Did God write the Bible? Or did people write the Bible? Or did both God and people write the Bible? And if that’s true, why are we still struggling to figure out what that means?
Among Jesus followers today (and throughout history), the idea that the Bible is divine is not heavily debated. People have long trusted that the Scriptures are from God and somehow capture God’s word to human beings. However, this idea⏤that the Bible’s origin is divine⏤remains underdeveloped for many people because we often miss an equally important truth: the Bible also has human origins.
The Bible’s origin is both human and divine—not just from God and not just from humans. The Bible’s narratives, poems, histories, letters, prophecies, and other writings come from a profound collaboration between humanity and God. So how can God and humankind work together on something like the Bible? And how does this inform the way we read it?
The Bible’s Picture of God and Humanity
It may be easy to infer that the Bible came to be in spite of humans—like golden tablets that fell from the heavens. Or maybe God took control of the writers’ minds and hands, putting them into a trance that allowed him to use them as human printers. And when they woke up: “Voila! The Bible!”
We sometimes assume that if something is human, then it cannot also be divine. It must be one or the other. But the biblical authors did not share this assumption.
They understood, through the way God established creation, that God has always intended to work with human beings on pretty much everything. He invited humans to name animals and to cultivate and rule over his creation alongside him. From prophets, to poets, to the promised Messiah, the Bible embraces a picture of God and humanity working together.
Additionally, the portrait of the Spirit of God woven throughout the Bible helps us see this collaboration even more clearly, showing us how the Bible’s origin truly is human and divine together.
Let’s take a closer look!
God Working Through Humans
On page one of Genesis, we’re introduced to the Ruakh Elohim (Hebrew for "Spirit of God")⏤the invisible, personal, vitalizing presence of the creator who engages the dark disorder and brings about order, life, and beauty (Gen. 1:2).
This opening scene is full of mystery, power, and divinity—humans haven’t even entered the story yet. However, this is one of the extremely rare times we see the Spirit of God working alone. After this, whenever the biblical authors talk about the Spirit’s activity, they describe the Spirit working with and through God’s human partners.
We see the Spirit empowering and inspiring human beings again and again––Joseph’s interpretation of dreams (Gen. 41:38), Bezalel’s design of the tabernacle (Exod. 28:3, 31:3), Moses’ leadership of Israel (Num. 11:17, 11:25-26), the victories accomplished by the judges and David (Judg. 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 14:6,), the visions of the prophets (Isa. 59:21; Mic. 4:8), all the way to the empowerment of the Messiah and the astounding events at Pentecost (Isa. 11:1-9, 42:1, 61:1; Acts 2). These are just a few examples—the Spirit’s work in the world becomes visible through human action.
Divine Word Through Human Words
The Scriptures show God speaking through human beings not sometimes but constantly. The words of the human authors are the way God's divine word is communicated, and when you encounter God's Spirit, you're encountering a human.
So if God works through people, then it makes sense that God’s word is communicated through human word. And this human communication is not a sad necessity or an unfortunate requirement—it’s God’s intent. This is how he chooses to communicate.
This is why we say that the human writing in the Bible is also “inspired,” or “God-breathed,” or as we will see next, “God-spirited.”
The Bible Is God-Spirited
People experience and understand these Scriptures⏤composed in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek⏤as historically rooted yet inspired or “God-spirited” texts. But what does that mean? How does writing like this even happen? Some might imagine a spiritual takeover of the writer, where God governs the human like a puppet and the human loses agency in the process.
Some examples in Scripture may even look that way. In Exodus 17:14, God more or less dictates to Moses what he should write. Similarly in Deuteronomy, we see God dictating an entire song for Moses to write down (Deut. 31:19, 31:30-32:43). Later in Jeremiah 36, we see another example of God dictating his word through two humans.
Notice, however, that in each of these cases and the others like them, God is inviting the human to participate with him in the communication. We never see a scene where a person loses his or her own mind or agency while sharing the words of God.
Divine-Human Partnership in the Old Testament
Other moments in Scripture highlight the interworking divine-human partnership more clearly, such as God working with the prophet Isaiah (e.g. Isa. 8:11-18). Or there’s the interesting sign-off statement from David, who wrote many songs and poems in the Hebrew Bible. In 2 Samuel 23:1-2, we read his last words:
Now these are the last words of David.
David the son of Jesse declares,
The man who was raised on high declares,
The anointed of the God of Jacob,
And the sweet psalmist of Israel,
"The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me,
And His word was on my tongue."
The Lord speaking with and through a person seems to be quite different from the Lord controlling a person's speech or writing.
New Testament Divine-Human Partnership
When the New Testament authors talk about Scripture, they also see it as the result of divine-human partnership. For example, in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, we see Paul calling the Hebrew Scriptures theopneustos, which in Greek means “inspired,” “God-breathed,” or “God-spirited.” Paul saw God’s meaning and his chosen human authors’ meaning to be one and the same. And those authors were shaped by the community, by the Scriptures, and by the Spirit so much so that as they wrote from their own perspective and experience, they also spoke the words of God.
Thinking of God’s work in the world this way helps us begin to understand why it is so helpful to be familiar with the history and culture of the biblical authors. By understanding these human authors we can more fully understand what God has spoken to us in the Bible.
The biblical authors saw themselves as writing words that communicated God’s message and carried God’s divine authority. They did not see their human participation in the writing as a diminishment of the divine nature of the message. Rather, the Bible’s divine and authoritative nature squares well with the way God had always created and communicated—with and through human beings.
As we learn to encounter the Scriptures as human and divine texts, there are huge implications for how we think of its divine authority and how it came into existence. The Bible is human literary artistry, crafted to communicate a message. And the Bible is divine. And we can sit together with its authoritative and divine claims alongside its very public history as literary art.
And when we read these divine-human words, we encounter another mind through the words and experiences of humans like us—the mind of God, who sees reality and humanity differently and more clearly than we would on our own.
To encounter this mind and to think and act along with it is to find healing⏤to experience the true life that our creator gives.
This blog is the first post in our series The Paradigm, which summarizes the core ideas that shape the way biblical authors intended for us to read the Bible. To dive deeper on the topic of human and divine authorship of the Bible, check out the podcast episode, "Who Wrote the Bible?" For an overview of all the pillars which inform how we read the Bible, check out The Paradigm Study Notes.