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The Bible (From Greek βιβλιος biblios, meaning "book", which in turn is derived from βυβλος—byblos meaning "papyrus", from the ancient Phoenician city of Byblos which exported papyrus) is a word applied to sacred scriptures.

Although most often used of 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".



Jewish and Christian Bibles are actually a collection of books, which many in these communities believe to be inspired by God and to express the authoritative history of God's dealings with his people.

The Jewish Bible (Tanakh) consists of 24 books, and to a large extent overlaps with the contents of the Christian Old Testament, but with the books differently ordered. The Tanakh consists of the five books of Moses (the Torah or Pentateuch), a section called "Prophets" (Nevi'im), and a third section called "Writings" (also Ketuvim or Hagiographa). The term "Tanakh" is a Hebrew acronym formed from these three names. Although the Tanakh was mainly written in Biblical Hebrew, it has some portions in Biblical Aramaic.

Sometime in the 3rd century BCE, the original Hebrew text of the Torah was translated into Koine Greek as the Septuagint. Over the next century the rest of the books of the Tanakh were translated as well; these translations were included in the Septuagint, and became the basis of the Old Testament for the early Church. However, later the Hebrew Masoretic text, which differs somewhat from the Septuagint, was increasingly used as a basis for the translation of the Old Testament among Western Christians (from Jerome's Vulgate until the present day). In Eastern Christianity, translations based on the Septuagint still prevail. Some modern editions also take advantage of insights from works found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. (For more information, see the entry on Bible translations).

The majority of Christians (including members of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox churches) include deuterocanonical books in the Old Testament. These are a collection of books which were included in various versions of the Septuagint. The Roman Catholic Bible includes seven deuterocanonical books: Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), and Baruch, as well as six additional chapters in Esther and three additional chapters in Daniel. The various Orthodox churches include a few others, typically 3 Maccabees, Psalm 151, 1 Esdras, Odes, Psalms of Solomon, and occasionally even 4 Maccabees.

The New Testament is a collection of 27 books, written in Koine Greek in the early Christian period, which are recognised as scripture by almost all Christians. The canon of the New Testament was finally fixed in the 4th century, although some degree of consensus was emerging earlier. The books of the New Testament are the four Gospels, the (Acts of the Apostles), the Letters to Christian churches and to other apostles by Paul and others, and the Book of Revelation.


The Bible is arguably the most influential collection of books in human history. More copies of the Bible have been distributed than of any other book. The Bible has also been translated more times, and into more languages, than any other book. The complete Bible, or portions, have been translated into more than 2,100 languages. The Bible is available, in whole or in part, in the language of 90% of the world's population. It is estimated that approximately 60 million copies of the entire Bible, or significant portions thereof, are distributed annually.

The Bible has had a tremendous influence not just on religion, but on language, law and culture as well, particularly in Europe and North America.

What parts of the Bible are canon?

Main articles: Biblical canon, Books of the Bible

As outlined above, the Jewish, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and other traditions accept slightly different canons of the Hebrew Bible. For the Jews, the status of some books of the canon was discussed between 200 BCE and around 100 CE, though it is unclear when the canon was actually set. The Christian canons diverged from the Jewish canon and developed as an extension to that canon. St. Jerome, who created the Vulgate translation of the Christian Bible, recommended that of the Old Testament only the original Jewish canon be regarded as authoritative, and called the ones added by western Christians Apocrypha. This distinction was largely ignored until the 16th century when the churches who were part of the Reformation (Protestants and Anabaptists) took as definitive St. Jerome's definition. The Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in 1546 declared that seven books of the Apocryphal writings should also be canon. The Eastern Orthodox Church includes those seven plus a few others in its canon, but has never taken a formal decision on this matter as of yet.

In addition to the diverse traditions concerning which books belong in the canon of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible, modern scholarship proposes alternative views concerning the authenticity of books, and of texts within the books. See 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.


Main article: Tanakh

The oldest books of the Bible are the Pentateuch, also known as the Torah. They are written in Hebrew and are also called the "Books of Moses." Traditionally Judaism and Christianity held that these books were actually written by the lawgiver Moses, but many today believe that the current form of the Torah came about by a redactor bringing together several earlier, distinct sources. This idea is called the documentary hypothesis.

In addition to the Torah, as noted above, the Jewish scriptures include the Nevi'im ("prophets") and the Ketuvim ("writings"), the combined collection being designated by the Hebrew acronym "Tanakh".

The original text of the Tanakh was in Hebrew, with some portions (notably in Daniel and Ezra) in Aramaic. 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 and 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 text can vary depending upon the choice of vowels to be inserted. In antiquity there were other variant readings which were popular, some of which have survived in the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea scrolls, and other ancient fragments, as well as being attested in ancient translations to other languages.

By the year 1, most Jews no longer spoke Hebrew as the vernacular, but spoke Greek or Aramaic instead; thus they made translations or paraphrases into these languages. The most important of the translations into the Greek was the Septuagint translation of the Torah, and subsequent Greek translations of other Biblicial books often included in the Septuagint, although different Greek translations were made as well. Versions of the Septuagint contain several additional passages, and whole additional books, compared 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 text. 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 text on which the Septuagint was based, many scholars believe that it was a different textual tradition than 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.

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 to the Church in the West, while in the Greek-speaking East, they 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. Exactly who translated it is unknown, but internal evidence suggests it is the product of several authors over a period of time. It was based on the Septuagint, and thus included the Septuagint additions.

As a translation, the Old Latin was far from ideal, and so Jerome was commissioned to produce the Vulgate translation as a replacement. Jerome based his translation on the Hebrew rather than the Septuagint, except in the Psalms, where he preferred the Greek. He was of the opinion that the Septuagint additions were of doubtful value, but he included them due to the demands of the church. He did not, however, translate the additional books anew; the Vulgate for these books is identical to the Old Latin. The Vulgate became the official translation of the Roman Catholic church.

New Testament

The majority of scholars believe the New Testament was originally composed in Greek. There are a number of different textual traditions of the New Testament. The three main traditions are sometimes called the Western text-type, the Alexandrian text-type, and Byzantine text-type, and together they comprise the majority of New Testament manuscripts. There are also several ancient translations into 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 minority of scholars believe the Greek New Testament is actually a translation of an Aramaic original. Of these, some accept the so called "Syriac" Peshitta as the original, while others take a more critical approach to reconstructing the original text. For more on this view, see Aramaic primacy.

The earliest critical edition of the New Testament is the Textus Receptus (Latin for "received text") compiled by the humanist Desiderius Erasmus. It is largely Byzantine in character. The Textus Receptus was for many centuries the standard critical edition of the New Testament, only losing that position after the discovery of manuscripts such as the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus. There are some who believe that many or all of the changes introduced by later critical editions are incorrect, and that the Textus Receptus is still the best critical edition available. A similar but distinct argument is sometimes made for the Majority Text.

For a more detailed account of the New Testament's development, see the relevant section of Biblical canon.

Chapters and verses

Main article: Chapters and verses of the Bible

The Masoretic Hebrew text contains verse endings as an important feature. According to the Jewish 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 rather 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, however, 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 both 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 person to put the chapter divisions into a Vulgate edition of the Bible in 1205. They came into the 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 entered printed editions in 1565 (New Testament) and 1571 (Hebrew Bible).[1][2]

Biblical interpretation

A wealth of additional stories and legends amplifying the accounts in the Tanakh can be found in the Jewish genre of rabbinical exegesis known as Midrash.

Throughout antiquity and the medieval periods, allegorical methods of interpretation were popular. The earliest use of these was probably Philo, who attempted to make Jewish halakah palatable to the Greek mind by interpreting it as symbolising philosophical doctrines. Allegorical interpretation was adopted by Christians, and continued in popularity until a reaction against it during the Reformation, and it has not since found much favour in Western Christianity.

The Eastern Orthodox Church generally follows a patristic method of interpretation, attempting to interpret scripture in the same way that the early church fathers did. It also interprets scripture liturgically. This means that the passages that are publicly read on certain days of the liturgical year are significant, especially on feast days, and are intended to guide people in their interpretation as they are praying together. Since it was members of the Church who wrote the New Testament and a series of church councils that decided the biblical canon, the Orthodox believe that the Church should also be the final authority in its interpretation. This often includes allegorical interpretations.

The pesher method of interpretation, which views Biblical passages as coded representations of events current to the writing of the passage, was recently (1992) put forward by Barbara Thiering, Ph.D. It is not taken seriously by most experts.

The Bible and history

The mixed archaeological record has led to a variety of opinions regarding the accuracy or historicity of Biblical accounts. Today there are two loosely defined schools of thought with regard to the historicity of the Bible (Biblical minimalism and Biblical maximalism) with many in between, in addition to the traditional religious reading of the Bible. This subject is discussed in its own entry, The Bible and history.

The supernatural in monotheistic religions

Many modern skeptical readers of the Bible hold that its authors gradually reinterpreted historical and natural events as miraculous or supernatural. Some feel these events never took place at all; that miracles are a story-teller's "wonders" and they have symbolic meanings, understood by the past generations that heard and recorded them. The article on the supernatural in monotheistic religions thus concerns itself with the junction between monotheistic religions, such as Christianity and Judaism and the supernatural.

See also


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Miller, John W. The Origins of the Bible: Rethinking Canon History Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1994. ISBN 0809135221.

External links

On-line versions of the Bible

Text editions in English

See also:    ... for King James Version,
   World English Bible, etc.
Protestant tradition
Catholic tradition
Skeptical editions
Other (or not specified) traditions

Text editions in other languages

Illustrated and facsimile editions

Audio versions

On-line resources for understanding and (re)interpreting the Bible

  • - a free online Bible study resource for anyone who is interested in reading and researching scripture on the Internet
  • - Bible downloads and Bible study aids
  • Bible Names - "An Interpreting Dictionary of Scripture Proper Names" from Hitchcock's New and Complete Analysis of the Holy Bible
  • The Bible Decoded - A transposing of the books of John and Revelations into the philosophy of Neo-Tech
  • The Bible Tool - contains a huge collection of bible texts, commentaries, glossaries, and dictionaries
  • Blue Letter Bible - online interactive reference library with tools to usefully dig into original meanings of words in original Biblical languages
  • - Bible information on the Gospel
  • Biblical Errancy - a discussion of the internal consistency of the Bible
  • bibles @ - over 400 Megabytes of Bibles and resources
  • Proving Inspiration - How to Prove Inspiration
  • Bible Study Now - Free interactive online Bible Study resources.

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