The Book Called “Numbers” -- By: Allan A. MacRae

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 111:441 (Jan 1954)
Article: The Book Called “Numbers”
Author: Allan A. MacRae

The Book Called “Numbers”

Allan A. MacRae

Too many Christians have been diverted from giving the fourth book of the Bible the amount of study that it deserves by the unattractiveness of its title and the dull impression which they have received from a glance at its opening chapters.

An unfortunate habit has developed in American publishing in recent years, of giving books flashy titles, which often tell nothing about their actual contents. These titles may help in securing sales for a book when it first appears, but probably in the long run they cause less attention to be paid to it than would be the case if the title pointed clearly to the real subject of the book. In relation to the Book of Numbers, something even worse has occurred. A dull title has been affixed, which gives little idea of the subject of the book as a whole, and therefore has been doubly effective in keeping Bible students from reaping the rich treasures which the book contains.

Naming the Books of Moses

A truly scientific approach to the Bible, as to any other subject, requires that we examine each separate feature carefully, in order to determine exactly what it means and how dependable and authentic it is. It thus becomes important for us to ask whether the names of the Old Testament books are, like their contents, a part of the inspired Word of God. Many of our English titles are taken from the Greek translation and were not in the Hebrew Old Testament at all. It would seem most likely that there were no titles on any of the books when first written, and that the titles were added later. This is certainly true in the case of the Pentateuch. The Jews have ordinarily spoken of these five books

as the Law of Moses, and sometimes have referred to them as “the five fifths.” In our printed Hebrew Bibles, the heading placed before each book of the Pentateuch simply consists of one or more of the words with which it begins. This seems hardly consistent with the idea that these headings were titles put in by the original author. It would look rather in the direction of their being merely identifying labels, added by some later copyist.

The Greek translation of the Pentateuch, which is known as the Septuagint, was made in Egypt at some time between 300 and 200 B.C. In it new titles are placed over the five books of Moses. Four of these titles are good descriptions of the books, and some of them are decided improvements over the headings used in the Hebrew Bible. It is quite different, unfortunately, in the case of the Book of Numbers.

Printed Hebrew Bibles place over the Book of Genesis a Hebrew word which means “in the beginning.” This is simply the fi...

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