According to tradition, Moses wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It’s been estimated that his birth date was the 7th of Adar of the year 2368 from creation (1393 BCE.) So we can safely assume that 975 years passed from creation to the year that would be marked as ‘1’, after that 1393 years passed and then Moses was born. The scholars point out that there are a few possible candidates for the time frame in which he might have written down Scripture – the years that he lived in Midian or the time he spent on Mount Sinai alone with God. Genesis 5:1 mentions a written account of the line of Adam. I have to give Moses credit for telling us that he used some source material. Now we have to wonder if Moses was more like an author or more like an editor or like a combination of the two.
One Christian ministry posits the idea that Moses was more like an editor, he took all the ancient accounts he could find and pieced them together to form a coherent narrative. They suggest that Adam wrote the first few books of Genesis, using special revelation to explain why the author would choose to call God by ‘Yahweh‘ in one chapter and ‘Elohim‘ in the next chapter. Then Moses used special revelation to selectively copy the source material to write the first five books of the Bible. Special revelation can include but is not limited to divine voice or writing, divine dictation, inspiration, and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Moses was transformed from a man who was running from his past into a man who was dealing with his past when he challenged Egypt’s pharaoh to let his people go, so while it’s possible he could have written Genesis while living in Midian it seems that during his time on Mount Sinai would be the more likely choice considering that special revelation already was going on as is written in the story about the origin of the Ten Commandments. There are some references in a sort of “Moses, write this down …” or “Write that down, Moses, because …” but there’s not a written record that “Moses went into his tent and wrote everything God has spoken concerning the creation of the world, the expulsion of man from the Garden of Eden, the flood, the faith of Abraham, the destruction of … according to the divine dictation of God.” Why not? Isn’t it an important note to detail that at some point in Moses’ life that he actually wrote the book that we claim that he did? At least with Deuteronomy 31:9 it says that: 1.) Moses wrote the law and 2.) he instructed it to be read in public once every seven years. But Deuteronomy means ‘A copy of the law‘; hence it’s reference as ‘The Law of Moses‘ but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he would begin Deuteronomy by writing out what we know as Genesis as it’s first part and Exodus as it’s second part unless he was divinely inspired to do so. While the Bible attests to Moses being the author of Deuteronomy, Genesis doesn’t indicate this is so. That said, the Bible having failed to mention who wrote each book and when it was written isn’t necessarily proof that he did or that he didn’t. Tradition is a flexible understand that explains things in a nice, neat, simple way that doesn’t necessarily have to have a basis in facts or history. Tradition is not the same thing as eternal truth.
Scholars believe that Genesis is the work of multiple authors over multiple time frames, without special revelation as an explanation, they’ve noticed that these different names for God seem to suggest that it’s the work of two different people. After all, It wouldn’t make sense for an author to to refer to one individual by one name in chapter one and another name in chapter two because it’s inconsistent. One would assume that an individual in an editor role might realize that two source materials use two distinct names and decide to write the account based off the sources using one consistent name. Then again, the names Elohim and Yahweh have their specific uses and meanings. The Priestly source for Genesis begins at Genesis 1:1-2:3, the Jahwist source takes over at 2:4-4:26, 5:1 marks where the Priestly source takes back over – so if the written account of Adam’s family line was preceded by the account of creation, then it’s source material would have made no mention the Jahwist account of the Garden of Eden. Which would likely explain the use the Elohim in Priestly sections of Genesis and Yahweh in Jahwist sections of Genesis. The Jahwist section is thought to be the older of the two and likely would have existed as the Priestly source was being written, who for whatever reason, opted not to use it.
Why make the case for written accounts, you might ask – think about the time frame roughly 2400 years had passed from the events of creation until Moses was given credit for writing Genesis. That’s a long time for people to pass down these stories orally. We’ve studied enough history to know that oral stories aren’t always as faithful or accurate as written ones. That’s why we have a written Bible, to keep the narrative’s consistent, to keep the characters from being confused, to keep the quotes recognizable – after all if God says something it must be important so it’s equally important to say it / write it down correctly, you really don’t want to get any of it wrong – or else you end up with what happened to the woman.
The one commandment she was given wasn’t written down. It was God who told it to the man and the man told it to the woman who told it to the serpent, but she said it differently than the man had heard it from God. If one commandment can be gotten wrong when shared orally, then how much more could the events from Genesis 1 to Exodus 2:1 be at risk for being told the wrong way and altered with each generation for 2400 years. At some point, an account was written, it might not have been the only one that was used as a source material, but because an account existed, then many of the flaws with oral teaching were no longer a problem. But written accounts aren’t necessarily free from flaws either. They must be copied down and that’s when the potential for errors creep in. The only reason to assume that a written account would be free from error is if it were the product of special revelation from one author to the next in the centuries it took from start to finish to ensure that it would be free from error and have divine approval.
That’s why special revelation is handy little trump card. You can explain away everything as the will of the divine – why God wanted to be known as Elohim in one chapter, and Yahweh in the next – special revelation. Why there’s rounded numbers in one section and specific numbers in the next – special revelation. Why the Bible records that Moses wrote Deuteronomy but none of the other books – special revelation. It’s through special revelation that he was inspired to write every letter of every word, which is inerrant and infallible because of special revelation. Oddly, were one to suggest special revelation as a reason to support freedom of slaves or allowing women positions of leadership in churches, then suddenly special revelation isn’t accepted as logical reason for that argument.
With ancient stories, sometimes the original events are too far gone to really know the truth of it. That’s how I feel about Genesis, we have a version of it that is either the result of special revelation and is inerrant or it’s not – 50:50. Regardless of which one I believe to be the case, I don’t see why we should pattern our lives based on a literal reading of Genesis as if male headship, gender roles, and complementarianism is the universal truth that the fall broke and Christ’s Resurrection restored which now applies to everyone regardless of culture, country, and the centuries that have passed. Whatever the start was in Genesis, Jesus finished it. He gave us instructions and set an example. He taught us that the two most important commandments were to love God and love your neighbor, he showed us to put the needs of people ahead of the rules, and that’s why I think that we’re not supposed to live as if Genesis is our creation order or creation mandate. There are billions of people on this planet, surely that’s enough multiplication, isn’t it? There has to be something more and something better than ancient behavioral codes, hasn’t there?