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What is the Bible?

The Bible is what the Jewish and Christian holy book is called. The term Bible carries various meanings, depending on the religious context in which it is used. For Jews, the term "Bible" refers to the Tanakh (Heb., תָּנָ״ךְ), an acronym formed from the Hebrew names of the three divisions of the Jewish Scriptures: Law (Torah), Prophets (Nevi'im), and Writings (Ketuvim). To Christians, the term "Bible" incorporates both the Tanakh, or "Old Testament," and the New Testament. Some Christians (among them, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches) accept the writings of the Apocrypha (also known as the Deuterocanonicals) as part of their sacred literature.

Opinions vary as to the historical truth contained within the pages of the Bible. Conservative Christians tend to view the Bible as it is described by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16, namely that "all Scripture is given by God's inspiration" (Gr., θεόπνευστος, literally "God-breathed"). Thus, in their evaluation, the original text of the Bible was literally given by the inspiration of God. Although they do not accept Paul's writing, Orthodox Jews assent to the view that the Tanakh (especially the Torah) was given by God's inspiration. Among religious liberals, this is subject to criticism. While most liberal theologians view the Bible as a book of inspired history, others view it as a record from ancient history that reflects the specific perspectives of those who recorded a religious story. The continuum of beliefs regarding the Bible's texts covers the entire range of human experience, from full faith and trust to disbelief and criticism.

The Bible text has been translated into more than 2,100 languages, and with more than five billion Bible copies sold since 1815, it is the best-selling book of all-time.

The Bible refers to collections of sacred scripture of Judaism and Christianity. There is no single version: both the individual books (Biblical canon) and their order vary. The Hebrew Bible contains 24 books that were rearranged into 39 by Christian denominations, while complete Christian Bibles range from the 66 books of the Protestant canon to 81 books in the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible.[1] The oldest surviving Christian Bibles are Greek manuscripts from fourth century AD; the oldest complete Hebrew manuscripts date from the Middle Ages.[2]

The Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, is divided into three parts: (1) the five books of the Torah ("teaching" or "law") comprise the origins of the Israelite nation and its covenant with God; (2) the Nevi'im ("prophets") containing the historic account of ancient Israel and Judah plus works of prophecy; and (3) the Ketuvim ("writings"), poetic and philosophical works such as Psalms and Job. [3] Christian Bibles include the books of the Hebrew Bible, but arranged in a different fashion: Hebrew Scripture ends with the people of Israel restored to Jerusalem and the temple and the Christian arrangement ends with the book of the prophet Malachi.

The Christian Bible is divided into two parts. The first is called the Old Testament, containing the 39 books of Hebrew Scripture, and the second portion is called the New Testament, containing 27 books. Soon after the establishment of Christianity in the first century, Church Fathers compiled Gospel accounts and letters of apostles into a Christian Bible which became known as the New Testament. The Old and New Testaments together are commonly referred to as "The Holy Bible". The canonical composition of the Jewish Bible is in dispute between Christian groups: Protestants hold only the books of the Hebrew Bible to be canonical; Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox additionally consider the deuterocanonical books, a group of Jewish books, to be canonical. The New Testament is composed of the Gospels ("good news"), the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles (letters), and the Book of Revelation. The Bible is the best-selling book in history with approximate sales estimates ranging from 2.5 billion to 6 billion.[4][5]



o             1 Etymology

o             2 Jewish canon

o             2.1 Torah

o             2.2 Nevi'im

o             2.3 Ketuvim

o             2.4 Hebrew Bible translations and editions

o             2.5 The Oral Torah

o             3 Christian canons of the Bible

o             3.1 Old Testament

o             3.1.1 Apocryphal or deuterocanonical books

o             3.2 New Testament

o             3.2.1 Original language

o             3.2.2 Historic editions

o             3.3 Christian theology

o             4 Canonization

o             4.1 Hebrew Bible

o             4.2 Old and New Testaments

o             4.3 Qumran Bible

o             4.4 Ethiopian Orthodox canon

o             4.5 Marcionite Bible

o             5 Bible versions and translations

o             6 Biblical criticism

o             6.1 Higher criticism

o             6.2 Documentary hypothesis

o             6.3 Modern developments

o             7 Archaeological and historical research

o             8 See also

o             8.1 Biblical topics

o             9 Endnotes



According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word Bible [6] is from the Latin biblia, traced from the same word through Medieval Latin and Late Latin, as used in the phrase biblia sacra ("holy book")—"In the Latin of the Middle Ages, the neuter plural for Biblia (gen. bibliorum) gradually came to be regarded as a feminine singular noun (biblia, gen. bibliae in which singular form the word has passed into the languages of the Western world.")[7] This stemmed from the Greek term τὰ βιβλία τὰ ἅγια (ta biblia ta hagia), "the holy books", which derived from βιβλίον (biblion),[8] "paper" or "scroll," the ordinary word for "book", which was originally a diminutive of βύβλος (byblos, "Egyptian papyrus"), possibly so called from the name of the Phoenician port Byblos (also known as Gebal) from whence Egyptian papyrus was exported to Greece.

The Greek phrase Ta biblia (lit. "little papyrus books")[9] was "an expression Hellenistic Jews used to describe their sacred books several centuries before the time of Jesus,"[10] and would have referred to the Septuagint.[11] The Online Etymology Dictionary states, "The Christian scripture was referred to in Greek as Ta Biblia as early as c.223."[6]

Jewish canon

Main article: Tanakh

The Tanakh (Hebrew: תנ"ך) consists of 24 books. 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 (See Table of books of Judeo-Christian Scripture).


Main article: Torah

The Torah, or "Instruction," is also known as the "Five Books" of Moses, thus Chumash from Hebrew meaning "fivesome," and Pentateuch from Greek meaning "five scroll-cases."

The Torah comprises the following five books:

1.             Genesis, Ge—Bereshith (בראשית)

2.            Exodus, Ex—Shemot (שמות)

3.            Leviticus, Le—Vayikra (ויקרא)

4.            Numbers, Nu—Bamidbar (במדבר)

5.            Deuteronomy, Dt—Devarim (דברים)

The Hebrew book titles come from some of the first words in the respective texts.

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.

The Torah contains the commandments, of God, revealed at Mount Sinai (although there is some debate amongst Jewish scholars as to whether this was written down completely in one moment, or if it was spread out during the 40 years in the wandering in the desert). These commandments provide the basis for Halakha (Jewish religious law). Tradition states that the number of these is equal to 613 Mitzvot or 613 commandments. There is some dispute as to how to divide these up (mainly between the Ramban and Rambam).

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


Main article: Nevi'im

The Nevi'im, or "Prophets," tell the story of the rise of the Hebrew monarchy, its division into two kingdoms, and the prophets who, in God's name, warned the kings and the Children of Israel about the punishment of God. 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 twenty-one books.

The Nevi'im comprise the following eight books:

6.            Joshua, Js—Yehoshua (יהושע)

7.            Judges, Jg—Shoftim (שופטים)

8.            Samuel, includes First and Second 1Sa–2Sa—Sh'muel (שמואל)

9.            Kings, includes First and Second, 1Ki–2Ki—Melakhim (מלכים)

10.           Isaiah, Is—Yeshayahu (ישעיהו)

11.           Jeremiah, Je—Yirmiyahu (ירמיהו)

12.           Ezekiel, Ez—Yekhezkel (יחזקאל)

13.           Twelve, includes all Minor Prophets—Tre Asar (תרי עשר)

***          A. Hosea, Ho—Hoshea (הושע)

***          B. Joel, Jl—Yoel (יואל)

***          C. Amos, Am—Amos (עמוס)

***          D. Obadiah, Ob—Ovadyah (עבדיה)

***          E. Jonah, Jh—Yonah (יונה)

***          F. Micah, Mi—Mikhah (מיכה)

***          G. Nahum, Na—Nahum (נחום)

***          H. Habakkuk, Hb—Havakuk (חבקוק)

***          I. Zephaniah, Zp—Tsefanya (צפניה)

***          J. Haggai, Hg—Khagay (חגי)

***          K. Zechariah, Zc—Zekharyah (זכריה)

***          L. Malachi, Ml—Malakhi (מלאכי)


Main article: Ketuvim

The Ketuvim, or "Writings" or "Scriptures," may have been written during or after the Babylonian Exile. According to Rabbinic tradition[citation needed] and superscriptions to the Psalms themselves, 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 Moabitess) who married a Jew and, upon her husband's 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.

The Ketuvim comprise the following eleven books, divided, in many modern translations, into twelve through the division of Ezra and Nehemiah:

14.          Psalms, Ps—Tehillim (תהלים)

15.          Proverbs, Pr—Mishlei (משלי)

16.          Job, Jb—Iyyov (איוב)

17.          Song of Songs, So—Shir ha-Shirim (שיר השירים)

18.          Ruth, Ru—Rut (רות)

19.          Lamentations, La—Eikhah (איכה), also called Kinot (קינות)

20.         Ecclesiastes, Ec—Kohelet (קהלת)

21.          Esther, Es—Ester (אסתר)

22.         Daniel, Dn—Daniel (דניאל)

23.         Ezra, Ea, includes Nehemiah, Ne—Ezra (עזרא), includes Nehemiah (נחמיה)

24.          Chronicles, includes First and Second, 1Ch–2Ch—Divrei ha-Yamim (דברי הימים), also called Divrei (דברי)

Hebrew Bible translations and editions

Main article: Bible translations

The Tanakh was mainly written in Biblical Hebrew, with some portions (notably in Daniel and Ezra) in Biblical Aramaic.[12]

The Oral Torah

According to some Jews during the Hellenistic period, such as the Sadducees, only a minimal oral tradition of interpreting the words of the Torah existed, which did not include extended biblical interpretation. According to the Pharisees, however, God revealed both a Written Torah and an Oral Torah to Moses, the Oral Torah consisting of both stories and legal traditions. In Rabbinic Judaism, the Oral Torah is essential for understanding the Written Torah literally (as it includes neither vowels nor punctuation) and exegetically. The Oral Torah has different facets, principally Halacha (laws), the Aggadah (stories), and the Kabbalah (esoteric knowledge). Major portions of the Oral Law have been committed to writing, notably the Mishnah; the Tosefta; Midrash, such as Midrash Rabbah, the Sifre, the Sifra, and the Mechilta; and both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds as well.

Orthodox Judaism continues to accept the Oral Torah in its totality. Masorti and Conservative Judaism state that the Oral Tradition is to some degree divinely inspired, but disregard its legal elements in varying degrees. Reform Judaism also gives some credence to the Talmud containing the legal elements of the Oral Torah, but, as with the written Torah, asserts that both were inspired by, but not dictated by, God. Reconstructionist Judaism denies any connection of the Torah, Written or Oral, with God.

The article Jewish commentaries on the Bible discusses the Jewish understanding of the Bible, including Bible commentaries from the ancient Targums to classical Rabbinic literature, the midrash literature, the classical medieval commentators, and modern day Jewish Bible commentaries.

Christian canons of the BibleA 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 Christian Bible consists of the Hebrew scriptures of Judaism, which are known as the Old Testament; and later writings recording the lives and teachings of Jesus and his followers, known as the New Testament. "Testament" is a translation of the Greek διαθηκη (diatheke), also often translated "covenant." It is a legal term denoting a formal and legally binding declaration of benefits to be given by one party to another (e.g., "last will and testament" in secular use). Here it does not connote mutuality; rather, it is a unilateral covenant offered by God to individuals.[9]

Groups within Christianity include differing books as part of one or both of these "Testaments" of their sacred writings—most prominent among which are the biblical apocrypha or deuterocanonical books.

Significant versions of the English Christian Bible include the Douay-Rheims, the RSV, the KJV, and the NIV. For a complete list, see List of English Bible translations.

In Judaism, the term Christian Bible is commonly used to identify only those books like the New Testament which have been added by Christians to the Masoretic Text, and excludes any reference to an Old Testament.[13]

Old Testament

Main article: Old Testament

The Old Testament consists of a collection of writings believed to have been composed at various times from the twelfth to the second century B.C. The books were written in classical Hebrew, except for brief portions (Ezra 4:8–6:18 and 7:12–26, Jeremiah 10:11, Daniel 2:4–7:28) which are in the Aramaic language, a sister language which became the lingua franca of the Semitic world.[14] Much of the material, including many genealogies, poems and narratives, is thought to have been handed down by word of mouth for many generations. Very few manuscripts are said to have survived the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.[14]

The Old Testament is accepted by Christians as scripture. Broadly speaking, it contains the same material as the Hebrew Bible. However, the order of the books is not entirely the same as that found in Hebrew manuscripts and in the ancient versions and varies from Judaism in interpretation and emphasis (see for example Isaiah 7:14). Christian denominations disagree about the incorporation of a small number of books into their canons of the Old Testament. A few groups consider particular translations to be divinely inspired, notably the Greek Septuagint, the Aramaic Peshitta, and the English King James Version.

Apocryphal or deuterocanonical books

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 St. Jerome's Bible (the 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, where the Septuagint may preserve a variant reading of the Hebrew text. They also sometimes adopt variants that appear in other texts e.g. those discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

A number of books which are part of the Peshitta or Greek Septuagint but are not found in the Hebrew (Rabbinic) Bible are often referred to as deuterocanonical books by Roman 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 in Apocrypha sections until around the 1820s. However, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches include these books as part of their Old Testament.

The Roman Catholic Church recognizes:

•             Tobit

•             Judith

•             1 Maccabees

•             2 Maccabees

•             Wisdom of Solomon

•             Sirach also called Ecclesiasticus

•             Baruch

•             The Letter of Jeremiah (Baruch Chapter 6)

•             Greek Additions to Esther

•             The Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children

•             Susanna

•             Bel and the Dragon

                    In addition to those, the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches recognize the following:

•             3 Maccabees

•             1 Esdras

•             Prayer of Manasseh

•             Psalm 151

                    Some other Eastern Orthodox Churches include:

•             2 Esdras i.e., Latin Esdras in the Russian and Georgian Bibles

There is also 4 Maccabees which is only accepted as canonical in the Georgian Church, but was included by St. Jerome in an appendix to the Vulgate, and is an appendix to the Greek Orthodox Bible, and it therefore sometimes included in collections of the Apocrypha.

The Anglican Churches uses some of the Apocryphal books liturgically. Therefore, editions of the Bible intended for use in the Anglican Church include the Deuterocanonical books accepted by the Catholic Church, plus 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, which were in the Vulgate appendix.

New Testament

Main article: New Testament

The New Testament is a collection of 27 books, of 4 different genres of Christian literature (Gospels, one account of the Acts of the Apostles, Epistles and an Apocalypse). Jesus is its central figure. The New Testament presupposes the inspiration of the Old (2 Timothy 3:16). Nearly all Christians recognize the New Testament (as stated below) as canonical scripture. These books can be grouped into:

The Gospels

•             Synoptic Gospels

             Gospel According to Matthew, Mt

•             Gospel According to Mark, Mk

             Gospel According to Luke, Lk

•             Gospel According to John, Jn

•             Acts of the Apostles, Ac (continues Luke)

Pauline Epistles

•             Epistle to the Romans, Ro

•             First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1Co

•             Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 2Co

•             Epistle to the Galatians, Ga

•             Epistle to the Ephesians, Ep

•             Epistle to the Philippians, Pp

•             Epistle to the Colossians, Cl

•             First Epistle to the Thessalonians, 1Th

•             Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, 2Th

•             Pastoral Epistles

             First Epistle to Timothy, 1Ti

             Second Epistle to Timothy, 2Ti

             Epistle to Titus, Tt

•             Epistle to Philemon, Pm

•             Epistle to the Hebrews, He

                      General Epistles, also called Jewish Epistles

•             Epistle of James, Jm

•             First Epistle of Peter, 1Pe

•             Second Epistle of Peter, 2Pe

•             First Epistle of John, 1Jn

•             Second Epistle of John, 2Jn

•             Third Epistle of John, 3Jn

•             Epistle of Jude, Jd

Revelation, or the Apocalypse Re

The order of these books varies according to Church tradition. The New Testament books are ordered differently in the Catholic/Protestant tradition, the Slavonic tradition, the Syriac tradition and the Ethiopian tradition.

Original language

The books of the New Testament were written in Koine Greek, the language of the earliest extant manuscripts, even though some authors often included translations from Hebrew and Aramaic texts. Certainly the Pauline Epistles were written in Greek for Greek-speaking audiences. See Greek primacy. Some scholars believe that some books of the Greek New Testament (in particular, the Gospel of Matthew) are actually translations of a Hebrew or Aramaic original. Of these, a small number accept the Syriac Peshitta as representative of the original. See Aramaic primacy. The study of the Greek New Testament, not least the synoptic gospels, has been said to present undergraduates "with a more demanding set of interlocking intellectual challenges than any other subject in the university".[15]

Historic editions

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

When ancient scribes copied earlier books, they wrote notes on the margins of the page (marginal glosses) to correct their text—especially if a scribe accidentally omitted a word or line—and to comment about the text. When later scribes were copying the copy, they were sometimes uncertain if a note was intended to be included as part of the text. See textual criticism. Over time, different regions evolved different versions, each with its own assemblage of omissions and additions.

The autographs, the Greek manuscripts written by the original authors, have not survived. Scholars surmise the original Greek text from the versions that do survive. The three main textual traditions of the Greek New Testament are sometimes called the Alexandrian text-type (generally minimalist), the Byzantine text-type (generally maximalist), and the Western text-type (occasionally wild). Together they comprise most of the ancient manuscripts.

Christian theology

Main article: 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 overarchinAccording to legend the scribe was a monk who broke his monastic vows and was sentenced to be walled up alive. In order to forbear this harsh penalty he promised to create in one single night a book to glorify the monastery forever, including all human knowledge. Near midnight he became sure that he could not complete this task alone, so he made a special prayer, not addressed to God but to the fallen archangel Lucifer, asking him to help him finish the book in exchange for his soul. The devil completed the manuscript and the monk added the devil's picture out of gratitude for his aid.[1][8] It is also speculated that the inscription of various exorcism spells is the monk trying to exorcise the devil out by himself. (Similar to monks who sinned, and were punished by having them write out the Bible by hand, as it was believed that God's goodness would be transferred to them by doing that.) Despite this legend, the codex was not forbidden by the Inquisition, and was studied by many scholars.Modern studies in linguistics suggests the monk was in total solitary confinement, possibly self-imposed. In tests to recreate the work, it is estimated to have taken 20 or more years to have written the workg message.[citation needed]

The Bible has always been central to the life of the Christian church. Bible scholar N.T. Wright says Jesus himself was profoundly shaped by the scriptures—the ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts whose stories, songs, prophecy and wisdom permeated the Jewish world of his day. He adds that the earliest Christians also searched those same scriptures in their effort to understand what their living God had accomplished through the brief earthly life of Jesus. They regarded the ancient Israelites' scriptures as having reached a climactic fulfillment in Jesus himself, generating the "new covenant" prophesied by Jeremiah.[16]

There are wide differences of opinion among Christians 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:[17]

1.            At some point in the past, humanity chose 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 Christians, Muslims, and Jews regard the Bible as inspired by God yet written fallibly by imperfect men. Many others, who identify themselves as biblical literalists, regard both the New and Old Testament as the undiluted Word of God, spoken by God and written down in its perfect form by humans. Still others hold the Biblical infallibility perspective, that the Bible is free from error in spiritual but not scientific matters. "Bible scholars claim that discussions about the Bible must be put into its context within church history and then into the context of contemporary culture."[16]

Belief in sacred texts is attested to in Jewish antiquity,[18][19] 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,[20] the most explicit being: "All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."[2 Timothy 3:16]

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."[21]

Most evangelical biblical scholars[22][23][24] 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.[25] However, some adherents to the King James Only view attribute inerrancy to a particular translation.


Main articles: Biblical Canon and Dating the Bible

The word "canon" etymologically means cane or reed. In early Christianity "canon" referred to a list of books approved for public reading. Books not on the list were referred to as "apocryphal" — meaning they were for private reading only. Under Latin usage from the fourth century on, canon came to stand for a closed and authoritative list in the sense of rule or norm.[9]

Hebrew Bible

Main article: Development of the Jewish Bible canon

Tanakh refers to the threefold division of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings). This division is alluded to in the New testament: Luke 24:44 refers to the "law of Moses" (Pentateuch), the "prophets" which include certain historical books in addition to the books now called "prophets," and the psalms (the "writings" designated by its most prominent collection). The Hebrew Bible probably was canonized in these three stages: the law canonized before the Exile, the prophets by the time of the Syrian persecution of the Jews, and the writings shortly after AD 70 (the fall of Jerusalem). About that time, early Christian writings began being accepted by Christians as "scripture." These events, taken together, may have caused the Jews to close their "canon." They listed their own recognized Scriptures and also excluded both Christian and Jewish writings considered by them to be "apocryphal." In this canon the thirty-nine books found in the Old Testament of today's Christian Bibles were grouped together as twenty-two books, equaling the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. This canon of Jewish scripture is attested to by Philo, Josephus, the New Testament,[26] and the Talmud.[9]

The New Testament writers assumed the inspiration of the Old Testament, probably earliest stated in 2 Timothy 3:16, "all Scripture is inspired of God."[9]

Old and New Testaments

Main articles: Development of the Old Testament canon and Development of the New Testament canon

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 39-to-46-book canon of the Old Testament and to the 27-book canon of the New Testament that would be subsequently used to today, most notably the Synod of Hippo in AD 393. 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).[27]

During the Protestant Reformation, certain reformers proposed different canonical lists to those currently in use. Though not without debate, see Antilegomena, 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 favor. 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 which were in the Septuagint. It should also be noted, that 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 Orthodox Churches, in addition to the Catholic canon, recognise 3 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, Prayer of Manasseh and Psalm 151. Some include 2 Esdras. The Anglican Church also recognises a longer canon. The term "Hebrew Scriptures" is often used as being synonymous with the Protestant Old Testament, since the surviving scriptures in Hebrew include only those books, while Catholics and Orthodox include additional texts that have not survived in Hebrew. Both Catholics and Protestants have the same 27-book New Testament Canon.

Qumran Bible

The Bible used at Qumran excluded Esther but included Tobit. Otherwise, it seems to have been basically the same as the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, albeit with many textual variants.

Ethiopian Orthodox canon

The Canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is wider than for most other Christian groups. The Ethiopian Old Testament Canon includes the books found in the Septuagint accepted by other Orthodox Christians, in addition to Enoch and Jubilees which are ancient Jewish books that only survived in Ge'ez but are quoted in the New Testament (citation required), also Greek Ezra First and the Apocalypse of Ezra, 3 books of Meqabyan, and Psalm 151 at the end of the Psalter. The three books of Meqabyan are not be confused with the books of Maccabees. The order of the other books is somewhat different from other groups', as well. The Old Testament follows the Septuagint order for the Minor Prophets rather than the Jewish order.

Marcionite Bible

Marcion, an early Christian heretic, and his followers, had a Bible that excluded the Old Testament. It consisted of an edited Gospel of Luke (excluding what Marcion considered Jewish additions), and the Epistles of Paul (excluding Titus, the two epistles to Timothy, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and passages rejected as Jewish additions).[28]

Bible versions and translations

Further information: Bible translations and Bible translations by language

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. There are several different ancient versions of the Tanakh in Hebrew, mostly differing by spelling, and the traditional Jewish version is based on the version known as Aleppo Codex. Even in this version by itself, there are words which are traditionally read differently from written (sometimes one word is written and another is read), because the oral tradition is considered more fundamental than the written one, and presumably mistakes had been made in copying the text over the generations.

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 translations 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 AD 382. 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 in 1546 at the Council of Trent was declared by the Church to be the only authentic and official Bible in the Latin Rite.

Especially since the Protestant Reformation, Bible translations for many languages have been made. The Bible has seen a notably large number of English language translations.

Bible translations, worldwide[29]

 Number               Statistic

6,900      Approximate number of languages spoken in the world today

1,300       Number of translations to new languages currently in progress

1,185       Number of languages the New Testament has been translated to

451         Number of languages the Bible (Protestant Canon) has been translated to

The Bible continues to be translated to new languages, largely by Christian organisations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators, New Tribes Mission and the Bible society.

Biblical criticism

Main articles: Biblical criticism and Criticism of the Bible

Biblical criticism refers to the investigation of the Bible as a text, and addresses questions such as authorship, dates of composition, and authorial intention. It is not the same as criticism of the Bible, which is an assertion against the Bible being a source of information or ethical guidance.

Higher criticism

Main articles: Higher criticism and Lower 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[citation needed], 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[citation needed] 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, arguing 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 Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, the views of Hobbes and Spinoza gained increasing acceptance amongst scholars.

Documentary hypothesis

Main article: Documentary hypothesis

Scholars intrigued by the hypothesis that Moses had not written the Pentateuch considered other authors. Independent but nearly simultaneous proposals by H. B. Witter, Jean Astruc, and Johann Gottfried 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 (Jahwist/Yahwist), E (Elohist), P (Priestly), and D (Deuteronomist). Each was discernible 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."[30]

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—[31] but 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. 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);[32] 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).[33] The documentary hypothesis has more recently been 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 documentary hypothesis, at least in the four-document version advanced by Wellhausen, has been controversial since its formulation. 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 archaeology has confirmed the existence of many people, places, and events mentioned in the Bible, 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—as well as upon non-Hebrew mythology—as primary source material (see The Bible and history). For these scholars, the Bible reveals much about the lives and times of its authors and compilers.

Archaeological and historical research

Main articles: Biblical archaeology school and The Bible and history

Biblical archaeology is the archaeology that relates to, and sheds light upon, the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. It is used to help determine the lifestyle and practices of people living in biblical times.

There are a wide range of interpretations of the existing Biblical archaeology. One broad division includes Biblical maximalism that generally take the view that most of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible is essentially based on history although presented through the religious viewpoint of its time. It is considered the opposite of biblical minimalism which is strictly secular and does not allow any consideration of the Bible as documentary evidence or as a framework of history.

One example of the dispute involves biblical accounts of Israelite bondage in Egypt, wandering in the desert, and conquest the Land of Israel in a military campaign, the accounts of the land being passed on to the 12 tribes of Israel, and David's and Solomon's conquests, and other key elements described in the biblical narratives as occurring in the 10th century BC or before. So far, there is a lack of archaeological evidence to independently support this, which has led some archaeologists, such as Israel Finkelstein, Neil Silberman,[34] and William G. Dever[35] to believe that these events never happened, and that the ancestors of the Hebrews and the Jews are either nomads who had become sedentary, or people from the plains of Canaan, who fled to the highlands to escape the control of the cities. Others disagree sharply.[36]

Another example involves the story of Noah's Ark. Biblical literalists support a theory of a worldwide flood as described in the story and are looking for archaeological evidence in the region of the mountains of Ararat in north-east Turkey where Genesis says Noah's Ark came to rest. Mainstream scientists (and many Christians and Jews) discount a literal interpretation of the Ark story, on the basis of geology and other sciences.[37]

According to recent theories, linguistic as well as archaeological, the global structure of the texts in the Hebrew Bible were compiled during the reign of King Josiah in the 7th century BC. Even though the components are derived from more ancient writings, the final form of the books is believed to have been set somewhere between the 1st century BC and the 4th century AD.

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