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The Bible (sometimes The Book, Good Book, Word of God, The Word, or Scripture), from Greek (τα) βιβλια, (ta) biblia, "(the) books", plural of βιβλιον, biblion, "book", originally a diminutive of βιβλος, biblos, which in turn is derived from βυβλος—byblos, meaning "papyrus", from the ancient Phoenician city of Byblos which exported this writing material), is the classical name for the Hebrew Bible of Judaism or the combination of the Old Testament and New Testament of Christianity ("The Bible" therefore actually refers to at least two different Bibles). It is thus applied to sacred scriptures. Many Christian English speakers refer to the Christian Bible as "the good book" (Gospel itself means "good news"). For many people, their Bible is the revealed word of God or an authoritative record of the relationship between God, the world, and humankind.

Both Bibles have been the most widely distributed of books. It has also been translated more times, and into more languages, than any other book. The complete Bible, or portions of it, have been translated into more than 2,100 languages. It is said that more than 5 billion copies of the Bible have been sold since 1815, making it the biggest selling book of all-time. [1] [2] [3]

Because of Christian domination of Europe from the late Roman era to the Age of Enlightenment, the Christian Bible has influenced not only religion, but language, law and, until the modern era, the natural philosophy of mainstream Western Civilization. The Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution in Europe and America brought skepticism regarding the divine origin and historical accuracy of the Bible and Bible prophecy. Scholars such as Professor Peter Stoner and Dr. Hawley O. Taylor have argued that Bible prophecy is of a remarkable nature and did not happen by mere chance. Skeptics counter, however, that there have been notable figures like Porphyry of Tyros and the scholar Gustave Holscher who have made valid criticisms of Bible prophecy. With that being said, many still view the Bible as a great work of literature, including important reflections on morality, and dramatic love poetry such as the Song of Solomon.

Although the term "Bible" is most often used to refer to Jewish and Christian scriptures, "Bible" is sometimes used to describe scriptures of other faiths. Thus the Guru Granth Sahib is often referred to as the "Sikh Bible". In the early years after the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, it was sometimes known as the "Golden Bible". The word "bible" (in lower case) is also used to refer to any tome which incorporates comprehensive and/or authoritative coverage of its subject.

As the original meaning of the word indicates, the Jewish and Christian Bibles are actually collections of several books, considered to be inspired by God or to record God's relationship with humanity or a particular nation.


The Hebrew Bible

Main article: Tanakh
The holy Jewish scripture: The Torah. Background: Star of David, Menorah.
The holy Jewish scripture: The Torah. Background: Star of David, Menorah.

The Hebrew Bible (also known as the Jewish Bible, or תנ"ך, Tanakh in Hebrew) consists of 24 books. Tanakh is an acronym for three parts of the Hebrew Bible: the Torah, Nevi'im, and Ketuvim.


The Torah, or "teaching" is also known as the five books of Moses, thus Chumash or Pentateuch (Hebrew and Greek for "five," respectively).

The five books are:

The Torah focuses on three moments in the changing relationship between God and people.

  • The first eleven chapters of Genesis provide an account of the creation (or ordering) of the world, and the history of God's early relationship with humanity.
  • The remaining thirty-nine chapters of Genesis provide an account of God's covenant with the Hebrew patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (also called Israel), and Jacob's children (the "Children of Israel"), especially Joseph. It tells of how God commanded Abraham to leave his family and home in the city of Ur, eventually to settle in the land of Canaan, and how the Children of Israel later moved to Egypt
  • The remaining four books of the Torah tells the story of Moses, the greatest Hebrew prophet, who lived hundreds of years after the patriarchs. His story coincides with the story of the liberation of the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, to the renewal of their covenant with God at Mount Sinai, and their wanderings in the desert until a new generation would be ready to enter the land of Canaan. The Torah ends with the death of Moses.

The Torah contains the 613 mitzvot, or commandments, of God, revealed during the passage from slavery in the land of Egypt to freedom in the land of Canaan. These commandments provide the basis for Jewish law Halakha.

The Torah is divided into fifty four portions which are read in turn, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Deuteronomy, each Sabbath. The cycle ends and recommences at the end of Sukkot.

The Two Torahs

By the Hellenistic period of Jewish history, Jews were divided over the nature of the Torah. Some (for example, the Sadducees) believed that the Chumash contained the entire Torah, that is, the entire contents of what God revealed to Moses at Sinai and in the desert. Others, principally the Pharisees, believed that the Chumash represented only that portion of the revelation that had been written down (i.e. the Written Torah or the Written Law), but that the rest of God's revelation had been passed down orally (thus composing the Oral Law or Oral Torah). Orthodox Jews today believe that the Talmud consists of the Oral Torah committed to writing.

The Four Sources

Most Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews, as well as many liberal Christian scholars, now accept the Documentary hypothesis which posits that the Written Torah has its origins in earlier sources labeled J, E, D, and P. These in turn may go back to oral traditions and/or drew on (and sometimes parodied) earlier ancient Near Eastern mythology. The documentary hypothesis posits that these four distinct traditions (or sources) are evident in the Torah. Julius Wellhausen, who in the late 1800s gave this hypothesis a definitive formulation, suggested that these sources were edited together or redacted during the time of Ezra, perhaps by Ezra himself.

Jewish scholars who accept the documentary hypothesis differ as to whether these sources were or were not divinely inspired, and differ over the nature and extent of their obligation to the 613 commandments and the body of law represented in the Oral Torah, although each branch of Judaism recognizes both the Written and Oral Torahs as central to Jewish tradition, whether it be conceived of as sacred, national, or cultural.

The documentary hypothesis has not been without its critics. For example, evangelical Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen, and Gleason Archer, have sharply criticized and rejected the documentary hypothesis using various lines of argumentation, as has the critical scholar R. N. Whybray.[4][5][6][7]


Nevi'im, or "Prophets," tells the story of the rise of the Hebrew monarchy, its division into two kingdoms, and the prophets who, in God's name, judged the kings and the Children of Israel. It ends with the conquest of the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians and the conquest of the Kingdom of Judea by the Babylonians, and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Portions of the prophetic books are read on the Sabbath (Shabbat). The Book of Jonah is read on Yom Kippor.

According to Jewish tradition, Nevi'im is divided into eight books. Contemporary translations subdivide these into seventeen books.

The eight books are:

  • I. Joshua or Yehoshua [יהושע]
  • II. Judges or Shoftim [שופטים]
  • III. Samuel or Shmu'el [שמואל] (often divided into two books; Samuel may be considered the last of the judges (his sons were named judges, but rejected by the people) or the first of the prophets; it was he who negotiated on behalf of the Children of Israel with God to anoint a King)
  • IV. Kings or Melakhim [מלכים] (often divided into two books)
  • V. Isaiah or Yeshayahu [ישעיהו]
  • VI. Jeremiah or Yirmiyahu [ירמיהו]
  • VII. Ezekiel or Yehezq'el [יחזקאל]
  • VIII. Trei Asar (The Twelve Minor Prophets) תרי עשר
    • 1. Hosea or Hoshea [הושע]
    • 2. Joel or Yo'el [יואל]
    • 3. Amos [עמוס]
    • 4. Obadiah or Ovadyah [עבדיה]
    • 5. Jonah or Yonah [יונה]
    • 6. Micah or Mikhah [מיכה]
    • 7. Nahum or Nachum [נחום]
    • 8. Habakkuk or Habaquq [חבקוק]
    • 9. Zephaniah or Tsefania [צפניה]
    • 10. Haggai or Haggai [חגי]
    • 11. Zechariah Zekharia [זכריה]
    • 12. Malachi or Malakhi [מלאכי]

The Torah and the Nevi'im have an epical quality, although they have no human hero (Moses and David are, in many ways, anti-heros; one may consider the Children of Israel collectively to be the hero of the epic, or, if one must chose a single character, God)


Ketuvim, or "Writings," were, according to critical scholars, mostly written during or after the Babylonian Exile and were among the last books to be canonized. According to Rabbinic tradition, many of the psalms in the book of Psalms are attributed to King David; King Solomon wrote three books: Song of Songs in his youth, Proverbs at the prime of his life, and Ecclesiastes at old age; and the prophet Jeremiah wrote Lamentations. The Book of Job is the only Biblical book that centers entirely on a non-Jew. The book of Ruth tells the story of a non-Jew (specifically, a Moabite) who married a Jew and, upon his death, the ways of the Jews; according to the Bible, she was the great-grandmother of King David. Five of the books, called "The Five Scrolls" (Megilot), are read on Jewish holidays: Song of Songs on Passover; the Book of Ruth on Shavuot; Lamentations on the Ninth of Av; Ecclesiastes on Sukkot; and the Book of Esther on Purim. Collectively, the Ketuvim contain lyrical poetry, philosophical reflections on life, and the stories of the prophets and other Jewish leaders during the Babylonian exile. It ends with the Persian decree allowing Jews to return to Judea to rebuild the Temple.

Ketuvim contains eleven books:

Translations and Editions

The Tanakh was mainly written in Biblical Hebrew, with some portions (notably in Daniel and Ezra) in Aramaic.

Some time in the 3rd century BC, the Torah was translated into Koine Greek, and over the next century other books were translated as well. This translation became known as the Septuagint and was widely used by Greek-speaking Jews and, later, by Christians. It differs somewhat from the Hebrew text as standardized later (Masoretic Text).

From the 800s to the 1400s, Rabbinic Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes compared the text of all known Biblical manuscripts in an effort to create a unified standardized text; a series of highly similar texts eventually emerged, and any of these texts are known as Masoretic Texts (MT). The Masoretes also added vowel points (called niqqud) to the text, since the original text only contained consonants. This sometimes required the selection of an interpretation, since words can differ only in their vowels, and thus the meaning can vary in accordance with the choice of vowels to insert. In antiquity other variant readings existed, some of which have survived in the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea scrolls, and other ancient fragments, as well as being attested in ancient versions in other languages.

Versions of the Septuagint contain several passages and whole books additional to what was included in the Masoretic texts of the Tanakh. In some cases these additions were originally composed in Greek, while in other cases they are translations of Hebrew books or variants not present in the Masoretic texts. Recent discoveries have shown that more of the Septuagint additions have a Hebrew origin than was once thought. While there are no complete surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew texts on which the Septuagint was based, many scholars believe that they represent a different textual tradition from the one that eventually became the basis for the Masoretic texts.

The Jews also produced non-literal translations or paraphrases known as targums, primarily in Aramaic. They frequently expanded on the text with additional details taken from Rabbinic oral tradition.

See below for a partial list of contemporary English translations.

The Christian Bible

A Bible handwritten in Latin, on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England. This Bible was transcribed in Belgium in 1407, for reading aloud in a monastery.
A Bible handwritten in Latin, on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England. This Bible was transcribed in Belgium in 1407, for reading aloud in a monastery.

The Septuagint was generally abandoned in favour of the Masoretic text as the basis for translations into Western languages from Saint Jerome's Vulgate to the present day. In Eastern Christianity, translations based on the Septuagint still prevail. Some modern Western translations make use of the Septuagint to clarify passages in the Masoretic text that seem to have suffered corruption in transcription. They also sometimes adopt variants that appear in texts discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. (For more information, see the entry on Bible translations).

The Old Testament

The collection of books that the majority of Christians (including members of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches) call the Old Testament include not only the 24 books of the Jewish Tanakh, but also certain deuterocanonical books preserved in the Greek of the Septuagint. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes seven such books (Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), and Baruch), as well as some passages in Esther and Daniel, that are not included in the Jewish Scriptures. Various Orthodox Churches include a few others, typically 3 Maccabees, Psalm 151, 1 Esdras, Odes, Psalms of Solomon, and occasionally even 4 Maccabees. Protestants in general do not recognize these books as truly part of the Bible, though they may print them along with the books they do recognize.

The New Testament

The New Testament is a collection of 27 books, written in Koine Greek in the early Christian period, that almost all Christians recognize as Scripture. These can be grouped into:

Original language

Most scholars believe that all of the New Testament was originally composed in Greek. The three main textual traditions are sometimes called the Western text-type, the Alexandrian text-type, and Byzantine text-type. Together they comprise the majority of New Testament manuscripts. There are also several ancient versions in other languages, most important of which are the Syriac (including the Peshitta and the Diatessaron gospel harmony) and the Latin (both the Vetus Latina and the Vulgate).

A few scholars believe in Aramaic primacy - that parts of the Greek New Testament are actually a translation of an Aramaic original, in particular the Gospel of Matthew. Of these, a small number accept the Syriac Peshitta as representing the original, while most take a more critical approach to reconstructing the original text.

Historic editions

The earliest printed edition of the New Testament in Greek appeared in 1516 from the Froben press. It was compiled by Desiderius Erasmus on the basis of the few recent Greek manuscripts, all of Byzantine tradition, at his disposal, which he completed by translating from the Vulgate parts for which he did not have a Greek text. He produced four later editions of the text.

Erasmus was a deeply religious Roman Catholic, but his preference for the textual tradition represented in Byzantine Greek text of the time rather than that in the Latin Vulgate led to him being viewed with suspicion by some authorities of his Church.

The first edition with critical apparatus (variant readings in manuscripts) was produced by the printer Robert Estienne of Paris in 1550. The type of text printed in this edition and in those of Erasmus became known as the Textus Receptus (Latin for "received text"), a name given to it in the Elzevier edition of 1633, which termed it the text "nunc ab omnibus receptum" ("now received by all"). On it the Churches of the Protestant Reformation based their translations into vernacular languages, such as the King James Version.

The discovery of older manuscripts, such as the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus, led scholars to revise their opinion of this text. Karl Lachmann’s critical edition of 1831, based on manuscripts dating from the fourth century and earlier, was intended primarily to demonstrate that the Textus Receptus must finally be rejected. Later critical texts are based on further scholarly research and the finding of papyrus fragments dating in some cases from within a few decades of the composition of the New Testament writings. It is on the basis of these that nearly all modern translations or revisions of older translations have, for more than a century, been made, though some still prefer the Textus Receptus or the similar "Byzantine Majority Text".

The canonization of Scripture

Main article: Biblical Canon

For Judaism, it is commonly thought that the canonical status of some books was discussed between 200 BC and around 100 AD, though it is unclear at what point during this period the Jewish canon was decided.

To the books accepted by Judaism as Scripture, Christianity subsequently added those of the New Testament, the 27-book canon of which was finally fixed in the 4th century. As indicated above, Christianity also mostly considers certain deuterocanonical books to be part of the Old Testament, though Protestantism in general accepts as part of the Old Testament only the books in the canon of Judaism and uses the term Apocrypha for the deuterocanonical books. The Protestant Old Testament has a 39-book canon– the number varies from that of the books in the Tanakh because of a different way of dividing them – while the Roman Catholic Church recognizes 46 books as part of the Old Testament. For details, see Books of the Bible.

Canonicity is distinct from questions of human authorship and the formation of the books of the Bible, questions discussed in the entries on higher criticism and textual criticism.

Biblical versions and translations

In scholarly writing, ancient translations are frequently referred to as 'versions', with the term 'translation' being reserved for medieval or modern translations. Information about Bible versions is given below, while Bible translations can be found on a separate page.

The original texts of the Tanakh were in Hebrew, although some portions were in Aramaic. In addition to the authoritative Masoretic Text, Jews still refer to the Septuagint, the translation of much of the Bible into Greek, and the Targum Onkelos, an Aramaic version of the Bible.

Early Christians produced translations of the Hebrew Bible into several languages; their primary Biblical text was the Septuagint. Translations were made into Syriac, Coptic and Latin, among other languages. The Latin translations were historically the most important for the Church in the West, while the Greek-speaking East continued to use the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament and had no need to translate the New Testament.

The earliest Latin translation was the Old Latin text, or Vetus Latina, which, from internal evidence, seems to have been made by several authors over a period of time. It was based on the Septuagint, and thus included books not in the Hebrew Bible.

The ever-increasing number of variants in Latin manuscripts induced Pope Damasus, in 382, to commission his secretary, Saint Jerome, to produce a reliable and consistent text. Jerome later took it on himself to make a completely new translation directly from the Hebrew of the Tanakh. This translation became the basis of the Vulgate Latin translation. Though he also translated Psalms from Hebrew, the earlier Septuagint-based version, slightly revised by him, is the text that was actually used in Church and is included in editions of the Vulgate. This includes the deuterocanonical books, also revised by Jerome, and became the official translation of the Roman Catholic Church.

See Origin and Growth of the English Bible for a chart on how the English Bible came to be.

The Introduction of chapters and verses

Main article: Chapters and verses of the Bible; see Tanakh for the Jewish textual tradition.

The Hebrew Masoretic text contains verse endings as an important feature. According to the Talmudic tradition, the verse endings are of ancient origin. The Masoretic textual tradition also contains section endings called parashiyot, which are indicated by a space within a line (a "closed" section") or a new line beginning (an "open" section). The division of the text reflected in the parashiyot is usually thematic. The parashiyot are not numbered.

In early manuscripts (most importantly in Tiberian Masoretic manuscripts, such as the Aleppo codex) an "open" section may also be represented by a blank line, and a "closed" section by a new line that is slightly indented (the preceding line may also not be full). These latter conventions are no longer used in Torah scrolls and printed Hebrew Bibles. In this system, the one rule differentiating "open" and "closed" sections is that "open" sections must always begin at the beginning of a new line, while "closed" sections never start at the beginning of a new line.

Another related feature of the Masoretic text is the division of the sedarim. This division is not thematic, but is almost entirely based upon the quantity of text.

The Byzantines also introduced a chapter division of sorts, called Kephalaia. It is not identical to the present chapters.

The current division of the Bible into chapters and the verse numbers within the chapters have no basis in any ancient textual tradition. Rather, they are medieval Christian inventions. They were later adopted by many Jews as well, as technical references within the Hebrew text. Such technical references became crucial to medieval rabbis in the historical context of forced debates with Christian clergy (who used the chapter and verse numbers), especially in late medieval Spain. Chapter divisions were first used by Jews in a 1330 manuscript, and for a printed edition in 1516. However, for the past generation most Jewish editions of the complete Hebrew Bible have made a systematic effort to relegate chapter and verse numbers to the margins of the text.

The division of the Bible into chapters and verses has often elicited severe criticism from traditionalists and modern scholars alike. Critics charge that the text is often divided into chapters in an incoherent way, or at inappropriate points within the narrative, and that it encourages citing passages out of context, in effect turning the Bible into a kind of textual quarry for clerical citations. Nevertheless, even the critics admit that the chapter divisions and verse numbers have become indispensable as technical references for Bible study.

Stephen Langton is reputed to have been the first to put the chapter divisions into a Vulgate edition of the Bible, in 1205. They were then inserted into Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in the 1400s. Robert Estienne (Robert Stephanus) was the first to number the verses within each chapter, his verse numbers entering printed editions in 1565 (New Testament) and 1571 (Hebrew Bible).[8][9]

See also

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  • Anderson, Bernhard W. Understanding the Old Testament (ISBN 0139483993)
  • Dever, William B. Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did they Come from? Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003. ISBN 0802809758.
  • Head, Tom. The Absolute Beginner's Guide to the Bible. Indianapolis, IN: Que Publishing, 2005. ISBN 0789734192.
  • Miller, John W. The Origins of the Bible: Rethinking Canon History Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1994. ISBN 0809135221.
  • Silberman, Neil A. and colleagues. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0684869136.
  • Peter, Stoner Science Speaks, Chapter 2: Prophetic Accuracy, Chicago, Moody Press, 1963 (online version available)
  • Taylor, Hawley O., "Mathematics and Prophecy," Modern Science and Christian Faith, Wheaton,: Van Kampen, 1948, pp.175-183.
  • Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, subject: prophecy, page 1410, Moody Bible Press, Chicago, 1986
  • Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, subject: Book of Ezekiel, page 580, Moody Bible Press, Chicago, 1986
  • Heline, Corinne, New Age Bible Interpretation, 1954, New Age Bible & Philosophy Center, Santa Monica (CA), 7 volumes

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