Meet the Bible’s Human Authors—An Overview

Since God spoke the whole world into existence, have you ever wondered why He chose to use human authors to write the Bible? Why didn’t He simply say, “Let there be a Bible,” and there was a Bible? 

Well, actually, when you think about it, He did. 

God did speak every word of Scripture into existence—He spoke it to more than forty different men over a period of fifteen centuries. They wrote down His words as the Holy Spirit directed them—and there was a Bible. And it is good (Prov. 30:5).

In the next three articles, we’ll take a glimpse at the forty-plus human authors God chose to pen His inspired Word. But first, let’s glance at an overview of the authors and how God directed them. Then we’ll meet the authors one by one, starting with the Old Testament and ending with the New. 

Quick Overview of the Bible’s Authors

God called men of various backgrounds—the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. (Not really.) But He did call paupers in prison, prophets in caves, and kings in palaces. He appointed shepherds, farmers, fishermen, kings, and at least one tentmaker. 

Men with a variety of day jobs on three different continents (Africa, Asia, and Europe) over a span of more than fifteen hundred years and in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) to write down everything God wanted us to know. 

Most wrote on scrolls made from papyrus (the original version of paper) or parchment (animal skins). Habakkuk and Isaiah scratched into wood or clay tablets. God Himself carved the Ten Commandments with His finger onto stone tablets. Twice.

The Old Testament authors penned their messages approximately between 1400 and 400 B.C. Then—after 400 years of silence—Christ came. After Jesus rose from the grave, God began to call the New Testament authors to write. They penned their books and letters between A.D. 44 and 96, approximately.

The Mystery of the Unknown Authors

Before we meet the known authors of the Bible, let’s address the fact that some remain a mystery. They didn’t all sign their books, and God didn’t leave a list. 

A few authors seem obvious, like the fab four: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Their books bear their names. But Philemon, Timothy, and Titus didn’t write the books named after them. They received them. The apostle Paul wrote these books and at least ten others. This is probably why his books are not named after him. Imagine the pastor telling the congregation to turn to the book of 12 Paul. 

But what about the books by unknown authors? Do you wonder how we can trust a book if we don’t know who wrote it? 

One reason we can trust them today is because their intended audience trusted them then. At the time they wrote, the unknown authors were known. Their original audiences accepted their writings and submitted to them.

The men entrusted with preserving and passing down these books followed strict guidelines to ensure their faithfulness and authenticity. Adding information—even info as important as the author’s name—wasn’t acceptable. If the Holy Spirit, who supervised the writing of all Scripture, hadn’t directed the authors to include their name in their book or letter, the copyist shouldn’t either.

When we consider the books in which the authors didn’t write their names, it’s humanly possible we’ve attributed a book to the wrong author. Even the best scholars don’t all agree on their identities. But in their day their audiences knew and trusted them. We can trust them today as well. What matters most is not who wrote them, but who inspired them (God).

Scripture Is Inspired (Its Authors Are Not)

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16–17)

When Paul wrote, “All Scripture is inspired,” he literally meant that Scripture alone is inspired, not its authors. This difference matters. 

The word inspired means “God-breathed” or “God-spoken.” Scripture came from God. He breathed (spoke) the words He wanted the authors to write. Thus, Scripture is infallible and free of all error in the original texts. God’s Word is perfect. The human authors were not. 

God chose to write through flawed men. Some were more flawed than others. But we can trust every word they wrote because the Holy Spirit guided them as God directed their words (2 Pet. 1:20–21). Even the words of sinful people.

Consider Balaam. 

Balaam was a deeply flawed man, driven by greed with no true reverence for God. He was an evil prophet for hire. The king of Moab hired him to curse Israel, but God inspired Balaam’s words. 

As God intended, instead of cursing Israel, Balaam blessed them. Four times. And he prophesied about Christ: “A star will come from Jacob, and a scepter will arise from Israel” (Num. 24:17).

For money, Balaam was more than willing to curse someone God had not cursed, but he couldn’t. God’s creation. God’s rules. 

How can I curse someone God has not cursed?
How can I denounce someone the Lord has not denounced? (Num. 23:8)

The inspired words that evil Balaam spoke glorify God still today. (Read the whole story in Numbers 22–24). 

The words of Job’s three friends, however, were not inspired. They spoke to him about his suffering and the Lord, but they spoke out of their own hearts and opinions. They got God’s character and intentions wrong at times—and in the inspired text of the book of Job, God set them straight. 

After the LORD had finished speaking to Job, He said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7)

The words Job’s friends spoke originated from their own sinful hearts. But the written record of the events in the book of Jobwere inspired by God and thus true. The Holy Spirit directed Job’sauthor as he wrote the details of these events. 

How Exactly Did God Inspire Scripture?

God guided every word the authors wrote, but how? Did He put them into a trance or take over their bodies? What did He do? 

Unfortunately, Scripture doesn’t describe God’s exact process, but King David, Peter the disciple, and evil Balaam give us clues. 

David, an author of many of the Psalms, said, “The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me, his word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). The Spirit spoke through David as if His words were literally sitting on the tip of his tongue. His words were simply there for David.

Peter wrote, “Above all, you know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20–21). 

God’s Spirit moved the authors in whichever direction He wanted. One commentator compared this to the way the wind in a sail carries a sailboat along. 

Remember Balaam? He couldn’t curse what God hadn’t cursed. He wanted to, but he couldn’t. The blessings he spoke over Israel didn’t come out of his evil heart. They came from God, who was able to direct Balaam’s words like He directs the wind in a sail and the words of His authors. 

Only God knows the supernatural way He inspired Scripture, but we can be sure He didn’t put them into a trance and make them write like robots. If He did, all of Scripture would sound the same rather than reflect each author’s personality.

Paul quoted King David, but his writing doesn’t sound like the lyrical king’s. And David didn’t write 254-word sentences like Paul. Ephesians 1:3–14 is one sentence in the Greek—254 words in the CSB translation. The ultimate run-on sentence. (Members of the grammar police just passed out.) 

Each author received God’s words, but they used their own personalities and lingo to communicate God’s exact message to a specific audience. God directed them down to the smallest detail, including the specific language they used.

3 Languages and 3 Continents

The Bible having been written over a period of over fifteen hundred years makes the fact that it was written using only three languages even more amazing. 

1. Hebrew

The Old Testament authors wrote mostly in Hebrew, the language of the nation of Israel, God’s people. 

2. Aramaic

The only passages of Scripture in the Old Testament that weren’t written in Hebrew were written in Aramaic (Daniel 2:4b–7:28; Ezra 4:8–6:18; 7:12–26). Except where the passages quote Aramaic documents, scholars say it’s not clear why all these verses aren’t in Hebrew. (Perhaps the reason is filed next to why God didn’t give us the full list of its human authors.)

3. Greek

The New Testament authors wrote each letter and book in Greek, the common language of the Roman Empire, which ruled Israel at the time. Hebrew had lost its place as the common language, even in Israel. 

Most of the Bible was written on one continent, but two neighboring continents offered temporary housing to a couple of the authors.

1. Asia

Most of the Bible was written in the region known today as the Middle East, which is on the continent of Asia. 

2. Africa

The prophet Jeremiah lived—and wrote—for a period of time on the continent of Africa in Egypt. (Even though Moses spent a lot of time in Egypt, he wrote the first five books of the Bible while Israel was camped on the edge of the Promised Land on the continent of Asia.)

3. Europe

Paul wrote some of his letters from a Roman prison on the continent of Europe.

Let There Be a Bible

Before Adam uttered his first word, God already knew everything that would ever happen in history or would ever be thought or said. He could have plopped a completed Bible into the Garden of Eden before He created Adam and Eve. 

In His wisdom, God chose to unfold His divine Word to His people at the exact time they (we) needed it. He didn’t write as a reaction to the events of earth. He wrote history in advance (Isa. 46:10). 

Whether we know the authors’ names or not, God directed each to etch His words into eternity without error or contradiction in the original language—all pointing to Jesus Christ.

What’s Next?

In our next article in this series we’ll take a glimpse at the authors of the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament. 

***

Selected Bibliography

The following resources were consulted in preparation for this article:

John MacArthur, ed., MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006).

R.C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015).

Kevin D. Zuber, The Essential Scriptures: A Handbook of the Biblical Texts for Key Doctrines (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2021).

GotQuestions.org, https://www.gotquestions.org/.

Blue Letter Bible, https://www.blueletterbible.org/.

Were you encouraged by this article by Jean Wilund? If so, thank a Monthly Partner! (Jean is one, by the way.) Monthly partners like Jean provide for the ongoing needs of the ministry through prayer and regular financial gifts that allow Revive Our Hearts to publish high-caliber, trusted content like this on a daily basis. To learn how you can partner with the ministry, visit ReviveOurHearts.com

1Paul used the Greek word theopneustos to express the phrase “inspired by God.” Theopneustos comes from the Greek words theos (“the supreme divinity,” aka God)and pneustos. Scholars believe pneustos is a derivative of the Greek word pneō, which in 2 Timothy 3:16 means “to breathe.” Thus, all Scripture is “God-breathed” or “God-spoken.”

About the Author

Jean Wilund

Jean Wilund

Jean Wilund is passionate about leading women into a greater understanding of the Bible and a deeper relationship with God. She serves ROH as a member of the Leader Connection blogging team and a moderator for the Women’s Ministry Leader … read more …


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