Who Wrote the Bible?
The Bible is the Word of God written for His people, spanning 66 books in the Old and New Testaments combined. It is the best selling book of all time with over 50 billion copies sold and distributed. According to Wycliffe Global Alliance, at least one portion of Scripture has been translated for 3,350 of the 7,099 existing languages; the Bible in its entirety has been translated in 683 languages.
Is the Bible like every other “sacred text” in world religions then? The answer must be an indelible, “no.” “Of course, you would say that,” some might respond skeptically, “All religions make the same boast. All of their books are written by their respective deities? Right?” Well, actually, no. There is a dramatic difference between the Bible and other collections of “holy” writings.
The Holy Bible Was Written by God
C.S. Lewis was not only the extraordinarily gifted writer of now-classic works such as Mere Christianity but one of the greatest medieval English literature scholars of his time, serving at both Oxford and Cambridge. In one of his essays, he wrote that the Bible was different from all the other books in the world. The other sacred texts that we read — and there’s no reason that we shouldn’t read them to learn more about what others believe – come off as something more akin to mythology. Mythology was a considered study of Dr. Lewis. In fact, the Chronicles of Narnia come out of C.S. Lewis’ command of the mythological genre, as well as C.S. Lewis’ faith. Lewis told the reader to consider the Bible alongside other sacred texts and folklore.
The Bible reads nothing at all like mythology. To be sure some of those books called the Apocrypha have a decided ring of fable. There is important historical content to be considered but the Apocrypha lacks the authenticity of the sixty-six books of the Bible. Thus, that collection of 15 books did not make it into the Canon of Scripture, recognized by the Church as divinely inspired. And that last phrase, “divinely inspired,” leads us to answer the question, “Who Wrote the Bible.” We are back to the original answer and that reply that you assumed I would give: the Holy Bible, containing sixty-six books was written by God.
Indeed, the celebrated, late Scottish Bible scholar, John Murray, of Westminster Theological Seminary, began his essay on the subject with a brilliantly simple but carefully crafted summary:
“CHRISTIANS of varied and diverse theological standpoints aver that the Bible is the Word of God, that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit and that it occupies a unique place as the norm of Christian faith and life.”1
But as the Lord God ordains whatsoever comes to pass (or He couldn’t rightfully be the Almighty), He does so by means: secondary forces orchestrated by God to bring about His will. Thus, it is with the Bible. God wrote the Bible through 40 writers, possibly fewer or more depending on how one views the authorship identification in respective books (e.g., The Epistle to the Hebrews), in 66 books, across at least 1,500 years, and in both Near Eastern Ancient culture and the Greco-Roman culture of the first century. The singular message, the “scarlet thread” of truth that binds each of the books together as one, the witness of Jesus of Nazareth, and the witness of the Holy Spirit all converge to make the Bible, alone against all other revered texts, a revelation of God to Man.
The Scriptures Self-Attest that the Bible is the Word of God
The Bible attests to the authorship of the Almighty in numerous places. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,” (Heb 1:1).
In fact, biblical writers write unequivocally that the Bible is divine over 3,000 times!2 Dr. Michael J. Kruger, a noted New Testament scholar, rightly affirmed, “the Bible bears evidence within itself of its own divine origins.”3
One of those places of self-attestation is in the Psalms. Psalm 19 is one of the better-known Psalms of King David. The Psalmist composes a sacred song to the glory of God’s revelation to humankind. Psalm 19 is divided into two parts. The first part of the song says that we know God from (what theologians call) General Revelation. Consider verse one as it describes how we know God through creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”
For six verses, David extols God for having revealed himself through creation. The second half of Psalm 19, beginning with verse seven, begins with these words: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.”
Theologians call this way of knowing God as Special Revelation. In summary, Psalm 19 teaches that while we can know God through creation — standing in an open field and looking into the incomprehensibly deep and dark night-sky studded with innumerable stars, a million suns illuminating other unseen galaxies, twinkling like diamonds against black velvet — but we do not know God personally through this observable form of revelation. When David writes that the Lord is perfect converting the soul, he is saying that we recognize there is a God in general creation, but we come to know this God and His will for our lives through special revelation. This special revelation is the Word of God, “the law of the Lord that is perfect, converting the soul:” that is, the Holy Bible.
So, the Bible self identifies as a supernatural “word from another world.”4 But how do we know that the Bible is the Word of God?
What Does it Mean to Be Inspired by the Holy Spirit?
Peter, Paul, and the New Testament writers agree with Jesus: The Bible is the Word of God by virtue of His ministry through chosen vessels to reveal His intent. First, Peter says,
“For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21 ESV).
Then, Paul writes unequivocally:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Does inspired mean that God mechanically directed the hand of each biblical author to record God’s own voice? Absolutely not. What is so marvelous about the Bible is that God’s Word comes to us through the personalities, the circumstances, the challenges, the joys and sorrows with people just like us. Just as God sent His only begotten Son to live the life we could never live and die the death that should have been ours, who rose from the grave on the third day, so God wrote the Bible. He revealed His Word to us in a way that we could understand, in a way that is accessible, and a way that is both beautiful and unified.
It is important to say that there is a difference between inspiration and illumination. The Word of God is inspired by the Holy Spirit — God “breathed out” (2 Timothy 3:16) through the instrument of human beings. “Illumination” is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that helps us to understand and apply God’s Word. Faithful gospel preachers, therefore, were not inspired themselves or of their own accord. But it was the Holy Spirit illuminating their minds so that they could proclaim the inspired Word of God. Those of us who listen to the Word of God expounded, also, should pray for the illumination of the Holy Spirit: that we “may hear, receive, and inwardly digest the inspired word of the Lord” (Collect [a gathering prayer] from the Book of Common Prayer).
Did God Write the Bible through Humans?
Yes, the Lord used human instrumentality to bring forth his own word. Of course, God could have spoken directly or “immediately,” but he chose to do so “immediately” — that is, through human agents. Therefore, we must recognize that these writers — prophets and priests, kings and servants, lawyers and fishermen, scholars and uneducated — wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Who Were the Old Testament Authors?
There are 39 books or collected documents in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, written mostly by Moses, and then, prophets, Kings David and Solomon, priests, and scriveners or scribes. The Tanakh (an acronym based upon the division of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures by genre: Torah [five books of Moses], Nev’im [the Prophets, their books named after the respective prophet], and the Ketuuvin [the “Writings”, comprised of the Poetry and Wisdom books, e.g., Job, Psalms, Proverbs; Ecclesiastes; as well as historical accounts like Ezra-Nehemiah, Daniel, 1 and 2 Chronicles].
Old Testament Authors Listed:
- other psalmists and proverb writers
- unknown authors
- possible authors: Samuel, Nehemiah, Mordecai
Who Compiled the Old Testament?
Compiling and ascribing divine inspiration of the Old Covenant Scriptures occurred over time, by consensus, by evidences of unity, self-attestation, personal spiritual devotion, and by liturgical usage in communities. There are theories of canonization of selected books by councils (e.g., “the General Assembly” of rabbis and scholars in 450 BC). However, much of this is reliant upon commentary (i.e., “Midrash”). The sacred texts, preserved by Israel as God’s Word to them, were more formally recognized, particularly, after the Babylonian Captivity. By the time of Jesus, the texts that Jesus affirmed as being the Word of God were complete. God is sovereign over all things including His Word.
Who Were the New Testament authors?
The New Testament authors were a mix of unparalleled scholars (e.g., St. Paul) and businessmen (St. Peter, a fisherman), medical doctors (St. Luke), and clergy (St. John). Eight men, some Apostles (those with a direct commission from Jesus Christ to minister in His name and to lead the mission of the Early Church), wrote the epistles of the New Testament over a course of about seventy years, with the Apostle John being the final author (Revelation written in c. 80-85, under Domitian according to a second-century bishop, Irenaeus).
New Testament Authors Listed:
- John Mark
- *unknown (Hebrews)
Who Compiled the New Testament?
One of the great New Testament scholars of our time was Bruce Metzger of Princeton Theological Seminary. In his now classic book, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance, this erudite and godly pastor-scholar wrote,
“The recognition of the canonical status of the several books of the New Testament was the result of a long and gradual process, in the course of which certain writings, regarded as authoritative, were separated from a much larger body of early Christian literature.”6
The Apostle Paul wrote, "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you..." (1 Cor. 11:23). Not only did Paul recognize his writings as inspired (“God breathed”), but Peter, with whom Paul had an obvious undulated relationship, nevertheless, taught the Church that Paul’s writings were on the same inspirational canonical level as the Old Testament:
“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16).
Like the Old Testament, the New Testament was not compiled by a committee or council. Rather, it was recognized as divinely inspired by the Early Church. To understand this process one can examine the letters of the Early Church leaders, like Clement of Rome, Papias of Hierapolis, Polycarp of Smyrna, Hermas; as well as documents like the Didache.
Who Compiled the Bible as a Whole?
The late New Testament scholar, F.F. Bruce, wrote convincingly,
“The Bible is not simply an anthology; there is a unity which binds the whole together.”
Thus, the Early Church recognized the ancient Hebrew Scriptures that by then were canonized. They also recognized a singularity of purpose, of “voice,” and of “redemptive history” in the Old and New Testaments. An old guide to the continuity between Old and New Testaments remains true and helpful, “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed; and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.”
God wrote the Bible. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it with faithful brevity:
“The supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence, we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the scripture.”
Jesus Declared that the Bible is the Word of God
Jesus knew the Word of the Lord from infancy. The doctrine of His nature, fully God and fully Man, yet never mixed or confused, let us recognize that as God in the flesh, the Lord Jesus knew that the Triune God wrote the Bible. But as a human being, from infancy, Jesus received the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God. Each Shabbat Jesus gathered with his family at the synagogue to hear the lectionary readings. He learned the Bible at home. He sat under others. We know that at 12 years of age He was instructing the rabbis and the priests. But there are clear instances in our Lord’s life when He declared the authorship of the Bible, its inerrancy, infallibility, and intent. While each of them should be considered, none is more explicit that the resurrected Savior’s attestation of the Bible concerning His being raised from the dead:
“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things’” (Luke 24:44-48).
The Holy Spirit Witnesses to Us that the Bible is the Word of God
When we read the Bible, it is unlike any other book. God’s Spirit breathed out His Word. And the Holy Spirit in the Word recognizes the activity of the Holy Spirit in you and brings the two together.
When I was in seminary, many years ago, I inquired of my professor, the late, great Dr. Laird Harris, “How do we know the Apocrypha is not inspired?” He answered by telling me that one of the ways we know the Bible is inspired is the witness of the Holy Spirit. “Mike, this weekend I want you to read two books in the Apocrypha. Then, immediately read the Gospel of John. Let’s talk on Monday.” I did as the master scholar directed. On Monday, he asked me, “Well, Mike, what is the answer? How do you know the Bible is inspired?” I answered, “Dr. Harris, I know because the Lord attends the reading of His own Word. He spoke to me through the words of John.” “Very good! Now, did you have that same reaction from reading the Apocrypha?” I smiled at Dr. Harris. My smile communicated that “No, I didn’t recognize God attesting to His own Word in the reading of the non-canonical books. Something is different.” Dr. Harris turned to the entire class to make the point:
“Now, you know. God speaks to us in His Word. Never forget that after all of the other evidences are considered, which they should be, the greatest proof remains the lives that have been transformed by the Spirit of the Living God brooding over His own Word and applying it, with divine intent, to the hearts and minds of those who read.”5
The Bible is Sufficient
The Holy Bible is not only inspired. The Bible is sufficient. The Bible is sufficient for all things in faith and life. No revival of true religion was ever released in mass-converting power unless there was a rise in the teaching and preaching of the Word of God. So, let us attend to these important questions about who wrote the Bible with a humble, teachable heart, that says, “Lord, write Your Word upon my heart.” Thus, the Book of Common Prayer’s wonderful petition:
“BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen” (The Book of Common Prayer).
After all is said and done, the question remains, “Not merely ‘who wrote the Bible,’ but who will listen? And who will follow the living Word of the Bible, Jesus Christ?”
Michael A. Milton,PhD (University of Wales; MPA, UNC Chapel Hill; MDiv, Knox Seminary), Dr. Milton is a retired seminary chancellor and currently serves as the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary. He is the President of Faith for Living and the D. James Kennedy Institute a long-time Presbyterian minister, and Chaplain (Colonel) USA-R. Dr. Milton is the author of more than thirty books and a musician with five albums released. Mike and his wife, Mae, reside in North Carolina.
1. John Murray, “The Attestation of Scripture,” The Infallible Word (1946): 1–54.
2. “Claims of Divine Authorship,” Answers in Genesis.
3. “What Do We Mean When We Say the Bible Is ‘Self-Authenticating’?,” Canon Fodder.
4. See part one of Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: T. Nelson, 1998).
5. Dr. Laird Harris, personal notes from Knox Theological Seminary, 1991.
6. Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance(Oxford University Press on Demand, 1997).
7. Gerald Irvin Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith: For Study Classes (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, 1964).
Geisler, Norman L., and William C. Roach. Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture for a New Generation. Baker Books, 2012.
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