Very often, the best questions we get are very simple ones, like this one today from Maxine, a longtime listener to APJ. “Pastor John, hello and thank you for this podcast. Can you explain to me: Who wrote the Bible?”
Well, let’s start at the top and work our way down to who held the very quill that moved across the parchments.
At the top is God. When Christians refer to the Bible as the word of God, they mean that — and I would say, I mean. I’m one of those people who believe this; I’d stake my whole life on it. So, I mean that the Creator of the universe, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who upholds the universe by the word of his power, was guiding and is guiding all things according to a great purpose. That God has chosen to reveal himself to human beings in human language. He has chosen to speak. Amazing. Hebrews 1:1–2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son [Jesus Christ].” That’s simply staggering: God has spoken.
The phrase “Thus says the Lord” occurs over four hundred times in the Old Testament, as the writers put forward in their writings that God has spoken. The phrase “God said” occurs over six hundred times in the Old Testament. So, there’s this pervasive claim of the human writers that they are delivering what God wants said.
The way the New Testament writers express this claim is to say that the human writers of the Bible were “inspired,” that these writings are “God-breathed,” or that the people who wrote them were “carried along by the Spirit.” For example, the apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture [that is, for him at that time, all the Old Testament books of the Bible] is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction.” The apostle Peter says in 2 Peter 1:21, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
So, the question “Who wrote the Bible?” always has a double answer in the Bible. Human authors wrote the Bible, and God wrote the Bible through the human authors. They actually held the quill that moved across the parchment, but what they wrote was ultimately what God wanted written.
I love the way Jesus did this. He gave us an amazing indication that he believed the Old Testament Scriptures were, in fact, God’s word, God’s writing. What makes this indication that Jesus gave so powerful is because it’s so inadvertent. He’s talking about divorce, and he answers the Pharisees’ question by saying, in Matthew 19:3–5, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said . . .” The subject of that verb is “he who created them.” That’s God. Then he quotes Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” But that verse was not a quotation of God in the Old Testament; it was written by Moses, the human author. But when Jesus quotes it, because it’s from the Scriptures, the inspired Scriptures, Jesus says, “God said those words.” That’s amazing. That’s a really powerful indication of how our Lord himself viewed the Old Testament Scriptures.
“God has chosen to reveal himself to human beings in human language. He has chosen to speak.”
Which is why he said in Matthew 5:17–18, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” — in other words, the whole Old Testament. Don’t think that I’ve come to abolish them. I haven’t come to abolish them. They’re God’s word. I have come to fulfill them. “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot [not the smallest part of the Scriptures], will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” And Jesus said in John 10:35, “Scripture cannot be broken.”
This is also how the New Testament apostles saw their own writings — not just the Old Testament, but the New Testament writings. Jesus had promised them that he would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). And Paul said, therefore, “We impart this [that is, what he’s revealing in his letters] in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:13).
So, there are always two answers to the question “Who wrote the Bible?” God and man. Ultimately, God saw to it that what he wanted written was written. And in that sense, you could say God wrote the Bible. But we would not mean that he carved it in stone (although he did carve the Ten Commandments in stone on Mount Sinai and gave them to Moses). And we would not mean that God held the hand of the human writers and wrote in his heavenly style, not their human style. That’s not the case. The human authors have their own style, and God guides it. He doesn’t impose on it his singular style. We would simply mean that God superintended the human writing so that the authors wrote what he wanted written.
So, who were the human writers of the Bible? That’s the most direct way this question was posed. Let me try to answer it as directly.
At least ten of the books of the Bible are unsigned. The authors did not see fit to include their names in the books they wrote. For example, Job and Esther in the Old Testament — we don’t know who wrote them. In the New Testament, Hebrews — we don’t know who wrote Hebrews. But the traditional list of authors would go like this:
- Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible and at least one of the Psalms (Psalm 90).
- Ezra the scribe wrote the books of Ezra and 1–2 Chronicles.
- Nehemiah wrote the book of Nehemiah.
- Psalm writers include David, Asaph, the sons of Korah, Ethan, Heman.
- Solomon wrote some of the Psalms, most of the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.
- Agur and Lemuel wrote some of the Proverbs.
Then all the prophets wrote the books by their own name:
- Jeremiah, who also wrote Lamentations
Then the writers of the Gospels in the New Testament:
- Luke, who also wrote Acts
In fact, it’s interesting: If you’d ask most people, “Who wrote most of the New Testament?” they’d probably say Paul, because he wrote thirteen letters. But actually, Luke wrote most of the New Testament because the books of Luke and Acts together comprise more of the New Testament than any other author — which is why we named our first son Luke, but nobody calls him Luke anymore; he goes by Karsten.
- Paul wrote those thirteen letters.
- James, the Lord’s brother, wrote a letter.
- Peter and Jude wrote letters.
- And finally, John (who wrote the fourth Gospel) wrote the letters that bear his name, along with Revelation.
Those are the human authors who wrote the Bible. But here’s one of the most important things, and I’ll end with this, which needs to be said.
Just as the heavens are telling the glory of God, so that we should be able to look at nature and discern in it the hand of God (Psalm 19:1), and just as John said of Jesus Christ, “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14), so that those who saw Jesus should have discerned that this is the Son of God, in the same way, the glory of God shines forth from his handiwork in the very word of God that he inspired — the Bible — through the human authors, so that we can say, in a similar way, that we have seen here the hand of God, the truth of God. This is his word.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.