Who Authored the Bible?

While the Bible was written by numerous individuals, modern scholarship has questioned its authenticity. So, who really wrote the Scriptures?

Richard M. Davidson, PhD, serves as the J. N. Andrews Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and chair of the Old Testament Department, at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary,  Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

 According to the Bible writers’ own claims, and in harmony with the tra­ditional understanding held by ancient interpreters and most biblical scholars until the rise of historical criticism during the Enlightenment, approximately 35 individuals wrote the Bible over a period of 1,500 years. Old Testa­ment writers include Moses (the Pentateuch, Job,1 and Psalm 90), Joshua (the book of Joshua), Samuel (Judges; Ruth; 1 Samuel 1–24),2 possibly Nathan and Gad (1 Samuel 25–2 Samuel 24),3 David (the majority of the book of Psalms), Asaph (Psalms 50; 73–83), the sons of Korah (Psalms 42–49; 84–88), Heman (Psalm 88), Ethan (Psalm 89), Solomon (Psalms 72; 127; Proverbs; Ecclesiastes; Song of Solomon), Agur (Proverbs 30), Lemuel (Prov­erbs 31), the four Major Prophets, and 12 Minor Prophets (whose books are named after them, plus Jeremiah wrote also Lamentations; 1 and 2 Kings4), and Ezra (Ezra; Nehemiah; 1 and 2 Chronicles).5 New Testament writers include Mat­thew and Mark (the Gospels named after them), Luke (Luke and Acts), John (the Gospel of John; 1–3 John; and Revelation), Paul (the 14 epistles attributed to him),6 Peter (1 and 2 Peter), James, and Jude (the epistles named after them). Although modern critical scholarship has questioned the authenticity of many of these conclusions regarding the identity of the Bible writers, solid support for the traditional understanding may be found in conservative commentar­ies and surveys of Old Testament introductions.7

While the Bible was written by numerous individuals, the ques­tion remains, Who really authored the Bible? By many and various means the Bible makes clear that the ultimate Author of Scripture is God Himself.

Scripture is“God-breathed”

Timothy summarized the self-testimony of Scripture regarding its ultimate divine authorship in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”8 Scripture is “inspired by God” (theo­pneustos, literally “God-breathed”). The picture here involves that of the Divine “Wind” or Spirit coming upon the prophet, so that Scripture is a product of the Divine creative Breath. Thus, it is fully authoritative: profit­able for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.

All Scripture—not just part­ is “God-breathed.” This certainly includes the whole Old Testament and the canonical Scriptures of the apostolic church (see Luke 24:17, 32, 44, 45; Rom. 1:2; 3:2; 2 Pet. 1:21; etc.). But for Paul, it also includes the New Testament sacred writ­ings as well. Paul’s use of the word scripture (graphe, “writing”) in his first epistle to Timothy (5:18) points in this direction. He introduces two quotations with the words Scripture says—one from Deuteronomy 25:4 in the Old Testament, and one from the words of Jesus recorded in Luke 10:7. The word scripture thus is used simultaneously and synonymously to refer to both the Old Testament and the Gospel accounts in the technical sense of “inspired, sacred, authorita­tive writings.”

Numerous passages in the Gospels assert their truthfulness and authority on the same level as the Old Testament Scriptures (e.g., John 1:1–3 paralleling Gen. 1:1; John 14:26; 16:13; 19:35; 21:24; Luke 1:2–4; Matt. 1 paralleling Gen. 5; Matt. 23:34). Peter’s use of the term scriptures for Paul’s writings supports this conclusion (2 Pet. 3:15, 16): by comparing Paul’s letters to the “other Scriptures” (v. 16), Peter implies that Paul’s correspondence is part of Scripture.

The New Testament, as a whole, is the apostolic witness to Jesus and His fulfillment of the Old Testament types and prophecies. Jesus prom­ised to send the Holy Spirit to the 12 apostles to bring to their remem­brance the things He had said (John 14:26). Paul states that “the mystery of Christ” was “revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:4, 5). The apostles held a unique, unrepeatable position in his­tory (Eph. 2:20) as bearing witness of direct contact with the humanity of Christ (Luke 1:2; Gal. 1:11–17; 2 Pet. 1:16; 1 John 1:1–4). This certainly validates the apostolic writings by the apostles such as Peter, John, and Matthew. Paul also was called to be an apostle (see Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; and the greetings in the other Pauline epistles), and he indicates that his writings are given under the leadership of the Holy Spirit and have full apostolic authority (1 Cor. 7:40; 12:13; 14:37; 2 Cor. 3:5, 6; 4:13; Gal. 1:11, 12; 1 Thess. 5:27; 2 Thess. 3:6–15). Thus, the New Testament embodies the witness of the apostles either directly or indirectly through their close associates Mark, Luke, James, and Jude (see Luke 1:1–3; Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37; Col. 4:10, 14; 2 Tim. 4:11; Philem. 24). All Scripture, both Old Testament and New, is of divine origin, “inspired by God”—literally, “God-breathed.”

The relationship between the Divine Author and human writers

A key biblical passage that clari­fies the ultimate divine authorship of Scripture in relation to the human dimensions of the biblical writers is 2 Peter 1:19–21: “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will [thelema] of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along [phero] by the Holy Spirit” (NIV).

Several related points are devel­oped in these verses. Verse 19 underscores the trustworthiness of Scripture: it is “the prophetic word made more sure.” In verse 20, we learn why this is so: because the prophecy is not a matter of the prophet’s own interpretation; that is, the prophet does not intrude with his own interpretation. Verse 21 elaborates on this point: prophecy does not come by the thelema—the initiative, the impulse, the will—of the human agents; the prophets are not communicating on their own. Rather, the Bible writers were prophets who spoke as they were moved, carried along, even driven (the force of the Greek phero) by the Holy Spirit.

This Petrine passage makes clear that the Scriptures did not come directly from heaven, but rather God utilized human instrumentalities. An inductive look at the biblical writings confirms that the Holy Spirit did not abridge the freedom of the biblical writers, did not suppress their unique personalities, and did not destroy their individuality. Their writings sometimes involved human research (Luke 1:1–3); they some­times gave their own experiences (Moses in Deuteronomy, Luke in Acts, the psalmists); they presented differences in style (contrast Isaiah and Ezekiel, John and Paul); they offered different perspectives on the same truth or event (e.g., the four Gospels). And yet, through all of this thought inspiration, the Holy Spirit carried along the biblical writers, guiding their minds in selecting what to speak and write, so that what they presented are not merely their own interpretations, but the utterly reliable Word of God, the prophetic word made more certain. The Holy Spirit imbued human instruments with divine truth in thoughts and so assisted them in writing that they faithfully committed to apt words the things divinely revealed to them (1 Cor. 2:10–13).

The human and divine elements in Scripture, the Written Word of God (Heb. 4:12), are inextricably bound together, just as in Jesus, the incarnate “Word of God” (Rev. 19:13). Just as Jesus, the incarnate Word of God was fully God and fully man (John 1:1–3, 14), so the Written Word is an inseparable union of the human and the divine.

The Bible equals, not just contains, the Word of God

The self-testimony of Scripture is overwhelming and unequivocal: it not only contains, but equals the Word of God. In the Old Testament, there are about 1,600 occurrences of four Hebrew words (in four different phrases with slight variations) that explicitly indicates that God has spoken: (1) “the utterance [ne’um] of Yahweh,” 361 times; (2) “Thus says [’amar] the Lord,” 423 times; (3) “And God spoke [dibber],” 422 times; and (4) the “word [dabar] of the Lord,” 394 times. The equiva­lency between a prophet’s message and a divine message are recorded numerous times: the prophet speaks for God (Exod. 7:1, 2; cf. 4:15, 16); God puts His words in the prophet’s mouth (Deut. 18:18; Jer. 1:9); the hand of the Lord is strong upon the prophet (Isa. 8:11; Jer. 15:17; Ezek. 1:3; 3:22; 37:1); or the word of the Lord comes to the prophet (Hos. 1:1; Joel 1:1; Mic. 1:1; etc.). Jeremiah rebukes his audience for not listening to the prophets (25:4), which then equates with not listening to the Lord (v. 7), and further equated with His words (v. 8).

Summarizing the prophetic messages sent to Israel, 2 Kings 21:10 records, “And the LORD said by his servants the prophets,” and 2 Chronicles 36:15, 16 adds, “The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his mes­sengers . . . but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despis­ing his words, and scoffing at his prophets.” The prophets’ messages are God’s messages. For this reason, the prophets often naturally switch from the third person reference to God (He) to the first person direct divine address (I) without any “thus saith the Lord” (see Isa. 3:4; 5:3–6; 10:5–11; 27:3; Jer. 5:7; 16:21; Hos. 6:4–10; Joel 2:25; Amos 5:21–23; Zech. 9:7). The Old Testament proph­ets were sure that their message was in verity the message of God!

Numerous times in the New Testament the phrase “it is writ­ten” equates to “God says.” For example, in Hebrews 1:5–13, seven Old Testament citations from vari­ous different genres are said to be spoken by God, even though the Old Testament passages cited do not always specifically ascribe the state­ment directly to God (see Pss. 104:4; 45:6, 7; 102:25–27). Again Romans 9:17 and Galatians 3:8 (citing Exod. 9:16 and Gen. 22:18 respectively) reveal a strict identification between Scripture and the Word of God: the New Testament passages introduce the citations with “Scripture says,” while the Old Testament passages have God as the Speaker.

The Old Testament Scriptures are viewed as the “oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2), trustworthy and of divine origin even to the level of the words and phrases employed. A number of New Testament references illustrate this. Jesus says, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “ ‘ “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word [Greek hrema, translating Hebrew qol, “everything”] that proceeds from the mouth of God” ’ ” (Matt. 4:4). Paul says of his own inspired mes­sage: “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:13). Again Paul writes, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thess. 2:13).

What the writers of the Bible state explicitly in the New Testament is also indicated by the instances when Jesus and the apostles base an entire theological argument upon a crucial word or even grammatical form in the Old Testament. So, in John 10:34, Jesus appeals to Psalm 82:6 and the specific word gods to sub­stantiate His divinity. Accompanying His usage is the telling remark: “ ‘And scripture cannot be broken [luo]’ ” (v. 35). It cannot be luo­ loosed, broken, repealed, annulled, or abolished—even to the specific words. In Matthew 22:41–46, Jesus grounds His final, unanswerable argument to the Pharisees upon the reliability of the single word Lord in Psalm 110:1. In Galatians 3:16, the apostle Paul likewise bases his Messianic argument upon the singular number of the word seed in Genesis 22:17, 18.9 Jesus shows His ultimate respect for the full authority of the Old Testament, including the individual words, when He affirms its totality: “ ‘For truly, I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished’ ” (Matt. 5:18).

Though the Bible was not ver­bally dictated by God so as to bypass the individuality of the human writer, and thus the specific words are the words chosen by the human instrumentality, yet the human and divine elements are so inseparable­ the human messenger so divinely guided in the selection of apt words to express the divine thoughts—that the words of the prophet are called the Word of God. The individual words of Scripture, as well as the overall message, are regarded as trustworthy, accurately setting forth the Divine Word.

While the Bible had many human writers, this book has only one ulti­mate Author: God Himself!

For further study

Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. 3rd edition. Chicago: Moody Press, 2007.

Canale, Fernando L. Back to Revelation-Inspiration: Searching for the Cognitive Foundation of Christian Theology in a Postmodern World. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2001.

Davidson, Jo Ann. “Word Made Flesh: The Inspiration of Scripture.” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 15, no. 1 (Spring 2004): 21–33. Davidson, Richard M. “Biblical Interpretation.” In Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology. Edited by Raoul Dederen, 58–104. Vol. 12 of The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Reference Series. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2000.

Van Bemmelen, Peter M. “Revelation and Inspiration.” In Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology. Edited by Raoul Dederen, 22–57. Vol. 12 of The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Reference Series. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2000.



1 See the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra, 14b; “The long years spent amid desert solitudes were not lost. Not only was Moses gaining a preparation for the great work before him, but during this time, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote the book of Genesis and also the book of Job, which would be read with the deepest interest by the people of God until the close of time.” Ellen G. White, Signs of the Times, February 19, 1880, 1.

2 See the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra, 14b.

3 See the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra, 15a; cf. 1 Chron. 29:29.

4 See the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra, 15a.

5 Note that the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally a single continuous work in the Hebrew Bible, and note further that the conclusion of Chronicles is identical with the beginning of Ezra (2 Chr. 36:22, 23; Ezra 1:1, 2).

6 I include here the epistle to the Hebrews; see the introduction of Hebrews in The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1980) for evidence supporting Pauline authorship of this epistle. Compare the many references in Ellen White’s writings to Paul as the one who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews (e.g., The Great Controversy [Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1950], 347, 411, 413, 418, 421; Pariarchs and Prophets [Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1913], 294, 357).

7 See especially the introduction to each book of the Bible in The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary; Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 2007); and Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 4th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990).

8 All scripture quotations in this article, except as otherwise stated, are from the Revised Standard Version.

9 Paul here is recognizing the precise Messianic terminology of Genesis 22:17, 18, as it moves from a collective plural seed (with plural modifying pronouns) to a singular Seed (with a singular modifying pronoun). See Richard M. Davidson, “New Testament Use of the Old Testament,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 5, no. 1 (1994): 30, 31.

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Richard M. Davidson, PhD, serves as the J. N. Andrews Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and chair of the Old Testament Department, at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary,  Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

March 2012

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