Glossary of Terms



Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Deuteronomy. Meaning "second law." An O.T. book written in the form of a speech by Moses. Like many O.T. books, it was formed from numerous writings and traditions, some of which had been in existence long before they were incorporated into a book. Parts of Deuteronomy are probably the book that was found in the temple in the time of Josiah, 522 B.C. 2Kings, chs. 22 and 23. A priest or priests later added to it books from other sources. Jesus quoted Deut. 6:4-5 as the most important commandment.


Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

Deuteronomy (Gk., ‘the second law’), the fifth and final book of the Torah or Pentateuch (Gen. through Deut.). It is presented as a speech of Moses given to the Israelites in Moab as they prepare to cross the Jordan to take possession of Canaan.



I. Introductory address (1:1-4:43)

A. The setting (1:1-5)

B. Historical review (1:6-3:29)

C. Exhortations (4:1-40)

D. Cities of refuge (4:41-43)

II. The Law of Moses (4:44-26:19)

A. The setting (4:44-49)

B. The Ten Commandments and commentary (5-11)

C. Other laws (12-26)

III. The covenant of obedience (27:1-30:20)

A. The ceremony (27)

B. The provisions (28)

C. The oath (29-30)

IV. Moses’ final words (31:1-33:29)

A. Words of encouragement (31:1-8)

B. Final concerns (31:9-29)

C. The song of Moses (31:30-32:47)

D. The trip to Nebo (32:48-52)

E. The blessing of Moses (33)

V. Moses’ death (34:1-12)

Authorship: Traditionally, the authorship of Deuteronomy has been attributed to Moses the lawgiver and prophet, although the book itself never makes such a claim and it is obvious from even a superficial reading of the book that parts of it (e.g., the account of Moses’ death, chap. 34) came from another source. Modern scholarship generally agrees that while Deuteronomy contains a core of material from ancient Mosaic traditions or writings, the book in its present form reflects a highly complex history. Although some still propose Mosaic authorship for the entire book, most scholars, based on a variety of evidence, agree that the basic form of the book was first composed during the later part of Manasseh’s reign or in the early part of Josiah’s reign (ca. 650-640 b.c.). And while no direct evidence exists, it is thought that a group of prophets or priests in Jerusalem was responsible for the collection and ordering of the material of that first edition. It was that early form of Deuteronomy that Hilkiah the high priest found in the Temple in the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign (ca. 621 b.c.). Josiah, who had already begun religious reforms early in his reign (2 Kings 22:1-7; 2 Chron. 34:1-7) used the newly discovered law book to guide further his sweeping program of reform and national renewal (2 Kings 22:8-23:25; 2 Chron. 34:8-35:19). The book reached basically its present form during or immediately following the Exile (587-539 b.c.) when additions were made to the original book in the form of theological interpretations of the crisis of the Exile (eg., 29:28; cf. 29:29-30:5; 28:49-57, 64-68).

However, the recognition of diverse strands of tradition within the book is no indication that parts of the book should be considered inferior or of less value. The long and complex history of the Mosaic legal traditions and their later incorporation along with commentary into the present setting of Deuteronomy demonstrates an ongoing process of reinterpretation of the old traditions in light of new historical circumstances. The authors, whether prophets or priests, were attempting to revitalize the nation’s religion by making the old traditions alive and relevant for their own time. Because of this vitality and the basically theological nature of the book (as opposed to primarily historical content) Deuteronomy should be seen, at least in its theological communication, as a unity.

Style and Content: One of the most important distinguishing features of the book is its homiletical style; that is, the laws are not presented in a static legal format but are interwoven with exhortations and pleas of a more personal nature, similar to the style of a sermon. While there is still emphasis on the laws and legal provisions, there is an overriding emphasis on obedience, not simply to a code of laws written in a book, but obedience as the proper attitude of humanity in response to God’s will (e.g., 6:20-25; 7:7-11; 11:1-7; 28:45-47). In this, Deuteronomy moves toward more responsibility for the individual (e.g., 30:11-14) and a subsequent emphasis on motive and intention, a concern that was shared by the prophets, most of whom were active during the time the book was reaching its basic form (see, e.g., Jer. 7:21-23). This fusing of obedience to law and proper intentions is reflected in the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9), one of the creedal cornerstones of Jewish faith. In fact, it was this blending of legal and prophetic concerns that allowed the book to be organized as a speech of Moses who was the model of both lawgiver (Exod. 24:12) and prophet (Deut. 34:10).

Other characteristics of the book are closely related to this emphasis on proper obedience. Total loyalty to God is demanded. While this is most often connected with obedience to the commandments, there is always an underlying demand to forsake the worship of false gods (6:13-15; 8:19; 9:7-12; 30:15-20). There is reflected throughout the book a concern with equality and justice (1:16-17; 25:13-16), especially toward the weaker members of society (10:18-19; 14:28-29; 15:1-18; 24:14-15). God’s love for his people and a desire for a mutual loving relationship are also prominent (6:5; 7:13-14; 10:12-15; 23:5; 30:6, 19-20). There is in the book a development of a view that equates obedience with blessing and life, and disobedience with curse and death (11:26-28; 30:15-20). While such a view would later be distorted into a wooden legalism, Deuteronomy itself stresses obedience on the level of proper love (10:12-13; cf. Mic. 6:8).

Influence: The influence of Deuteronomy could hardly be exaggerated. Its perspectives provided the criteria by which Israel examined and judged itself; so much so that scholars can refer to the history of Israel recorded in the Former Prophets (Joshua-2 Kings) as the ‘Deuteronomic History.’ Deuteronomy also represents the first step toward the development of a canon of Scripture that would become binding upon the people in matters of faith and practice.

Deuteronomy is one of the books most frequently quoted in the nt. Jesus quoted part of the Shema (6:4-5) as the summary of both legal and prophetic teachings (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; cf. Luke 10:27). The Gospels also record that Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy in facing the three temptations (Matt. 4:1-10; Luke 4:1-13; from Deut. 8:3; 6:13, 16).


All glossary terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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