So apparently this has turned into a series. Because I can’t stop talking about it!!
We’ve already looked at the Cast of Characters that help put the bible in our hands, and we’ve talked about the role of the Translators and some problems they have when translating the bible.
Today we’re going to zero in on the authors of the bible. And I don’t mean God, although he’s the inspiration, I mean the actual men (and women?) who wrote the physical words down that became our bible.
There’s like 40 of the known guys, and even more unknown. We’re going to talk about if they matter, and how to use your understanding of who they are to help you understand the bible better.
In our lower-level English classes, we’re taught that it matters who the author was. Teachers try to reign in the crackpot theories of their students by closely outlining the purposes of each book, character, and plot device by what the author meant. (No, really, Uncle Tom’s Cabin ISN’T about robots.) It’s mostly an exercise in guiding critical thinking to something that’s in keeping with the time period and viewpoints available to the author.
It has its hangups. For instance, sometimes there’s conflicting info. If Jane Austen is so empowering to women, why does she celebrate when they tow the lines of society and judge them when they don’t?
In our upper-level English classes, we’re told to forget the author. Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes said whatever the author meant didn’t really matter and the author was pronounced dead. (p.s. You wanna sound smart at parties? Bust out those two guys & you cannot fail bro.)
Which is it with the bible? Does the author really matter, especially when sometimes we don’t know who he is?
I 100% believe we can understand what God is trying to do without knowing the exact author. But I also believe that by understanding the following 3 aspects of every author, we can get a more informed reading of our bibles, even if we don’t know the exact person.
We’ll zoom in on Chronicles for explaining these ideas. Chronicles is perhaps one of my favorite books in the bible because of why, how, and when it was written. It’s one of those books that’s authorship is a serious question mark, but it can show us how we can flesh out the meaning of the author without knowing the exact guy.
3 Aspects of Every Biblical Author:
He has a world.
Who is the author? Traditionally it’s been Ezra, but stylistic concerns are leading some scholars to believe it’s not necessarily Ezra himself, but maybe a priest or Levite from his time period.
(Timeline of the OT HERE)
(Books of the Bible by when they were written HERE)
(Books of the OT Categorized together HERE)
It’s important to understand the context of the author. The history of the time period, covered in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, is of a covenant people returning to their homeland after being exiled for generations. They know they are from God’s chosen people, but they’ve never seen what that looks like. All they have ever known is exile. They’re working to build their lives again, free to worship their God the way they’ve been commanded, and they’re working to rebuild the Temple, over the rubble of the first one.
He has a motive.
Let’s look at what Chronicles covers, and then ask ourselves why write it?
1 Chron 1-9 gives a huge chronology, starting with Adam & categorized by the 12 tribes.
1 Chron 10-2 Chron 9 recount the monarchy of the united Israel.
2 Chron 10-2 Chron 36 are the monarchy of Judah.
And at the very end, 2 Chron 36 ends with a brief history of the exile.
So the question: Why did the writer write Chronicles? Why would he write mostly about things that were so long ago, and covered in other books?
Remember, this time period was people returning to their homeland after being exiled. So, the reason they wrote Chronicles was to teach the Israelites how to be Israelites again. In American history, we’re taught the nuances that led up to the American Revolution, and heroes like George Washington, Paul Revere, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison. These men teach us what it is to be American -- they stand up for freedom, they work hard, they collaborate, they argue ideas, they use their resources to help their cause, they don’t accept tyranny in any form.
Isn’t this telling of tales of our heroes how we’re taught Americans should act, and as Americans, how WE should be? Don’t we read their writings to understand the ideals of our nation? Don’t we uphold their documents , the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as the pinnacles of our national identity?
Chronicles certainly has its heroes as well: David, Solomon, monarchy in general. Notice Chronicles skips right over the time of the patriarchs and judges. By pointing out the deeds of these heros, they’re teaching people that “this is the way to be an Israelite.”
Because, I think, the REAL hero of Chronicles is the Temple. It makes total sense -- a generation and a leader obsessed with building a new temple, you’d want to talk about the old temple a lot. You’d want to show your people how to center their religious life around the temple, so you show your people how Solomon centered his life around the Temple. How it was the fulfillment of promises of God and the work of a faithful people. You don’t build momentum in your temple building project by explaining how great the tabernacle was & how it served Israel for hundreds of years. The REASON judges and patriarchs are skipped right over is because there was no temple.
The writer heavily focuses on the religious lives of the monarchs. The David and Bathsheba is completely missing. Once Solomon finishes building the temple (which was finished halfway through his reign), he’s dead 1 chapter later. And you think he’d died a hero’s death. There’s no mention of his later sins or struggles away from God (which 1 Kings 11 delineate.)
I’m not saying the writer purposefully holds these men up to be falsely superior leaders. It’s just outside his scope. It’s not edited maliciously, but those details are distracting from his purpose.
Additionally, after the division of the kingdoms, only Judah’s history is featured. Honestly don’t know why this is a thing. Maybe the writer only had access to the history of Judah scrolls. Maybe they’re only trying to tell the history of this spot, of Jerusalem (there is a fantastic account of David taking Jerusalem back from the Jebusites.) This is just speculation at this point. I really have no idea.
(Note: the idea of teaching a culture through history isn’t just with the Israelites. For example, there was a concerted effort in the 1850s and 60s to teach slaves and freedmen that they had a place, identity, and a history within the greater american story. Read more HERE and HERE.)
He has an audience in mind.
Some scholars believe Chapters 1-9 (the loooong list of chronologies) are a later addition. Let’s talk about some guesses why.
Chronicles ends with Cyrus, the Persian king, allowing a new temple to be built.
The book ends on the upswing of God’s faithfulness to his people. His word will be performed, even if he has to change the hearts of usurping, godless kings to do it. His word does not return void, and he will be faithful to his people as his word has said. The Lord will remain faithful no matter what his people do.
But...who are his people? To whom does this promise belong? The tribes have been separated for over a hundred years, and the bad blood will last for hundreds more years….is the united faith for them both? THAT’S the purpose of the 1st 9 chapters. The writer makes sure that before any Israelite has a chance to disqualify themselves based on their family, they know this book, and the hope at the end, is for them. As the book outlines religious worship of God, we need to know who’s included on the other side of this deal.
The great thing is that you don’t need to know the exact author to detect (for the most part) his world, his motive, and his audience. If it’s not directly stated in the text, reading the text will usually tell you.
As we read the bible, sure, there will be verses that pop out to us straight from God, as promises or words just to us, no matter what the context. (My favorite verse, Habakkuk 1:5, is just such a verse. It’s about complete destruction of Israel but God used it to give me hope when I was full of insecurity and doubt.)
BUT the BEST reading of a verse is one that considers the author’s world, motive, and audience.