Authorship of the Bible

Authorship of the Bible

Many people ask, "Who Wrote the Bible?"

There are two authors of each book of the Bible: God (the Holy Spirit) and the human author. Thus, one can refer to the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) as God's word through Moses, and Romans as God’s word through Paul. This is why at times, you may hear me (your pastor) say, "This is the Word of God, by the Spirit of God, by the Pen of James."  Of course, one can simply refer to it as God’s Word since He was the ultimate author.

Written over a 1600-year period of time, the Old Testament (Jewish and Christian Scriptures) spans from when Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible (circa 1446 BC for the Exodus) to when Malachi wrote his book (circa 430BC), which is both chronologically and canonically the last book of the Old Testament. Most scholars believe that the Book of Job took place in the time of the Patriarchs (around 1800-2000 BC), but it may have been written down at a later point in history.  It is considered one of the oldest books in the Bible. The New Testament (Christian Scriptures) spans from likely the earliest book: James (circa  AD 45) (or, it could be Galatians was the earliest: ca. AD 49), through to the last book, both chronologically and book-order (canonically): Revelation (circa AD 95).

 A lesser-known fact is that it is believed that the Apostle Paul used an amanuensis (scribal aid), who copied down what Paul said to the churches in his epistles. The word amanuensis literally means "a servant from the hand." An amanuensis had skill and practice at writing and could print using smaller-sized letters using with fewer sheets. Paul personally signed his letters (also called epistles) at the end to authenticate them (1 Cor 16:21; Col 4:18; Gal 6:11).  This is what Paul meant in 2 Thessalonians 3:17 when he said, "I, Paul, am writing this greeting with my own hand, which is an authenticating mark in every letter; this is how I write." A distinguishing characteristic of Paul's writing was his larger handwriting (see Galatians 6:11).   His large handwriting (Gal 6:11) may have been due to bad eyesight. Or, his hand may have been hurt. Or, he may have simply written with large letters out of habit. Tertius identified himself as Paul’s amanuensis in Romans16:22. He was the only named amanuensis of Paul.
Considering the number of Bible writers, the fact that some lived at different times and places, without modern technology to coordinate their messages, authorial differences in occupation, social class, and writing locations, and the long span of time over which they wrote, the total internal consistency of the Bible as well as its inerrancy, and overall unity of the biblical message, is nothing short of miraculous!  God wrote the Bible using the personalities, intellects, and experiences of some 40+ men. Some men wrote multiple books (Moses wrote the Pentateuch—otherwise known as the first five books of the Old Testament; Paul wrote 13 epistles in the NT; John wrote 5 books in the NT). All biblical writers were Jews except one: Luke was the only Gentile writer (although some scholars today believe he was Jewish, that evidence is not compelling).  

The Bible writers had a variety of jobs and stations in life: some were kings, military leaders, prophets, priests, royal cupbearer, doctor, farmer, fishermen, tax collector, and even a tentmaker. They were written from a variety of countries: Israel (ancient Israel is often called Palestine), Egypt, Iraq (ancient Babylon), Iran (ancient Persia), Turkey (ancient Asia Minor), Greece (ancient Macedonia and Achaia), and Italy. The reason the exact number of Bible writers cannot be known with certainty is that some books are anonymous (no author is named in the text of the book itself).  None of the Old or New Testament books are pseudonymous (falsely attributed to an author), although many such works have been created over the centuries (the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Noah, and so forth). The Bible was written in 3 languages: Hebrew (OT), Greek (NT), & Aramaic.

The Scriptures were often written on scrolls of various compositions. Often each writing was on one scroll, but they also could be combined. The Pentateuch was often combined into one Torah scroll containing all five books of the Bible.  Christians were the first ones to make make a book combining Matthew, Mark, and Luke together. Using a book form rather than a scroll enabled Gospel readers to go back and forth quickly between the Gospels to compare them when reading about the same event.

But often, the question is raised, how did the Jews determine which books were Scripture, and how did Christians determine which additional books were Scripture?
It is a process called scholars today refer to as "canonicity."  The English word “canon” comes from the Greek word kanon (“rod,” “ruler,” “rule”). It was a standard by which everything else was measured or compared.

By faith, we accept that God guided the process through His people and the church. We believe this based on our belief in God and upon examining the OT and NT canons. The process of canonization was informal for both Jews and Christians. In other words, there was no formal decree or list made that set down specific rules to be followed. However, in looking back at the informal process used by Jews and then revised and used by Christians, one can ascertain informal tests.

Jews used the following tests for OT writings: (1) is the writing spiritual (in that God speaks to the person through this writing—unlike any other book), (2) was it written by a prophet (Moses was the first prophet), (3) is it orthodox (compatible with other Scripture), and (4) is it universally accepted by other Jews? There is no known date by which the Jewish canonization process was complete, but it was long before Jesus’ day. Of course, it had to have occurred after Malachi was written. Christians used very similar informal tests, but rather than prophetic authorship, Christians said the writing must be by an eyewitness of Jesus. A fourth requirement was universal acceptance by other Christians. 

The earliest full list of all 27 NT books is found in an Easter letter by Athanasius in AD 367. This was a long time after the NT was complete. Most of the writings were considered Scripture early, but a few books took a while to gain acceptance for various reasons we can easily answer today, such as James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Revelation—all of which are clearly canonical. The name “New Testament” was used by Tertullian in the early 200s AD (the term first appeared in an anonymous writing in AD 190). Thus, one can have full assurance that God’s Word is comprised of the 66 books that God inspired. A former professor of mine used to say, "Nothing was left out that should be in the Bible. Nothing that is in the Bible should be left out. It should not be 65 books or 67 books. God inspired 66 books!" And to that, we say AMEN!

* Above content has been adapted from student notes taken during New Testament studies with Dr.  Jim Wicker, Prof. of New Testament, Southwestern Baptist Theol. Seminary, 2018.

* Pictures above used with license for public use, copyright Faithlife, Logos Bible Software.





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