What is Dual-Authorship?
Dual authorship, when used in reference to the Bible, simply means that God used men to write the Scriptures without eliminating their wills and personalities from the writing process. The Bible is actually not one book but a collection of 66 books, letters and documents. It is divided into two parts with 39 documents in the Old Testament and 27 documents in the New Testament. These 66 documents were composed over a period of approximately 1,500 years; cover about 4,500 years of human history; were written in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek); by at least 30 different authors; and in many different cultures. That will serve as some cool Bible knowledge trivia for you to show off to your friends next time you talk to them.
Seriously though, these are more than just facts about the Bible they are facts that support its divine authorship as the Word of God and that help us to better understand it. Even though the Bible was written over such a long period of time, by many different authors who never met each other, and in several different languages and cultures, all 66 books of the Bible claim divine inspiration and are unanimous in their thoughts on God, creation, humanity, and redemption. The Old Testament books also contain types, anti-types, and hundreds of specific prophecies that are fulfilled in Christ and the church and recorded in the New Testament. In light of their vast diversity, the amazing unity of the 66 books of the Bible leaves the fingerprint of One Divine Author who exists outside of time and space, knows the end from the beginning, and used human agents to create a written record of the things He wanted to reveal to us.
How did God use people to write the Bible?
These facts are also important when it comes to understanding the Bible. While God is the ultimate author of the Bible every book in the Bible has a human author whom God used much in the same way we use a pen to write a letter. Understanding the dual authorship of the Bible removes a lot of the complications to understanding the Bible. 2 Peter 1:20-21 best describes the process of divine inspiration through which we received the Scriptures:
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
The word Peter used which is translated interpretation here literally means loosening, untying or releasing. We translate it as interpretation because it denotes a solution or explanation of something. But given its literal meaning, and the context here, Peter seems to be referring more so to the source of Scripture than he is to the act of explaining Scripture. No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own loosening. Meaning, its origin, the source from which it was originally “released,” does not come from the will/mind of the men who spoke it. Instead, these men spoke as they were moved (literally carried along) by the Holy Spirit. I love the way the Amplified Bible says it:
[Yet] first [you must] understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is [a matter] of any personal or private or special interpretation (loosening, solving). For no prophecy ever originated because some man willed it [to do so-it never came by human impulse], but men spoke from God who were borne along (moved and impelled) by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:20-21, AMP
The Greek word for moved when it says they were moved by the Holy Spirit is just as interesting and provides us with even more clarity. The same Greek verb appears in Acts 27:15,17. This is where we find the story of Paul’s shipwreck on his way to Rome. We read that a strong northeastern wind overtook the ship and Luke (the author of Acts) records that when the ship was caught in it and they could not face the wind (sail into the wind), they had to give way to it and let the ship be driven along by it. This phrase, moved by the Holy Spirit, in 2 Peter 1:21 has the same idea behind it. The human authors of the Bible were driven along by the Holy Spirit in the same way that a strong wind carries a ship.
How does this help us understand the Bible?
So what does all this mean for us when it comes to understanding the Bible? What we see is that there are two authors of every book in the Bible. We have the divine author, God the Holy Spirit, and then a human author who was the Holy Spirit’s instrument in recording the Scriptures. But the Bible is very clear that the thoughts of the Scriptures did not originate in the mind and will of the human authors. God is the source of all that is in the Bible. This is what the Bible means when it says that all Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16).
But He is not the source in the way that I might read another article on another blog, be inspired by it to write something, and then credit that article as my source. He is the source in that He guided – or superintended – the entire writing process. The Holy Spirit carried the writers along to write God’s message to us in the same way that a strong wind will carry a ship wherever the wind blows. Furthermore, we also see that God used the individual personalities, intellect, vocabulary, and culture of each author to do this.
When we get into the Bible we see that the vocabulary, grammar, and imagery differ from author to author. God did not completely override their wills in such a way as to make them mindless drones. That is called mechanical dictation and it is an erroneous view of biblical inspiration. Mechanical dictation states that God dictated to the writers what to write in the same way a boss would dictate a memo to their secretary. However, if this was the case then the vocabulary, grammar, and imagery would be uniform throughout all 66 books. But it’s not. Each book contains distinct characteristics unique to the human author who penned it while still preserving the divine thoughts of God who carried them along in their writing.
For example, some of the authors of certain books in the Bible were better educated than others. And when we read the books they composed we see vocabulary, grammar usage, and sentence composition that reflects a higher education. I mentioned already that several of the books were written in different cultures and time frames. Whenever the Bible writers use imagery they always use imagery that reflects the culture and time in which they lived and wrote. Even their writing styles were different. If you go read another article from a different blogger we will most likely have different ways of writing. And there are even many times in Scripture where the authors’ own personalities, thoughts, desires, struggles, and fears are sometimes recorded or reflected.
And yet the Bible tells us that the Scriptures did not originate in the wills of the human authors but with God and that the Holy Spirit carried them along (guiding and overseeing the writing process). Therefore, we can conclude that God used all of this – their own personalities, thoughts, struggles, desires, fears, vocabulary, and cultures – to record the things He wanted to record in order to deliver a message to us that is divinely inspired straight from Him. And that every word they recorded – even the ones that reflect their own thoughts, desires, personalities, fears, prayers, and struggles – were inspired directly by God to deliver a divine message.
Understanding this takes a lot of the mystery out of understanding passages in the Bible. Because what this does is give us some great tools for breaking down Bible passages. We can look at passages in the Bible and ask ourselves questions like:
- Who wrote this?
- Who was he writing to?
- What was he writing about?
- Why was he writing this?
- What was his original intended meaning to his original audience?
- What application does his original intended meaning to his original audience have for me today?
We can always trust that what we are reading is straight from God. We do not have to worry ourselves about trying to figure out which thoughts are from the human authors and which ones are from God. They are all from God delivered to us by God through the men who wrote them. Furthermore, the Bible reassures us that they were carried along by the Holy Spirit in such a way that not just the thoughts they wrote were inspired by God, but also the very words they used to communicate those thoughts were inspired by God. And when we start using questions like those above we start to see that the Bible really is not a complicated book. In the next article for this series, I will show you how we use these questions to better understand Bible passages by using them to give you a short introduction to the gospel of John.