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The Bible (From Greek βιβλια—biblia, meaning "books", which in turn is derived from βυβλος—byblos meaning "papyrus", from the ancient Phoenician city of Byblos which exported papyrus) is the sacred scripture of Christianity. The Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible (so called because it is written almost entirely in Hebrew), is also part of the Jewish faith. It is also called "the Word of God", from the belief that the writings were inspired by an all-powerful creator. These scriptures are groups of what were originally separate books, written over a long period of history, but sharing the same overall God-view. The first group, which later formed the Jewish Bible (Tanakh) consisted of 24 books, though Protestant Christians count this as 39 books. Most other Christian denominations have even more books in their Old Testament, called deuterocanonical books. Later additions after the birth of Jesus made up the New Testament, made up of 27 books.

The Bible is the most widely read book in history. As such, it is probably 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. Therefore, the Bible is available in whole or in part to 90% of the world's population. Each year, it is estimated that approximately 60 million copies of the entire Bible or significant portions are distributed.

Many educators strongly feel that because the Bible has become so firmly embedded in Western culture, "anyone, believer or unbeliever, who is not familiar with Biblical teachings and accounts will be culturally illiterate." - Emerging Trends, November 1994, p. 4.



The Hebrew Bible consists of the five books of Moses (the Torah or Pentateuch), a section called "Prophets" (Neviim), and a third section called "Writings" (also Ketuvim or Hagiographa). The term "Tanakh" is a Hebrew acronym formed from these three names. Though the Hebrew Bible is predominantly in Biblical Hebrew, it has some small portions in Biblical Aramaic.

The Christian Bible is divided into two sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is in large part identical to the Jewish Tanakh, but with the books differently ordered. In addition, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox include several other books that have not been preserved in Hebrew, but rather only in the Greek Septuagint, a translation allegedly made by Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria between the third and first centuries BC.

The various books of the New Testament were written in koine Greek, and there is almost no dispute about the contents of the New Testament among Christians today. Early Christian Bibles used texts of the Old Testament dependent on the Greek Septuagint, which differs in some places from the primarily Hebrew Masoretic text. Beginning with Jerome'Vulgate" title ="Vulgate">Vulgate, most modern translations of the Old Testament in Western Christianity are based primarily on the Masoretic text; in Eastern Christianity, translations based on the Septuagint prevail. Some modern editions of the Old Testament also adopt different readings found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. For more information, see the entry on Bible translations.

The Hebrew scriptures of the Bible—portions of which contain stories traditionally held to be historical accounts of much of the early history of the Hebrew Nation—teach that there is one God, whose name is represented by the tetragrammaton, יהוה. He is "creator of Heaven and Earth" who created man "in his own image", and details the relationship between Man and his Creator.

For Christians, the New Testament continues—with the birth of Jesus—the story begun in the Hebrew scriptures, and is both a primary source of religious doctrine and a foundation for their spiritual beliefs. The New Testament is divided into the four Gospels, History (Acts of the Apostles), the Letters to Christian churches by Paul and other apostles, and the Book of Revelation. Some religious groups, notably, several of the Protestant Christian groups, believe the Bible to be the ultimate and authoritative guide in all spiritual matters, following a principle called sola scriptura.

The Name of God as found in the Bible

The original texts of the Hebrew Scriptures, written in both Hebrew and Aramaic, contain the Tetragrammaton (God's Name, in English Jehovah or Yahweh, represented in Hebrew by four letters, יהוה or YHWH) 6,828 times. (Biblica Hebraica and Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia.) Many Bible scholars view this as evidence that the Bible writers viewed the Name as very important, and commonly used it in their everyday speech and prayers. Most Jews do not pronounce the Name, due to a prohibition found in the Talmud tractate pesachim 50a, and since the 1st century most Jews have not pronounced it. The reasons for this prohibition are debateable; some cite a fear of possible mis-use of God's name, which is viewed as very holy and sacred. Superstition has been suggested as having played a part. In any event, as among Jewish religious leadership tradition became more and more of paramount importance, the tradition of non-pronunciation of the Name became a direct prohibition. As a result, usage of the Name declined considerably, to the point that the correct pronunciation became apparently lost.

Despite the widespread usage evident in ancient original manuscripts, in most current translations of the Bible, the Name has been removed entirely, being replaced by impersonal titles such as "Lord" or "God". Some versions retain the Name in certain specific locations (Ps. 83:18, etc.) More accurate versions have reversed this trend, and replace the Name in all 6,828 locations indicated by the extant ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts, and some have placed the Name in other locations and throughout the Christian Greek Scriptures, (New Testament) especially in locations where the Greek Scriptures quote from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament.)

Definition of Biblical terms

The English word "Bible" comes from the Greek word for "books", biblia: βιβλια . A book of the Bible is an established collection of writings. For example, the book of Psalms consists of 150 songs (151 in some editions of the Septuagint), while the book of Jude is a half-page letter. Canon refers to the accepted books of the Bible differentiated from other sacred writings not accepted as inspired by God, which are not accepted as part of the Bible. Those who do not accept writings in the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles as canon call those texts Apocrypha, while Catholics and Orthodox call them deuterocanonical books. Additionally, other religious writings that no major Christian sect accepts are referred to as Pseudepigrapha.

The Protestant Bible consists of 66 books. The Roman Catholic version, including the Deuterocanonical books, counts altogether 76 books, while the Eastern Orthodox version includes 77 or more. (4 Maccabees and "Prophecies of Ezra" may be included in some)

What parts of the Bible are canon?

Main articles: Biblical canon, Books of the Bible

As outlined above, the Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and other traditions accept slightly different canons of the Hebrew Bible. For the Jews, the canon was decided some time between 200 BC and AD 200. The Christian canons developed separately, with the Protestant canon being decided at the time of Martin Luther'Protestant_Reformation" title ="Protestant Reformation">Reformation and the Catholic canon being definitively confirmed at the Council of Trent.

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'Bible_translations" title ="Bible translations">Bible translations can be found on a separate page.


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'Moses" title ="Moses">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 AD 1, most Jews no longer spoke Hebrew, 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, though other translations were made as well. The Septuagint contains several additional passages, and whole additional books, compared to what was eventually compiled as 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'Biblical_canon" title ="Biblical canon">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 chaper; 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. 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? William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI (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. Simon and Schuster, New York (2001). ISBN 0684869136

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about Bible.

Catholic online Bibles

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