The Bible is the single most influential book in history. Despite that fact, who the authors of the Good Book are has been debated for years. Christian and Jewish tradition claim legendary figures from the two religions recorded various sections of the Bible. Many chapters from the Book of Psalms, for example, are traditionally ascribed to King David. Moses, meanwhile, is often identified as the author of the Torah in Jewish tradition and often seen as the author of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy in Christianity. Some of those claims of authorship, however, have been disputed or even disproven. Others are all but impossible to prove one way or another, and many books are accepted as having been recorded in writing long after they had begun to be passed down as oral traditions. All of this makes it very difficult to identify the authors of the Bible. That does not mean, however, that scholars cannot identify at least some of the writers behind the most famous book of all. So, who really wrote the Books of the Bible?
Book of IsaiahThe Book of Isaiah is one of the most commonly quoted books of the Bible in Christian churches. It is filled with references to the Messiah and to Christ. As the name implies, the book is almost always attributed to the prophet Isaiah. There is debate, however, over whether or not he actually authored the entire thing. Some people believe that Isaiah wrote most or all of the book, but many other scholars believe that there was at least one other person writing the book. The author of these sections is often referred to as Deutero-Isaiah as they left no name of their own or way to identify them individually. Some scholars even believe that there was a third person working on the book, but so far efforts to prove this one way or another have been unsuccessful.
The Letters of PaulThe various epistles attributed to the Apostle Paul in the New Testament are collectively called the Letters of Paul. These letters, however, were likely not all written by Paul himself. Of the 13 letters, only seven of them are almost unanimously accepted by scholars as having been written by Paul himself. These letters are Romans, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon, Galatians, Philippians and both 1 and 2 Corinthians. They all share distinctive similarities in theme, style and language. Of the remaining six letters, Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians may have been written by Paul, but most scholars believe they were authored by students of his who used his name. This was a common practice in the ancient world that was seen as a way of showing respect to one’s teacher. The letters may also have simply been ascribed to him later. Titus and 1 and 2 Timothy were almost certainly not written by Paul despite being usually identified as some of his epistles. Hebrews, meanwhile, has never been officially listed as a Pauline letter, but it is usually associated with him. It was, however, written after Paul’s death and ascribed to him nearly 200 years later.
The Synoptic GospelsThe Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are commonly referred to in Christian scholarship as the Synoptic Gospels due to their similarities. They share numerous stories, often arranged in the same sequence and recounted using similar, or in some cases, identical, wording. The three gospels are named based on who they are said to have been written by originally. The Gospel of Matthew was written by the Apostle Matthew. The Gospel of Mark was written by Peter’s interpreter, Mark, and the Gospel of Luke was written by Paul’s companion, the physician Luke. This is a case when the traditional authorship appears to be historically correct. Ancient sources are nearly unanimous in ascribing authorship of the gospels to their titular disciples, and the ancients would have had little reason to lie about the authorship of those books. Of the three Synoptics, Matthew is the only one that was written by an actual Apostle. The others would have been based on Peter and Paul recollecting their stories. If people were going to lie about the sources of the gospels, it would have made more sense to attribute the books to people who were within Jesus’ inner circle. Instead, the only book ascribed to an actual apostle is said to have been written by Matthew, who, as a former tax collector, would likely have been one of the least liked disciples.
The authorship of various books of the Bible is a matter of scholarly and theological debate. Who wrote the books determines when they were written. This, in turn, would help scholars and theologians determine how far removed the books were from the events they are describing, and thus, how much potential there was for alteration of historical events. It also helps both faithful readers and skeptics identify how likely the authors were to have purposely exaggerated or inadvertently changed their descriptions of events. It may seem like splitting historical or theological hairs, but determining who wrote the books of the Bible is actually of a great deal of interest to biblical scholars and should be to practicing Christians as well. It is too important to be simply swept aside into the dusty annuls of overlooked history.