Who Wrote the Bible? (Part 2)

Who Wrote The Bible

Who wrote the Bible?

In the first part of our new series entitled “Who wrote the Bible?” we explored the human authors of the Old Testament. With this post let’s turn our attention to the writers of the New Testament.

In order to keep everything balanced, we developed an infographic on the composition of the New Testament (similar to the one we developed for the Old Testament), linked to first century history.

New Testament Infographic

So what do you see in the infographic? There are five divisions in the New Testament: the Gospels, a history book (Acts), Paul’s letters, general letters, and a prophetic book (Revelation). In no particular order, here are some fun facts you can use in water cooler conversations:

  •  Two of the four Gospels were written by authors who were not firsthand witnesses to the events they recorded (Mark was Peter’s associate, and Luke was an associate of Paul).
  • While it may appear as if Paul wrote most of the New Testament, in fact Luke wrote more words than anyone else.  (Luke was very thorough in his research and writing, and was always meticulous with the details.)
  • As far as historical research can determine, there was a writing gap between the Resurrection and the writing of the New Testament books. Don’t be disarmed by this apparent gap—it’s considerably smaller than the gaps for other ancient manuscripts, and well within the lifetimes of firsthand witnesses. (Don’t believe it? Study this infographic.) The gap is also understandable in terms of the history of the early Christian Church—which was so inept (by its own reporting) that it barely held together in its first years.
  • James is arguably the earliest of the New Testament manuscripts (competing with Paul’s earliest epistles). Who was James and why was he important?  Keep reading.
  • That James would be the first to write is consistent with his leadership of the early Church in Jerusalem.
  • There are only eight known authors of the Old Testament (the authorship of Hebrews remains uncertain). In terms of occupations, one was a tax collector, one was a physician, one was a tent maker, two were fishermen, and two were half-brothers of Jesus Christ.
  • Only three of the new Testament writers were among Jesus’ 12 Apostles (although Paul clearly had apostolic authority).
  • Although precise dating of some of the New Testament Scriptures is not possible (by the way some can be dated very precisely), it took approximately 14 years from Paul’s conversion for him to begin writing his contributions to the Bible. Why so long? Well according to his own writing, he spent years with Jesus Christ learning all that God had to show him.
  • John was the youngest of the apostles, some think as young as 13 years old when Jesus was crucified, and he lived much longer than the other Apostles. John’s writing comes later, and with the possible exception of Jude (who only wrote one chapter of the Bible), is the only New Testament author writing after the conquest of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

The precise dating of the New Testament books in the context of first century history is a fascinating subject, well beyond the scope of this post. Two excellent sources are From Abraham to Paul: a Biblical Chronology by Andrew E. Steinmann, and anything by Norman Geisler (here’s a small sample of his work—if you only click one hyperlink in this post, let it be this one so you’ll see how forensic this topic becomes when it is approached with academic integrity).

How important is understanding how these texts fit in history? Hmmm…maybe we could light a fire under Clarke Morledge to start with John in Ephesus in 70 AD and take it forward from there (Clarke has a passion for Christian history). Let me just state for now that it’s important to appreciate how tightly the dots are connected.

So…back to the New Testament authors.  Click on the names of the authors in the right-hand column to read their biographies (yes we’re using Wikipedia, which doesn’t have all the facts straight, but does provide mostly useful information with lots of links to rich content).

The New Testament

The Gospels

Matthew

Matthew

Mark

Mark

Luke

Luke

John

John

History

Acts

Luke

Pauline Epistles to Churches

Romans

Paul

1 Corinthians

2 Corinthians

Galatians

Ephesians

Philippians

Colossians

Pauline Epistles to Individuals

1 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians

1 Timothy

2 Timothy

Titus

Philemon

General Epistles

Hebrews

???

James

James

1 Peter

Peter

2 Peter

1 John

John

2 John

3 John

Jude

Jude

Prophecy

Revelation

John

Matthew was a tax collector, clearly among the most despised people in Judea. He would have been a meticulous record keeper, and was probably very good at getting away from mobs—both useful skills for an apostle and Gospel writer.

James and Jude were half-brothers of Jesus Christ. James was the leader of the Jerusalem Church, and was the glue that held it together at the Council of Jerusalem. (The discovery of the James Ossuary has recently touched off a firestorm of controversy in the field of biblical archaeology.)

Peter was an illiterate fisherman (which may explain why Mark is thought to have written Peter’s accounts in his Gospel), with a Galilean accent. Peter’s tomb is arguably the finest grave site in the world.

Paul was a tent maker, and a gifted student of the Hebrew Tanakh. He was a small man with a fiery temper, humble and remarkably fearless. He also had a marvelous sense of humor (he wrote that greeting while chained to two Roman guards.) By the way, speaking of tombs and chains, Paul was honored with a very fine basilica of his own. Click the graphic below to take a 3-D virtual tour. The chains at the center are thought to be the chains that bound him to his Roman captors, with provenance back to the fifth century. In 2009 the Vatican announced that bone fragments collected inside his sarcophagus were indeed from a first century man.

Paul's Tomb

Take a 3-D tour of Paul’s Tomb at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls (in Rome).

Click away, dig deep, and share the joy of personal discipleship! After you’ve gotten acquainted with the authors, in our next post in this series we will explore the apologetics of defending the claims for traditional authorship of the Bible. Enjoy!

About John Paine

This blog is topical and devotional--we post whatever interests us, whenever. If you want to follow in an orderly fashion, please see our Kaqexeß page. View all posts by John Paine

5 responses to “Who Wrote the Bible? (Part 2)

  • Brenda Simpson Birney

    John, Your postings have been so helpful and interesting. Thank you!
    Brenda Birney

    Like

    • John Paine

      Thank you Brenda for the encouragement! Sharing this material to help people get personal discipleship is what we’re about. I never imagined we’d have a virtual community of 350 to share with, but comments like yours challenge us to keep at it. Thank you!

      Like

  • Clarke Morledge

    *sniff* *sniff*

    Is that smoke I smell?

    Excuse me while I loosen my collar. For some reason, it is getting a little warm in here. I wonder why?

    Aaahh. It must have been something I ate…

    Just to throw a little grenade back at John…. well, kind of like a teaser for his next post on this topic perhaps… there are some good reasons for why this topic of authorship is really important:

    The central claim of authority for the New Testament is founded on the idea that the different books were written by people who either had contact with Jesus prior to his claimed ascension to heaven and were eyewitnesses and leaders of the Jesus movement; i.e. the “apostles”, such as Peter, or who had some special encounter with Jesus afterwards (e.g. Paul on the road to Damascus), or who were close associates within this apostolic circle; e.g. Luke. If this claim can not be substantiated somehow then the entire authority of the New Testament is in question.

    For about the past two hundred years, serious challenges have been raised against traditional authorship claims. For a readable example of the types of arguments made by such critics, perhaps the best place to go is Bart Ehrman’s book, _Forged_. He pretty much lays out the case that the bulk of the New Testament books were not written by who most Christians think they were written by. Most of Ehrman’s arguments are not new, as you can find them presented in just about any college-level course on the New Testament anywhere in the United States, but these arguments are becoming well-known in the wider culture due to Ehrman’s popular writing style.

    However, if you do read his book, you should consult this review of the book by another New Testament scholar, Dan Wallace. Wallace lays out a more conservative evangelical (“fundamentalist” in Ehrman’s lingo) case against Ehrman’s views:

    http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/07/book-review-of-bart-d-ehrman%E2%80%99s-forged-writing-in-the-name-of-god%E2%80%94why-the-bible%E2%80%99s-authors-are-not-who-we-think-they-are/

    If you are going to have an apologetic discussion with someone on this topic, you should familiarize yourself with what Wallace is saying in response to Ehrman.

    Here is a quick example from Ehrman:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-ehrman/the-bible-telling-lies-to_b_840301.html

    Ehrman says the modern scholars are pretty much universally agreed that the Apostle Peter did not write “2 Peter”.

    It is true that the apostolic authorship of “2 Peter” has been questioned more than any other New Testament book, even within the believing church, going back through the Reformation all of the way back to the early 3rd century Alexandrian scholar, Origen. Nevertheless, “2 Peter” has managed to survive attacks on its authorial authenticity as Dan Wallace argues here. For example, allusions to 2 Peter can possibly be found in some of the early church fathers:

    https://bible.org/seriespage/second-peter-introduction-argument-and-outline

    Like

  • dwwork

    John, another great post with outstanding links and graphics.

    Like

  • dwwork

    Reblogged this on Reasons For The Hope Blog and commented:
    Second in a great series on the Bible.

    Like

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