1. The historic truth of the Pentateuch is everywhere assumed by the writers of the New Testament in the most absolute and unqualified manner. They do not simply allude to it and make quotations from it, as one might do in the case of Homer's poems, but they build upon the facts which it records arguments of the weightiest character, and pertaining to the essential doctrines and duties of religion. This is alike true of the Mosaic laws
and of the narratives
that precede them or are interwoven with them. In truth, the writers of the New Testament know no distinction, as it respects divine authority, between one part of the Pentateuch and another. They receive the whole as an authentic and inspired record of God's dealings with men. A few examples, taken mostly from the book of Genesis, will set this in a clear light.
In reasoning with the Pharisees on the question of divorce, our Lord appeals to the primitive record: |Have ye not read that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.| And when, upon this, the Pharisees ask, |Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?| Deut.24:1, he answers in such a way as to recognize both the authority of the Mosaic legislation and the validity of the ante-Mosaic record: |Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.| He then proceeds to enforce the marriage covenant as it was |from the beginning.| Matt.19:3-9, compared with Gen.2:23, 24. In like manner the apostle Paul establishes the headship of the man over the woman: |He is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man.| 1 Cor.11:7-9, compared with Gen.2:18-22. And again: |I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.| 1 Tim.2:12-14, compared with Gen.2:18-22; 3:l-6, 13. So also he argues from the primitive record that, as by one man sin and death came upon the whole human race, so by Christ Jesus life and immortality are procured for all. Rom.5:12-21; 1 Cor.15:21, 22, compared with Gen.2:17; 3:19, 22. The story of Cain and Abel, Gen.4:3-12, is repeatedly referred to by the Saviour and his apostles as a historic truth: Matt.23:35; Luke 11:51; Heb.11:4; 12:24; 1 John 3:12; Jude 11. So also the narrative of the deluge: Gen. chs.6-8, compared with Matt.14:37-39; Luke 17:26, 27; Heb.11:7; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5; and of the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Gen. ch.19, compared with Luke 17:28, 29; 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7. It is useless to adduce further quotations. No man can read the New Testament without the profound conviction that the authenticity and credibility of the Pentateuch are attested in every conceivable way by the Saviour and his apostles. To reject the authority of the former is to deny that of the latter also.
2. For the authenticity and credibility of the Pentateuch we have an independent argument in the fact that it lay at the foundation of the whole Jewish polity, civil, religious, and social. From the time of Moses and onward, the Israelitish nation unanimously acknowledged its divine authority, even when, through the force of sinful passion, they disobeyed its commands. The whole life of the people was moulded and shaped by its institutions; so that they became, in a good sense, a peculiar people, with |laws diverse from all people.| They alone, of all the nations of the earth, held the doctrine of God's unity and personality, in opposition to all forms of polytheism and pantheism; and thus they alone were prepared to receive and propagate the peculiar doctrines of Christianity. Chap.8, No.2. If now we admit the truth of the Mosaic record, all this becomes perfectly plain and intelligible; but if we deny it, we involve ourselves at once in the grossest absurdities. How could the Jewish people have been induced to accept with undoubting faith such a body of laws as that contained in the Pentateuch -- so burdensome in their multiplicity, so opposed to all the beliefs and practices of the surrounding nations, and imposing such severe restraints upon their corrupt passions -- except upon the clearest evidence of their divine authority? Such evidence they had in the stupendous miracles connected with their deliverance from Egypt and the giving of the law on Sinai. The fact that Moses constantly appeals to these miracles, as well known to the whole body of the people, is irrefragable proof of their reality. None but a madman would thus appeal to miracles which had no existence; and if he did, his appeal would be met only by derision. Mohammed needed not the help of miracles, for his appeal was to the sword and to the corrupt passions of the human heart; and he never attempted to rest his pretended divine mission on the evidence of miracles. He knew that to do so would be to overthrow at once his authority as the prophet of God. But the Mosaic economy needed and received the seal of miracles, to which Moses continually appeals as to undeniable realities. But if the miracles recorded in the Pentateuch are real, then it contains a revelation from God, and is entitled to our unwavering faith. Then too we can explain how, in the providence of God, the Mosaic institutions prepared the way for the advent of |Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write.| Thus we connect the old dispensation with the new, and see both together as one whole.
Other arguments might be adduced; but upon these two great pillars -- the authority, on the one side, of the New Testament, and, on the other, the fact that the Pentateuch contains the entire body of laws by which the Jewish nation was moulded and formed, and that its character and history can be explained only upon the assumption of its truth -- on these two great pillars the authenticity and credibility of the Pentateuch rest, as upon an immovable basis.
3. The difficulties connected with the Pentateuch, so far as its contents are concerned, rest mainly on two grounds, scientific and historical, or moral. The nature of the scientific difficulties forbids their discussion within the restricted limits of the present work. It may be said, however, generally, that so far as they are real, they relate not so much to the truth of the Mosaic record, as to the manner in which certain parts of it should be understood.
How long, for example, that state of things continued which is described in Gen.1:2, or what particular results were produced by the operation of the divine Spirit there recorded, we do not know. What extent of meaning should be assigned to the six days of creation -- whether they should be understood literally or in a symbolical way, like the prophetical days of Daniel and Revelation -- Dan.7:25; 9:24-27; Rev.9:15; 11:3, etc. -- is a question on which devout believers have differed ever since the days of Augustine. See Prof. Tayler Lewis' Six Days of Creation, ch.14. But all who receive the Bible as containing a revelation from God agree in holding the truth of the narrative. So also in regard to the Deluge and other events involving scientific questions which are recorded in the book of Genesis. Some of these questions may perhaps be satisfactorily solved by further inquiry. Others will probably remain shrouded in mystery till the consummation of all things. To the class of historical difficulties belong several chronological questions, as, for example, that of the duration of the Israelitish residence in Egypt. It is sufficient to say that however these shall be settled -- if settled at all -- they cannot with any reasonable man affect the divine authority of the Pentateuch which is certified to us by so many sure proofs.
4. The difficulties which are urged against the Pentateuch on moral grounds rest partly on misapprehension, and are partly of such a character that, when rightly considered, they turn against the objectors themselves. This will be illustrated by a few examples.
A common objection to the Mosaic economy is drawn from its exclusiveness. It contains, it is alleged, a religion not for all mankind, but for a single nation. The answer is at hand. That this economy may be rightly understood, it must be considered not separately and independently, but as one part of a great plan. It was, as we have seen, subordinate to the covenant made with Abraham, which had respect to |all the families of the earth.| Chap.8, No.4. It came in temporarily to prepare the way for the advent of Christ, through whom the Abrahamic covenant was to be carried into effect. It was a partial, preparatory to a universal dispensation, and looked, therefore, ultimately to the salvation of the entire race. So far then as the benevolent design of God is concerned, the objection drawn from the exclusiveness of the Mosaic economy falls to the ground. It remains for the objector to show how a universal dispensation, like Christianity, could have been wisely introduced, without a previous work of preparation, or how any better plan of preparation could have been adopted than that contained in the Mosaic economy.
If the laws of Moses interposed, as they certainly did, many obstacles to the intercourse of the Israelites with other nations, the design was not to encourage in them a spirit of national pride and contempt of other nations, but to preserve them from the contagious influence of the heathen practices by which they were surrounded. On this ground the Mosaic laws everywhere rest the restrictions which they impose upon the Israelites: |Thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take to thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods.| Deut.7:3, 4. How necessary were these restrictions was made manifest by the whole subsequent history of the people. So far was the Mosaic law from countenancing hatred towards the persons of foreigners, that it expressly enjoined kindness: |If a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.| Lev.19:34.
5. Another ground of objection to the Mosaic law has been the number and minuteness of its ordinances. That this feature of the theocracy was, absolutely considered, an imperfection, is boldly asserted in the New Testament. The apostle Peter calls it |a yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear.| Acts 15:10. Nevertheless the wisdom of God judged it necessary in the infancy of the nation, that it might thus be trained, and through it the world, for the future inheritance of the gospel. It is in this very aspect that the apostle Paul says: |The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.| Gal.3:24, 25. The divine plan was to prescribe minutely all the institutions of the Mosaic economy, leaving nothing to human discretion, apparently to prevent the intermixture with them of heathenish rites and usages; perhaps also that in this body of outward forms the faith of the Israelites might have a needful resting-place, until the way should be prepared for the introduction of a simpler and more spiritual system.
We must be careful, however, that we do not fall into the error of supposing that the Mosaic law prescribed a religion of mere outward forms. On the contrary, it was pervaded throughout by an evangelical principle. It knew nothing of heartless forms in which the religion of the heart is wanting. The observance of all its numerous ordinances it enjoined on the spiritual ground of love, gratitude, and humility. If any one would understand in what a variety of forms these inward graces of the soul, which constitute the essence of religion, are inculcated in the Pentateuch, he has but to read the book of Deuteronomy; there he will see how the law of Moses aimed to make men religious not in the letter, but in the spirit; how, in a word, it rested the observance of the letter on the good foundation of inward devotion to God. The summary which our Saviour gave of the Mosaic law, and in it of all religion, he expressed in the very words of the law: |Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength,| Deut.6:4, 5; |this is the first and great commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.| Lev.19:18. Nor is this love towards our neighbor restricted to a narrow circle; for it is said of the stranger also sojourning in Israel, |Thou shalt love him as thyself.| Lev.19:34.
6. Of one usage which the Mosaic law tolerated, our Saviour himself gives the true explanation when he says: |Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so.| Matt.19:8. This general principle applies also to polygamy and the modified form of servitude which prevailed among the Hebrew people. That the Mosaic economy suffered, for the time being, certain usages not good in themselves, is no valid objection to it, but rather a proof of the divine wisdom of its author. Though it was his purpose to root out of human society every organic evil, he would not attempt it by premature legislation, any more than he would send his Son into the world until the way was prepared for his advent.
7. The extirpation of the Canaanitish nations by the sword of the Israelites was contemplated by the Mosaic economy. The names of these nations were carefully specified, and they were peremptorily forbidden to molest other nations; as, for example, the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites. Deut.2:4, 5, 8, 9, 18, 19. The whole transaction is to be regarded as a sovereign act of Jehovah, which had in view the manifestation of his infinite perfections for the advancement of the cause of truth and righteousness in this fallen world. Though we may not presume to fathom all the divine counsels, we can yet see how God, by the manner in which he gave Israel possession of the promised land, displayed his awful holiness, his almighty power, and his absolute supremacy over the nations of the earth, not only to the covenant people, but also to the surrounding heathen world. Had the Canaanites perished by famine, pestilence, earthquake, or fire from heaven, it might have remained doubtful to the heathen by whose anger their destruction had been effected, that of the Canaanitish gods, or of the God of Israel. But now that God went forth with his people, dividing the Jordan before them, overthrowing the walls of Jericho, arresting the sun and the moon in their course, and raining down upon their enemies great hailstones from heaven, it was manifest to all that the God of Israel was the supreme Lord of heaven and earth, and that the gods of the gentile nations were vanity. This was one of the great lessons which the Theocracy was destined to teach the human family. At the same time the Israelites, who executed God's vengeance on the Canaanites, were carefully instructed that it was for their sins that the land spewed out its inhabitants, and that if they imitated them in their abominations, they should in like manner perish.
8. The Mosaic economy was but the scaffolding of the gospel. God took it down ages ago by the hand of the Romans. It perished amid fire and sword and blood, but not till it had accomplished the great work for which it was established. It bequeathed to Christianity, and through Christianity to |all the families of the earth,| a glorious body of truth, which makes an inseparable part of the plan of redemption, and has thus blessed the world ever since, and shall continue to bless it to the end of time.