What Is the Torah?

The Torah is the first five books of the Old Testament, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This article aims to answer questions such as when was the Torah written, what does the name mean, and why does this matter for Christians today? 

Hope Bolinger
What Is the Torah?

You may have heard the term Pentateuch in reference to the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. But another term also applies to the first five books of the Bible: the Torah. These five books, written by Moses, encompass the Creation account (Genesis 1), the fall of man (Genesis 3), the Patriarchs, the exodus from Egypt, and the laws which governed the Israelites as they headed toward the Promised Land.

The Torah breaks down in the following books:

  • Genesis— Creation of the world, the Fall of man into sin, the Flood that covered the earth, and the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  • Exodus— The escape of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt, and Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. 
  • Leviticus— Laws, festivals, and observances of the Jewish people.
  • Numbers— The years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert
  • Deuteronomy— More laws for the Jewish people. 

When was the Torah written, what does the name mean, and why does this matter for Christians today? We’ll dive into all of these questions in this article.

When Was the Torah Written?

Since most scholars attribute the authorship of the Torah to Moses, we can assume he wrote the five books during his lifetime. Moses lived approximately between 1525-1406 BC. 

Did other authors also contribute to the Torah? A theory known as the Documentary Hypothesis, or the JEDP theory, attributed four different writers, or four groups of writers, who penned the Old Testament as late as the Babylonian exile (586 B.C., about 1000 years after the life of Moses).

However, the JEDP theory exists mostly on speculation and is contrary to what Scripture states, attributing the authorship to Moses. 

What Does the Name Torah Mean?

The Old Testament, or the Hebrew Bible, is known as the “Tanakh, often divides the work into three main sections: the Torah, the Ketuvim, and the Nevi’im. We’ll discuss the definitions of all three of these.

  • Torah— Teachings, or “Law” especially ascribed to the laws that make up a good portion of the first five books of the Bible.
  • Ketuvim— “Writings,” this section comprises of the wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs, etc.) and the historical narratives of Israel (Joshua, Judges, etc.).
  • Nevi’im— “Prophets,” both the major and minor prophets envelop this section of the Tanakh.

 Jesus refers to these three sections of the Old Testament in Luke 24:44

Why Does This Matter for Christians?

First, Christians recognize the inerrancy of Scripture, including the Torah. We should understand the words of the Torah have just as much authority as any book found in the New Testament (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Second, we need to understand that people who practice Judaism also read the Torah. We have a foundation in which we can create a dialogue about the good news of Christ, as we recognize the Torah as canon. We can show how God has moved through the Torah to bring salvation to his people (i.e. through Moses, etc.), and how that narrative continues into the New Testament. 

Third, we can see God working behind the scenes from the very beginning. We can often get tempted to skip over sections of the Bible like Leviticus and Numbers to simply “get to the good stuff,” but God has his fingerprints on every part of Scripture. We simply can’t ignore certain sections simply because they don’t entertain us as much as others. 

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Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 450 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000 plus readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog

Originally published November 22, 2019.