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The Bible is the primary sacred scripture of both the Jewish and Christian religions. These scriptures are compilations of what were originally separate documents (called "books") written over a long period of time. They were later compiled to form first the Jewish Bible (Tanakh) and, with later additions, the Christian Bible.

Table of contents
1 Overview
2 Definition of Biblical terms
3 Description of the Bible
4 Bible Canon - Which books are biblical?
5 Biblical versions and translations
6 Biblical interpretation
7 The Bible and history
8 The supernatural in monotheistic religions
9 See also
10 External links


The Jewish Bible (Hebrew Bible or Tanakh) 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 contains the entirety of the Tanakh translated with some modifications and re-ordered (there called the Old Testament), along with a set of later writings known as the New Testament. Roman Catholics, and some Anglicans (but not most Protestants) also include some additional works from the Septuagint, an early (pre-Christian) translation of the Old Testament by Jews into Greek. The Eastern Orthodox Church's Old Testament is the Septuagint, or a translation of it. Within Christianity, there is not complete agreement on what the Christian Bible contains, that is, on the Biblical canon. However, this only extends to a few books — there is no dispute as to the majority of books of the Bible.

The various books of the New Testament were written in koine Greek. Early Christian Bibles used texts of the Old Testament dependent on the Greek Septuagint, which differs in places from the primarily Hebrew Masoretic text. Most modern translations of the Old Testament are based primarily on the Masoretic text. 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.

Contents: The Bible tells how the one God relates to the world and his creations, especially mankind; it also details mankind's relationship and obligations to God. It also includes a great deal of the history of the Jews. Many Christians use the Bible as a source of religious beliefs and doctrines. Most Protestant Christians advocate that it is the incomparably authoritative guide in all matters of faith and practice, a principle called sola scriptura.

Definition of Biblical terms

The English word "Bible" means "book of books" (from the Greek word for "books", biblia: βιβλια ). A book of the Bible is an established group of writings. For example, the book of Psalms consists of 150 songs (151 in 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 part of the canon, which are not accepted as part of the Bible. Catholics and Orthodox call writings that they do not accept Apocrypha; Protestants call those writings they do not accept but that Catholics and Orthodox do Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical, and call other writings that neither accepts 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 78. (4 Maccabees is sometimes included in an appendix, sometimes not.)

Description of the Bible

The Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) is divided into 3 sections, the Law (Torah), the Prophets, the Writings. The translated, modified and re-ordered version of the Hebrew Bible is called the Old Testament in the Christian Bible. The Christian Bible includes the Old Testament plus the New Testament, which chronicles the doings of Jesus and the reaction to them. 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.

See Books of the Bible

Bible Canon - Which books are biblical?

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 books. See the entries on the Biblical canon, Higher criticism and Textual criticism.

Biblical versions and translations

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


The oldest books of the Bible are the Pentateuch, also known as the Torah. They are written in Hebrew and are also titled the 'Books of Moses'. Traditionally Judaism and Christianity held that these books were actually written by the prophet 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 in Aramaic. From the 800s to the 1400s rabbinic Jewish scholars known as the Massoretes 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 nikud) 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 beginning of the common era, 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. In some cases these additions were originally composed in Greek, while in other cases they are translations of Hebrew books or variants that the Masoretes did not accept. Recent discoveries have shown that more of the Septuagint additions have a Hebrew origin than was once thought. While there are no 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 known as targums, primarily in Aramaic. Targums were not literal translations but paraphrases. They frequently expanded on the text with additional details taken from Jewish oral tradition.

Early Christians produced translations of the Hebrew Bible into several languages; their biblical text was the Septuagint, which had been translated by the Jews into Greek in about the second century B.C. 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. 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 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).

The earliest critical edition of the Greek 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

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 the Jews too 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).class="external">[1

Biblical interpretation

(Jewish, Christian, Islamic opinion of the text. Eastern. Western, influence of philosophy, fundamentalism, patristic interpretation, medieval interpretation, Reformation, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, inerrancy, biblical theology, inspiration, rationalism, translations, hermeneutics )

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

The Dead Sea scrolls contain many examples of the pesher method of interpretation, in which biblical texts were interpreted as prophecies concerning the authors of the scrolls.

Throughout antiquity and the medieval periods, allegorical methods of interpretation were popular. The earliest use of these was probably Philo Judaeus, 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 Bible and history

The absence of independent evidence confirming some of the biblical narratives has caused some scholars to question the accuracy or even the historicity of these accounts. For instance, many historians view the Biblical patriarchs, Moses, King David, and King Solomon as little more than legendary figures, though possibly based on historical events and persons. 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 Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the supernatural.

See also

External links

Catholic Online Bibles