account. Some tradition of creation and the Flood would inevitably be handed down in the ancient cradle of the race. Such a tradition, following the order of all tradition, would take on grotesque and mythological features, and these abound in the Babylonian records.
Of necessity, therefore, the first task of inspiration would be to supplant the often absurd and childish traditions with a revelation of the true history, and such a history we find in words of matchless grandeur, and in an order which, rightly understood, is absolutely scientific. In the Pentateuch, therefore, we have a true and logical introduction to the entire Bible; and, in type, an epitome of the divine revelation.
Article from Scofield Reference Notes (1917) (Public Domain)
For over 90 years people have relied on this reference work in their daily study of God’s Word. Written originally in 1909, C. I. Scofield’s intent was to provide a concise but complete tool that would meet the need of someone just beginning to read the Bible.