Theological considerations on the authorship of Genesis

I will start taking Hebrew with Professor Mark Futato on Monday. In order to engage our small Hebrew class, there is a discussion board where we can have some “coffee house” conversations. I am raising the first question in regards to the authorship of Genesis. Here is a brief background before I launch into my question. I have been an advocate of an Old-Earth model for many years now (about 6 to be precise). This position comes from reading Hugh Ross and friend of mine Dr. David Snoke (PCA member). Both have written defending an old earth position. However, after many years I have become a bit more skeptical about this position. Why? Well, many of my heroes in the faith deny an old earth theory and I have always wondered why. As John Frame once noted: “If this issue is to be settled, it will be through exegesis.” Since then I have stopped focusing my attention to the scientific data and spent a little more time on the language of Genesis. (Hebrew here I come!) Perhaps one of the most creative minds in American Protestantism today is James Jordan. (I have a feeling Futato would agree-though they disagree on this matter) I have heard of Jim Jordan for several years, but only now have I started reading his books. (The first book I read from him was one he edited entitled: The Failure of the American Baptist Culture–controversial indeed – click here for a free on-line copy)

Jordan argues among many things in his book entitled: Creation in Six Day, that we have assumed for to long that Moses wrote Genesis, when the reality is that there is no such internal evidence. So, who is the author? According to James Jordan, Joseph is the author of Genesis. He reasons (pg.37):

I submit the most likely composer of Genesis was Joseph or one of his contemporaries. Joseph could have compounded the book of Genesis out of the earlier inspired books, all but the last verse (just as Moses did not write the last chapter of Deuteronomy). I suggest that this book of Genesis was the Bible of the Hebrews in captivity. It was the light to their feet and provided them the hope of a deliverance to come.

The issue here is that Waltke and others believe that Genesis did not exist before Moses. However, if the thought-world of Genesis 1 belonged to the patriarchs, we may find that Genesis had a different intent than being “an apologetic contra ancient-near eastern gods.” Any thoughts?

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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20 Responses to Theological considerations on the authorship of Genesis

  1. Graham says:

    Uri, I have 3 minutes to write this, but I wanted to post while the thought is fresh in my head.

    Jordan’s hypothesis is plausible, but what evidence does he have to support it? As is mentioned, the author in no way identifies himself in the book which means, of course, that any guess as to his identity is a matter of both exegesis and sanctified guessing. I think I remember you saying something about this to me before, that Jordan’s underlying assumption/preconception is that God’s people have at all times and in all places had His Word to guide and sustain them. This is a noble enough thought, but in what form do the people of God need His Word? Must we say that unless this Word is of a canonical status that it does not perform that which it left God’s mouth for? Also, in what sense are we to understand inspiration (consider Jude’s use of 1Enoch)?

    Well, my 3 minutes are up. For all that, I would say that it is possible that Joseph wrote it, but it is also possible, in the same way that Joseph would have collected and anthologized the primeval history (and more than likely much of the Abraham/Terah material) another author, be he Moses or some other intermediary, could have done the same for Joseph’s material. Above all this, the reason that Genesis finds its way into Torah is due to Moses’ stamp and collection. Does Jordan address this issue?


  2. Uri Brito says:

    Graham, thanks for your excellent comments. I still hold strongly to a Mosaic authorship, whether I end up holding to any creation position. Nevertheless, my criteria when reading or hearing Jordan is to think he is a nut the first time I read him, think he is less of a nut the second, and then think he is s a genius the third. Since this is my first reading…well, I think he is a nut.

    You asked: Jordan’s hypothesis is plausible, but what evidence does he have to support it?

    You must remember that the book is a response to the framework theory of Waltke (though Waltke differs from Kline), Kline and Futato. The premise of the Framework theory is that Genesis has an apologetic thrust directed against other gods and forces of the Ancient Near East.
    In one sense Jordan does address your question when he writes:
    ” Since there is no direct evidence (of whether Joseph or Moses wrote Genesis) either way, my view is at least as good as Waltke’s. In fact, my view is better because it conforms to the way God always works in history, giving His people a book at every stage of covenantal history.” (page 37)
    Though he says there is no direct evidence, he seems to imply there is when he writes in page 36: ” There is good reason to believe that he did not write Genesis, (that is, Moses) though Jordan adds, “he probably added some touches to it.” So, this may answer your final question in your final paragraph. Jordan believes that a general rule is that biblical writings were produced immediately after the events they described were completed.

    For Jordan, to maintain that Moses wrote Genesis 1 with the Sinaitic covenant in mind means that neither Noah or Abraham had the information of Genesis 1, and thus they could not order their lives in terms of it. Jordan does not believe this is reasonable.

    Maybe this will help understand Jordan a bit more: Jordan believes that the Bible offers a hermeneutic to understand its content. This being the case, taking Ancient Near Eastern literature to apply to Biblical narrative is not appropriate (though Jordan does see merit in Kline’s Kingdom Prologue).
    In light of this comment here is what Jordan says: ” Now certainly Genesis 1 can be used that way, (for apologetic purposes) but what evidence is there in the text of Genesis 1 that this is any part of its original purpose? The answer is: none. Jordan continues: ” There is nothing in Genesis 1 that implies that it has an apologetic purpose. This notion is read into the text, not read out of it.” (page 37)
    I hope this answers your question.

  3. Uri Brito says:

    By the way, I hope to see your blog updated with some of your comments on the Bishop’s: The New Testament and the People of God.

  4. Steven W says:

    Six day creation and Young Earth are the way to go. God makes things quickly, and then he lets them work out over time with a mission. There is no need for 5.8 billion years of nothingness prior to the mission. Covenants are made quickly- Noah, Abraham, Sinai, etc. Just like God works quickly elsewhere, a thief in the night perhaps, he creates quickly. His Word does.

    Nobody prior to the “Scientific Revolution” had real qualms with the caveman-style biblicism of 6day creation, and that alone makes the frameworkers suspect. Add in their thick gnostic dualisms, and well, you’ve got real trouble.

    Also, Genesis 2:5 says that the plants and herbs had not “grown” yet. This doesn’t mean they weren’t created. It does mean that weren’t mature yet. God created these things for man to work them and make bread and wine.

    As for the authorship of Genesis, I think Jordan’s view grounds an “oral tradition” better. The Hebrews were reading their history, much like the Egyptians and Babylonians were reading theirs. Moses knew that the various Suzerains of the world were working with borrowed capital.

  5. Uri Brito says:

    I like your last line.
    I think you should have a talk with your Dutch tradition. According to North the strongest theistic evolutionary movement began within the Dutch tradition at Calvin College.

  6. Steven W says:

    Could be. Calvin was made up of some softies from the earliest of days. Princeton, however, didn’t help us out much when it comes to evolution. I guess this is where I appeal to Dabney and become a real mish-mash.

  7. Uri Brito says:

    Jordan has a series of articles critiquing B.B.Warfield. I intend to read them as soon as I finish his book on creation.

  8. Laurence O says:

    With tongue in cheek it seems to me that such issues need many evenings with friends holding the Hebrew text in one hand and a cigar and cold beverage in the other. 🙂

  9. Uri Brito says:

    Now there is a worthy pursuit.

  10. John Rogers says:

    The authorship of Genesis? That’s an easy one, and I am surprised that you leave out a few points concerning the traditional view. Of course it was Moses, I could write a small treatise on this, but here are just a few reasons why.

    1. The liberal viewpoint is that the “Five Books of Moses” sprang from the Hammarabi Code and Chaldean mythology. Moses himself wrote, “What nation is there … that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law” ((Deut. 4:8). If you break down the semantics of that verse, it is incredible in its implications. Other nations had their laws, but these words imply that these laws were entirely different because they were received from God and not man. On the liberal theory, Sayce writes, “… on the spiritual and religious side, there is a gulf between them that cannot be spanned.” The Code is so full of legendary general nonsense,that it is impossible that the specific account of Genesis evolved from this.

    2. There is no internal evidence? Au contraire! Every book of the Bible necessitates a pedigree of known authorship in order for it to have been included in the Hebrew Canon. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus and the New Testament writers refer to the “book of Moses” (Mark 12:26) and “Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:43-45). The messianic prophecies of Genesis were considered to be from Moses. If Jesus and the Apostles accepted without equivocation that these prophecies about the Messiah were from the “Law of Moses,” then they had the divine authority to pronounce it so. The internal evidence is found in the New Testament and everywhere in scripture that the “books of Moses” are referred to.

    3. You say it is “obvious” that Moses did not write the account of his own death and burial. Who did write it then? Only God and Moses were present at his burial. It is just as likely that Moses predicted that “No man knows the location of his tomb to this day” as it was for Joseph to prophesy what would happen to his bones hundreds of years after his death. Even if Joshua or a later scribe wrote this passage, he was still prophesying things that only the Spirit could reveal (Gen. 50:25).

    4. A larger question becomes how much of the books of Moses were garnered directly from spoken divine inspiration — “The Lord spoke unto Moses … all the words of the Lord” — without the aid of human sources and later redaction. The two are not mutually exclusive and certainly the Semitic people knew the story of Genesis. Moses recognized “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” without need of greater explanation. The problem for Moses is that he was an orphan raised by a pagan king’s daughter. While in slavery for several generations the Hebrews themselves had forgotten the name of God (Ex. 3:13). So it is likely that until Moses encountered the household of Jethro, he knew little of the specific history contained in Genesis. Jethro was a descendant of Abraham through Keturah his second wife. At the time of Moses, the Midianites were worshipping the one true God and even knew the dwelling place of the shekinah glory of God on Mount Horeb. According to rabbinic tradition, the book of Job is a Midianite story that was told to Moses through Jethro. So it is not unlikely that Genesis was told to Moses through Jethro. Since the Isaelites and the Midianites were related, it’s also likely that the tradition from which Genesis was scribed was carried on through Jethro, the priest of Midian. He is Moses’ counselor, “So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father-in-law, and did all that he had said” (Ex. 18:24).

    5. Another fascinating and often neglected study is the question of how 2500 years of history could have been remembered without error. This simple answer to this question is that Genesis was divinely inspired, given to Moses through the audible voice of God in the presence of the shekinah glory. However, without discounting divine inspiration in the process, it is also possible that the story of Genesis could have easily been transmitted through only six intervening lifetimes! Biblical chronology shows us that Adam lived 687 years to the birth of Methusalah; who lived 628 years to the birth of Shem; who lived 452 years to the birth of Isaac; who lived 77 years to the birth of Levi; who lived 70 years to the birth of Amram; who lived 61 years to the birth of Moses. There was a total of 553 years of contemporaneous history during which these men could have spoken to one another. Thus Amram’s children, Aaron and Miriam, brought the history of mankind through a priestly order into the Sinai desert whether in the form of a memorized oral tradition or in actual writing. One theory is that essentially Joseph wrote Genesis while ruling Egypt and all the writing of the Egyptian libraries were later made available to Moses prior to the Exodus. If one were to lean toward this argument of a transmitted written tradition, it is more likely that it passed through Levi, the father of the priestly caste, or Judah, the ancestor of the Word made flesh.

  11. Uri Brito says:

    Thanks Jay for the rich data. At this point I am simply reporting Jordan’s theses. Of course, I assume you have read his book. His central argument against Moses’ authorship of Genesis (of course he does not deny Mosaic authorship of the rest of the Pentateuch) is due to his arguments against Klinean Framework hypothesis based on a Mosaic authorship and its relationship to Ancient Near-eastern treaties. Are you familiar with these debates? Thanks for the excellent comments. Look forward meeting you.

  12. Uri Brito says:

    Concerning point 3, remember that the death of Moses is recorded in Deuteronomy. Jordan does not believe Joseph had anything to do with the authorship of Deuteronomy. As for your question, who wrote about Moses’ death-your guess is as good as mine. To me, however, it is obvious that it was not Moses and I think church history bears that skepticism as well.

  13. Pingback: James Jordan on Gnosticism at Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

  14. John Rogers says:

    I use that passage as an example of the skepticism that Moses was the author of the “five books of Moses.” It is possible that Moses composed the five books as we know them today. However, it would not do violence to inerrancy to say that a later prophet, such as Joshua, redacted the Pentateuch.

  15. John Rogers says:

    That is, of course, it is okay to say that Ezra or one of the prophets after Moses edited some of the books of the Old Testament — as long as a known prophet did this and as long as he had the authority to do so.

    The problem of course is when moderns doubt the traditions of the Hebrews and the church fathers and then we suddenly have this list of books without a pedigree. That calls the entire canon, and the definitive nature of the canon, into question. In the minds of the ancients, divine inspiration automatically implied a known author. It was in this context that the New Testament authors quoted from these books as authoritative

    If Jesus and the Apostles taught the five books were the books of Moses, then they were the books of Moses. It is useless to conjecture what that meant. We can speculate as to whether Moses received it from an earlier source. For instance, I can hypothesize that Moses compared the story of Joseph in the Egyptian libraries with the story of Jethro in the wilderness. But this is a thesis that can never be proven — however likely it may sound. The problem is that this is the type of wild fancy that Higher Critics engage in. Conservative evangelicals follow there lead and reject almost every established tradtion about authorship.

    For instance, virtually every Christian has been taught that Mark was the first Gospel written and the ancient tradition that Matthew was very early is now thought to be a mistake. All the church fathers who wrote on the topic of priority believed that the order is exactly as we have in now in the canon.

    The idea that the other Gospels followed Mark is based on the attempt of liberals to date the writing of the synoptic Gospels in the late first or even the second century. The posit the “Q” source or a “two sources” theory and reason that pseudonymous writers — not the Apostles — wrote the Gosepls later on. Evangelicals swallow their conclusions hook, line and sinker when they reject the Markan priority, which has no basis in eveidence unless we accept the late writing of the four Gospels and a fifth Gospel that has been lost to us.

    The bottom line is that the New Testament authors quoted from Genesis thinking that Moses was the author. We should too.

  16. Uri Brito says:

    John, I am not quite sure you understand Jordan’s argument. I think instead of spending many more paragraphs you may have to look through the pertinent chapters in his book. I assume you already have read some of Meredith Kline’s arguments. If so, reading Jordan will make much more sense.

  17. John Rogers says:

    Besides some of his Biblical Chronology series, I haven’t read much of James Jordan.

    I am assuming that Kline argues that Genesis conforms to his five-point covenantal model and Jordan argues that this is an invalid method of interpretation?

    Which book(s) by Kline are you referring to? It’s doubtful I’ll read them but I did read some of Ray Sutton’s book, That You May Prosper, so I get the gist of this idea.

  18. Steve says:


    Check out the essay I wrote last year on Mosaic Authorship of Genesis. I do believe that Moses wrote Genesis and evaluate both the intrinsic and extrinsic evidence for such.

  19. Uri says:

    Hi Steve, hope all is well. I will take a look at your article as soon as I can. Blessings

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