Who Wrote the Bible? 3 Theories for Biblical Authorship

By: Yara Simón  | 
Whether you follow the Christian faith, adhere to Jewish tradition or don't believe in Jesus Christ, the question of the Bible's authorship is a curious one. krisanapong detraphiphat / Getty Images

In the realm of religious literature, the Bible stands as one of the most influential in human history. Its words have shaped the beliefs and practices of millions worldwide. But amidst its teachings, a fundamental question persists: Who wrote the Bible?

Who is responsible for the different patterns of numbers in the Bible? Who curated the different books of the Bible? Read on to learn about a few different theories regarding the Bible's authorship.


Theory No. 1: The Verbal Dictation Theory

According to this theory, God wrote the Old and New Testaments — or at the very least, God communicated his message through human agents. Under the verbal dictation theory, the Holy Spirit guided several prophets and historical figures as they wrote God's word.

Catholic priest Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco offers a related but slightly different twist on the divinely inspired hypothesis:


"A powerful way to speak about how God, who is existing itself, works in his created world is to compare his actions to the action of an author writing a thank-you note with a pen. Both the author and the pen wrote the note, where the former is the principal cause and the latter is the instrumental cause. With this analogy in mind, we can now propose an account of how God wrote the Bible: God is the primary cause of the Bible who inspired human authors as instrumental causes to write the sacred text. In doing so, he respected the freedom, the talents and the limitations that he had given them."

Theory No. 2: Moses Wrote the Bible

Divine inspiration is not the only hypothesis. Another theory is that Moses wrote the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible). A belief initially held by biblical scholars in the sixth century C.E., this theory fell out of favor by the mid-17th century.

This theory had some inconsistencies. For example, Moses dies by the end of Deuteronomy, the fifth book. The Jewish Talmud addresses this gap by explaining that Moses' successor probably wrote the parts Moses couldn't write.


Regardless, by the time most scholars moved past the Moses theory, they also began to question whether one person could have actually written the text.

Theory No. 3: Several People Wrote the Bible

The New Testament, which chronicles Jesus's life, attributes authorship to eyewitnesses, apostles and early church leaders. Many modern scholars, drawing upon historical evidence and textual analysis, propose that multiple authors wrote the Bible over centuries.

The process of compiling and editing the sacred texts was gradual, involving different communities and cultural influences. For example, the texts attributed to figures like King David and Solomon may have been compiled from various sources.


William Schniedewind's "Who Really Wrote the Bible: The Story of the Scribes" digs into this possibility:

"The Bible was not written by a single author, or by a series of single authors, but by communities of scribes. The Bible does not name its authors because authorship itself was an idea enshrined in a later era by the ancient Greeks. In the pre-Hellenistic world of ancient Near Eastern literature, books were produced, preserved, and passed on by scribal communities."
— Princeton University Press


Crediting William Tyndale

Though William Tyndale did not write the Bible, he did play a big role in some of the most memorable phrases through his translation work. According to a Washington Post article:

"Here, after all, is the man who gave us such phrases as 'Am I my brother's keeper?' who made Christ speak an English of sublime simplicity — 'Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven' — and who established prose rhythms that stir us to our very marrow: 'But the serpent was subtler than all the beasts of the field which the Lord God had made, and said unto the woman ...'"

This article was created in conjunction with AI technology, then was fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.