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How Was the Old Testament Written? [A Basic Guide for What You Need to Know and Why]

The Bible.

It’s the best selling book of all times, and the field guide for people who love Jesus. But somehow, there is a certain mystery for many people about how it came to be.

You don’t need to be a historian or even graduate from college to understand how the Bible was written and transmitted (how it got to us today).

The complete Bible that we have today is separated into two sections: the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament was written before Jesus was born on earth, and the New Testament was written after He went back up to heaven. (You could think of it a little like how standardized time is separated - BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini - in the Year of the Lord.))

Both testaments have been passed down to us in slightly different ways, and we can totally trust them to be God’s very words that He wants us to have!

But let’s focus on the Old Testament in this discussion.

In the Old Testament, you will find 39 books that cover God’s commandments, history, poetry, and some pretty amazing prophecy. It took about 1,500 years for the Old Testament to be written. God used people (called prophets) to write down what He wanted to say. About 25 men wrote God’s words in the Old Testament.

Spoken by God

The whole Bible was written by God, but He used certain men to hear, write, and proclaim it. God knew that humans needed His words written so that we would know His good news! He had a plan that worked perfectly. He chose average people who would obey what He told them to do. These prophets had specific instructions from God. For example, one of the prophets, Jeremiah, recorded his own conversation with God in Jeremiah 1:4-7:

Now Yahweh’s word came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I sanctified you. I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord Yahweh! Behold, I don’t know how to speak; for I am a child.” But Yahweh said to me, “Don’t say, ‘I am a child;’ for you must go to whomever I send you, and you must say whatever I command you. Don’t be afraid because of them, for I am with you to rescue you,” says Yahweh. (WEB)

Jeremiah did what God told him to do. And it wasn’t an easy task. He had to go up against people who claimed they were prophets - but they were actually fakes who had no special words from God. God was angry that the fraudulent "prophets" were making up lies and telling people that God told them what to say! That's why God gave Jeremiah strong words and even object lessons to show the people the truth.

Given to People

After God gave His words, the prophet was responsible to take the exact words to the people. God told the prophets what to say, how to say it, what to write, and how to write it. Sometimes the words were addressed to a large group of people, like when Moses gave the commandments to the entire congregation of Israel. Other times, it was just to an individual.

The prophets gave God’s Word exactly as God instructed them. Sometimes the prophets were scared and gave God excuses why they could not do the job. One prophet, Jonah, tried to run away! He got in a boat to go in the opposite direction that God told him to go! But God was with the prophets and reassured them that He would help them even if the message was difficult to give.

Recognized as Holy

When the prophets spoke, people listened. God showed His power through them so that people knew they weren’t making stuff up. Fire came down from the sky. People were raised from the dead. Miracles often went hand-in-hand with the words the prophets spoke. Most importantly, the words the prophets spoke were always true, since they came directly from God.

Prophecies, or predictions of the future, always happened as God said they would. (There are actually some prophecies that have not come to fruition - yet. We are still waiting. But those prophecies have not been proven wrong, they are simply not finished.) In the Old Testament, there are hundreds of prophecies about the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Each prophecy about Him came true, and that’s exactly how the wise men were able to locate Jesus at His birth in Bethlehem! (Check out Matthew 2 for that story.)

Today, we have the whole Bible, which shows us what Jesus thought of the Old Testament. Jesus taught from it and even quoted it word-for-word. He proved that God truly wrote the Bible, not men. Jesus explained that the Old Testament was talking about Him all along! Even Jonah, the guy who ran away from God, was used by God as a sign of Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection.

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the huge fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Matthew 12:40 (WEB)

Copied by Scribes

God told the prophets what to write. The writings were collected and kept. Deuteronomy 31:24-26 tells us that Moses put people called “Levites” in charge of the law.

When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished, Moses commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of Yahweh’s covenant, saying, “Take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the ark of Yahweh your God’s covenant, that it may be there for a witness against you.

The books were safe through the years, even through many terrible troubles. Professional copiers, called scribes, carefully made extra copies. The scribes were very strict. They did not make mistakes in their copies. It was their job to make exact copies, and they had many rules in place to make sure they did.


The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew. But about 300 years before Jesus was born, almost everyone spoke Greek. Most Jewish people could not even read the Old Testament anymore! They took the words and translated them into Greek. They called the new Greek translation the “Septuagint.” Now everyone - not just Jewish people - could read and understand the Old Testament.

After Jesus came, people all around the world realized they wanted to understand the Old Testament also. People from basically everywhere wanted to read it in their own language. And that’s how the Bible came to be in hundreds of languages!

So Why Does This Matter?

The Bible was given to us by God because it is what He wants us to know. If we don’t understand that God wrote the Bible, or think it was just made up by a bunch of religious, cranky old men, how could we believe anything in it?

God knew that thousands of years after the prophets lived, people still needed to remember the messages they delivered. The words give us comfort, direction, strength, and hope. They are still for us today.

Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that each person who belongs to God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17


How has God used the Bible in your life? Do you have a favorite verse that you turn to for peace, guidance, or hope?

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