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This Gutenberg Bible is displayed by the United States Library of Congress.

This Gutenberg Bible is displayed by the United States Library of Congress.

The word Bible refers to the canonical collections of books or sacred writings of Judaism and Christianity.[1] Books included as canon in the Bible vary based on different traditions.

Judaism’s Bible is often referred to as the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible. It includes the books common to both the Christian and Jewish Biblical canons.[2]

The Christian Bible is often called the Holy Bible, Scriptures, or Word of God. It divides the books into two parts; the Old Testament and the New Testament. Some versions of the Christian Bible also have some of the books listed separately in an Apocrypha section. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Old Testament canons contain books not found in the Tanakh, but are found in the Greek Septuagint, oldest known ancient translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek.

Derivation of term Bible

An American family Bible dating to 1859.

An American family Bible dating to 1859.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary the word bible[3] is from Anglo-Latin biblia, traced from the same word through Medieval Latin and Late Latin, as used in the phrase biblia sacra (“holy books”). This then stemmed from the term (Greek: τὰ βιβλία τὰ ἅγια Ta biblia ta hagia, “the holy books”), which derived from biblion (“paper” or “scroll,” the ordinary word for “book“), which was originally a diminutive of byblos (“Egyptian papyrus”), possibly so called from the name of the Phoenician port from which Egyptian papyrus was exported to Greece.

Biblical scholar Mark Hamilton states that the Greek phrase Ta biblia (“the books”) was “an expression Hellenistic Jews used to describe their sacred books several centuries before the time of Jesus,”[4] and would have referred to the Septuagint.[5] The Online Etymology Dictionary states, “The Christian scripture was referred to in Greek as Ta Biblia’ as early as c.223.”

The Hebrew Bible

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Main articles: Hebrew Bible , Tanakh , and Old Testament

The Hebrew Bible (Hebrew: תנ”ך) consists of 39 books. “Hebrew” in “Hebrew Bible” may refer to either the Hebrew language or to the Hebrew people who historically used Hebrew as a spoken language, and have continuously used the language in prayer and study, or both. Tanakh is an acronym for the three parts of the Hebrew Bible: the Torah (“Teaching/Law” also known as the Pentateuch), Nevi’im (“Prophets”), and Ketuvim (“Writings,” or Hagiographa), and is used commonly by Jews but unfamiliar to many English speakers and others (Alexander 1999, p. 17). (See Table of books of Judeo-Christian Scripture).


Main article: Torah

The Torah, or Jewish scripture. In the background are the Star of David and a Menorah, two important symbols of Judaism.

The Torah, or Jewish scripture. In the background are the Star of David and a Menorah, two important symbols of Judaism.

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

The Pentateuch is composed of the following five books:

The Hebrew book titles come from the first words in the respective texts. The Hebrew title for Numbers, however, comes from the fifth word of that text.

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

  • The first eleven chapters of Genesis provide accounts 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 tell the story of Moses, 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 Ancient 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.

Traditionally, 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 Halakha (Jewish religious law).

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


Main article: Nviim

The N’viim, 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 Judah by the Babylonians, and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Portions of the prophetic books are read by Jews on the Sabbath (Shabbat). The Book of Jonah is read on Yom Kippur.

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

The eight books are:

  • I. Joshua, Js, Y’hoshua [יהושע]
  • II. Judges, Jg, Shoftim [שופטים]
  • III. Samuel, 1Sa-2Sa, Shmuel [שמואל] (often divided into two books; Samuel may be considered the last of the judges or the first of the prophets, as his sons were named judges but were rejected by the nation of Israel)
  • IV. Kings, 1Ki-2Ki, M’lakhim [מלכים] (often divided into two books)
  • V. Isaiah, Is, Y’shayahu [ישעיהו]
  • VI. Jeremiah, Je, Yirmiyahu [ירמיהו]
  • VII. Ezekiel, Ez, Y’khezkel [יחזקאל]
  • VIII. Book of Twelve Minor Prophets), Tre Asar [תרי עשר]
    1. Hosea, Ho, Hoshea [הושע]
    2. Joel, Jl, Yoel [יואל]
    3. Amos, Am, Amos [עמוס]
    4. Obadiah, Ob, Ovadya [עבדיה]
    5. Jonah, Jh, Yona [יונה]
    6. Micah, Mi, Mikha [מיכה]
    7. Nahum, Na, Nakhum [נחום]
    8. Habakkuk, Hb, Khavakuk [חבקוק]
    9. Zephaniah, Zp, Ts’fanya [צפניה]
    10. Haggai, Hg, Khagay [חגי]
    11. Zechariah, Zc, Z’kharya [זכריה]
    12. Malachi, Ml, Malakhi [מלאכי]


A page from a rare Georgian Bible, dating from 1030 AD, depicting the Raising of Lazarus

A page from a rare Georgian Bible, dating from 1030 AD, depicting the Raising of Lazarus

Main article: Ketuvim

The Ketuvim, or “Writings,” may have been written during or after the Babylonian Exile but no one can be sure. According to Rabbinic tradition, many of the psalms in the book of Psalms are attributed to David; King Solomon is believed to have written Song of Songs in his youth, Proverbs at the prime of his life, and Ecclesiastes at old age; and the prophet Jeremiah is thought to have written Lamentations. The Book of Ruth 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, followed in 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 Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple.

Ketuvim contains eleven books:

Translations and editions

Main article: Bible translations

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

Some time in the 2nd or 3rd century BC, the Torah was translated into Koine Greek, and over the next century, other books were translated (or composed) 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 later standardized Hebrew (Masoretic Text). This translation was promoted by way of a legend that seventy separate translators all produced identical texts.

From the 800s to the 1400s, Jewish scholars today known as 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 consonant letters. This sometimes required the selection of an interpretation, since some words differ only in their vowels— their meaning can vary in accordance with the vowels chosen. In antiquity, variant Hebrew 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 beyond 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 (“vorlage”) from the one that became the basis for the Masoretic texts.[citation needed]

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.

The two Torahs of Rabbinic Judaism

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 and Masorti and Conservative Judaism state that the Talmud contains some of the Oral Torah. Reform Judaism also gives credence to the Talmud containing the Oral Torah, but, as with the written Torah, asserts that both were inspired by, but not dictated by, God.

The Old Testament

Main article: Old Testament

The Christian Old Testament, while having most or all books in common with the Jewish Tanakh, varies from Judaism in the emphasis it places and the interpretations it gives them. The books come in a slightly different order. In addition, some Christian groups recognize additional books as canonical members of the Old Testament, and they may use a different text as the canonical basis for translations.

Differing Christian usages of the Old Testament

Main article: Biblical Canon

The Septuagint (Greek translation, from Alexandria in Egypt under the Ptolemies) was generally abandoned in favour of the Masoretic text as the basis for translations of the Old Testament into Western languages from Martin Luther‘s Protestant Bible to the present day; already Jerome’s Vulgate was based on the Hebrew. 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, where the Septuagint may preserve a variant reading of the Hebrew text. They also sometimes adopt variants that appear in texts discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

A number of books which are part of the Greek Septuagint but are not found in the Hebrew (Rabbinic) Bible are often referred to as deuterocanonical books by Catholics referring to a later secondary (i.e. deutero) canon. Most Protestants term these books as apocrypha. Evangelicals and those of the Modern Protestant traditions do not accept the deuterocanonical books as canonical, although Protestant Bibles included them until around the 1820s. However, the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches include these books as part of their Old Testament. The Catholic Church recognizes seven such books (Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, and Baruch), as well as some passages in Esther and Daniel. Various Orthodox Churches include a few others, typically 3 Maccabees, Psalm 151, 1 Esdras, Odes, Psalms of Solomon, and the Prayer of Manasseh. The Anglican Church uses the Apocryphal books liturgically, but not to establish doctrine. Therefore, editions of the Bible intended for use in the Anglican Church include these books, plus 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh.

The New Testament

Main article: New Testament

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The Bible as used by the majority of Christians includes the Rabbinic Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament, which relates the life and teachings of Jesus, the letters of the Apostle Paul and other disciples to the early church and the Book of Revelation.

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The New Testament is a collection of 27 books, produced by Christians, with Jesus as its central figure, written primarily in Koine Greek in the early Christian period. Nearly all Christians recognize the New Testament (as stated below) as canonical scripture. These books can be grouped into:

Original language

The New Testament was probably completely composed in Koine Greek, the language of the earliest manuscripts (see Greek primacy). Some scholars believe that parts of the Greek New Testament (in particular, the Gospel of Matthew) are actually a translation of an Aramaic or Hebrew original. Of these, a small number accept the Syriac Peshitta as representative of the original. See further Aramaic primacy.

Historic editions

The Codex Gigas from the 13th century, held at the Royal Library in Sweden.

The Codex Gigas from the 13th century, held at the Royal Library in Sweden.

Concerning ancient manuscripts, the three main textual traditions are sometimes called the Western text-type, the Alexandrian text-type, and Byzantine text-type. Together they compose 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), Ge’ez and the Latin (both the Vetus Latina and the Vulgate).

The earliest surviving complete manuscript of the entire Bible is the Codex Amiatinus, a Latin Vulgate edition produced in eighth century England at the double monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow.

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 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”). Upon 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 corrected by the earlier texts. Later critical texts are based on further scholarly research and the finding of papyrus fragments, which date in some cases from within a few decades of the composition of the New Testament writings.[6] It is on the basis of these that nearly all modern translations or revisions of older translations have been made, though some still prefer the Textus Receptus or the similar “Byzantine Majority Text.”

Christian theology

While individual books within the Christian Bible present narratives set in certain historical periods, most Christian denominations teach that the Bible itself has an overarching message.

There are among Christians wide differences of opinion as to how particular incidents as described in the Bible are to be interpreted and as to what meaning should be attached to various prophecies. However, Christians in general are in agreement as to the Bible’s basic message. A general outline, as described by C.S. Lewis, is as follows:[7]

  1. At some point in the past, humanity learned to depart from God’s will and began to sin.
  2. Because no one is free from sin, people cannot deal with God directly, so God revealed Himself in ways people could understand.
  3. God called Abraham and his progeny to be the means for saving all of humanity.
  4. To this end, He gave the Law to Moses.
  5. The resulting nation of Israel went through cycles of sin and repentance, yet the prophets show an increasing understanding of the Law as a moral, not just a ceremonial, force.
  6. Jesus brought a perfect understanding of the Mosaic Law, that of love and salvation.
  7. By His death and resurrection, all who believe are saved and reconciled to God.

Many people who identify themselves as Christians, Muslims, or Jews regard the Bible as inspired by God yet written by a variety of imperfect men over thousands of years. Belief in sacred texts is attested to in Jewish antiquity,[8][9] and this belief can also be seen in the earliest of Christian writings. Various texts of the Bible mention Divine agency in relation to prophetic writings,[10] the most explicit being 2 Tm 3:16: “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice.” 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.”[11] Some Biblical scholars,[12][13][14] particularly Evangelicals, 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.[15]

The canonization of the Bible

Main article: Biblical Canon

Canonization of the Hebrew Bible

It has been theorized that canonical status of some books of the Hebrew Bible was still being discussed between 200 BC and 100 AD, and that it had yet to reach definitive form. It is unclear at what point during this period the Jewish canon was fixed, though the Jewish canon which did eventually form did not include all the books found in the various editions of the Septuagint.

Canonization of the Old Testament and New Testament

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 fourth century a series of synods produced a list of texts equal to the 27-book canon of the New Testament that would be subsequently used to today, most notably the Synod of Hippo in 393 A.D. Also c. 400, Jerome produced a definitive Latin edition of the Bible (see Vulgate), 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. A definitive list did not come from an Ecumenical Council until the Council of Trent (1545–63).

During the Protestant Reformation, certain reformers proposed different canonical lists than what was currently in use. Though not without debate, the list of New Testament books would come to remain the same; however, the Old Testament texts present in the Septuagint, but not included in the Jewish canon, fell out of favour. In time they would come to be removed from most Protestant canons. Hence, in a Catholic context these texts are referred to as deuterocanonical books, whereas in a Protestant context they are referred to as Apocrypha, the label applied to all texts excluded from the Biblical canon. (Confusingly, Catholics and Protestants both describe certain other books, such as the ‘’Acts of Peter’’, as apocryphal).

Thus, the Protestant Old Testament of today has a 39-book canon—the number varies from that of the books in the Tanakh (though not in content) because of a different method of division—while the Roman Catholic Church recognizes 46 books as part of the canonical Old Testament. The term “Hebrew Scriptures” is only synonymous with the Protestant Old Testament, not the Catholic, which contains the Hebrew Scriptures and additional texts. Both Catholics and Protestants have the same 27-book New Testament Canon.

Canonicity, which involves the discernment of which texts are divinely inspired, is distinct from questions of human authorship and the formation of the books of the Bible.[citation needed]

Ethiopian Orthodox canon

The Canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is wider than for most other Christian groups. The Ethiopian “narrower” Old Testament Canon includes the books found in the Septuagint accepted by other Orthodox Christians, in addition to Enoch, Jubilees, 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras, 3 books of Meqabyan (Maccabees), and Psalm 151. However, the three books of Meqabyan are similar to Maccabees in title only, and quite different in content from those of the other Christian churches which include them. The order of the other books is somewhat different from other groups’, as well. The Church also has a “broader canon” that includes more books.

Bible versions and translations

Main article: Bible translations

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.

In scholarly writing, ancient translations are frequently referred to as “versions,” with the term “translation” being reserved for medieval or modern translations.[citation needed] Bible versions are discussed 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 the Hebrew Bible into Greek, and the Targum Onkelos, an Aramaic version of the Bible.

The primary Biblical text for early Christians was the Septuagint or (LXX). In addition they translated the Hebrew Bible into several other languages. Translations were made into Syriac, Coptic, Ge’ez 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.

Pope Damasus I assembled the first list of books of the Bible at the Council of Rome in 382 A.D. He commissioned Saint Jerome to produce a reliable and consistent text by translating the original Greek and Hebrew texts into Latin. This translation became known as the Latin Vulgate Bible and was declared by the Church to be the only authentic and official Bible.

Bible translations for many languages have been made through the various influences of Catholicism, Orthodox, Protestant, etc especially since the Protestant Reformation. The Bible has seen a notably large number of English language translations.

The work of Bible translation continues, including by Christian organisations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators (wycliffe.net), New Tribes Missions (ntm.org) and the Bible Societies (biblesociety.org). Of the world’s 6,900 languages, 2,400 have some or all of the Bible, 1,600 (spoken by more than a billion people) have translation underway, and some 2,500 (spoken by 270 million people) are judged as needing translation to begin.[16]

Important Characteristics of early Bible texts

See also: Chapters and verses of the Bible
  • The use of chapters and verses was not introduced until the Middle Ages and later. The system used in English was developed by Stephanus (Robert Estienne of Paris) (as noted below)
  • Early manuscripts of the letters of Paul and other New Testament writings show no punctuation whatsoever.[1] The punctuation was added later by other editors, according to their own understanding of the text. (Punctuation can shape and change the meaning of a passage.)

Differences in Bible translations

This Gutenberg Bible is displayed by the United States Library of Congress.

This Gutenberg Bible is displayed by the United States Library of Congress.

See also: Bible translations: Approaches.

As Hebrew and Greek, the original languages of the Bible, have idioms and concepts not easily translated, there is an on going critical tension about whether it is better to give a word for word translation or to give a translation that gives a parallel idiom in the target language. For instance, in the English language Catholic translation, the New American Bible, as well as the Protestant translations of the Christian Bible, translations like the King James Version, the New Revised Standard Version and the New American Standard Bible are seen as literal translations (or “word for word”), whereas translations like the New International Version and New Living Version attempt to give relevant parallel idioms. The Living Bible and The Message are two paraphrases of the Bible that try to convey the original meaning in contemporary language. The further away one gets from word to word translation, the text becomes more readable while relying more on the theological, linguistic or cultural understanding of the translator, which one would not normally expect a lay reader to require.

Inclusive language

Traditionally, the masculine pronouns have been used interchangeably to refer to the male gender and to all people. For instance, “All men are mortal” is not intended to imply that males are mortal but females are immortal. English language readers and hearers have had to interpret masculine pronouns (and such words as “man” and “mankind”) based on context. Further, both Hebrew and Greek, like some of the Latin-origin languages, use the male gender of nouns and pronouns to refer to groups that contain both sexes. This creates some difficulty in determining whether a noun or pronoun should be translated using terms that refer to men only, or generically to men and women inclusively. Context sometimes, but not always, helps determine whether to decode them in a gender-insensitive or gender-specific way.

Contemporary language has changed in many cases to reflect criticism of the use of the masculine gender, which has been characterized as discriminatory. Current style guides, such as APA, MLA, NCTE, and others, have published statements encouraging, and in some cases requiring, the use of inclusive language, which avoids language this approach regards as sexist or class-distinctive.

Until recently, virtually all English translations of the Bible have used masculine nouns and pronouns both specifically (to refer to males) and generically (when the reference is not necessarily gender-specific).

Original New International Version Today’s New International Version
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

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 has 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 rhetorical points, and that it encourages citing passages out of context, in effect turning the Bible into a kind of textual quarry for clerical citations. Nevertheless, 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 1551 (New Testament) and 1571 (Hebrew Bible).[17][18]

Textual criticism

Main articles: Biblical criticism and Criticism of the Bible.

Textual criticism refers to the investigation of the Bible as a text, and addresses questions such as authorship, dates of composition, and authorial intention.

Early criticism

The traditional view of the Mosaic authorship of the Torah came under sporadic criticism from medieval scholars including Isaac ibn Yashush, Abraham ibn Ezra, Bonfils of Damascus and bishop Tostatus of Avila, who pointed to passages such as the description of the death of Moses in Deuteronomy as evidence that some portions, at least, could not have been written by Moses. In the 17th century Thomas Hobbes collected the current evidence and became the first scholar to conclude outright that Moses could not have written the bulk of the Torah. Shortly afterwards the philosopher Baruch Spinoza published a unified critical analysis, demonstrating that the problematic passages were not isolated cases that could be explained away one by one, but pervasive throughout the five books, concluding that it was “clearer than the sun at noon that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses….” Despite determined opposition from the Church, both Catholic and Protestant, the views of Hobbes and Spinoza gained increasing acceptance amongst scholars.

The Documentary Hypothesis

Having established the hypothesis that Moses had not written the Pentateuch, attention next turned to the question of who had. Independent but nearly simultaneous proposals by H. B. Witter, Jean Astruc, and J. G. Eichhorn separated the Pentateuch into two original documentary components, both dating from after the time of Moses. Others hypothesized the presence of two additional sources. The four documents were given working titles: J (or Yahwist), E (Elohist), P (Priestly), and D (Deuteronomist), each was discernable by its own characteristic language, and each, when read in isolation, presented a unified, coherent narrative.

Subsequent scholars, notably Eduard Reuss, Karl Heinrich Graf and Wilhelm Vatke, turned their attention to the order in which the documents had been composed (which they deduced from internal clues) and placed them in the context of a theory of the development of ancient Israelite religion, suggesting that much of the Laws and the narrative of the Pentateuch were unknown to the Israelites in the time of Moses. These were synthesized by Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918), who suggested a historical framework for the composition of the documents and their redaction (combination) into the final document known as the Pentateuch. This hypothesis was challenged by William Henry Green in his The Mosaic Origins of the Pentateuchal Codes (available online). Nonetheless, according to contemporary Torah scholar Richard Elliott Friedman, Wellhausen’s model of the documentary hypothesis continues to dominate the field of biblical scholarship: “To this day, if you want to disagree, you disagree with Wellhausen. If you want to pose a new model, you compare its merits with those of Wellhausen’s model.”[19]

The documentary hypothesis is important in the field of Biblical studies not only because it claims that the Torah was written by different people at different times – generally long after the events it describes. [20] It also proposed what was at the time a radically new way of reading the Bible. Many proponents of the documentary hypothesis view the Bible more as a body of literature than a work of history, believing that the historical value of the text lies not in its account of the events that it describes, but in what critics can infer about the times in which the authors lived (as critics may read Hamlet to learn about seventeenth-century England, but will not read it to learn about seventh-century Denmark).

Modern developments

The critical analysis of authorship now encompasses every book of the bible. Every book in turn has been hypothesized to bear traces of multiple authorship, even the book of Obadiah, which is only a single page. In some cases the traditional view on authorship has been overturned; in others, additional support, at least in part has been found.

The development of the hypothesis has not stopped with Wellhausen. Wellhausen’s hypothesis, for example, proposed that the four documents were composed in the order J-E-D-P, with P, containing the bulk of the Jewish law, dating from the post-Exilic Second Temple period (i.e., after 515 BC);[21] but the contemporary view is that P is earlier than D, and that all four books date from the First Temple period (i.e., prior to 587 BC).[22]

The documentary hypothesis has come into question in recent decades, at least in the four-document version advanced by Wellhausen and refined by later scholars such as Martin Noth (who in 1943 provided evidence that Deuteronomy plus the following six books make a unified history from the hand of a single editor), Harold Bloom, Frank Moore Cross and Richard Elliot Friedman. The direction of this criticism is to question the existence of separate, identifiable documents, positing instead that the biblical text is made up of almost innumerable strands so interwoven as to be hardly untangleable — the J document, in particular, has been subjected to such intense dissection that it seems in danger of disappearing.

Although Biblical archeology has confirmed the existence of many people, places, and events mentioned in the Bible[2], many critical scholars have argued that the Bible be read not as an accurate historical document, but rather as a work of literature and theology that often draws on historical events — and often draws on non-Hebrew mythology — as primary source material. For these critics the Bible reveals much about the lives and times of its authors. Whether the ideas of these authors have any relevance to contemporary society is left to clerics and adherents of contemporary religions to decide.

Theological Responses


The claim that the Torah – “the Five Books of Moses” – were not written by Moses but by many authors long after Moses was said to have lived, directly challenged Jewish orthodoxy. For most, this claim implies that the Torah itself – especially its account of God’s revelation at Mt. Sinai – is not historically reliable. Although many Orthodox scholars have rejected Higher Criticism, most Conservative and virtually all Reform Jewish scholars have accepted it. Consequently, there has been considerable debate among Jewish scholars as to the nature of revelation and the divine nature of the Torah. Conservative Jewish philosopher Elliot Dorff has categorized five distinct major Jewish positions in these debates that emerged in the twentieth century[23]:

  • Orthodox (characterized by Eliezer Berkovitz and Norman Lamm): “Verbal Revelation: The Torah, including both the Written and Oral Traditions, consists of the exact words of God. He gave it all as one piece at Sinai.”
  • Conservative I (characterized by Isaac Lesser, Alexander Kohut, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and David Novak): “Continuous Revelation:God dictated His will at Sinai and other times. It was written down by human beings, however, and hence the diverse traditions in the Bible.”
  • Conservative II (characterized by Ben Zion Bokser, Robert Gordis, Max Routtenberg and Emil Fackenheim): “Continuous Revelation: Human beings wrote the Torah, but they were divinely inspired.”
  • Conservative III (characterized by Louis Jacobs, Seymour Seigel, Jacob Agus, David Lieber and Elliot Dorff): “Continuous Revelation: The Torah is the human record of the concounter between God and the People Israel at Sinai. Since it was written by human beings, it contains some laws and ideas which we find repugnant today.”
  • Conservative IV/Reconstructionist (characterized by Mordecai Kaplan, Ira Eisenstein and Harold Schulweis): “No Revelation: Human beings wrote the Torah. No claim for divinity of the product.”
  • Reform (characterized by the Movement’s 1937 Guiding Principles): “Progressive revelation: The Torah is God’s will written by human beings. As time goes on, we get to understand his will better and better (=”progressive revelation”).

Rabbi David Weiss HaLivni, the founder of the Union for Traditional Judaism, has adapted a position he describes as chatu yisrael (“Israel sinned”), that God revealed the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai but it subsequently became corrupted and lost, and Ezra restored it by redacting it from multiple manuscripts reflecting disparate traditions. Under this view, the Torah is the best available record of the Divine will, has prophetic commendation, and is binding on the Jewish people, but is not necessarily entirely free of disparaties. [24]

Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism generally adapt the textual critical approach in toto and regard the Torah as either inspired rather than revealed, or a human product rather than the product of an external God.


In 1943 pope Pius XII‘s encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu gave the Vatican’s imprimatur to textual criticism.

Notes and references

  1. ^ Dictionary.com

  2. ^ See Patrick H. Alexander The SBL Handbook of Style. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers. ISBN 1-56563-487-X.

  3. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary entry for word “Bible”

  4. ^ “From Hebrew Bible to Christian Bible” by Mark Hamilton on PBS’s site From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians

  5. ^ Dictionary.com etymology of the word “Bible”

  6. ^ Metzger, Bruce R. Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Palaeography (Oxford University Press, 1981) cf. Papyrus 52

  7. ^ A Summary of the Bible by Lewis, CS: Believer’s Web.

  8. ^ Philo of Alexandria, De vita Moysis 3.23.

  9. ^ Josephus, Contra Apion 1.8.

  10. ^ “Basis for belief of Inspiration”. Biblegateway.

  11. ^ Norman L. Geisler, William E. Nix (1986). A General Introduction to the Bible. Moody Publishers. ISBN 0-8024-2916-5.

  12. ^ for example, seeLeroy Zuck, Roy B. Zuck (1991). Basic Bible Interpretation. Chariot Victor Pub. ISBN 0-89693-819-0.

  13. ^ Roy B. Zuck, Donald Campbell (2002). Basic Bible Interpretation. Victor. ISBN 0-7814-3877-2.

  14. ^ Norman L. Geisler (1979, 1980). Inerrancy. The Zondervan Corporation. ISBN 0-310-39281-0.

  15. ^ International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (1978). “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” (pdf). International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.

  16. ^ www.vision2025.org

  17. ^ Chapters and Verses.

  18. ^ The Examiner.

  19. ^ Richard Elliott Friedman, “Who Wrote the Bible?,” HarperSanFrancisco, 1997 (2nd edition).

  20. ^ Joel Rosenberg, 1984 “The Bible: Biblical Narrative” in Barry Holtz, ed Back to the Sources New York: Summit Books p. 36; Nahum Sarna, 1986 Understanding Genesis New York:Schocken Books p. xxi-xxiii

  21. ^ Wellhausen adopted the idea of a post-Exilic date for P from Eduard Reuss.

  22. ^ Although the bulk of all four documents date from before 587 BC, the strand of D known as Dtr2 dates from the following Exilic period.

  23. ^ Elliot Dorff 1978 Conservative Judaism: Our Ancestors to Our Descendents New York: United Synagogue Youth pp. 114-115

  24. ^ Rabbi David Weiss HaLivni, Revelation Restored: Divine Writ and Critical Responses. Westview Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0813333472

  • Anderson, Bernhard W. Understanding the Old Testament. ISBN 0-13-948399-3.
  • Berlin, Adele, Marc Zvi Brettler and Michael Fishbane. The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-19-529751-2.
  • Asimov, Isaac. Asimov’s Guide to the Bible. New York, NY: Avenel Books, 1981. ISBN 0-517-34582-X.
  • Dever, William G. Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did they Come from? Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003. ISBN 0-8028-0975-8.
  • Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005. ISBN 0-06-073817-0.
  • Finkelstein, Israel and Silberman, Neil A. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-86913-6.
  • Geisler, Norman (editor). Inerrancy. Sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. Zondervan Publishing House, 1980, ISBN 0-310-39281-0.
  • Head, Tom. The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to the Bible. Indianapolis, IN: Que Publishing, 2005. ISBN 0-7897-3419-2.
  • Hoffman, Joel M. In the Beginning. New York University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8147-3690-4.
  • Lindsell, Harold. The Battle for the Bible. Zondervan Publishing House, 1978. ISBN 0-310-27681-0.
  • Lienhard, Joseph T. The Bible, The Church, and Authority. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1995.
  • Miller, John W. The Origins of the Bible: Rethinking Canon History Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8091-3522-1.
  • Riches, John. The Bible: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-19-285343-0
  • Taylor, Hawley O. “Mathematics and Prophecy.” Modern Science and Christian Faith. Wheaton: Van Kampen, 1948, pp. 175–83.
  • Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, s.vv. “Book of Ezekiel”, p. 580 and “prophecy”, p. 1410. Chicago: Moody Bible Press, 1986.

See also

Biblical analysis

Perspectives on the Bible

History and the Bible

Biblical scholarship and analysis

Bible Societies

External links

Bible texts











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