Bible Insights

The Bible Uses a Third Person Omniscient Point of View

Knowing the Writing Style of the Bible Will Help Us Avoid Confusion When We Read It

Since my days as a teenager, I’ve spent time most every day to read and study the Bible. I’m also a writer who writes every day. I like to share what I’ve learned about both subjects. Here goes:

I don’t want to trigger unwelcome flashbacks to junior high and high school, but here’s a brief reminder about point of view in writing: When we tell stories of what we did, we use first person (as in “I drove…”). When we tell stories about others, we use third person (as in “she drove…”).

And there are two variations of third person perspective

  • limited (restricted to what only one character can see or know) and
  • omniscient (knowing everything, like God).

In days of old, writers used third-person omniscient. Nowadays, third-person limited is all the rage, with the industry turning up its snobbish nose at third person omniscient writing.

The books I read in third person are always third person limited. In this I’m restricted to one person’s perspective per scene, just like a movie camera.

Reading, “he thought the idea was silly, but she was thinking the opposite,” is jarring because we hop from one person’s head to another in the same sentence. This is verboten in today’s writing style, third person limited.

Yet the Bible does this all the time.

For example, how was Jonah aware that the seas calmed down after the sailors tossed him into the water (Jonah 1:15)? Or when Philip left the Ethiopian eunuch, how did he know the eunuch went on his way (Acts 8:39)?

With today’s writing style, they can’t. We see things from Jonah and Philip‘s point of view and, according to the rules of third person limited writing, we can’t be privy to what happens when they aren’t present.

Yet most of the Bible uses the third person omniscient point of view, not third person limited. Therefore, consistent with this writing style, we can know these things.

Given that God is omniscient and inspired the words of the Bible, it’s completely logical that the Bible would align with his omniscient point of view.

It took me way too long to figure this out.

Over the years I’ve heard people criticize the Bible’s accuracy because of these passages about Jonah and Philip, as well as scores of others. They assumed the Bible should obey the rules of today’s in vogue writing style of third person limited.

Yet third person omniscient is the style of older literature, including the Bible.

God is omniscient, so it follows that his book would be mostly omniscient too.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

3 replies on “The Bible Uses a Third Person Omniscient Point of View”

I came across this article, because I’m working on a novel. I was curious in what person the Bible was written. By this article, I am inspired to take the challenge in writing in third person omniscient. I know that there are classics that have been written in that manner, and that’s why they stand out and are classics.

Thank you sho much in helping me understand the third person difference between limited and omniscient.

There is more than one POV in the Bible

Clear examples of various points of view in Scripture:

Omniscient Point of View:
Genesis, the entire book (although the amount of intrusive narration is quite limited). Exodus, the entire book (again, however, intrusive narration is limited).
Numbers, chapters 11, 12, & 22 – 25.
Ruth, the entire book, with almost no intrusive narrator. I & II Samuel
I & II Kings
I & II Chronicles

Third-person, limited omniscience, major character Point of View:
Leviticus (the entire book is in 3rd person, but only 8:1 – 10:20 is narrative, from the perspective of Moses, in the 3rd person).
Numbers (the entire book is in 3rd person, but 7:1 – 10:36 & 13:1 – 21:35 are limited to
Moses’ point of view).
Deuteronomy (the entire book gives us Moses’ perspective on the exodus from Egypt and journey to the edge of Canaan, only the final chapter, which tells of the death and burial of Moses, is in the omniscient p.o.v.)
John (the entire book, except for 1:14-18).

Third-person, limited omniscience, minor character Point of View:
Luke – a “reporter’s voice” and Acts 1:1 – 19:41.

First-person major character Point of View:
Ezra chapters 7:27 – 9:15 are in the 1st person point of view. Nehemiah – a entire book in the 1st person point of view. Ecclesiastes – the entire book.
Isaiah chapter 6 (the only chapter in the whole book in the 1st person p.o.v). Jeremiah 1:4 – 7:30; 11:5b – 19:13; 24: 1 – 10; 25: 15 – 38 & 31:26 – 32:15. Ezekiel, the entire book.
Daniel 7:2 – the end of the book (12:13). Habakkuk – the entire book.
Zechariah 1:8 through the end of the book. Revelation 1:9 – 22:18 are in the 1st person p.o.v).

First-person (plural!) minor character:
Acts 20:1 – the end of the book (28:31). Luke’s account of his journeys with Paul.

Joshua (only momentary slips out of the dramatic p.o.v., as in 4:9, 14; 5:1-12; 10:2, etc.) Judges (again, only momentary omniscient commentary punctuates this narrative, mostly
during the transitions from one narrative to another).
Song of Solomon
Malachi (a dramatic dialogue between God and the people of Israel).


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