The Bible (from Koine Greek τὰ βιβλία, tà Biblía, “the Books”) is a collection of texts sacred in Judaism and Christianity. There is no single canonical “Bible”: many Bibles have evolved, with overlapping and diverging contents. Various religious traditions have produced different recensions with different selections of Texts. These do largely overlap however, creating a common core.
With estimated total sales of over 5 billion copies, the Bible is widely considered to be the best selling book of all time, has estimated annual sales of 100 million copies, and has been a major influence on literature and history, especially in the West where the Gutenberg Bible was the first mass-printed book. It was the first book ever printed using movable type.
Versions of the Bible
The appropriate term to describe Judaism’s scriptures is Tanakh, although the terms Bible and Old Testament are commonly used by non-Jews to describe Judaism’s scriptures. While there is just one Jewish Bible,[not in citation given] collected together and preserved as the sacred books of the Jewish people, the contents of each of the Christian compilations of canonical texts of the Old Testament vary between different Christian traditions. Jewish scripture was (and is) originally written in Hebrew, the Christian Old and New Testaments were originally written in Koine Greek. The Tanakh has 24 books, the various versions of the Old Testament have more and contain the original 24 books of the Tanakh in a different order.
Judaism preserves and hands down a collection of Scriptures called the Tanakh or the Jewish Bible. In a context outside of Judaism, it is more generally referred to as the Hebrew Bible. This collection contains twenty-four books divided into three parts: the Torah (“teaching”, “instruction”), the Nevi’im (“Prophets”), and the Ketuvim (“writings”). The unifying property of the Tanakh is that all its books are originally written in Hebrew, and, to a very minor degree, in the Aramaic language.
The Christian Old Testament features more than 24 books of the original Hebrew Bible, and deliberately in a divergent order. Moreover, there are a number of different versions of the Christian Bible, with different selections of books, as well as different ordering and naming of books, or incorporation of additional material into the books.
Christian Bibles range from the sixty-six books of the Protestant canon to the eighty-one books of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church canon. The first part of all Christian Bibles is the Old Testament, which contains, at minimum, the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible divided into thirty-nine books and ordered differently from the Hebrew Bible. The Catholic Church and Eastern Christian churches also hold certain books and passages that are excluded from the Hebrew Bible to be part of the Old Testament canon.
The second part of the Christian Bible is the New Testament, containing twenty-seven books originally written in Koine Greek, which discuss the teachings and person of Jesus, as well as events in first-century Christianity. The New Testament is divided into the four Canonical gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, twenty-one Epistles or didactic letters, and the Book of Revelation.
By the 2nd century BCE Jewish groups had called the Bible books the “Scriptures” and referred to them as “Holy,” or in Hebrew כִּתְבֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ (Kitvei hakkodesh), and Christians now commonly call the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible “The Holy Bible”, in Greek (τὰ βιβλία τὰ ἅγια, tà biblía tà ágia) or “the Holy Scriptures” (η Αγία Γραφή, e Agía Graphḗ). The Bible was divided into chapters in the 13th century by Stephen Langton and into verses in the 16th century by French printer Robert Estienne and is now usually cited by book, chapter, and verse.
The oldest extant copy of a complete Bible is an early 4th-century parchment book preserved in the Vatican Library, and known as the Codex Vaticanus. The oldest copy of the Tanakh in Hebrew and Aramaic dates to the 10th century CE. The oldest copy of a complete Latin (Vulgate) Bible is the Codex Amiatinus, dating from the 8th century.
The English word Bible is from the Latin Biblia, from the same word in Medieval Latin and Late Latin and ultimately from Koine Greek τὰ βιβλία ta Biblia “the Books” (singular βιβλίον biblion).
The word βιβλίον itself had the literal meaning of “paper” or “scroll” and came to be used as the ordinary word for “book”.
It is the diminutive of βύβλος byblos, “Egyptian papyrus”, possibly so called from the name of the Phoenician sea port Byblos (also known as Gebal) from whence Egyptian papyrus was exported to Greece. The Greek ta biblia (lit. “little papyrus books”) was “an expression Hellenistic Jews used to describe their sacred books (the Septuagint). Christian use of the term can be traced to c. 223 CE. The biblical scholar F.F. Bruce notes that Chrysostom appears to be the first writer (in his Homilies on Matthew, delivered between 386 and 388) to use the Greek phrase ta Biblia (“the Books”) to describe both the Old and New Testaments together.
The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh. It defines the books of the Jewish canon, and also the precise letter-text of these biblical books, with their vocalization and accentuation.
The oldest extant manuscripts of the Masoretic Text date from approximately the 9th century CE, and the Aleppo Codex (once the oldest complete copy of the Masoretic Text, but now missing its Torah section) dates from the 10th century.
The name Tanakh (Hebrew: תנ”ך) reflects the threefold division of the Hebrew Scriptures, Torah (“Teaching”), Nevi’im (“Prophets”) and Ketuvim (“Writings”).
The Tanakh was mainly written in biblical Hebrew, with some portions (Ezra 4:8–6:18 and 7:12–26, Jeremiah 10:11, Daniel 2:4–7:28) in biblical Aramaic, a sister language which became the lingua franca of the Semitic world.
The Septuagint, or LXX, is a translation of the Hebrew scriptures and some related texts into Koine Greek, begun in the late 3rd century BCE and completed by 132 BCE, initially in Alexandria, but in time elsewhere as well. It is not altogether clear which was translated when, or where; some may even have been translated twice, into different versions, and then revised.
As the work of translation progressed, the canon of the Greek Bible expanded. The Torah always maintained its pre-eminence as the basis of the canon but the collection of prophetic writings, based on the Nevi’im, had various hagiographical works incorporated into it. In addition, some newer books were included in the Septuagint, among these are the Maccabees and the Wisdom of Sirach. However, the Book of Sirach, is now known to have been existed in a Hebrew version, since ancient Hebrew manuscripts of it were rediscovered in modern times. The Septuagint version of some Biblical Books, like Daniel and Esther, are longer than those in the Jewish canon. Some of these Deuterocanonical Books (e.g. the Wisdom of Solomon, and the second Book of Maccabees) were not translated, but composed directly in Greek.
Since Late Antiquity, once attributed to a hypothetical late 1st-century Council of Jamnia, mainstream Rabbinic Judaism rejected the Septuagint as valid Jewish scriptural texts. Several reasons have been given for this. First, some mistranslations were claimed. Second, the Hebrew source texts used for the Septuagint differed from the Masoretic tradition of Hebrew texts, which was chosen as canonical by the Jewish rabbis. Third, the rabbis wanted to distinguish their tradition from the newly emerging tradition of Christianity. Finally, the rabbis claimed a divine authority for the Hebrew language, in contrast to Aramaic or Greek – even though these languages were the lingua franca of Jews during this period (and Aramaic would eventually be given a holy language status comparable to Hebrew).
The Septuagint is the basis for the Old Latin, Slavonic, Syriac, Old Armenian, Old Georgian and Coptic versions of the Christian Old Testament. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches use most of the Books of the Septuagint, while Protestant churches usually do not. The Apocrypha are included under a separate heading in the King James Version of the Bible, the basis for the Revised Standard Version.
Some texts are found in the Septuagint but are not present in the Hebrew. These additional Books are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach, Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah (which later became chapter 6 of Baruch in the Vulgate), additions to Daniel (The Prayer of Azarias, the Song of the Three Children, Susanna and Bel and the Dragon), additions to Esther, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, Odes, including the Prayer of Manasseh, the Psalms of Solomon, and Psalm 151.
Some Books that are set apart in the Masoretic Text are grouped together. For example, the Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings are in the LXX one book in four parts called Βασιλειῶν (“Of Reigns”). In LXX, the Books of Chronicles supplement Reigns and it is called Paralipomenon (Παραλειπομένων—things left out). The Septuagint organizes the minor prophets as twelve parts of one Book of Twelve.
A Christian Bible is a set of Books that a Christian denomination regards as divinely inspired and thus constituting Scripture. Although the Early Church primarily used the Septuagint or the Targums among Aramaic speakers, the apostles did not leave a defined set of new Scriptures; instead the canon of the New Testament developed over time. Groups within Christianity include differing Books as part of their Sacred Writings, most prominent among which are the Biblical Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books.
Significant versions of the English Christian Bible include the Douay-Rheims Bible, the Authorized King James Version, the English Revised Version, the American Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard Version, the New King James Version, the New International Version, and the English Standard Version.
A few groups consider particular translations to be divinely inspired, notably the Greek Septuagint and the Aramaic Peshitta.
Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical Books
The Isaiah scroll, which is a part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, contains almost the whole Book of Isaiah. It dates from the 2nd century BCE.
In Eastern Christianity, translations based on the Septuagint still prevail. The Septuagint was generally abandoned in favour of the 10th-century Masoretic Text as the basis for translations of the Old Testament into Western languages. Some modern Western translations since the 14th century make use of the Septuagint to clarify passages in the Masoretic Text, where the Septuagint may preserve a variant reading of the Hebrew text. They also sometimes adopt variants that appear in other texts, e.g., those discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
A number of Books which are part of the Peshitta or Greek Septuagint but are not found in the Hebrew (Rabbinic) Bible (i.e., among the protocanonical books) are often referred to as Deuterocanonical Books by Roman Catholics referring to a later secondary (i.e., deutero) canon, that canon as fixed definitively by the Council of Trent 1545–1563. It includes 46 books for the Old Testament (45 if Jeremiah and Lamentations are counted as one) and 27 for the New.
Most Protestants term these Books as apocrypha. Modern Protestant traditions do not accept the Deuterocanonical Books as Canonical, although Protestant Bibles included them in Apocrypha sections until the 1820s. However, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches include these Books as part of their Old Testament.
The Roman Catholic Church recognizes:
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
- Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus)
- The Letter of Jeremiah (Baruch Chapter 6)
- Greek Additions to Esther (Book of Esther, chapters 10:4 – 12:6)
- The Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children verses 1–68 (Book of Daniel, chapter 3, verses 24–90)
- Susanna (Book of Daniel, chapter 13)
Bel and the Dragon (Book of Daniel, chapter 14)
In addition to those, the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches recognize the following:
- 3 Maccabees
- 1 Esdras
- Prayer of Manasseh
Russian and Georgian Orthodox Churches include:
- 2 Esdras i.e., Latin Esdras in the Russian and Georgian Bibles
There is also 4 Maccabees which is only accepted as canonical in the Georgian Church, but was included by St. Jerome in an appendix to the Vulgate, and is an appendix to the Greek Orthodox Bible, and it is therefore sometimes included in collections of the Apocrypha.
The Syriac Orthodox tradition includes:
- Psalms 151–155
- The Apocalypse of Baruch
The Letter of Baruch
The Ethiopian Biblical canon includes:
- 1–3 Meqabyan
and some other Books.
The Anglican Church uses some of the Apocryphal Books liturgically. Therefore, editions of the Bible intended for use in the Anglican Church include the Deuterocanonical Books accepted by the Catholic Church, plus 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, which were in the Vulgate appendix.
Book of Enoch
Notable pseudepigraphal works include the Books of Enoch (such as 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, surviving only in Old Slavonic, and 3 Enoch, surviving in Hebrew, c. 5th to 6th century CE). These are ancient Jewish religious works, traditionally ascribed to the prophet Enoch, the great-grandfather of the patriarch Noah. They are not part of the biblical canon used by Jews, apart from Beta Israel. Most Christian denominations and traditions may accept the Books of Enoch as having some historical or theological interest or significance. It has been observed that part of the Book of Enoch is quoted in the Epistle of Jude (part of the New Testament) but Christian denominations generally regard the Books of Enoch as non-canonical or non-inspired. However, the Enoch books are treated as canonical by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
The older sections (mainly in the Book of the Watchers) are estimated to date from about 300 BC, and the latest part (Book of Parables) probably was composed at the end of the 1st century BCE
The New Testament is a collection of 27 books of 4 different genres of Christian literature (Gospels, one account of the Acts of the Apostles, Epistles and an Apocalypse). Jesus is its central figure. The New Testament presupposes the inspiration of the Old Testament.(2 Timothy 3:16) Nearly all Christians recognize the New Testament as canonical scripture.
Development of the Christian canons
The Old Testament canon entered into Christian use in the Greek Septuagint translations and original Books, and their differing lists of texts. In addition to the Septuagint, Christianity subsequently added various writings that would become the New Testament. Somewhat different lists of accepted works continued to develop in antiquity. In the 4th century a series of synods produced a list of texts equal to the 39, 46(51),54, or 57 Book canon of the Old Testament and to the 27-book canon of the New Testament that would be subsequently used to today, most notably the Synod of Hippo in 393 CE. Also c. 400, Jerome produced a definitive Latin edition of the Bible, the canon of which, at the insistence of the Pope, was in accord with the earlier Synods. With the benefit of hindsight it can be said that this process effectively set the New Testament canon, although there are examples of other canonical lists in use after this time.
The Protestant Old Testament of today has a 39-Book canon—the number of Books (though not the content) varies from the Jewish Tanakh only because of a different method of division—while the Roman Catholic Church recognizes 46 Books (51 books with some books combined into 46 books) as the canonical Old Testament. The Eastern Orthodox Churches recognise 3 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, Prayer of Manasseh and Psalm 151 in addition to the Catholic canon. Some include 2 Esdras. The Anglican Church also recognises a longer canon. The term “Hebrew Scriptures” is often used as being synonymous with the Protestant Old Testament, since the surviving scriptures in Hebrew include only those books, while Catholics and Orthodox include additional texts that have not survived in Hebrew. Both Catholics and Protestants (as well as Greek Orthodox) have the same 27-book New Testament Canon.
The New Testament writers assumed the inspiration of the Old Testament, probably earliest stated in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God”.
The Second Epistle to Timothy says that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”. (2 Timothy 3:16) Some Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, that God, through the Holy Spirit, intervened and influenced the words, message, and collation of the Bible. For many Christians the Bible is also infallible, and is incapable of error in matters of faith and practice, but not necessarily in historic or scientific matters. A related, but distinguishable belief is that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, without error in any aspect, spoken by God and written down in its perfect form by humans. Within these broad beliefs there are many schools of hermeneutics. “Bible scholars claim that discussions about the Bible must be put into its context within church history and then into the context of contemporary culture.” Fundamentalist Christians are associated with the doctrine of biblical literalism, where the Bible is not only inerrant, but the meaning of the text is clear to the average reader.
Belief in sacred texts is attested to in Jewish antiquity, and this belief can also be seen in the earliest of Christian writings. Various texts of the Bible mention divine agency in relation to its writings. In their book A General Introduction to the Bible, Norman Geisler and William Nix wrote: “The process of inspiration is a mystery of the providence of GOD, but the result of this process is a verbal, plenary, inerrant, and authoritative record.” Most evangelical biblical scholars associate inspiration with only the original text; for example some American Protestants adhere to the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy which asserted that inspiration applied only to the autographic text of Scripture. Among adherents of Biblical literalism, a minority, such as the King-James-Only Movement, extend the claim of inerrancy only to a particular translation.
Bible translations, worldwide (as of November 2014) Number Statistic
7,000 Approximate number of languages spoken in the world today
2,195 Number of translations into new languages currently in progress
1,329 Number of languages with a translation of the New Testament
531 Number of languages with a translation of the Bible (Protestant Canon)