Though the Bible was written in three languages by writers from many walks of life, it displays a remarkable unity
By Richard M. Davidson
According to the traditional understanding, held by most biblical scholars until the rise of historical criticism during the Enlightenment in the 17th century, the Bible was written by as many as 35 named individuals over a period of 2,500 years. Old Testament Bible writers include: Moses (the Pentateuch, the Book of Job, and Psalm 90), Joshua (the Book of Joshua), Samuel (the books of Judges, Ruth, and perhaps 1 Samuel), David (the majority of the Book of Psalms), Asaph (Psalms 50, 73–83), the sons of Korah (Psalms 42–49, 84, 85, 87), Heman (Psalm 88), Ethan (Psalm 89), Solomon (Psalms 72 and 127, the majority of the Book of Proverbs, and the books of Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon), Agur (Proverbs 30), Lemuel (Proverbs 31), the four Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel) and 12 Minor Prophets (whose books are named after them, plus Jeremiah writing also Lamentations and possibly editing 1 and 2 Kings), and Ezra (the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and 1 and 2 Chronicles). New Testament writers include Matthew and Mark (the Gospels named after them), Luke (Luke and Acts), John (the Gospel of John; 1, 2, and 3 John; and Revelation), Paul (the 14 Epistles attributed to him), 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 claims, there is solid support for the traditional understanding.
The Ultimate Author
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.
The self-testimony of Scripture regarding its ultimate divine authorship is summarized in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (NASB). It is “inspired by God,” translated from a Greek word, literally “God-breathed.” The picture here is that of the divine “wind” or Spirit coming upon the prophet so that Scripture is a product of the divine creative breath.
All Scripture—not just a part—is God-breathed. This certainly includes the whole Old Testament, the canonical Scriptures of the apostolic church (see Luke 24:32, 44, 45; Romans 1:2; 3:2; 2 Peter 1:21). But for Paul, it also includes the New Testament sacred writings as well. His use of the word Scripture (from a Greek word for “writing”) in his first Epistle to Timothy (5:18) points in this direction. There he introduces two quotations with the words “Scripture says,” one from Deuteronomy 25:4, in the Old Testament, and the other from the words of Jesus, recorded in Luke 10:7. Thus, “Scripture” is used to refer to both the Old Testament and the Gospel accounts as 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 to 3 paralleling Genesis 1:1; John 14:26; 16:13; 19:35; 21:24; Luke 1:2 to 4; Matthew 1 paralleling Genesis 5; Matthew 23:34). Peter’s use of the term Scriptures for Paul’s writings also supports this conclusion (2 Peter 3:15, 16). By comparing Paul’s letters to the “rest of the Scriptures,” Peter implies that Paul’s correspondence is also a part of Scripture. Thus “all Scripture,” both the Old and the New Testament, is “God-breathed.”
Inspired by the Holy Spirit
A key biblical passage that clarifies the ultimate divine origin of Scripture in relation to the human dimensions of the biblical writers is 2 Peter 1:19–21: “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 of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along 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 certain.” 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 his own ideas. Verse 21 elaborates on this point: Prophecy does not come by the initiative, the impulse, or the will of the human agent; the prophets are not communicating on their own. Rather, the Bible writers were prophets who spoke as they were moved, carried along, even driven by the Holy Spirit. Peter’s statement makes clear that the Scriptures did not come directly from heaven, but rather God used human authors to write His Word.
A close study of 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 present differences in style (contrast Isaiah and Ezekiel, John and Paul); they offer different perspectives on the same truth or event (the four Gospels). Yet, through inspiration, the Holy Spirit was carrying along the biblical writers, guiding their minds in what to speak and write so that what they presented is not merely their own interpretation but the utterly reliable word of God, the prophetic word made more certain. The Holy Spirit imbued human instruments with divine truth and assisted them in writing so 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 they are in Jesus, the incarnate “Word of God” (Rev. 19:13). Just as Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, was fully God and fully human (John 1:1–3, 14) so the written word is an inseparable union of the human and the divine.
The Words of the Prophet
Although the Bible was not verbally dictated by God so as to bypass the individuality of the human author, except in rare cases, and thus the specific words are the words chosen by the human writer, 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 are regarded as trustworthy, accurately representing the divine message.
This is illustrated by a number of New Testament references. Jesus said, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word [from a Greek word for “everything”] that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4, RSV). Paul says of his own inspired message: “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, RSV). Again Paul writes: “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, RSV).
What is stated explicitly in the New Testament is also indicated by the instances in which Jesus and the apostles based an entire theological argument upon a crucial word or even a grammatical form in the Old Testament. For example, in John 10:34, Jesus referred to Psalm 82:6 and the specific word gods to substantiate His divinity. Accompanying His usage is the telling remark: “‘Scripture cannot be broken’” (John 10:35, RSV); it cannot be loosed, broken, repealed, annulled, or abolished. In Matthew 22:41–46, He grounded His final, unanswerable argument to the Pharisees upon the reliability of the single word Lord in Psalm 110:1.
The self-testimony of Scripture is overwhelming and unequivocal: It is the Word of God. In the Old Testament includes sixteen hundred occurrences of four Hebrew words (in four different phrases with slight variations) that explicitly indicate that God has spoken: (1) “the utterance/declaration of Yahweh,” 361 times; (2) “thus says the Lord,” 423 times; (3) “God spoke,” 422 times; and (4) the “word of the Lord,” 394 times. Numerous times the equivalency between the prophet’s message and the divine message is indicated: The prophet speaks for God (Ex. 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; Eze. 1:3; 3:22; 37:1), or the word of the Lord comes to him (Hosea 1:1; Joel 1:1; Micah 1:1). In Jeremiah 25, the prophet rebukes his audience for not listening to the prophets (vs. 4), which is equated with not listening to the Lord (vs. 7) and further equated with “His words” (vs. 8).
Summarizing the prophetic messages sent to Israel, 2 Kings 21:10 records, “The Lord said by his servants the prophets” (NRSV), and 2 Chronicles 36:15, 16 adds: “The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent persistently to them by his messengers, . . . but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets” (NRSV). The prophets’ message is God’s message. For this reason, the prophets often naturally switched from a third person reference to God (“He”) to the first person direct divine address (“I”), without any indication of such a switch (see Isaiah 3:1–4; 5:1–3; 27:1–3; Jeremiah 16:19–21; Hosea 6:1–5; Joel 2:23–25; Zechariah 9:4–7). The Old Testament prophets were sure that their message was the message of God!
Numerous times in the New Testament “it is written” is equivalent to “God says.” For example, in Hebrews 1:5 to 13, seven Old Testament citations are said to be spoken by God, but the Old Testament passages cited do not always specifically ascribe the statement directly to God (see Psalm 104:4; 45:6-7; and 102:25–27). Again, Romans 9:17 and Galatians 3:8 (citing Exodus 9:16 and Genesis 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 as a whole are viewed as the “oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2). Likewise, the New Testament as a whole is “God-breathed” Scripture. While the Bible had many human writers, it has only one ultimate Author: God Himself.
Richard Davidson, Ph.D., is the J. N. Andrews Professor of Old Testament at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, Michigan.