Who Wrote the Bible and When?
We’ll get to the specifics of who wrote what and when below, but first, here’s an observation about one of the most amazing features of the Bible: it was written by more than forty authors over a period of 1600 years, and yet maintains consistency and unity of message that cannot be questioned. How did God pull that off?
The key to understanding the unity of content in the Bible is to understand that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (II Timothy 3:16). That is, none of the authors simply wrote what they felt like writing. They wrote by the inspiration of God.
I have often wondered how the various authors were inspired. Dreams? Visions? A little tape recorder in their ears? It was probably different with each person, but we know this for sure: each author wrote by the inspiration of God.
For example, the photo presented here is Rembrandt’s idea of inspiration. It is his 1661 oil on canvas entitled St. Matthew and an Angel. An angel is whispering to Matthew as he writes his gospel. In reality, is this how it happened? We do not know, but we can certainly appreciate anything Rembrandt painted.
Here I am offering a timeline of sorts that lays out the basics of who wrote what and when.
The Old Testament Historical Writings
The order in which the historical books of the Bible were written roughly follows the history of the Jewish people. The earliest books are from the earliest period of Jewish history, etc.
The Pentateuch, or the first five books, are often called the Books of Moses because Moses wrote them. He most likely wrote them during Israel’s forty-year wandering in the wilderness, approximately 1445-1405 BC.
The rest of the historical books, Joshua – Esther, take us from the entry into the promised land to the captivity in Babylon.
Presumably, Joshua himself wrote the Book of Joshua. Historians believe that Samuel, the last judge in Israel, wrote the books of Judges and Ruth. Since he died in the middle of I Samuel he couldn’t have written I and II Samuel. We assume that contemporary scribes and historians compiled these books using material from Samuel and the prophets of the time. The same principle applies to I and II Kings.
I and II Chronicles provide a reprise of the books of II Samuel and the Kings. Many scholars believe that Ezra wrote these books to encourage the people after they returned from captivity in Babylon.
Ezra and Nehemiah wrote their books at the end of the Babylonian captivity, and they tell about the resettlement in Jerusalem.
Many scholars believe that Esther’s uncle Mordecai wrote the book of Esther.
The Old Testament Poetical Writings
Job is a mystery book of sorts. Nobody is certain who wrote it or when. Most consider it to be one of the earliest books, possibly even preceding the Books of Moses.
Of the 150 Psalms, King David wrote nearly half them. His contemporaries, mainly Asaph and Korah, wrote many Psalms, and about 50 Psalms have unknown authors. Most of the Psalms were written during King David’s reign.
Most scholars believe that King Solomon wrote Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon during his reign. In the case of Proverbs, Solomon was the principal author, but the last two chapters were written by Agur and Lemuel.
Lamentations is thought to have been written by Jeremiah sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.
The Old Testament Prophetical Writings
The Major Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel wrote their books in that order during the periods before and during the Babylonian captivity. The twelve Minor Prophets cover roughly the same period except for the last three. Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi wrote their prophecies after the return from Babylon.
The entire New Testament was written in the second half of the first century, AD, by 8 different men. The gospel writers were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Luke also wrote Acts. The Apostle Paul wrote 13 letters. Peter, James, John and Jude also wrote letters and John wrote Revelation. John wrote five books in total. Nobody knows who wrote the book of Hebrews.
To sum up…
By way of summary, the Old Testament was written over a period of 1000 years by the following men. History writers: Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Mordecai, and various historians. Poetry writers: David, Asaph, Korah, Solomon, Agur and Lemuel. Prophets: 4 major prophets and 12 minor prophets. Total OT writers: 28 plus the unknown author of Job and various scribes and historians.
There were 500 years of silence between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The New Testament was written over a period of 40-50 years during the last half of the first century, AD, by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, and Jude. Total NT writers: 7 plus the unknown author of Hebrews.
The entire Bible was written over a period of 1,600 years by 28 known Old Testament authors, 7 New Testament authors plus the 2 unknown authors of Job and Hebrews. This adds up to 37 authors. When we add in an unknown number of scribes and historians who also contributed, we have well over 40 authors.