Is Dual Authorship Coherent?

I’ll be honest, this doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. So there are two authors, but one intention. So how does God’s foreknowledge (?) of 20th century science make a difference? Was the human author wondering what order to put light and vegetation and got a nudge from God that maybe it should be before and after, just so we could match up a changing atmosphere in the early earth?

I wonder if this discussion should go back to the Concordism thread, I don’t want to derail @swamidass’ proposal.


If that is the case, then authorial intent should be just fine. So I agree, this doesn’t make a ton of sense to me.

My best case for Dual Authorship would be to recall the doctrine of inspiration: “Scripture is God’s Word written by man.” And also to remember that God providentially governs all things according to his purpose. From there, the original authors clearly had an intent that needs to be unpacked. God, however, might have His own intentions that go beyond theirs that he is providentially working out in precise word choices and how it is appropriated and understood centuries and millinea later.

In this understanding the tradition of interpretation past the original audience might be important too. Because we believe God works through and in His word, we might expect at times He would transcend the author’s original intent. We would want to see signs of this providential work in the history of the Church though, and not be looking to read into Scripture our personal culture or worldview.

That is my best case here. Is this reasonable?

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Yes, it does seem clearer.

I must admit having been in theologically conservative (probably fundamentalist at times) churches for much of my life, I often cringe a bit when it comes descriptions of Inspiration. I don’t see how people can have such certitude regarding what people thousands of years ago “intended” to write, and I certainly am not going to start guessing as to the fine details of God’s intentions. I see God’s intentions with Genesis 1 to be a revealing of who he is much more than how he did anything. I think he gave brains, science, and a desire to pursue the big questions to take care of the “how”.

From my own observation that theology and biblical interpretation are far from simple and homogeneous (I work in the Wesleyan tradition and go to a Presbyterian church), I question a lot of the certainty people place in particular models of Inspiration. So, in the end I prefer to simply go with, as you said, “Scripture is God’s Word written by man.” I don’t see how people can nail down verbal plenary inspiration, for instance, but I have no problem with that being an option (especially if you come from a particular tradition). Does that make me inspirationally agnostic :smiley:?


There’s nothing particularly strange or objectionable about recognizing more than a single author’s influence on the final version of a public document.
“Written in June 1776, Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence, included eighty-six changes made later by John Adams (1735–1826), Benjamin Franklin 1706–1790), other members of the committee appointed to draft the document, and by Congress.”
Not sure why that evokes a skeptical response; Genesis bears all the marks of an unnamed source revealing its details, which were either memorized or finally written down, communicating in ways that made sense to the original audience, which may seem a bit oblique to us today, but which are still discernible. It seems pretty clear, using the tenets of tablet theory, that Moses updated some place name details, causing inadvertent anachronisms, and that, perhaps, later scribal hands may have added some relatively minor elements to smooth the grammar. There are, for example, demonstrable “Egyptiansims” in the text, which probably come from Moses’ skilled editorial and compiling hand. In all of this, authorial intent is not lost, and given Moses’ access to the Presence during the wilderness wanderings, we may rest assured that YHWH Himself discipled Moses in the precise revelation of the text. No real “special pleading” or other mysteries or unlikelihoods here. Just a straightforward belief/trust in what the texts already claim.

That is not at all the issue @Guy_Coe. The question is if we can conceptually introduce God himself as an author alongside the human authors, in order successfully infer messages that leap out of that moment into our current situation.

I see the reasons to be very skeptical of this. Skepticism grows when we see how this has been abused over and over again.

My best rebuttal is given above, but it doesn’t leave room for Hugh Ross or @Ronald_Cram. For @dga471 and @Jordan and @deuteroKJ that may be a virtue.

It might however leave some space for @anon46279830, because he is reading NT theology, not science, into Genesis. The deviation from traditional here, however, works against him, and perhaps he needs to learn more about Hebrew grammar. Contrast his efforts for example with discourse on identifying theophanies with Jesus, a move that seems more grounded.


@deuteroKJ this is an interesting test case. It seems to be beyond the authors original intent, but also very well attested and grounded. How does this fit in your thinking?

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Thank you for bringing it up, and I don’t know if it will make this harder or easier to swallow. And it also ties into what you were saying to @Guy_Coe about the difficulties of making God one of the authors. I don’t make God one of the authors, but the text itself (via the toledot) IDs the first account as that of creation itself. In the book I make the case that what it is describing as literature are the first two accounts fitting together as the “book of Adam” (Gen 5:1). Adam received a song or vision from creation itself

So what is the intent of creation itself? What are the limits of what it is supposed to know? I don’t think we can say of the first account “oh the author could not have meant that”. That is why I am not against the principle of authorial intent. In fact I rely on it to explain why Noah’s flood was not universal for mankind. I just think it only applies where it applies.

I follow Mike Heiser’s extensive work on Two Powers in Heaven (see also here). In short, a significant minority Jewish position pre-70 AD saw two YHWHs in the Hebrew Bible (one visible, one invisible). The visible YHWH shows up in many ways, particularly as the Angel of YHWH (also, the Word, the Presence, and others). Simply put, this is Jewish binitarianism, providing the theological backdrop to Trinitarianism. This is why it was declared heresy by the Jews after the rise of Christianity. So it’s both grounded in the OT text (wthin human authorial intent) and receives progressive revelation in the NT.


We don’t have to “conceptually infer” God’s involvement in the text --it’s undeniably there, as a facet of the subject matter. It records God’s speech on matters that precede any particular human being’s existence. It is NOT the result of a merely fertile human imagination, otherwise its whole basis as “revelation” is seriously and irreparably undermined. Hyperskepticism on these points is a matter of the spirit of this age, not of any lack of evidence or historical warrant. I strenuously disagree with insinuations to the negative. This is the word of God, inspired by God, written almost entirely through the agency of various inspired human authors. There are portions of it that claim to be merely conveying what God Himself wrote (in the Decalogue, e.g., or in the reporting of the “mene, mene, tekel upharsin” episode).

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I am elated to read this. This fits perfectly into what I have been saying about the Image of God and the Theophanies, which are also very important for understanding the flood account. You see how it fits in, don’t you Joshua?

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For more on this subject, see Bruce Metzger’s “Discovering the Mystery of the Unity of God.” For a more popular-level treatement, James Borland’s “Christ in the Old Testament” is also a good lay-level introduction.

I was thinking about this thread at dinner. Here are two “ways of looking at it” that I thought could be useful.

First, some people view inspiration to mean that God’s intent/message >= human author’s intent. God’s message encompasses and goes beyond the human author. For other’s God’s intent/message <= author’s intent, in the sense that God’s message is often a theological core (more than just a “moral to the story”) and not necessarily the incidental details. As Denis Lamoureux put it over at BioLogos:

These were just the “incidental vessels” for conveying the inerrant spiritual truths that God wished to communicate through these ancient cultures.

Second, I might use a concept that I teach in my introductory science courses: accuracy vs. precision. When looking at scattered data, accuracy describes how close the mean of the experimental data is to the true mean. Precision describes how tightly grouped the data is. Here’s a picture:
In this analogy we could think about accuracy as the authority/truthfulness/inerrant/infallible bits of inspiration and precision to be the mode or vehicle (the human authors). I take the Bible to be accurate, but not always precise. Other’s will disagree with the “precision”, but that is, in my mind, a different discussion from “accuracy”.

I think these are two ways of making discussions about dual authorship and inspiration more coherent. Thoughts?


Put me down for “the original text is accurate and precise, what we have done with it, including interpretations, understanding, and translations, is not accurate and not precise.”

Put me down for the text being uncannily defensible, given the language of phenomenology having been expressed in a culture of antiquity. It would seem to go beyond mere human explanation; in fact, one could well make the claim that the ability to do science itself is dependent upon its claims.

It is true that God is the ultimate author of what is written in scripture.
Scripture is supposed to be interpreted by the grace of the holy spirit. Revelation cannot be understood in all its glory without illumination from the Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately, as Paul said in 1Corinthians 13- we see as If through a dark glass… There are possibilities of wrong interpretation of the details…
And there will be areas where our understanding is only partial.
However “dual authorship” is a direct consequence of biblical teaching on inspiration.

It is a thought provoking thread, isn’t it?

That is not true. In this context we are using the term in a very technical way. That is why I said “conceptually” introduce God as an author alongside. We can affirm God authored Scripture, but correctly doubt our ability to read His mind independent of what the human author is intending to tell us. This is specific question of hermeneutics.

This whole accuracy precision thing is not so helpful for me. If I had to choose, I’d say accurate but low precision, but I cringe to write that.

I’m a Third Culture Kid (like @Randy) and it influence me here. I think a better way to put it is that Scripture is just from a very different world than ours, using a different language and set of meanings. It is very foreign. The fact we have english translations can give us the illusion of certain meanings that are not even really in the text.

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Oh well, it was worth a try :grinning:

Incidentally, I found the following at Fuller Seminary’s website today:


We recognize the importance that the word “inerrancy” has attained in the thinking of many of our scholarly colleagues and the institutions which they serve. We appreciate the way in which most of them use the term to underscore the fact that Scripture is indeed God’s trustworthy Word in all it affirms. Where inerrancy refers to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the churches through the biblical writers, we support its use. Where the focus switches to an undue emphasis on matters like chronological details, precise sequence of events, and numerical allusions, we would consider the term misleading and inappropriate.

Its dangers, when improperly defined, are

  1. that it implies a precision alien to the minds of the Bible writers and their own use of the Scriptures;
  2. that it diverts attention from the message of salvation and the instruction in righteousness which are the Bible’s key themes;
  3. that it may encourage glib and artificial harmonizations rather than serious wrestling with the implication of biblical statements which may seem to disagree;
  4. that it leads those who think that there is one proven error in the Bible (however minor), to regard its whole teaching as subject to doubt;
  5. that too often it has undermined our confidence in the Bible by a retreat for refuge to the original manuscripts (which we do not possess) whenever problems cannot otherwise be resolved;
  6. that it prompts us to an inordinate defensiveness of Scripture which seems out of keeping with the bold confidence with which the prophets, the apostles, and our Lord proclaimed it.

I think this is pretty good, if a little lengthy.


Sounds like something we would find on Fuller’s site :smile:. We can talk to @Cootsona when he comes by tomorrow. I personally do affirm inerrancy. I think it is ian important doctrine. I’d also make distinction between inerrancy and infallibility. Yes, I affirm infallibility too.

Though I think I am using consistent with their preferred use:

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This is interesting. Does this support the meaning that this was the original intent of the author to communicate this? I’m not sure it does. Also, the inference to link theophanies to Jesus is clearly an extension beyond the original authors, right? They did not know who Jesus was.

I hesitate to enter this discussion b/c I probably won’t have time to engage thoroughly. But I wanted to add some thoughts:

  1. Dual authorship and authorial intent are not necessarily competing options.

  2. Divine authorial intent should be seen as organically related to human authorial intent, though the former may take a direction that would’ve surprised (but not ultimately undermined) the human author. For example, if Ezekiel were transported into the NT era to hear the apostolic interpretation of his prophecies, he’d say, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming. But, come to think of it, I can now see how it all fits together given the Christ event and greater clarifying revelation. In the end, this is what I was saying ‘though a glass darkly.’” My main concern is if we envision a divine intent that is wholly unrelated (let alone contradictory) to the human intent.

  3. The identity of “human author” and “audience” is complex. Take Psalms as the first example. Is the “authorial intent” of a specific psalm derived from the poet himself or the editors of the Psalter (who lived in the postexilic community)? Much work has been done on the editorial process of the book: the five “books”; the order and arrangement of the psalms overall; seeing Pss 1-2 as an introduction to the whole (and Pss 146-150 as its conclusion); etc. The end result is a clever,
    intentionally arranged “book” that adds potency and an eschatological messianic angle not necessarily envisioned by the individual poet of a given psalm. In fact, the overtly eschatological thrust of the entire book fits the NT appropriation of Christ (and the church) as the ultimate fulfillment of the Psalms.

Proverbs is another example. The vast majority of the book comes across as the psalms of Solomon. But there are post-Solomonic additions and arrangement to achieve the book as we have it. It is not a collection of random sayings, but a real “book” with an overall intent, thus put together for an audience different from the original (i.e., “my son”). I’d suggest that the final intent challenges encroaching Greek philosophy/wisdom not in the original orbit of Solomon.

With both, we really need to think of Implied Author and Implied Audience–the latter encompassing the People of God that transcends a apecific generation (and the broadening of the audience is intentional by the editors). I’d suggest the same for much of, if not all, the OT books. It’s a bit different in the NT, since these books were put together relatively quickly and within the same generation (or so). Though there is some parallel in the Gospels. As they quote Jesus (an author of his words), they shape and rework both the words themselves and where they fit into the arrangement of a given Gospel. So is authorial intent “what Jesus said” or “what Matthew (e.g.) meant by shaping and arranging it here.”

I probably have more thoughts, but I’ll let others to see if this is a help or a distraction. Again, I can’t promise immediate engagement.