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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.

The Bible (from Greek (τα) βιβλια, (ta) biblia, "(the) books", plural of βιβλιον, biblion, "book", originally a diminutive of βιβλος, biblos, which in turn is derived from βυβλος—byblos, meaning "papyrus", from the ancient Phoenician city of Byblos which exported this writing material), is the classical name for the Hebrew Bible of Judaism or the combination of the Old Testament and New Testament of Christianity. It is thus applied to sacred scriptures.

The Bible has been the most widely distributed of books. It has also been translated more times, and into more languages, than any other book. The complete Bible, or portions of it, have been translated into more than 2,100 languages. It is available, in whole or in part, in the language of 90% of the world's population. Approximately 60 million copies, or portions thereof, are distributed annually.

The Bible's wide distribution and use by Jews and Christians as a "handbook" for living has extended its influence beyond religion, to language and law and, until the modern era, also informed the natural philosophy of mainstream Western Civilization. The Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution in Europe and America brought skepticism regarding the historical events in the Bible, particularly those attributed to divine intervention; however, the ontological and normative teachings of the Bible remain at the center of Western culture.

Although most often used of Jewish and Christian scriptures, "Bible" is sometimes used to describe scriptures of other faiths. Thus the Guru Granth Sahib is often referred to as the "Sikh Bible". In the early years after the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, it was sometimes known as the "Golden Bible". The word "bible" (in lower case) is also used to refer to any tome which incorporates comprehensive coverage of its subject.



As the original meaning of the word indicates, the Jewish and Christian Bibles are actually collections of several books, considered to be inspired by God or to record God's relationship with humanity or a particular nation.

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

Some time in the 3rd century BCE, the Torah was translated into Koine Greek, and over the next century other books were translated 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 Hebrew text as standardized later (Masoretic Text), and was generally abandoned, in favour of the latter, as the basis for translations into Western languages from Saint Jerome 's Vulgate to the present day. 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 that seem to have suffered corruption in transcription. They also sometimes adopt variants that appear in texts discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. (For more information, see the entry on Bible translations).

The collection of books that the great majority of Christians (including members of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches) call the Old Testament include not only the 24 books of the Jewish Tanakh, but also certain deuterocanonical books preserved in the Greek of the Septuagint. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes seven such books (Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), and Baruch), as well as some passages in Esther and Daniel, that are not included in the Jewish Scriptures. Various Orthodox Churches include a few others, typically 3 Maccabees, Psalm 151, 1 Esdras, Odes, Psalms of Solomon, and occasionally even 4 Maccabees. Protestants in general do not recognize these books as truly part of the Bible, though they may print them along with the books they do recognize.

The New Testament is a collection of 27 books, written in Koine Greek in the early Christian period, that almost all Christians recognize as Scripture: the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, Letters of Saint Paul and others, and the Book of Revelation.

The canon of Scripture

For Judaism, it is commonly thought that the canonical status of some books was discussed between 200 BCE and around 100 CE, though it is unclear at what point during this period the Jewish canon was decided.

To the books accepted by Judaism as Scripture, Christianity subsequently added those of the New Testament, the 27-book canon of which was finally fixed in the 4th century. As indicated above, Christianity also mostly considers certain deuterocanonical books to be part of the Old Testament, though Protestantism in general accepts as part of the Old Testament only the books in the canon of Judaism and uses the term Apocrypha for the deuterocanonical books. The Protestant Old Testament has a 39-book canon– the number varies from that of the books in the Tanakh because of a different way of dividing them – while the Roman Catholic Church recognizes 46 books as part of the Old Testament. For details, see Books of the Bible. For a history of the canon, see Biblical Canon.

Canonicity is distinct from questions of human authorship and the formation of the books of the Bible, questions discussed in the entries on higher criticism and textual criticism.

Biblical versions and translations

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


Main article: Tanakh

The oldest books of the Bible are those of the Pentateuch, also known as the Torah. They are written in Hebrew and are also called the "Books of Moses", being traditionally attributed to the lawgiver Moses himself. Today, many believe, in line with what is called the documentary hypothesis, that the present form of the Torah is due to a redactor bringing together several earlier distinct sources.

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

The original texts of the Tanakh were 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 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 meaning can vary in accordance with the choice of vowels to insert. In antiquity other variant 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.

By the year 1, most Jews no longer spoke Hebrew as a vernacular, but instead spoke Greek or Aramaic; so they made translations or paraphrases into these languages. The most important of the translations into Greek was the Septuagint version of the Torah and of other books linked with it, but other Greek translations were made as well. Versions of the Septuagint contain several passages and whole books additional to what was included in the Masoretic texts of the Tanakh. In some cases these additions were originally composed in Greek, while in other cases they are translations of Hebrew books or variants not present in the Masoretic text. Recent discoveries have shown that more of the Septuagint additions have a Hebrew origin than was once thought. While there are no complete surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew texts on which the Septuagint was based, many scholars believe that they represent a different textual tradition from 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 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.

The ever-increasing number of variants in Latin manuscripts induced Pope Damasus, in 382, to commission his secretary, Saint Jerome, to produce a reliable and consistent text. Jerome later took it on himself to make a completely new translation directly from the Hebrew of the Tanakh. This translation became the basis of the Vulgate Latin translation. Though he also translated Psalms from Hebrew, the earlier Septuagint-based version, slightly revised by him, is the text that was actually used in Church and is included in editions of the Vulgate. This includes the deuterocanonical books, also revised by Jerome, and became the official translation of the Roman Catholic Church.

New Testament

Most scholars believe that all of the New Testament was originally composed in Greek. The three main textual traditions are sometimes called the Western text-type, the Alexandrian text-type, and Byzantine text-type. Together they comprise 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) and the Latin (both the Vetus Latina and the Vulgate).

A few scholars believe that parts of the Greek New Testament are actually a translation of an Aramaic original. Of these, a small number accept the Syriac Peshitta as the original, while most take a more critical approach to reconstructing the original text. See Aramaic primacy.

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.

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"). On 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 Lachmanns 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 rejected. Later critical texts are based on further scholarly research and the finding of papyrus fragments dating in some cases from within a few decades of the composition of the New Testament writings. It is on the basis of these that nearly all modern translations or revisions of older translations have, for more than a century, been made, though some people, partly out of loyalty to the translations of the time of the Protestant Reformation, still prefer the Textus Receptus or the similar "Byzantine Majority Text".

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

Chapters and verses

Main article: Chapters and verses of the Bible

The 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 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 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 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 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 halakha 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

Main article: 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.

The supernatural in monotheistic religions

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

See also



  • Dever, William B. Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did they Come from? Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003. ISBN 0802809758.
  • Head, Tom. The Absolute Beginner's Guide to the Bible. Indianapolis, IN: Que Publishing, 2005. ISBN 0789734192.
  • Silberman, Neil A. and colleagues. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0684869136.
  • Miller, John W. The Origins of the Bible: Rethinking Canon History Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1994. ISBN 0809135221.

External links

On-line versions of the Bible

For those intending serious study, be aware that the links below do not show a representative sampling of Bible translations. Because these are legal web pages, many modern translations (which are subject to copyright) are not included.

Text editions in English

See also: Template:Wikisource    ... for King James Version,
   World English Bible, etc.
Protestant tradition
Catholic tradition
Skeptical editions
  • The Skeptic's Annotated Bible ( - The King James version of the Bible annotated from a skeptical point of view.
Other (or not specified) traditions

Text editions in other languages

Illustrated and facsimile editions

Audio versions

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

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

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