The God FAQ
The FAQs About The Bible
FAQ SHEETS:
About God
About Jesus
About the Bible
About Faith
About The Holy Spirit
OTHER:
A Harmonic Gospel: The Passion
THEORY OF JOY
Links
About Godfaq.org

 

Who wrote the Bible?

Is the Bible historically accurate?

How do we know the Bible has been translated correctly?

Is the Bible text literal or allegorical?

What about the lost books of the Bible?

Which Bible translation is the best?

Who wrote the Bible?

The Bible is a compilation of books written by several authors, each under the inspiration of God[1]. It is divided into the New Testament - books written by contemporaries of Jesus - and the Old Testament - written by several leaders of the nation of Israel over the course of fourteen centuries.

In many of the books the author is identified explicitly in the text, in some cases implicitly by first person account, and in others through reference in other books of the Bible. For the rest, we rely upon tradition, that is, the testimony of Jewish scribes or the early church fathers. Several books have multiple authors, such as the Psalms and Proverbs, where authorship of passages appears in notes accompanying the text. Clearly the historical books of the Old Testament covering many generations are themselves compilations by scribes from Israeli national annals long since lost. Some Old Testament prophetic books (such as Daniel) are compilations of original works by the author together with third person accounts of events in the author's life.

The following tables list authors of the books and the scriptural basis for determining authorship.

Authorship of the Books of the New Testament
Book Author Basis Citation
Matthew Matthew Tradition [2]
Mark Mark Tradition  
Luke Luke Tradition  
John John Tradition also implicitly in John 21:24 - note that there may have been collaborators
Acts Luke Implicit Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1
Romans Paul Explicit Rom 1:1 [3]
1 Corinthians Paul, Sosthenes Explicit 1Co 1:1

2 Corinthians

Paul, Timothy Explicit 2Co 1:1
Galatians Paul Explicit Ga 1:1
Ephesians Paul Explicit Eph 1:1
Philippians Paul, Timothy Explicit

Phi 1:1

Colossians Paul, Timothy Explicit Col 1:1
1 Thessalonians Paul, Silvanus, Timothy Explicit 1Th 1:1
2 Thessalonians Paul, Silvanus, Timothy Explicit 2Th 1:1
1 Timothy Paul Explicit 1Ti 1:1
2 Timothy Paul Explicit 2Ti 1:1
Titus Paul Explicit Tim 1:1
Philemon Paul, Timothy Explicit Phn 1
Hebrews Paul Tradition [4]; also suggested by reference to Timothy as brother [He 13:23] as was done in other co-authored letters [Phn 1, 2Co 1:1].
James James Explicit Ja 1:1
1 Peter Peter Explicit 1P 1:1
2 Peter Simon Peter Explicit 2P 1:1
1 John John Tradition [5]
2 John John Explicit 2Jn 1 [6]
3 John John Explicit 3Jn 1
Jude Jude Explicit Jude 1
Revelation John Explicit

Re 1:1,4

Matthew, John, Jude (Thaddeus) and (Simon) Peter were among Jesus' chosen twelve apostles [Lu 6:14-16; Mt 10:2-3; Jude 1], who were eyewitnesses of Jesus ministry. Paul (Saul of Tarsus) was also an eyewitness to Jesus following the resurrection and ascension [Acts 9:1-30]. James was the half-brother of Jesus, who was the early leader of the church in Jerusalem [Mt 13:55; Gal 1:19]. Luke was a fellow traveler with Paul [Col 4:14, 2Ti 4:11]. Mark was acquainted with Peter [Acts 12:12] and traveled with Paul and Barnabas [Acts 12:25] and later with Timothy [2Ti 4:11]. Timothy was a protoge of Paul [Acts 16:1-4; 1Ti 1:2]. Silvanus preached with Paul [2Co 1:19]. The only other mention of a Sosthenes is a prominent Jew at Corinth [Acts 18:17], and if this is the same, then (like Paul) he may have at one time opposed the Gospel before his conversion.

Authorship of the Books of the Old Testament
Book Author Basis Citation
Genesis Moses [7]

Implied by ref.

Jn 7:22 (Ge 17:11)
Exodus Moses Reference Mk 7:10a; Mk 12:26 ; Lu 20:37
Leviticus Moses Reference Ne 8:14 ; Mk 1:44; Jn 7:22 and Ac 15:1 (Le 12:3); Jn 8:5 (Le 20:10) ; Rom 10:5 (Le 18:5)
Numbers Moses Reference 2Ch 23:18; Ez 6:18
Deuteronomy Moses Explicit (1:1); by Reference 2K 14:6; 2Ch 25:4; Ne 13:1; Da 9:11,13; Mt 8:4; Mt 19:7-8; Mt 22:24 ; Mk 7:10b ; Mk 10:4; Mk 12:19; Lu 5:14 ; Lu 20:28; Jn 1:45; Rom 10:19; 1Co 9:9
Joshua unknown    
Judges unknown    
Ruth unknown    
1 & 2 Samuel unknown    
1 & 2 Kings unknown    
1 & 2 Chronicles unknown    
Ezra Ezra First Person shifts to 1st person in Ez 7:27-28
Nehemiah Nehemiah Explicit Ne 1:1
Esther Mordecai and/or Esther Implicit Est 9:20,23,29
Job unknown    
Psalms most by David; also Asaph, Sons of Korah, Solomon, Ethan the Ezrahite, Moses; a few unknown Tradition In titles preceding most Psalms, such as Ps 3, 42, 50, 72 , 89, 90.
Proverbs Solomon; Agur son of Jakeh; Lemuel Explicit Pr 1:1, 10:1, 25:1; Pr 30:1 ; Pr 31:1
Ecclesiastes Solomon Explicit Ecl 1:1 [8]
Song of Solomon Solomon Explicit So 1:1
Isaiah Isaiah Explicit Is 1:1
Jeremiah Jeremiah Explicit Jer 1:1 , 30:1-2 [9]
Lamentations Jeremiah Tradition [10]
Ezekiel Ezekiel Explicit Ez 1:1-3
Daniel Daniel [11] Explicit Dan 7:1; first person from 8:1
Hosea Hosea Explicit Hos 1:1
Joel Joel Explicit Joel 1:1
Amos Amos Explicit Amos 1:1
Obadiah Obadiah Explicit Ob 1
Jonah Jonah Explicit Jon 1:1
Micah Micah Explicit Mic 1:1
Nahum Nahum Explicit Nah 1:1
Habakkuk Habakkuk Explicit Hab 1:1
Zephaniah Zephaniah Explicit Zeph 1:1
Haggai Haggai Explicit [12] Hag 1:1, 2:1-2, 2:10-11, 2:20-21
Zechariah Zechariah First Person Zech 1:7 and 1:18
Malachi Malachi Explicit Mal 1:1

Is the Bible historically accurate?

Where the historic narrative of the Bible can be corroborated by archaeology, it proves to be quite accurate, even in details of contemporary life that someone writing well after the fact would not know[13]. The New Testament is corroborated in several points of fact by other ancient documents, and the New Testament itself is the most verifiable of any ancient document. The oldest surviving manuscripts are closer to the event than those of other classic documents including Caesar's Gallic Wars and the histories by Tacitus and Herodotus[14].

The Bible also provides internal evidence that indicates authenticity. The Old Testament is unusually candid about evil done by its otherwise righteous and heroic figures. Examples are David's adultery and betrayal of Uriah the Hittite[15], and Solomon's turn to idolatry late in his life[16]. The New Testament cites the testimony of women, which at the time was invalid in a court of law, as the initial evidence for the resurrection of Christ[17]. The varied accounts of the four Gospels, though in essential agreement, provide variation in detail that would be expected from genuine eyewitness testimony[18]. These are characteristics that would not be expected from legend or contrived tales.

How do we know the Bible has been translated correctly?

As mentioned previously concerning the New Testament, documents and fragments as close as 150 years to the original writing are extant. Subsequent translations to other languages can be tested against these documents. For the Old Testament the timeframe is not as close. However when the Dead Sea Scrolls (circa 100 B.C.) were discovered, in which the book of Isaiah was included almost in entirety, it was found that Isaiah as it has been passed down proved accurate compared to this text.

But as to whether the original meaning of the text has been retained successfully throughout the last 3400 years, Jesus gives us the basis for believing this is the case - "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."[19]. From this we ascertain that God has and will direct events such that the original word that he gave to men is preserved, and conclude that among all extant documentation, that which is truly His word has been maintained.

Is the Bible text literal or allegorical?

Clearly, the Bible is not uniformly literal in its presentation of events and teaching, but it is seldom allegorical. It should be distinguished as to whether the terms literal and allegorical refer to specific passages of text or a general philosophic approach to biblical interpretation. In the latter case, it comes down to a question of whether the historic and prophetic narrative as presented by the Bible describes real events as they happened (or will happen) or merely legends and moral tales.

In the strictest sense, an allegory is a fictional narrative intended to represent real events. There are cases of this approach in the Bible, such as some of the parables of Jesus[20] and the prophecy of Nathan to David exposing the latter's betrayal of Uriah the Hittite[21]. However for most of the parables and with Nathan's prophecy, there follows an explanation clearly identifying the narrative as allegory.

Where the Bible presents historic narrative it is literal, as corroborated overwhelmingly by the archaeological record and the few contemporary documents that survive. The Bible is replete with idioms, simile and metaphor - devices common to all languages - to describe real events, but this does not mean the events described are themselves merely figurative. Often it is assumed by academics, even those favorable toward the Bible, that historic accounts for which evidence is missing must somehow be legendary, that the text in question is a contrivance or corrupted oral tradition that resembles an event perhaps of another time or in another place or involving other persons from that which the Bible indicates. But there is no evidence to support this view, and so to default to an allegorical explanation for the unproven passages seems irrational.

The issue is more complicated concerning Bible prophesy, a topic requiring more exposition than provided here. But even prophetic visions cannot be regarded as allegorical in the strictest sense as they are not narratives. For example the dreams of Pharaoh of Egypt and those of his servants interpreted by Joseph[22], and of Nebuchadnezzar of Chaldea as interpreted by Daniel[23] are more precisely symbolic and are clearly understood to be so by those who had received them (as opposed to David who took Nathan's account of the rich man who stole the sheep as testimony); but again a literal interpretation follows in the text.

Other prophesies describe visions of a spiritual dimension or counterpart to physical events, where the prophet had to describe a non-physical and quite alien world of angels and other supernatural beings in earthly terms. These cannot be taken as allegorical, but as real activity in another realm, parallel to or generating real events on Earth. Likewise, some apocalyptic prophecy seems allegorical, and did so especially to churchmen of the Middle Ages who found them fantastic. But in our time we find it conceivable that ancient men who had visions of the high-tech future could only describe what they saw in figurative terms, using the most powerful and animated images known in their time - animals, stars, natural disasters, and ancient warfare[24].

Bible prophesy that has been fulfilled has proven to describe real events[25]. These prophecies can be reviewed to understand how the yet unfulfilled prophecies can be judged.

To honestly interpret text means to strive for the meaning the author intended. As noted above, the Bible claims that all scripture is inspired by God, hence it is God's meaning that must be discerned. It does no good to attach interpretations to personal taste or rationalize them to support one's theological or philosophical predispositions[26]. An honest approach will recognize the occasional use of allegory where it is clearly indicated. However to take a historic narrative or narrative prophesy as allegory, makes it easy to dismiss that passage's meaning as subjective or indeterminable, and thereby ignore its implications for both doctrine and one's view of the future. Asserting that the Bible in general is allegorical is more useful for someone trying to avoid rather than discover the intended meanings of its author.

What about the lost books of the Bible?

There are many other texts rejected from inclusion in the modern Christian Bible. The canon of scripture today is inherited from the tradition of the early churches established by the Apostles[27]. Nevertheless throughout the centuries, texts proposed as written by the Apostles, elders or prophets of the Old Testament period have been scrutinized and debated, and the current canon is the survivor of that review. The other texts have been found to be spurious, or uninspired, or simply not original (that is, not from the time of the apostles), and others heretical (that is, contradictory to the body of scripture). So they are not so much lost as deemed lacking. Among these are the Old and New Testament Apocrypha. It should be noted that there are many works that are inspired but do not have the authority of canon. Some are being written today. However the Bible itself refers to some documents that no longer exist, such as Paul's other letters to the Corinthians[28], his letter to the Laodiceans[29], and the Annal of the Kings of Israel and other archives cited in the Old Testament[30]. We can speculate that since these did not survive, God did not regard them as worth preserving, or at least as not having applicability other than to the people of their time.

Which Bible translation is the best?

I can only speak for English language translations, since I am fluent only in English. Indeed no modern translation is without passages of debatable interpretation. But not to hedge, I will recommend any translation whose translators placed accuracy over accessibility as the goal of their effort. Translations that too heavily rely on the modern vernacular and accommodate modern cultural sensitivities tend to compromise and even corrupt the meaning of the text. I suggest NKJV for someone new to scripture, followed by an attempt at some point to comprehend the Authorized King James Version of 1611, despite its 17th century language.

My fondness for the AV (or KJV) is not due to tradition or its poetry, but to its fidelity of translation, not just in textual equivalence, but in force of presentation. This is not to say the AV is perfect. For one thing, the New Testament translation is based on the Received Text (of ancient Greek language manuscripts), whereas in several instances, I give more credence to Majority Text (see the preface to the NKJV for an explanation of the source documents). Nevertheless, the procedure laid down by King James and the intense review and criticism of his committees of translators, and especially their aversion toward introducing innovation to their translation, distinguish their effort as one of highest integrity and reliability[31].



[1] 2Tim 3:16 - All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

[2] Authorship of the Gospels is attested to by the earliest church writings. See Eusebius Ecclesiastical History (ten volumes written from AD 300-324). Eusebius was the first true church historian and a consultant to Roman Emperor Constantine.

[3] In ancient times it was common for writers to employ a scribe, as is clearly the case in Paul's letter to the Romans. Rom 16:22 - I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.

[4] See F.F Bruce, The Canon of Scripture. The oldest extant collection of Paul's writings (circa AD 200) includes Hebrews. Also Eusebius H.E., quotes Clement of Alexandria's assertion (circa AD 200) that Hebrews was written by Paul but translated into Greek by Luke. Eusebius writes that in his time Paul's authorship was universally accepted except by some in Rome.

[5] Earliest church writers attribute 1 John and Revelation to the apostle John. Eusebius, H.E.

[6] The author of 2 John and 3 John identifies himself as John the Elder. Earlier writers, such as Justin Martyr, regarded the apostle as the author. Eusebius in H.E. quotes writings of Dionysius from the mid-3rd century disputing the Apostle John as the author of Second and Third John and Revelation.

[7] The five books Genesis thru Deuteronomy collectively are referred to as a single volume called the Torah by the Jews, or simply "The Law" in the KJV translation. Moses is identified as the author of this volume often in scripture - Jo 1:7-8; Jo 23:6; 2Ch 33:8; 2Ch 34:14; 2Ch 35:6,12; Neh 9:14; Neh 10:29; Jn 1:17; Ac 15:1; 2Co 3:15. The other books of the Old Testament are referred to as the Prophets and Writings. Often the scriptures together are referred to in the New Testament as Moses and the Prophets, implying Moses' authorship of the Torah - ; Lu 16:29,31; Lu 24:27; Lu 24:44; Jn 1:45; Ac 28:23

[8] It could be argued that "The Preacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem" could be any of the descendants of David who ruled Judah and served Yahweh. Tradition holds to Solomon, which is the most obvious reading of Ecl 1:1.

[9] Jeremiah 51 ends "Thus far the words of Jeremiah", then chapter 52 switches to historic narrative. The author of this last chapter could have been a scribe. Note that Jer 36 recounts how Jeremiah directed Baruch son of Neriah to write Jeremiah's prophesies and read them in the temple. This book was burned by the king, but reproduced and added to others.

[10] 2Ch 35:25 upon the death of righteous King Josiah - "And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and the singing women spake of Josiah in their lamentations to this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel: and, behold, they are written in the lamentations." This identifies Jeremiah as a contributor to a larger collection of lamentations no longer extant. The fall of Jerusalem - the topic of Lamentations - occurred within a quarter century of the death of Josiah. It is conceivable that at one time the book of Lamentation may have been part of the collection.

[11] Daniel is recorded in Hebrew from 1:1 to 2:4, which is a brief narrative, then in Aramaic from 2:4 to 7:28, then Hebrew again from 8:1, which is first person. It is possible that part of the narrative was written by scribes.

[12] The content of the book is entirely "The Word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet" [Hag 1:1]. It is conceivable that it was recorded at the direction of Zerubbabel, the Governor of Judaea, who is the addressee of most of the prophecies.

[13] See Werner Keller's classic The Bible As History for a survey of how the Biblical narrative compares to archaeological evidence.

[14] See F.F. Bruce The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?.

[15] The affair of David, Bathsheeba and Uriah the Hittite is accounted in 2 Samuel 12 and 13. 1 Ki 15:5 - David did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.

[16] 1Ki 11:4 - For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.

[17] The accounts are Mt 28:1-10, Mk 16:1-8, Lu 24:1-12 and John 20:1-18. Note how that only the eyewitness testimony of men was offered to the Greek Corinthians by Paul in 1Co 15:3-8 - For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

[18] An example of varied testimony of the same event is the account of the betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ depicted in all four gospels, but readily combined in my A Harmonic Gospel: The Passion. Author Lee Strobel, formerly a court reporter, in his book The Case For Christ aptly explains how eyewitness accounts of the same event may differ and yet be judged reliable.

[19] Mt 24:35; Mk 13:31; Lu 21:33

[20] Mt 13 has seven such parables - the Parables of the Sower, Tares, Mustard Seed, Leaven, Treasure in the Field, Pearl Merchant, and Fishing Net - of which the parables of the Sower, Tares and Fishing Net are explicitly interpreted.

[21] 2Sam 12

[22] Gen 40, 41:1-32

[23] Dan 2

[24] Consider the army of Joel 2, which may be describing mechanized warfare, or the "locusts" of Rev 9:3-10, which may be describing helicopters or strike aircraft employing a paralyzing agent, or the "horses" of Rev 9:16-19, which may be a description of armored fighting vehicles.

[25] For example, compare the prophecy of Dan 11 versus the history of the successor kingdoms of Alexander of Macedonia.

[26] 2Pe 1:20-21 - Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

[27] See F.F Bruce, The Canon of Scripture.

[28] 1Cor 5:9 - "I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators..."; 2 Cor 7:8 - "For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season". It is possible this second instance refers to 1Cor and not some other lost letter.

[29] Col 4:16 - And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.

[30] The following table lists books referenced in the Old Testament whose content may not be accounted for in other books of the Old Testament.

 

Lost books referenced in the Old Testament
Book References Notes
Book of chronicles of the Kings of Israel 1K 14:19, 15:31, 16:5, 14, 20, 27, 22:39, 2K 1:18, 10:34, 13:8, 12, 14:15, 28, 15:11, 15, 21, 26, 31  
The Chronicles of King David 1Chr 27:24  
The chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia Est 10:12  
Book of the wars of the LORD Num 21:14 likely refers to Exodus
Book of Jasher Josh 10:13; 2Sam 1:18  
Book of the acts of Solomon 1K 11:41  
Book of Nathan the prophet 1Chr 29:29; 2Chr 9:29 first instance is referenced with the book of Samuel the seer
Book of Gad the seer. 1Chr 29:29 referenced with the book of Samuel the seer
Prophesy of Abijah the Shilonite 2Chr 9:29  
Visions of Iddo the Seer; (book) of Iddo the seer concerning geneologies 2Chr 9:29 first instance is actually "the visions of Iddo the seer against Jeroboam the son of Nebat"; second instance is actually "book of Shemiah the prophet, and of Iddo the seer concerning geneologies".
Book of Sheniah the prophet 2Chr 9:29  
Book of Jehu the son of Hanani 2Chr 20:34  

 

 

[31] See Adam Nicholson, God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible for a history of the translation.