If you expect me to answer “God wrote the Bible,” you’d be right. And wrong. God did write the Bible. Every word originated in the heart and mind of God. He is the source. But God chose to deliver His Word to us through human instruments. And it matters. Knowing the identity and background of each human author helps us understand what God wrote through him. In this post, we’ll touch on divine inspiration, then look at the impact of God’s human writing tools.
The Bible: God’s Inspired Word
The Bible declares itself to be “inspired by God.” In Paul’s second letter to the young pastor Timothy, he wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NLT).
The Greek word translated as “inspired” means “breathed out.” God breathed the Scriptures. They are His voice, His life, His Spirit. He breathed them on, into, and through His human instruments.
The apostle Peter also sheds some light on this process of inspiration. “Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21, NLT).
The human authors did not simply decide to write. God initiated it and accomplished it by the Holy Spirit moving them along and working through them. The Greek word translated as “moved” or “carried” in 2 Peter 1:21 was used to describe a ship that is moved along by the wind. The Spirit moved the writers from where they were to where God wanted them to be.
Shaped by the Human Authors Who Wrote the Bible
The human authors in no way compromised the Word of God. God’s intent, meaning, truth, and authority are completely and utterly preserved. But, the human authors were more than scribes for dictation. Their personalities, experiences, education, and feelings come through. For instance, David’s experiences as a shepherd color the 23rd psalm and Paul’s thorough knowledge of the Law undergirds his argument against its ability to save in his letter to the Romans.
God used more than 40 human authors over a period of more than 1,500 years. When we consider that from the beginning to the end the Bible tells one cohesive story of redemption, this fact testifies to the divine nature of Scripture. (See also “3 Reasons We Can Trust the Bible” and “Are Christians Rejecting the Bible?“)
Types of Authors Who Wrote the Bible
Sometimes we assume every book was written by one, easily identifiable person. And that’s true in many cases, but not always. Here’s a brief rundown of the variety of human tools and methods God used.
- Individuals – Some books – like Paul’s letters – were penned wholly by individuals. Others were penned primarily by an individual with notes added by an editor. For instance, scholars believe Joshua wrote the historical book named for him. But it’s obvious someone else – a later editor – recorded Joshua’s death in the last chapter.
- Prophets – These human tools were both authors and scribes. They recorded their story, but they also proclaimed & recorded the exact words of God. Much of the books of prophecy include sections “Thus says the Lord.” Here the prophet is acting as scribe for God.
- Compilers – Some books were put together by using pre-existing material. Compilers often used both written material and content that was handed down through oral tradition. Many scholars believe Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings were the work of compilers. Here’s an example of some sources available to compliers:
- “Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel” and “Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah” – These historical documents are referred to in the Bible books of Kings and Chronicles. They give information on the kings’ rules, wars, conspiracies, and building projects.
- Formal documents – Many of the Old Testament historical books include genealogies, lists, government edicts (Cyrus King of Persia), and official royal letters (Darius in Ezra).
- Personal memoirs – Ezra and Nehemiah both include sections from their respective memoirs.
- Oral Transmission – Ancient cultures preserved events by passing detailed stories from one generation to the next. Moses is credited with writing Genesis, but he lived centuries later. Scholars believe he received much of it through oral transmission.
What about Anonymous Books?
Many of the Bible books don’t name the author and are technically anonymous. However, usually there is strong evidence within and outside the book allowing scholars to make educated guesses. For instance, none of the four Gospels name the authors. But between clues in the text and strong testimony by the early church, scholars are confident about who wrote each Gospel. Some authors have been handed down by ancient tradition and are widely accepted. For instance, Jewish tradition holds that Mordecai wrote the book of Esther. A couple of books – like Job and Hebrews – remain anonymous. But we don’t need to worry about our lack of knowledge. God is the ultimate author!
Can’t We Just Go by the Title of the Book?
The titles of the book often, but not always, identify the author. Sometimes it means the book is about that person, like Job and Ruth. Sometimes the title describes the content, like Genesis and Kings. The New Testament letters are sometimes named after the author, like 1 and 2 Peter, and sometimes after the recipients, like Titus and Philemon.
What Difference does the Human Author Make for Us Today?
Knowing the human author, his background, and purpose deepens our understanding of a book or passage. Consider Psalm 51. King David wrote this song of repentance after his sin of adultery and murder. Knowing these facts, gives us a glimpse of the feelings and motivations behind the psalm. And consider the book of Ephesians. This beautiful treatise on the grace of God was written by a Paul, a man who persecuted and killed followers of Jesus before his was saved. Knowing the background of the author adds a dimension to God’s grace we might otherwise miss. Learning that most scholars believe Mark wrote his Gospel based on Peter’s eye witness testimony shifts our perspective.
Here are a few ways to get this kind of background information on a Bible book:
- The book introduction in a study Bible
- Online Bible study helps – Check out this helpful list on my website of online study tools.
- Printed resources – I don’t know about you, but sometimes I like to have the physical resource in my hand. Here are a few resources I use that are helpful no matter what book of the Bible you’re studying.
- The Wilkinson & Boa Bible Handbook
- Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible
- The New Testament in its World
- The IVP Bible Background Commentary – this is a 2-volume set, Old and New Testaments. You can get the volumes separately if you want. I use these ALL the time. They are also great for cultural background.
For your reference, here’s a list of all the Bible books and who wrote each one. Look for the link in the page for the downloadable PDF.
In the past, have you given much thought to the human authors of the Bible?