God, Author of the Bible

In “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” Jorge Luis Borges playfully suggests through an unreliable narrator that Don Quixote could have been written twice, once by Miguel de Cervantes in the seventieth-century and again by a fictional French poet of the twentieth-century named Pierre Menard. Menard’s work is no mere transcription of Cervantes’s work. Being a different man with different intentions writing from a different vantage point in history, Menard’s words do not mean the same thing as Cervantes’s words. Thus, Menard has authored a new work of literature, albeit one verbally identical to that of Cervantes’s.

There is a sizable scholarly literature about whether Borges’s fabulism could happen in truth. That debate notwithstanding, many millions at least tacitly believe that multiple authorship is possible in the case of the Bible, a work inspired verbally by God and written by various human authors. Many, perhaps most, Christians believe the Bible is both God’s words and the words of Isaiah, Matthew, Paul, etc. They do not think twice before saying “God said” and “Paul writes” of the same passage in the epistolary books. Isaiah’s authorship of Isaiah rests alongside God’s authorship of Isaiah, and so on.

Sometimes dual authorship is easy to entertain in the text. Consider Exodus 4:15-16 where God says to Moses: “I will help both [you and Aaron to] speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.” God collaborates with Moses and Aaron in producing the words Aaron will say to Pharaoh. God’s authorship does not annihilate that of Moses because Moses, at least traditionally, wrote Exodus so he is the author that put God’s words where they appear in the text. The prophets in general follow the same pattern: they say God’s words but also author texts in which they embed those words.

But it is not always so easy. Consider 2 Timothy 4:13-15:

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.

Paul is exceptionally present in this verses. In giving instructions to Timothy, he shows a keen interest in specific items and displays animosity toward a certain metalworker named Alexander. I refuse to let God’s authorship of them remain mysterious or paradoxical, so let us put the words in His mouth. Now God has left His cloak with Carpus. God wants His parchments. Alexander did God harm.

These verses are suddenly of cosmic significance. Alexander is a great foe of the Almighty. Troas is now a place of pilgrimage, where the divine cloak may be found. The scrolls and parchments are also miraculous, metaphors for virtues, or an allegory of human reconciliation with God. Crucially, these verses are no longer of mere historical interest. They are scripture in that “you” does not address Timothy only but Christians everywhere.

And “the Lord” is not simply God. It must be someone different from the author. “The Lord” could be God the Father. God-As-Author is the Holy Spirit, if we assume the Spirit inspired the Bible as many Christians do. Paul on the other hand, would gloss “the Lord” as Jesus i.e. Jesus will punish Alexander when he returns in glory (Paul commonly refers to Jesus as “the Lord” e.g. when he alludes to Jesus’s commandment against divorce).

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Combining the Pauline and divine registers, we have derived a Trinitarian theology! We find still greater evidence of this theology by reading Galatians 6:17 as divinely authored: “From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” God-As-Author has been crucified as Jesus was.

Let us turn to statements in the Bible about God’s trustworthiness, e.g. “God is not human, that he should lie, / not a human being, that he should change his mind. / Does he speak and then not act? / Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:13, c.f. 1 Corinthians 10:13, Hebrews 6:16-19, and others). In the human register, the author is vouching for God. We have greater reason to trust God. But in the divine register, God is vouching for Himself. We have less reason to trust Him. Anyone that asserts their own trustworthiness is inherently suspect. They sound as though they have lies to cover up.

Lastly consider the seemingly innocuous doxologies at the end of some Pauline letters, e.g. “to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ!” (Romans 16:25). In the human register, these words are almost meaningless. They are just a proper way to end a letter to another Christian or follower of Jesus. But in the divine register, these words seem arrogant.

Now go and read the Bible as though God authored it, all of it. You will learn much about the acts of God and His character. All of scripture will be elevated from the dust heaps of history. Scripture will speak to you, and your theology will be enriched.