Occasionally a college student will ask me to respond to something a professor has taught concerning the Bible. For instance, a religion professor pointed to Numbers 12:3: “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” The professor asked, “If Moses wrote the book of Numbers, how could he have made such a statement about himself? No one who is truly humble will make notice of his humility.”
The point which the professor was trying to make was that Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. Instead, the Pentateuch, as well as most of the Old Testament, is merely the compilation of stories and writings that were gathered and edited and added to and subtract from by various redactors until finally published as the product we have today. Essentially, in their view the Bible is the work of man, not the work of God.
Such a view is not without disastrous ramifications. If the concept of the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible is jettisoned, then the Bible basically becomes little more than a book of fables and a nice dose of self help. The reader can cling to what he agrees and reject what he wishes.
This relatively modern (it arose during the late eighteenth century), essentially God-rejecting view of the Scriptures, however, finds no support in the Scriptures themselves. The belief in the inspiration of the Bible finds its basis in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is breath out by God.” Scripture is, therefore, not the product of ingenious or even well-meaning men. It is, as Dr. J. I. Packer states, “a product of his [God’s] creative power, and so is an authentic disclosure of his mind and presentation of his message.” The Holy Spirit of God supernaturally and providentially guided chosen men to write the truth which he desired to be communicated to others.
The professor mentioned above, though, would doubtlessly claim that God played a role in the writing of the Scriptures. Many will affirm a doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible while not affirming that the words of Scripture themselves are inspired. They claim that only the thoughts of the authors are inspired. A belief in the inspiration of thoughts, however, does not go far enough. Particular words must be given to convey particular thoughts. It would not be possible to understand truly the thought intended if the right words were not used. It is necessary to insist that the words themselves are inspired in order to safeguard the meaning which God intended.
This issue of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch comes back to this. Throughout church history, readers of the Pentateuch assumed Moses as its author based upon statements in the New Testament. For instance, in Mark 7:10, Jesus said, “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’” In Deuteronomy 31:9 we read, “Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel.” Deuteronomy 31:24-26 notes, “Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, ‘Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.’” See also Matthew 19:8; Mark 12:26; John 5:46-47; 7:19; Acts 3:22. Suffice it to say that books have been written by believing scholars supporting the traditional understanding of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.
So how might we answer the charge that Moses could not have written Numbers 12:3 because a truly humble man would not have written that about him? A man writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit would have written the truth about himself. Moses wrote about his sins and weaknesses and also recorded his meekness. He was not boasting about himself; he simply recorded what is the true.
How one handles what others contend are scriptural difficulties really depends upon a person’s perspective. If a person is a believer, that person will try to understand a solution to the proposed difficulty while remaining true to the inerrancy and divine authorship of the Bible. If a person is a skeptic, he will use the difficulty as a reason to affirm his belief that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible work of God. Puritan Samuel Rutherford asserted, “It is common for men to make doubts when they have the mind to desert the truth.”