Author's Bias | Interpretation: conservative
Inclination: dispensational | Seminary: none

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A Smooth and Cohesive Literary Structure to the Pentateuch

Lost to destructive critics is the literary unity of the Pentateuch in history, theme, and literary composition. In subject matter, the Pentateuch sets the foundation and basis for the entire Bible beginning with God's creation of life, leading to the greatest act of God's love in Jesus Christ, and ending in the completion of God's work in Eschatology.

The book of Genesis establishes the foundational history of the distant past, introduces the Abrahamic Covenant, and initiates the history of man's redemption. It can be said that Genesis is God and His creation.

Genesis begins with the phrase "in the beginning."

Genesis, studied as a literary structure, can be evaluated in 2 major ways:

1. Historically as it telescopes to a single individual

a. Primeval history

b. Patriarchal narratives

c. The story of Joseph

2. Genealogy

a. Toledoth formula

The literary structure highlights the birth of the nation of Israel.

Exodus continues the epic with Israel's redemption from Egypt, subsequent 40 years of wandering, introduction of the Mosaic Law, and the construction of the Tabernacle. Exodus clearly reveals that God is with Israel as its Savior and King.

Exodus is seamlessly continuous with Genesis, but this is subtly missed in modern translations of the Bible. In the literal translation of Exodus 1:1, the verse begins with, "And these are the names of…" Thus Exodus begins with the conjugation "and," which is an obvious reference to the content preceding it. In addition, the last verse of Genesis refers to the same subject of the first verse of Exodus, which is "Israel" or "Joseph."

"Now these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob; they came each one with his household:" (Ex 1:1)

"So Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt." (Gen 50:26)

Exodus' literary structure can be seen in two ways:

1. Geographically

a. Israel in Egypt

b. Israel in the Wilderness

c. Israel at Sinai

2. Topically

a. God saves Israel from bondage

b. God gives Israel His Law

c. God commands Israel to build the Tabernacle

The topical structure emphasizes the thrust of the book: salvation, law, and worship.

Leviticus presents the various laws and rituals, sacrificial system, and priesthood for the formal worship of God. Its emphasis is on the purity and cleanliness of man. Leviticus reveals that because God is holy, only those who are ceremonially clean of sin can come into His presence.

Leviticus is seamlessly continuous with Exodus, and this too is subtly missed in modern translations of the Bible. In the literal translation of Leviticus 1:1, the verse begins with, "And the LORD called…" Leviticus, like Exodus, begins with the conjugation "and," which refers to the content in Exodus preceding it. In this case, Exodus ends with the Tabernacle completed and the Lord within it, and Leviticus begins with the Lord speaking from within.

Then the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying," (Lev 1:1)

"Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel." (Ex 40:34-38)

Leviticus' literary structure is perhaps the easiest to perceive of the Pentateuch and the best way to present, to the priest and lay, how one is to worship a holy God. It is an outline of the various laws and codes.

Sample outline of Leviticus' literary structure

I. Sacrificial Laws (Lev 1:1-7:38)

A. Instruction for the Laity (Lev 1:1-6:7)

1. Burnt offering (1)

2. Grain offering (2)

3. Fellowship offering (3)

4. Sin offering (4:1-5:13)

5. Guilt offering (5:14-6:7)

B. Instructions for the Priests (6:8-7:38)

II. Priestly Narrative (Lev 8:1-10:20)

A. The Formal Beginnings of the Priesthood (8:1-9:24)

B. The Limits on the Priesthood - Nadab and Abihu

III. Laws to Protect Ritual Cleanness (Lev 11:1-16:34)

A. Dietary Prescriptions (11)

B. Birth Laws (12)

C. The Discernment and Cleansing of Skin Diseases (13-14)

1. Discerning the disease (13)

2. Cleansing the disease (14)

D. Laws about Bodily Discharges (15)

E. The Day of Atonement (16)

IV. Holiness Code (Lev 17-27)

A. The Laws (Lev 17:1-24:23)

1. Handling blood (17)

2. Incest laws (18)

3. Miscellaneous laws (19-20)

4. Laws concerning priests and sacrifices (21-22)

5. Sabbath and festivals (24:1-9)

6. Tabernacle law (24:1-9)

7. The story of the punishment of a blasphemer (24:10-23)

8. The Jubilee (25)

B. Blessings and Curses (26)

1. Blessings for obedience (26:1-13)

2. Curses for disobedience (26:14-46)

C. Gifts to the Lord (27)

Numbers is a story of sin and judgment; the death and replacement of a disbelieving generation with the hope of a new generation at the threshold of the Promised Land. Numbers reveals that despite the efforts of man, God is still with His people and fulfills His promises.

Numbers is seamlessly continuous with Leviticus, and this too is subtly missed in modern translations of the Bible. In the literal translation of Numbers 1:1, the verse begins with, "And the LORD spoke…" Numbers, like Exodus and Leviticus, begins with the conjugation "and" connecting it with the content preceding it. Leviticus 26 and 27 end with God reviewing the Mosaic Covenant with its blessings of obedience and penalties of disobedience and the responsibilities of the Israelites. Numbers resumes the story at the beginning of the 40 year wander in the wilderness.

Read Leviticus 26 and 27.

Numbers 1:1

Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying,

Numbers' literary structure can be seen in three ways: chronologically, geographically, and topically. While scholars debate the merits of each perspective, each has provided a better understanding of the time, setting, and theological significance of the book: the death of the old and rise of the new.

Deuteronomy contains a second version of the Mosaic Covenant that was previously revealed in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Now, while the Israelites await on the plains of Moab, they are reminded that they are a nation elected and set apart by God, and unified and defined by their covenant renewal with God. Deuteronomy defines the ideal nation of Israel: one people with one God on one land with one sanctuary and one law.

Deuteronomy is seamlessly continuous with Numbers, because the second generation of Israelites is gathered on the plains of Moab and preparing for the start of the Conquest. The Pentateuch ends with Deuteronomy and the death of Moses.

"Now Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the LORD showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, and all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, and the Negev and the plain in the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. Then the LORD said to him, 'This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, 'I will give it to your descendants'; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.' So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows his burial place to this day. Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated. So the sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end. Now Joshua the son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; and the sons of Israel listened to him and did as the LORD had commanded Moses. Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, for all the signs and wonders which the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel." (Deut 34:1-12)

Deuteronomy's literary structure, traditionally viewed as three speeches by Moses, is marked by the description of Israel's location preceding his sermons (Deut 1:5; 4:44-49; 29:1).

"Across the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this law, saying," (Deut 1:5)

Moses reviews Israel's past up to their present moment at the doorstep of the Promised Land.

"Now this is the law which Moses set before the sons of Israel; these are the testimonies and the statutes and the ordinances which Moses spoke to the sons of Israel, when they came out from Egypt, across the Jordan, in the valley opposite Beth-peor, in the land of Sihon king of the Amorites who lived at Heshbon, whom Moses and the sons of Israel defeated when they came out from Egypt. They took possession of his land and the land of Og king of Bashan, the two kings of the Amorites, who were across the Jordan to the east, rom Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of Arnon, even as far as Mount Sion (that is, Hermon), with all the Arabah across the Jordan to the east, even as far as the sea of the Arabah, at the foot of the slopes of Pisgah." (Deut 4:44-49)

Moses speaks towards the future focused on Israel's covenantal relationship.

"These are the words of the covenant which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He had made with them at Horeb." (Deut 29:1)

Moses exhorts and leads Israel's renewal of their commitment to the covenant.

Another literary structure seen in Deuteronomy is the strong resemblance to a combined form of a second millennium suzerain-vassal treaty with the structure of ancient Near Eastern law codes.

Writing the Pentateuch as a single continuous literary unit provides Moses with the knowledge and familiarity of the patriarchs and their distant history.

Moses knew about God's week of Creation.

"For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex 20:11)

Moses reminds God of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

"Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" (Ex 32:13; Gen 15:5-7; 26:2-5; 35:9-13)

Moses knew that 70 people went to Egypt.

"Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven." (Deut 10:22; Gen 46:26-27)

Moses knew that the Israelites were originally from Mesopotamia.

"You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, 'I declare this day to the LORD my God that I have entered the land which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.' Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God. You shall answer and say before the LORD your God, 'My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation.'" (Deut 26:3-5)

Moses knew the exact words of Jacob's blessing on Joseph.

"And with the choice things of the earth and its fullness, and the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush. Let it come to the head of Joseph, and to the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers. (Deut 33:16; Gen 49:26)

The literary unity of the Pentateuch is recognized by both constructive and destructive critics. This unity implies a single author; however, destructive critics refuse to acknowledge Moses and instead have chosen to speculate with hypothetical editor(s) to account for this unity.


1. Dillard RB, Longman III T, An Introduction to the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan (1994).

Return to Systematic Study: Moses

Why Moses? He was a Literary Artist

See more evidence of Moses' literary artistry:

1. A Smooth and Cohesive Literary Structure to the Pentateuch

2. Examples of the Pentateuch's Literary Beauty

Series: Did Moses author the Pentateuch?
Moses: Literary Artist

Series: Did Moses author the Pentateuch?
Beyond Literary Criticism

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