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Who Wrote the Old Testament? Part 2 of 6 | Answering Big Questions About the Old Testament

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This question, in many ways, is the most important question we will answer. How we answer this question in a very real sense determines how we will answer the remaining questions in this blog series. Therefore, it is very important that we consider this question with the utmost seriousness because in it we are determining our personal opinion of the degree to which the Bible is both perfect and authoritative.

On one hand, the Old Testament is written by various human authors, and it clearly tells us who they were. Examples include David writing various psalms,5 Moses writing all but the closing of the first five books of the Old Testament, also known as the Pentateuch or Law,6 Joshua writing the book bearing his name,7 Solomon writing Ecclesiastes,8 Nehemiah writing the book bearing his name,9 Daniel writing the book bearing his name,10 Ezekiel writing the book bearing his name,11 Jeremiah writing the book bearing his name,12 Isaiah writing the book bearing his name,13 and Habakkuk writing the book bearing his name,14 to only list a few. Other books of the Old Testament were spoken by a prophet while a trained scribe wrote down what was said. By way of contemporary analogy, this method is akin to a judge who speaks while presiding over a trial and has a trained stenographer faithfully record every word that he speaks for legal and historical record. For a good example of this kind of Old Testament writing, perhaps the best place to read is Jeremiah 36. Therefore, on one hand the Scripture itself is clear that various human authors were used to record the words that fill the pages of our Bible.

On the other hand, the human authors of Scripture are not the only authors of Scripture. God communicated through the authors of Scripture in a real and miraculous way so that his divine truth could be perfectly communicated through men. The divine and human authorship of Scripture is very much like Jesus himself, who was both fully God and fully man. God the Father chose to work through the humanity of Jesus to reveal himself to us in a manner akin to how he had previously revealed himself to us as God through the men who wrote the Old Testament.

Furthermore, the Old Testament is clear that God spoke through his prophets,15 and so what the prophet said in God’s name was what God said. The Old Testament prophets through whom God gave us the Scriptures state this fact clearly. The phrase “thus says the Lord” is repeated hundreds of times throughout the Old Testament by God’s messengers. Other similar statements about prophets speaking by divine authority appear, according to some scholars, as many as thirty-eight hundred times throughout the Old Testament. The prophets were well aware that in particular moments of divine revelation given to them by God the Holy Spirit, they were in fact speaking the very words of God himself. In some ways, the prophet was God’s megaphone.16 Therefore, to reject what a prophet had said was to reject what God had commanded.17

The belief that God wrote Scripture in concert with human authors whom he inspired to perfectly record his words is called verbal plenary inspiration. Very simply, this means that God the Holy Spirit inspired not just the thoughts of Scripture, but also the very details and exact words that were perfectly recorded for us as Scripture. Jesus himself echoed this truth when he said that because God gave us Scripture, it could not be broken.18

The Old Testament itself teaches this by stressing how important the exact words of divinely inspired Scripture are:

  •  “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”19
  • “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”20
  • “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.”21

Furthermore, when the New Testament reflects back upon the Old Testament, it is very clear that Scripture is unlike anything else that has or ever will be written; it alone is divinely inspired by God the Holy Spirit and perfect, despite the fact that it was penned by human authors through whom God chose to speak. The following New Testament verses are clear examples that this doctrine comes from what Scripture itself plainly states:

  • “The prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”22
  •  “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”23
  • “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”24

Therefore, the answer to the question, who wrote the Old Testament? is that God wrote the Old Testament through human authors whom God the Holy Spirit inspired to perfectly pen his truth. Subsequently, Christians believe that Scripture is our highest authority, or metaphorical Supreme Court, by which all other lesser authorities are tested. Practically, this means that lesser courts of reason, tradition, and culture are under the highest court of truth, which is divinely inspired Scripture. During the Protestant Reformation, the slogans sola Scriptura and prima Scriptura became popular to summarize this conviction; they mean Scripture alone is our highest authority. This should not be confused with solo Scriptura, which is the erroneous belief that truth is only to be found in Scripture and nowhere else. Scripture itself tells us that God reveals truth to us in such things as creation and our consciences, but that the beliefs we may subscribe to from such forms of lesser revelation are to be tested by Scripture. The Old Testament models this for us when it does occasionally quote other books such as the book of Jashar25 and the Book of the Wars of the Lord.26 In quoting them, the Bible is not saying that they should be included as sacred Scripture but  rather that they do contain some helpful truth. Practically speaking, this means that a mechanic, doctor, or computer programmer may not consult Leviticus to turn a brake drum, perform open heart surgery, or make an addition to a Linux program, but these experts do possess some helpful truths that, if not forbidden or contradicted by Scripture, are to be gladly received for our benefit.

Having established that Scripture is our highest and most perfect authority and source for truth, we will now examine how the Old Testament speaks of itself in the next post.

4 Ex. 34:6–7.

5 For example, Psalms 3:1, 4:1, 5:1, 6:1, 7:1, 8:1, 9:1, and so forth.

6 Ex. 17:14; Deut. 31:24–26.

7 Josh. 24:26.

8 Eccl. 1:1.

9 Neh. 1:1.

10 Dan. 7:1.

11 Ezek. 43:10–11.

12 Jer. 30:2.

13 Isa. 8:1; 30:8.

14 Hab. 2:2.

15 1 Kings 14:18; 16:12, 34; 2 Kings 9:36; 14:25; Jer. 37:2; Zech. 7:7, 12.

16 1 Kings 13:21, 26; 21:19; 2 Kings 9:25–26; Hag. 1:12, cf. 1 Sam. 15:3, 18.

17 Deut. 18:19; 1 Sam. 10:8; 13:13–14; 15:3, 19, 23; 1 Kings 20:35–36.

18 Matt. 5:18; Luke 16:17; John 10:35.

19 Ex. 19:6.

20 Deut. 32:46–47.

21 Prov. 30:5–6.

22 1 Pet. 1:10–12.

23 2 Tim. 3:16–17.

24 2 Pet. 1:20–21.

25 Josh. 10:13; 2 Sam. 1:18.

26 Num. 21:14.

The content for this post was originally published in the book “On the Old Testament” that is out of print until it is revised and rereleased.