Who Wrote the Bible and Why Is It Arranged This Way?

Question: Who wrote each book of the Bible?

Discussion: Biblical scholars have many interesting and, sometimes, diverse opinions on the authorship of each book, but no one can be 100% sure which persons wrote them all. Occasionally a book carries the name of a well-known leader who actually wrote the manuscript. However, other texts were passed on orally then recorded by someone who recalled the teachings or prophecies of a respected historical figure or the recollection of communal events. Instead of identifying themselves, the writers attached the names of their leaders to the books, thus crediting the most credible sources of sayings and stories.

Often, the titles of Old Testament books focus on the content rather than the writer. For instance, the book of Genesis, which means "in the beginning," emphasizes the origins of our spiritual life, the roots of our Judeo-Christian beliefs, and the beginnings of God's covenant or ongoing promises. Since the stories of our relationship with God were passed from one generation to the next by word-of-mouth or song, more than one writer most likely recorded them many centuries later. Each writer then brought a unique but slightly different perspective of the same events, which, with skilled editing, provided a larger picture of God and the maturing faith of God's people. Similarly, the book of Psalms, which means "songs," compiled lyrical poems by several authors, including King David, who was once thought to have written them all. Like today's hymnal though, a variety of poets, lyricists, or authors gave us a wide range of insights, emotions, devotions, imagery, word plays, and experiences, gradually compiled into an anthology of biblical poetry.

 Since one book may have multiple writers and the whole Bible has 73 books, it would take over a year of weekly articles to consider the most probable authors. For a quick yet thorough means of investigating the subject, a reputable study Bible will introduce and summarize possibilities for each book. Regardless of human authorship, however, the credibility of Holy Scripture comes through the power of God, so we can be sure the Holy Spirit inspired all of the biblical authors, whoever they may be. This same Holy Spirit also gives us inspired insight into God's word as we read Holy Scripture today.

Question: Can you tell me why the books of the Bible are in the order they're in? 

Discussion: Biblical scholars cannot always determine which book was written by whom or when, so the arrangement does not follow a time sequence. Instead, Old Testament (OT) books have been arranged according to categories, similar to what you find in a library. However, categories differ between a Jewish Bible and the OT of a Christian Bible. To be more specific, a Jewish Bible omits the history category, usually designating our historical books as part of the books of prophecy. So a Jewish Bible first presents the Torah or law (first five books), then the prophets, then the wisdom writings.

Correspondingly, the OT of a Christian Bible has been organized according to relevant categories. i.e., the first five books present the books of law or Torah, also known as the Pentateuch, from the Latin word penta, meaning five. Next come the books of history (such as I and II Chronicles) followed by wisdom writings (such as Proverbs or Sirach) then books of major and minor prophets. (The latter were not necessarily less important, but minor prophets wrote shorter books.)

As previously discussed in Bible Talk, a Catholic Bible includes a few more OT books than does the Old Testament in Protestant Bibles, but those "extra" books typically fall into categories of history or wisdom with some passages added to books of prophecy. Interestingly, however, the books of law were not affected. This means that the Torah or Pentateuch has the same set of five books in the Catholic OT, the Protestant OT, and the Jewish Bible, thus giving us a God-inspired communal source for communication and a common bond for our Judeo-Christian heritage, values, and belief in one Almighty God.

In the New Testament, all Christian Bibles follow the same order with the same number of books: first, the Gospels or Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, then The Acts of the Apostles, which might be more aptly called The Acts of the Holy Spirit. Next come some of the letters saved by early groups of Christians. Also known as the Epistles, those letters were either written by the Apostles or by people who learned from them. Finally, Revelation reveals an apocalyptic book with figurative language and symbols that early Christians recognized as a sort of code or secret message meant to encourage them and, later, us. Therefore, the last book of the Bible hints at future events that will, indeed, be guided by God just as the first book offers insight into the past actions and loving promises God gave us from the beginning.

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