(all dates are approximate)
1900-1600 – Job
1445-1405 – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
1405-550 – Psalms
1405-1375 – Joshua
1150-900 – Judges, Ruth, Song of Solomon, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, 1-2 Samuel
900-800 – Obadiah, Joel
800-700 – Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah
700-600 – Isaiah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk
600-500 – Ezekiel, Lamentations, Jeremiah, Daniel, Haggai
500-400 – 1-2 Chronicles, Zechariah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Malachi
40-50 – James
50-60 – Matthew, Mark, Romans, Galatians, 1-2 Corinthians, 1-2 Thessalonians
60-70 – Luke, John, Acts, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, 1-2 Peter, Hebrews, Jude
90-96 – 1-3 John, Revelation
Most of the books you and I will ever read were written within the last century. Perhaps certain classics of literature date back two centuries. It is remarkable to realize, then, that the Bible is not just old, it is truly ancient. What is more, no other book in the history of the world can claim even a tenth of the span of years over which the individual documents in the Bible were written. Still, as long ago as that was, understanding these details is more than just an exercise in abstract history. Learning when, how, and why the Bible was written helps us to understand what God is doing. Looking back through the lens of history can teach us a great deal about what the Bible meant to its original audience, and, therefore, what it means for us today.
The very simplest answer you can give to the question “When was the Bible written” is to say, “a very long time ago.” Even this seemingly useless answer can be helpful. You see, when we read the Bible as if it were written during our own time, we will read it wrongly. Knowing that it is an ancient text will help us to take a step back and think about details like, ‘to whom was this written?’ ‘What was happening at the time?’ ‘What did that mean in their culture, place and time?’ and so on. These are important questions to ask as you study the Scriptures. The Bible itself provides enough information to give context to the stories it tells.
Now, if we stop with the simple answer, we will miss a great depth of truth. Therefore, we will spend some time among the details, answering the question specifically for each section of the Bible.
The Old Testament
Let’s begin with the oldest book in the Bible. Perhaps you will be surprised to find out that it is not Genesis. No, the book of Job was written half a millennia before any other book in the Bible, making it the oldest by far. The events of Job take place somewhere around 2000 years before Christ. Unlike the rest of the Old Testament, we must use our best guess to come up with a date for Job, but it is likely that it was written between 20th and 17th century BC.
With the details that God provides in His Word, we can reliably date the books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy, to around the middle of the 15th century BC. The last books to be written are known as the post-Exilic books, written around the middle of the 5th century BC. So, we can say that most of the Old Testament was produced over the course of 1000 years, between 1445-400 BC, with Job being the lone outlier.
The book of Psalms is also an interesting exception in that it has many authors who lived at different times. The Psalm of Moses, Psalm 90, was written during Moses’ lifetime in the 15th century. Most of the Psalms were written by David in the 11th and/or 10th century. Some may have been written as late as the 6th century BC. So the writing of the Psalms spans nearly the same length as of the Old Testament itself.
Now, there is considerable debate about these dates, with two significant views emerging. The main difference between these views is whether Scripture itself is historically reliable. The dates given above assume that the events of the Old Testament happened in the way that the Bible says they happened. The other view relies on something called the Historical-Critical Method. It assumes that the stories in the Bible were written long after they happened through a process of gathering and compiling ancient source materials. According to this view, the stories of the Bible did not necessarily happen the way they are told, but they are included in Scripture to teach important lessons. It dates the final compositions of the Old Testament books to a much later time, asserting that the majority of it was produced during the 5th century, and assigning Daniel to a mere century and a half before Jesus.
This is an important debate, but it is one that will have to wait for another time. For the purpose of the Foundations course material, we believe that the Bible is historically reliable. The older dates we provided up front are trustworthy. We also believe that, when the Bible attributes a book to a certain author, and discusses the lives of particular characters it is giving accurate information.
For most books in the Bible, this means we can know when they were written if we know when the author lived. Moses, for instance, wrote during the 15th century. David wrote during the 11th century BC, followed by Solomon in the 10th. Many of the Prophets’ lives can be dated by their proximity to the Exile, with most writing between the 8th and 6th centuries. The post-Exilic books (those written after the Exile of Israel), including Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi, among others, were written between the 6th and 5th centuries, BC. The Bible gives us clear historical markers by which we can date nearly every book in the Old Testament. Take a look at the chart at the end of the page for a complete listing.
The New Testament
While dating the books of the Old Testament is not difficult, dating the New Testament writings is remarkably simple. This is because every book of the New Testament was written within the first century AD. If you go on to study this in greater detail, you will find that there is considerable debate over the exact year that many of the books were written, but these are most often differences of 1 or 2, maybe up to 5 years.
Furthermore, we know that almost every book of the New Testament was written after Christ ascended to heaven, but before the year AD 70. This latter date marks an extremely significant event in the history of the Church: this is when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. No book in the New Testament makes references to the destruction of the Temple or any of the events that followed, save for Revelation alone. So, we can date the writing of every book other than Revelation and John’s letters to between the years AD 35 and 70. In fact, the great majority were written in less than a 20-year time span, between the years 50 and 68.
John is the one outlier. John, the Apostle wrote Revelation and his three letters when he was an old man. We also know from multiple early sources that John wrote Revelation while he was in exile near the end of the reign of emperor Domitian, who died in AD 96. With these bits of information, along with details from within the texts themselves, we can say that John wrote 1, 2, and 3 John, along with Revelation, between AD 90 to 95.
As we conclude, let’s answer our original question; “When was the Bible written?” The Bible was written over the span of 2000 years, between the 20th century BC and the 1st century AD. As you read and study the Bible, take a moment to recall this information, and be amazed at the remarkable unity of a book that was written by around 40 different people through multiple millennia. Indeed, this book must be the Word of God.