Who Wrote the Bible? List of the 36 Authors of all 66 books
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily match my own. - Dr. Bart D. Ehrman
"Who wrote the Bible?" is a question that has intrigued scholars, theologians, and curious minds for centuries. The Bible, a sacred text with a profound impact on the world's religious and cultural landscape, is a compilation of diverse books, each with its own authorship story.
As we embark on this journey through the pages of the Bible, we will explore the traditional attributions of authorship for each book, often rooted in ancient beliefs and legends. However, we will also delve into the insights of modern scholars who have meticulously dissected the texts and discovered how many people wrote the Bible.
This exploration will take us from the opening verses of Genesis to the closing words of Revelation, revealing the authors of the Bible. Let's begin with the Book of Genesis.
Who wrote the Pentateuch? (Genesis to Numbers)
The term "Pentateuch" finds its origins in the ancient Greek word "pentateuchos," a poetic reference to "five containers" housing scrolls crafted from leather or papyrus.
These distinctive vessels held within them the foundational literary treasures of the Bible, a sacred quintet comprising Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Each of these texts, carefully preserved within their metaphorical receptacles, offers profound insights into the foundations of biblical history and law.
Let’s take a closer look at the issue of who wrote the Bible by examining the Pentateuch - a cornerstone of the Jewish religion.
The Pentateuch is also called the “Five Books of Moses” because tradition believes they were written by Moses - the most important Jewish prophet. However, modern scholarship disagrees. Why? Why? To reveal the answer, we'll need to present first a summary of each book.
Who Wrote the Book of Genesis?
The Book of Genesis known as the first book of the Hebrew Bible recounts the story of God’s creation of the world and the beginnings of human life on Earth. Some of the most popular and widely-known Biblical images (e.g. The Tree of Knowledge; Adam and Eve, Kain and Abel, etc.) come from Genesis.
Who Wrote Exodus?
The Exodus is the second book of the Pentateuch, but it’s also an event, the act by which Moses—or God—brought the Israelites out of Egypt. It narrates the history of the Jewish people and the way Moses led them from Egypt across the Red Sea and toward the Promised Land. Exodus also describes how God gave the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Besides Moses, the main character, Exodus hides many other important yet forgotten figures such as Moses’ wife and his parents.
Who Wrote Leviticus?
Leviticus sits in the middle of the Pentateuch. Nearly half of the 613 commandments in the Hebrew Bible have their basis in the book of Leviticus. Consequently, anyone who wants to understand religious Judaism must understand this book.
Leviticus is primarily concerned with the practices and rituals of the Israelites. It serves as a manual for the ancient Israelite priesthood, outlining various laws, religious ceremonies, and ethical guidelines.
Who Wrote the Book of Numbers?
The Book of Numbers serves as a sequel to Exodus because it narrates the events and wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness after they escaped from Egypt. Moreover, Numbers also details the establishment of various laws, instructions for the Levitical priesthood, and regulations governing religious rituals, including offerings and the construction of the Tabernacle.
Who Wrote Deuteronomy?
Deuteronomy is the fifth and final book of the Pentateuch. It describes the final events before entering the Promised Land. It can be said that Deuteronomy is the last part of Moses’ story that began with the liberation of Israelites from Egypt. Deuteronomy is also significant for its emphasis on the Shema, a central confession of a monotheistic faith, and the presentation of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments).
The modern quest to understand the authorship of the Pentateuch took off in the 18th century with the rise of the so-called source criticism. Scholars led by Julius Wellhausen argued that there were four different sources behind the first five books of the Bible: the Yahwist, the Elohist, the Deuteronomist, and the Priestly source. In other words, at least four different authors stood behind the creation of these books.
However, recent scholarship suggested that ancient editors were neither writers of fiction nor rote copyists. Still, historians engaged in research, compositionally interweaving oral and written sources, adding marginal notes, and expanding. In the end, they were responsible for the wording themselves.
That’s important because if the final editor is even at that stage responsible for the wording, then from a certain perspective, the text is all too unified to do source criticism. The entire text, therefore, could be seen as the work of the last (unknown) editor.
But these issues are far from being answered. As R. Norman Whybray asserts in The Introduction to the Pentateuch: “There is at the present moment no consensus whatever about when, why, how, and through whom the Pentateuch reached its present form, and opinions about the dates of composition of its various parts differ by more than five hundred years.”
Multiple (unknown) authors
Multiple (unknown) authors
Multiple (unknown) authors
The Book of Numbers
Multiple (unknown) authors
Multiple (unknown) authors
Note that in the title, we referenced 36 authors of the books of the Bible. Since the scholarly attribution is often unknown, especially in the Old Testament, we chose to use the number of traditional authors for the title of this article. But please keep in mind that scholars debate this number.
Even a brief analysis of the Pentateuch in search for authors of the Bible indicates the complexity behind the creation of this captivating collection of books. How about the historical books of the Old Testament? How many people wrote that part of the Bible?
Who wrote the Historical Books? (Joshua to Esther)
The Book of Joshua presents a story of a lightning military campaign in the career of a single general, who conquers the cities of Canaan for Israel. But the plot goes all the way to the Babylonian exile, covering various military campaigns of the Israelites.
Who wrote the Book of Joshua? The Rabbinic tradition ascribed the book to Joshua - Moses’ companion and helper described in Exodus and Numbers. However, this conclusion has been rejected since John Calvin (16th century). Modern scholarship recognizes that the Book of Joshua is an anonymous work. In other words, the author never identified himself in the text.
Who Wrote Judges?
The Book of Judges continues the history of the Jews as described in Joshua. Consequently, it narrates new military campaigns and struggles until the establishment of the kingdom in the Book of Samuel. In this narrative, judges are the ones who lead the Israelites in battle and provide leadership and judgment during their respective periods of rule.
Who wrote the Book of Judges? In Jewish tradition, it’s thought that Samuel was the author. However, as no author is named in the text, Judges is assumed to be anonymous. His exact identity remains a mystery.
In his Commentary, Roger Ryan explains that the “author could be a historian, a theologian, a lawyer, or an editor. My preference is to refer to the author as a ‘storyteller’ because what we are reading is a collection of stories.”
Who Wrote the Book of Ruth?
This leads us to the Book of Ruth - a different kind of narrative. The Book of Ruth is a short and heartfelt narrative that showcases the power of love, faithfulness, and the unfolding of God's providence in the lives of ordinary individuals. Essentially, it’s a story about a woman named Ruth who accepted Jewish God, religion, and Jewish people.
Traditionally attributed to the prophet Samuel in the 11th century B.C.E., the Book of Ruth challenges this notion due to Ruth's status as a non-Israelite and the strong emphasis on the importance of embracing foreigners.
In contrast to tradition, "a general scholarly consensus, Jeremy Shipper writes, "holds that Ruth is mostly the product of a single author" whose identity is unknown. The exact date of composition remains a mystery, but one could, as Shipper explains, make a reasonable but still extremely tentative argument for the early Persian period (6.-5. Century B.C.E.) based on the cumulative evidence.
Who Wrote I & II Samuel?
The Books of Samuel (1 and 2 Samuel) belong within the genre of history. They tell the story of the transition from the period of the judges to the establishment of the Israelite monarchy under King Saul and King David. Historically speaking, these two books trace the career of Samuel—the last in a series of charismatic leaders, or judges, of the Old Testament.
Both of these books are traditionally ascribed to prophets Samuel, Gad, and Nathan. However, modern scholarship raised serious claims that both books were created by several anonymous authors who combined earlier sources with their editorial skills.
"The books of Samuel", Alan G. Auld notes in his Commentary, "are a work of creative genius—not by one great author, but by several."
Who Wrote I & II Kings?
The books of Kings represent the final chapters of a larger section of the Old Testament known as the Deuteronomistic History, which includes the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Samuel. The Book of Kings begins with the aging King David and his efforts to find a suitable successor and ends with the reign of King Ahab of Israel.
Who wrote the 1 and 2 Kings? As you can probably anticipate, the answer isn’t that easy to find. In terms of authorship, most scholars, Alice L. Laffey writes, agree that these books “originally existed in fragments written at different times by different people in different places.” In other words, we are again dealing with multiple anonymous authors behind the final product.
Who Wrote I & II Chronicles?
The books of Chronicles (1 and 2 Chronicles) complete the third part of the Jewish Tanakh. It’s full of genealogies and describes the history of the Jewish people from the life of Adam to the Edict of Cyrus in 539 B.C.E.
These books are traditionally ascribed to the 5th century B.C.E. Jewish priest and a scribe named Ezra. Some scholars support this conclusion based on the linguistic similarities between Chronicles and Ezra–Nehemiah. However, most scholars conclude that we can’t be sure about the exact identity of the author. "The issue of the authorship of Chronicles," notes Frederick J. Mabie, "is likely to remain an unsettled area of biblical scholarship."
Who Wrote the Book of Ezra?
The Book of Ezra provides an account of the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple. Jewish and Christian tradition holds that the author was the Jewish priest and scribe Ezra who also wrote Chronicles and Nehemiah.
John Barton and John Muddiman note that “modern scholarship has formed an uneasy consensus around the notion that Ezra and Nehemiah had their origin in two separate 'memoirs' from the two historical figures in £.460-440 BCE.” Recent scholarship is inclined to conclude that Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles have complicated histories of editions with many layers and possibly more than one author.
Who Wrote Nehemiah?
The Book of Nehemiah focuses on the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and the spiritual renewal of the Jewish community following their return from exile in Babylon. Regarding the authorship, Jewish and Christian traditions ascribe this work to Ezra.
It’s worth noting that in some rabbinic traditions, this book is thought to be written by Nehemiah who was then forbidden to claim the authorship because of his bad behavior toward others.
Who Wrote Esther?
The Book of Esther describes the story of a Jewish woman in Persia, born as Hadassah but known as Esther, who becomes queen of Persia and thwarts a genocide of her people. It emphasizes the themes of courage, faith, and divine providence. It highlights how an ordinary person, in this case, Esther, can rise to extraordinary circumstances and play a crucial role in the survival of her people.
Who wrote the Book of Esther? Traditionally, it has been attributed to Mordecai, who is a key character in the story and a relative of Esther. However, this attribution is not based on good historical grounds.
The authorship of the Book of Esther is unknown because the author never identified himself within the text. Moreover, we have no secure external attestations. Therefore, most critical scholars conclude, based on linguistic evidence, that the Book of Esther was written by an anonymous author either in the 4th or the 3rd century B.C.E.
Multiple (unknown) authors
Multiple (unknown) authors
Multiple (unknown) authors
Multiple (unknown) authors
Multiple (unknown) authors
Multiple (unknown) authors
Multiple (unknown) authors
Multiple (unknown) authors
Who wrote each book of the Bible? Our exploration already yielded some interesting results. The Bible was written by different authors living in different parts of the world. Sometimes, multiple authors were responsible for the creation of one book. Let’s turn our attention now to the wisdom and poetry books.
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Did Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John Actually Write Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?
The New Testament Gospels are anonymous. So why did early Christians say they were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? And what's the evidence that they actually did?
Who Wrote the Wisdom and Poetry Books? (Job to Song of Solomon)
The Book of Job is the first poetic work of the Old Testament. It’s known as a great narrative of Job’s life with the underlying question of how to resolve the existence of God with the problem of evil and suffering.
Traditionally, the Book of Job was attributed to Job - a righteous figure who lived in the 6th century B.C.E. However, modern scholars recognized the anonymity of the work. As is the case with so many books of the Bible, the author of the Book of Job isn’t known.
One common assumption is that an anonymous poet used an existing popular story as the framework for exploring the possibility of disinterested righteousness and the different answers to the problem of innocent suffering.
Who Wrote Psalms?
The Book of Psalms represents a profound anthology of Jewish religious hymns. The authorship of the Psalms is traditionally attributed to various individuals, primarily King David, along with other writers such as Asaph, the sons of Korah, and Solomon.
However, modern scholarship recognizes that the Psalms are a diverse collection, and their origins span several centuries. In other words, there is a collective and complex nature behind the composition of Psalms.
Who Wrote the Book of Proverbs?
The Book of Proverbs is a collection of wise sayings, maxims, and practical advice for living a righteous and morally upright life. Traditionally, it's attributed to King Solomon who was known for his profound wisdom.
However, critical scholars recognize the complexity behind the issue of authorship. The Oxford Bible Commentary notes: “While the major collections of Proverbs are assigned either directly (10:1) or indirectly (25:1) to Solomon, the remaining collections are ascribed to other 'authors'... If the Solomonic origin of some sayings should not be excluded, neither can it be demonstrated.”
Who Wrote Ecclesiastes?
The Book of Ecclesiastes is a philosophical and reflective work attributed to King Solomon. It explores the meaning of life, the nature of human existence, and the pursuit of wisdom and happiness.
Although the Jewish tradition believes that at the end of his life, Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, modern scholarship recognizes that the book was written much later.
Some scholars believe it was written during the Persian time (c. 450.-330. B.C.E.) while others are inclined to put Ecclesiastes in the Hellenistic time (c. 330.-180. B.C.E.). In any case, scholars agree that the book was written by an anonymous author long after King Solomon’s life.
Who Wrote the Song of Solomon?
The Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon, is a unique book in the Old Testament of the Bible. It’s a collection of lyrical poetry and love songs that celebrate the beauty of romantic and marital love.
Despite traditionally attributed authorship to King Solomon, biblical scholars agree that the book was written much later. Most experts believe that the book is the work of a later editor who added the mention of Solomon in the superscription, as well as in other passages of the book to amplify the importance and the authority of his text.
Multiple (unknown) authors
Multiple authors (perhaps Solomon as well)
Song of Solomon
Who Wrote the Major Prophets? (IsAiah to Daniel)
The issue of who wrote the Bible leads us to a collection of books within the category of major Jewish prophets. Let’s start with the most famous one!
Who Wrote Isaiah?
The Book of Isaiah is a prophetic book attributed to Isaiah who lived in the Kingdom of Judah during the 8th century B.C.E. Scholars believe that this work has three distinct movements. Each one has a specific historical context. The book as a whole is one piece, intentionally woven together around 520 BCE.
The three distinct movements are
In a nutshell, the composition of the Book of Isaiah reveals a complicated history with multiple authors.
Who Wrote the Book of Jeremiah?
The Book of Jeremiah is named after the prophet Jeremiah, and it contains a series of prophecies, oracles, and narratives that provide insight into the prophet's life and his messages to the people of Judah.
The Jewish tradition believes that the prophet Jeremiah (c. 650.-570. B.C.E.) was the author. However, modern scholars hold a more complicated view. According to most experts, some material goes back to the Jewish prophet, but others were added later. Although, it has to be noted that some scholars believe that the core text from Jeremiah is forever lost.
Who Wrote Lamentations?
This leads us to the Book of Lamentations which is a collection of poetic laments and mournful expressions of grief over the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish people. It's traditionally attributed to the prophet Jeremiah as a narrative that captures the profound grief and sorrow over the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BCE.
However, modern scholarship has concluded that the Book of Lamentations represents a collection of stories written throughout the Babylonian captivity.
In his Commentary, Robin B. Salters asks the question which summarizes the opinion of modern scholars: "If we abandon Jeremian authorship, we might ask why we should think in terms of a single author for a collection of poems that make no claims as regards authorship. If the book of Psalms, once thought to be the work of David, can be thought of as a collection of poems by various writers, why not the collection we call Lamentations?"
Who Wrote Ezekiel?
The Book of Ezekiel represents a significant and complex prophetic work with a unique blend of prophecies, visions, and symbolic actions. A prominent theme in Ezekiel is the "glory of the Lord" (or "Shekinah"), representing the divine presence. The prophet sees the glory of God in various visions and encounters. He describes the divine throne, heavenly creatures, and the presence of God.
The book claims to be written by the prophet Ezekiel who lived during the Babylonian exile that began in the first part of the 6th century B.C.E. However, the Jews in antiquity debated whether the book should be admitted to the canon of the Scripture. The rabbinic tradition concluded that the “Man of Great Assembly” (120 prophets) wrote the book based on Ezekiel’s words.
Modern scholarship disagrees with that assessment. As Micheal Coogan explains: “Previous generations of scholars often attributed much of the book to a series of disciples and editors… Many scholars today, however, are less radical and attribute most of the book’s contents to the prophet.
Who Wrote the Book of Daniel?
The Book of Daniel is known for its blend of historical narrative and apocalyptic prophecy. It's the only apocalyptic book of the Old Testament.
It begins with the story of Daniel and his companions who are taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon during the Babylonian conquest. The Book of Daniel is also filled with visions and prophecies that Daniel allegedly saw about the future of the Jewish people.
The book is traditionally attributed to the prophet Daniel - a young Jewish man who was taken into exile in Babylon (6th century B.C.E.). However, critical scholars reject the traditional theory. They believe that the Book of Daniel was created in the 2nd century B.C.E. based on the earlier collections of Aramaic court tales.
Multiple authors (perhaps Isaiah as well)
Unknown author (perhaps part of the material goes back to Jeremiah)
Multiple (unknown) authors
Ezekiel/”Man of Great Assembly”
Who wrote the Minor Prophets (Hosea to Malachi)
As we delve more into the issue of who wrote the Bible, we come to the cluster of books known as the “minor prophets”. Let’s see what can we know about the authors of the Bible here.
Who Wrote Hosea?
The Book of Hosea is the first book in the category of minor prophets from the Old Testament canon. The story is set around the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The narrative can be understood as a grand metaphor for the relationship between the Jews and their God. To put it more bluntly, Hosea's personal experience of the unfaithfulness of his wife Gomer is a metaphor for Israel's unfaithfulness to God.
The Jewish tradition attributes the work to the prophet Hosea who allegedly lived in the 8th century B.C.E. However, critical scholars disagree and the exact authorship remains uncertain. "Most critics," Francis Landy writes, "regard the text as having grown by accretion, and distinguish between the words of the historical Hosea and those of his epigones."
Who Wrote the Book of Joel?
The Book of Joel is a prophetic and relatively short book with a strong focus on themes of repentance, God's judgment, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It begins with a description of a locust plague that struck the land of Judah and it ends with a vision of the restoration and prosperity of Judah.
Traditionally it’s regarded as the book that the prophet Joel the son of Pethuel wrote. However, it’s hard to know anything more about him. Most scholars think that he lived in the middle of the fourth century BCE, but their arguments are open to criticism. Others, however, believe that the author by that name lived around 600 B.C.E.
Who Wrote Amos?
The Book of Amos is a prophetic narrative that contains messages of social justice, moral righteousness, and warnings of divine judgment. It’s traditionally attributed to Amos who was a prophet in the 8th century B.C.E. before Assyria’s conquest of Israel.
The majority position among the scholars is that the work is based on the eighth-century stratum of judgment oracles against Samaria that has been progressively expanded, particularly by a pro-Judean, anti-Bethel redaction in the seventh century, and an idealistically hopeful redaction in post-exilic times.
Other scholars believe that the received text is essentially a post-exilic literary work, produced, in the form in which we have it now, during the Persian or early Hellenistic period (6th-4th century B.C.E.). In that case, the Book of Amos contains almost nothing of the historical prophet Amos.
Who Wrote Obadiah?
The Book of Obadiah is one of the shortest books in the Old Testament of the Bible, consisting of only one chapter. It’s attributed to the prophet Obadiah and is primarily focused on a prophecy concerning the nation of Edom
We are not sure when this prophet lived, but most scholars date the work to the 6th century B.C.E. The difficulty is that this short work doesn’t contain any personal information about the Obadiah or a specific historical context that could help us with the issue of authorship.
Who Wrote the Book of Johah?
The Book of Jonah is one of the shorter prophetic books in the Old Testament of the Bible, and it's often classified as a narrative rather than a traditional prophetic work. It tells the story of the prophet Jonah and his reluctant mission to the city of Nineveh.
Although it’s traditionally attributed to the prophet Jonah who is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25, the majority of scholars date this work to the post-exilic period between the 5th and 4th century B.C.E.
Who Wrote Micah?
The Book of Micah is a prophetic work that conveys messages of social justice, moral teachings, and prophecies. It's known as the book which contains the prediction that a future Messiah would be born in Bethlehem - an important element that both Matthew and Luke used as they wrote Jesus' infancy stories.
Jewish tradition holds that the author of the book was a prophet Micah who lived in the 8th century B.C.E. However, as in many other cases within the story of the Bible, the majority of scholars have come to different conclusions. A communis opinio sets the Book of Micah in the post-exilic period - probably in the early 5th century B.C.E.
Who Wrote Nahum?
As a prophetic work, the Book of Nahum primarily focuses on the impending judgment and downfall of the Assyrian empire, particularly the capital city, Nineveh.
Tradition holds that the author was the prophet Nahum. Scholarship agrees with that attribution, but nothing else is known about him. Michael Coogan notes that the Book of Nahum was written at the end of the 7th century B.C.E. when the destruction of Nineveh happened.
Who Wrote the Book of Habakkuk?
Among all of the prophetic books of the Old Testament, the Book of Habakkuk is unique because it consists of a dialogue between the prophet Habakkuk and God, addressing questions about God's justice and the suffering of the righteous.
Traditionally, it’s ascribed to the prophet Habakkuk. Unlike the other prophetic works of the Old Testament, the Book of Habakkuk doesn’t contain any superscription that would tell us more about the identity of this prophet. Based on internal information, scholars believe that Habakkuk wrote it after the Fall of Nineveh (612 B.C.E.) but before the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.
Who Wrote Zephaniah?
The Book of Zephaniah is another prophetic book primarily concerned with messages of judgment, repentance, and hope. It’s also known because of the judgment against Judah for its idolatry, wickedness, and complacency.
It's traditionally attributed to the prophet Zephaniah who lived in the later part of the 7th century B.C.E. Unfortunately, we don't have enough information about him. Consequently, scholars are divided. Some believe that the whole work derives from his pen while others assert that the text as we have is the product of multiple authors.
Who Wrote Haggai?
The Book of Haggai is another prophetic work in the Old Testament. It’s a call to the people to rebuild the Temple of the Lord, which had been in ruins for many years. The Jewish tradition believes that the author was a prophet Haggai who lived at the end of the 6th century B.C.E.
Most scholars agree with that assessment, but others, because of the third-person narration, opt in favor of an unknown disciple of Haggai as the real author of the book.
Who Wrote the Book of Zechariah?
The Book of Zechariah is one of the longest prophetic books and contains a diverse range of prophecies, visions, and messages. Traditionally, it's ascribed to a prophet Zechariah who lived at the turn of the 6th to the 5th century B.C.E.
However, the majority of scholars see a more complex picture. To put it more bluntly, modern scholarship revealed at least two different post-Zechariah authors:
Our exploration into the authors of the Bible led us to the last book within the category of minor prophets. It’s the Book of Malachi - a prophetic work that consists of a series of messages and dialogues between the prophet Malachi and the people, with a focus on issues related to worship, priesthood, and moral conduct.
Interestingly enough, the Jewish and Christian tradition holds that the prophet Ezra was the author of the Book of Malachi. However, the consensus of critical scholars is that the author is unknown. There is not enough historical information within the text to know anything more about the author of this book.
Joel/Unknown later author
Zephaniah/Multiple (unknown) authors
Multiple (unknown) authors
How many people wrote the Bible? As we can see based on our analysis of the Old Testament books, the Bible was written by a lot of (often unknown) individuals. Some books are the product of the compositional process that took decades, even centuries, and involved several people.
But our journey isn’t over just yet! It continues as we approach the New Testament or the Christian part of the Bible. We are now entering the first two centuries of Christianity!
Who Wrote the Gospels and Acts? (Mark to John)
The Gospels are theologically motivated biographies of Jesus. In other words, they are a mixed bag of history, legend, and myth. Only after a careful (scholarly) examination of the Gospels, one can uncover the historical Jesus.
There are four Gospels in the Bible: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. The first three (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) are typically called “Synoptics” because they tell many of the same stories - often verbatim. But the thing all four Gospels agree on is that Jesus was a Jew.
Who Wrote the Gospel of Mark?
In the Christian tradition, the earliest Gospel is attributed to Peter’s companion Mark who is often identified with John Mark mentioned in several New Testament books. It describes the life and death of Jesus from a strong apocalyptic perspective.
However, modern scholarship disagrees with the traditional theory of authorship. Most critical scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark was written anonymously by a Gentile Christian who lived outside of Palestine. When was Mark written? Probably around the year 70 C.E. There are, however, some scholars who believe that Mark was written a couple of decades earlier, but that theory was never accepted among the majority of experts in the field.
Who Wrote Luke?
Similarly, the Gospel of Luke is traditionally attributed to Paul’s traveling companion Luke who is mentioned in several New Testament epistles. The same tradition holds that Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostle as well. In it, he described the spread of the first Christian community.
However, most historians think that both works were also written by an anonymous Gentile Christian or Helenized Jew living outside of Palestine.
The titles (e.g. The Gospel of Luke) of the Gospels, as noted by Dr. Ehrman in Jesus Interrupted, were added decades later “by editors and scribes to inform readers who the editors thought were the authorities behind the different versions.”
Who Wrote the Gospel of Matthew?
According to the Church tradition, the Gospel of Matthew was written by Jesus’ apostle and tax collector Matthew. But critical scholars have shown why that isn’t the case. The real author is unknown. He wrote his account between 80 and 90 C.E. while looking back at the aftermaths of the Jewish revolt. Matthew is the most Jewish of all the canonical Gospels and it presents Jesus through the typology of Moses. But the author never identified himself and there is no way to know his exact identity.
Who Wrote the Book of John?
The last canonical gospel is John. The Gospel of John presents a different picture of Jesus. It’s the only gospel in which Jesus is openly claiming his divine status. It’s been traditionally ascribed to the apostle John, son of Zebedee. John is mentioned in all four gospels as one of the earliest Jesus’ followers. Again, modern scholarship has rejected the traditional theory.
We don’t know the name of the author. However, based on internal evidence and the lack of external attestation, it’s highly unlikely that the author of the last canonical gospel was Jesus’ disciple John.
Are you ready to dive even further into the authorship of the Gospels? Would you like to know what historians think? Join a free lecture by Dr. Bart D. Ehrman! As a renowned historian of early Christianity, Bart will provide you with all the necessary information about the authorship of the Gospels.
As we move forward through the rich tapestry of captivating books and stories, the issue of who wrote the Bible becomes even more interesting! Let’s now look at the so-called Pauline epistles!
Who Wrote THE Pauline epistles? (Thessalonians to Titus)
Every journey into the “Who wrote the Bible” issue has to recognize the immense importance of the apostle Paul. Out of the 13 epistles that claim to be written by Paul, seven are undisputed. Let’s take a look at each of those.
Who Wrote I Thessalonians?
The First Epistle to the Thessalonians was written around 50 C.E. to a community of Christians in modern-day Greece. In it, Paul deals with several problems that threaten the stability of the congregation.
In essence, 1 Thessalonians serves as a source of encouragement and guidance for early Christians, addressing their questions and concerns about the return of Christ and the fate of believers who have passed away.
Who Wrote the Book of Romans?
The Epistle to Romans, as Dr. Ehrman observes in The New Testament, is the only work that can give us the systematical theology of the apostle Paul. It’s written for a community of Christians living in the capital city of the Empire.
The central theme of Romans is the concept of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul insists that justification before God comes through faith in the resurrection of Jesus. For Paul faith, Dr. Ehrman notes, refers to a trusting acceptance of God’s act of salvation. Moreover, Paul uses the example of Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, to illustrate his point.
Who Wrote I & II Corinthians?
The First Epistle to the Corinthians was written for a community of Christians, but the one in Corinth - a city in modern-day Greece. In this letter, Paul emphasizes the importance of unity between the Christians.
German New Testament scholar Gerd Theissen analyzed in detail the social context of 1 Corinthians. It seems that division and disunity within the Corinthian church was the main problem. The Corinthians had formed factions around different leaders, such as Paul, Apollos, and Cephas.
Furthermore, the rich members of the community separated themselves from the rest. Paul, however, argued that the unity of the church should be in Christ, not in human leaders, and that at gatherings (Eucharist) all Christians should be equal.
If you ever attended a wedding in the Church there is a good chance you heard the words that Paul wrote to a community in Corinth. The famous “Love Hymn” comes from the 1 Corinthians. It's considered one of the most eloquent and profound descriptions of love in the Bible. These profound words of love begin with: “Love is patient, love is kind…” I’m sure you know the rest!
The Second Epistle to the Corinthians serves as a continuation of Paul's correspondence with the community in Corinth and addresses various topics and concerns.
A significant portion of 2 Corinthians is dedicated to Paul's defense of his apostleship and ministry. He responds to challenges and criticisms from some members of the Corinthian church who questioned his authority and qualifications as an apostle.
Interestingly enough, a lot of scholars believe that 2 Corinthians were originally two different Paul’s letters. The unknown scribe or editor put them together into a single document.
Who Wrote the Letter to the Galatians?
The Epistle to the Galatians is written to the Christian communities in the region of Galatia (modern-day Turkey). The central theme of Galatians is freedom in Christ and justification by faith. Furthermore, Paul addressed the issue of legalism.
It looks like some Jewish Christians came to Galatia advocating for the necessity of circumcision and strict adherence to the Jewish law for Gentile believers. Paul vehemently opposes this teaching, asserting that faith in the resurrected Christ is sufficient for both Jews and Gentiles.
Who Wrote the Book of Philippians?
The Epistle to the Philippians was written for a Christian community in Philippi (modern-day Greece). It’s often considered to be Paul’s most personal letter. Despite being written while he was in prison, Philippians is full of joy and hope.
Paul expresses his joy for the Philippian believers and encourages them to rejoice in the Lord always. Furthermore, he emphasizes the importance of unity within the Christian community. Paul encourages the Philippian believers to agree, have the same love, and be of one accord.
Who Wrote Philemon?
The Epistle to Philemon is unique among Paul's writings because it’s a personal letter addressed to a specific individual, Philemon.
The central themes of Philemon are reconciliation and forgiveness. The letter focuses on a specific situation involving three individuals: Philemon, a Christian slave owner; Onesimus, a slave who had run away from Philemon and come into contact with Paul; and Paul himself, who writes on behalf of Onesimus.
The Undisputed Letters of Paul
These epistles (1 Thessalonians, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon) are called the undisputed letters of Paul. Both the Church tradition and critical scholarship agree that the apostle Paul wrote these letters.
The reasons are complicated and outside the scope of this post. In a nutshell, there are several key arguments for Paul’s authorship of the seven undisputed letters:
The other six disputed letters fall into two groups of three:
Let’s continue our exploration into the authors of the Bible by looking more closely at the so-called Deutero-Pauline Epistles.
Who Wrote II Thessalonians? (HINT: It May Not Have Been Paul!)
2 Thessalonians is imagined as a follow-up to the First Epistle to the Thessalonians and addresses various theological and eschatological concerns. The letter addresses eschatological concerns and the anticipation of the return of Christ. It serves to provide comfort, guidance, and exhortation to the Thessalonian believers as they navigate these eschatological mysteries.
2 Thessalonians is traditionally attributed to the apostle Paul. The author even claims (as in all the other “Pauline” epistles) explicitly to be Paul. However, critical scholars believe that the letter was forged by an unknown author who tried to improve the authority and position of his work.
One argument against the tradition is a clear discrepancy between the theology of the 1 and 2 Thessalonians. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul emphatically claims that the end is imminent. Christ will soon be back. However, the author of the 2 Thessalonians asserts the opposite.
Who Wrote the Book of Colossians?
The Epistle to the Colossians was written for a community in Colossae (modern-day Turkey). The central theme of Colossians is the supremacy and preeminence of Jesus Christ. The author, who claims to be Paul, emphasizes that Christ is the image of the invisible God and holds all creation together.
Who Wrote the Epistle to the Ephesians?
The Epistle to the Ephesians was also written for a community in modern-day Turkey but for those living in Ephesus. However, scholars such as Bart D. Ehrman believe that the reference to "the saints who are in Ephesus (1:1)" is a later interpolation.
Concerning the content, Ephesians is a letter that focuses on the themes of spiritual blessings, unity in the Church, God's plan for Jews and Gentiles, and practical guidance for Christian living.
Both of these letters are traditionally attributed to the apostle Paul. However, scholarship is divided on this issue. A good number of experts assert that both of these letters were also forged by an unknown author.
One argument in favor of skepticism is related to the style of writing. The Letter to the Ephesians contains six chapters, nine sentences exceeding 50 words each. However, Paul only wrote nine such sentences in all his authentic letters. In other words, the style in Ephesians is not how Paul wrote.
The examination of who wrote the Bible has led us to the last three letters in the New Testament that claim to be written by the apostle Paul. These are the so-called Pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus). Let’s begin by presenting a summary of each letter.
Who Wrote I & II Timothy?
1 and 2 Timothy are traditionally attributed to the apostle Paul and addressed to Timothy, a young Christian leader and coworker of Paul. Essentially, 1 Timothy provides pastoral instructions and guidance for church leadership, while 2 Timothy is more personal and focuses on exhortations to remain faithful, endure hardships, and pass on the faith. Both letters contain valuable insights into leadership within the early Christian community.
Who Wrote the Book of Titus?
The Epistle to Titus is addressed to Titus, a trusted coworker of Paul, and it guides his ministry on the island of Crete. In summary, Titus is a pastoral letter that guides church leadership and Christian living (hence the name “Pastoral). It emphasizes the importance of sound doctrine, moral conduct, and the avoidance of divisive teachings.
Despite the traditionally attributed authorship, no scholar to my knowledge believes that the Pastoral epistles were written by the apostle Paul. The writing style, theology, and historical context are radically different from what we have in Paul’s undisputed letters. Furthermore, the structure of the Church that Pastoral epistles presuppose points toward the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd century.
Gerald L. Bray, therefore, notes in his Commentary on Pastoral Epistles that the “prevailing scholarly consensus is to reject their Pauline origin and to assign them to a post-apostolic source.”
After our journey into the Pauline epistles, we came to the so-called catholic epistles. What can these epistles reveal about the issue of who wrote the Bible?
Who Wrote the Catholic Epistles? (James to Jude)
These epistles are called "catholic" because they have a more general or universal (catholic) audience, as opposed to being addressed to specific individuals or congregations. The Catholic epistles are:
Let’s delve into the authors of the Bible by looking more closely at these epistles!
Who Wrote the Book of James?
The Epistle of James is a practical and moralistic letter that offers guidance on various aspects of Christian living. A central theme of James is the relationship between faith and works. The author emphasizes that genuine faith should manifest in righteous actions and good deeds - quite a contrast from Paul's teachings in Romans.
This letter is traditionally attributed to James, the brother of Jesus and a leader of the early Christian community in Jerusalem. However, critical scholars are unsure whether this tradition represents the historical reality. There are experts on both sides of the debate.
Dale C. Allison's Commentary on the Epistle of James offers probably the most thorough examination of all the available data. Ultimately, he concludes that the arguments against the traditionally ascribed authorship to St. James are more compelling and persuasive.
"What counts most strongly," John Painter notes, "against the recognition of the epistle as a work of James the brother of Jesus is that it was unattested until 180 C.E. when Irenaeus quoted James 2:23."
Who Wrote I & II Peter?
1 and 2 Peter are traditionally attributed to the apostle Peter. In terms of content, 1 Peter addresses the themes of suffering, holiness, submission, and the call to live as God's people in the world. 2 Peter focuses on spiritual growth, the dangers of false teaching, the promise of Christ's return, and the need for vigilance in the face of deception.
Despite the Christian tradition, scholars doubt that the apostle Peter wrote these letters. Based on everything we know about education in 1st century Palestine, it’s doubtful that the poor fisherman from Galilee like Peter would be able to write anything.
The majority of critical scholars believe that these two letters were forged in the name of Peter. As M. Gielen explains: “This assessment is based on various observations whose bundling argumentative weight can be described as overwhelming.”
Who Wrote I, II, & III John?
The three Epistles of John, often referred to as 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John are traditionally attributed to the apostle John who is often misidentified with Jesus’ beloved disciple. Regarding the content, 1 John emphasizes fellowship with God, love, obedience, and assurance of salvation while addressing the presence of antichrists and false teaching.
2 John asserts the importance of walking in the truth of Christ's teachings and love. It also warns against false teachers and heretics. 3 John commends those who support faithful workers in the Christian community, while also highlighting the negative actions of an individual named Diotrephes.
In contrast to the Church’s tradition, critical scholarship believes that the apostle John almost certainly didn’t write these epistles. After all, John and Peter are explicitly called “unlettered” in Acts 4:13. In other words, they were illiterate.
Following the work of Raymond Brown, the majority of scholars assert that unknown members of the “Johannine community” wrote these works. Other scholars, however, challenge the existence of the “Johannine community” and assert that 1, 2, and 3 John were written by different anonymous authors who didn’t belong to the same community.
Who Wrote the Epistle of Jude?
The Epistle of Jude is a brief and powerful letter traditionally attributed to Jude, the brother of James and Jesus (Mk 6:3). In terms of themes and points of view, Jude emphasizes the need to "contend for the faith" or earnestly defend and uphold the true Christian faith against false teachings and heretical influences.
Critical scholars agree that the person behind this letter is Jude. But is it Jude, the brother of Jesus? Here we enter into the realm of endless scholarly debates and uncertainties.
William F. Brosend, on the one hand, writes that “there is no good reason not to accept the letter of Jude as coming from the brother of James.” On the other hand, Delbert Burkett concludes that some “later Jude may have written the letter, but more likely a later writer merely used the name of Jude, the brother of Jesus, to lend authority to the letter.”
The fact that both of these studies were published by the same respected publishing house (Cambridge University Press) illustrates the level of uncertainty among critical scholars. The most we can say is that Jude wrote it. Who exactly was this Jude remains a mystery.
James, the brother of Jesus
Jude, the brother of Jesus
Jude/Jude, the brother of Jesus/Unknown author
Who Wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews?
The Epistle to the Hebrews is addressed to Hebrew Christians or Jewish believers who had converted to Christianity. These early Jewish Christians were familiar with the Old Testament and Jewish religious practices.
The primary purpose of Hebrews is to encourage and exhort Jewish Christians to remain faithful to their Christian faith. The author emphasizes the importance of the new covenant established by Jesus' redemptive death and resurrection.
Unlike most letters in the New Testament, the author of the Hebrews never identifies himself in the text. The Christian tradition eventually attributed it to the apostle Paul. However, critical scholars are in virtual agreement that Paul didn’t write Hebrews.
Robert P. Gordon summarizes the status quaestionis: "Little can be gleaned about him beyond that he was male, and that he wrote in a style different from that of Paul."
The Epistle to the Hebrews
We began our exploration into the authors of the Bible with Genesis and the famous story of creation. After more than 8,000 words and nine chapters, we are close to the finish line. Let’s end our “who wrote the Bible” discussion with the work that so vividly speaks about Armageddon, Judgment Day, and the end of the world! It’s time to turn our focus on the Book of Revelation.
Who Wrote the Book of Revelation?
The Book of Revelation is the final book of the New Testament in the Bible. It’s a highly symbolic and visionary work traditionally attributed to the apostle John. In summary, the Book of Revelation is a complex and highly symbolic work that describes apocalyptic visions, prophesies the final victory of Christ over evil, and portrays the ultimate fulfillment of God's plan for the world.
Unlike the Gospel of John, the author of Revelation identifies himself simply as John (1:1) who composed his narrative while living on the island of Patmos. Dr. Bart Ehrman notes that “based on what our John says elsewhere in the Book of Revelation, he appears to have been some
kind of regional spiritual leader, a prophet.”
But, he almost certainly wasn’t the apostle John who was an illiterate fisherman from Galilee. In other words, virtually all scholars agree that the apostle John didn’t write Revelation.
Delbert Burkett concludes: “Most scholars today, therefore, attribute the Revelation and the Gospel to different authors, neither of which was the apostle John.”
The Book of Revelation
John of Patmos
Who Wrote the Bible? Conclusion
In the quest to unravel the mysteries surrounding "Who wrote the Bible," we've embarked on a journey through time and tradition, exploring the intricate tapestry of the Scriptures that have shaped the foundations of faith and belief for countless generations.
How many people wrote the Bible? The authors of the Bible are as diverse as the narratives they have penned. They hail from different epochs, geographic regions, and cultural contexts.
From Genesis to Revelation, the traditional and scholarly theories we've encountered have led us down numerous avenues of inquiry. Tradition ascribes authorship to the likes of Moses, David, Isaiah, Mark, Luke, and others, while modern scholarship sheds light on the complexities of authorship, editing, and compilation over the centuries.
NOW AVAILABLE! THE UNKNOWN GOSPELS
A closer look at the Gospels from a scholarly perspective. How do we do when the Gospels were written? Why do scholars think Matthew and Luke copied Mark? And much more...