Why did the authors of the Bible cite non-biblical sources?

Matthias Stom's 17th century work depicts the Evangelists Mark and Luke recording their Gospels. The bibilical authors of both the New and Old Testaments, though inspired, still cited works that were in circulatiion at the time but no longer exist, such as the Book of Jasher or the Chronicles of Solomon. CNS Photo

Matthias Stom’s 17th century work depicts the Evangelists Mark and Luke recording their Gospels. The bibilical authors of both the New and Old Testaments, though inspired, still cited works that were in circulation at the time but no longer exist, such as the Book of Jasher or the Chronicles of Solomon.
CNS Photo

While we commonly think of the Bible as “a book,” it really isn’t. The Bible is probably best described as a book of books or even a library. It contains 73 books composed by different human authors and written at different times, places and occasions.

The Bible is like a library in another respect, too. It contains not only books, but also information about other books. The Old Testament, for example, mentions a number of works that no longer exist. These books are not Scripture, but they were writings that the authors either knew or consulted when they were writing their inspired manuscript.

Why would the inspired authors of Scripture need to consult books? Weren’t they inspired? Sometimes we incorrectly think of inspiration as the Holy Spirit overcoming the sacred author’s body and forcing them to write things about they had no knowledge or control, like the pagan oracles of old. Such was not the case.

God is much greater than that. He doesn’t have to wrestle against what He created or mug the intellect of an author to compose Scripture. God is so powerful that He can work through the secondary human author’s abilities, knowledge and personality in a way that doesn’t overcome their freedom.

As the Vatican II document on Divine Revelation (“Dei Verbum”) explains, “In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.”

Because the secondary human authors of Scripture are “true authors” and “made use of their power and abilities” when they wrote their respective books of Scripture, they still needed to acquire knowledge about what they wrote. Therefore, they consulted other works. The following is a list of works mentioned in the Old Testament.

  • The Book of Jasher (Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18)
  • The Book of the Wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14)
  • The Chronicles of the Kings of Israel (1 Kings 14:19)
  • The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah (1 Kings 14:29)
  • The Chronicles of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41)
  • The Chronicles of King David (1 Chronicles 27:24)
  • The History of Samuel the Seer and the History of Gad the Seer (1 Chronicles 29:29)
  • The Book of Shemaiah (2 Chronicles 9:29; 12:15; 13:22)
  • The Midrash of the Book of Kings (2 Chronicles 24:27)
  • The Chronicles of the Kings of Israel (2 Chronicles 33:18)
  • The History of the Seers (2 Chronicles 33:19)
  • The Annals of King Ahasuerus (Ester 2:23; 6:1; 10:2)
  • The Book of Chronicles (Nehemiah 12:23)
  • Nehemiah’s Memoirs (2 Maccabees 2:13)
  • The Five books of Jason of Cyrene (2 Maccabees 2:23)

As you can see, these texts all involve history. We tend to think that because the Bible is the only ancient source to survive antiquity that speaks to certain events, it must have been the only writing to ever write about them. This list tells a different story. There were plenty of books, histories, annals and other records in circulation at the time the books of the Bible were written. The Old Testament authors were familiar with them. Not only that, but the biblical authors even direct their original readers to these works for reference.

This is comforting because it shows how deeply rooted the Old Testament is in history. It wasn’t an isolated author reporting what happened; there were plenty of non-inspired writings that also recorded the events of the time. It’s nice to know that even the inspired authors weren’t immune from doing research and citing sources.


Gary Michuta is an apologist, author and speaker and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at www.handsonapologetics.com.