The Bible (from Koine Greek τὰ βιβλία, tà biblía, “the books”) is a canonical collection of texts considered sacred in Judaism as well as in Christianity. The term Bible is shared between the two religions, although the contents of each of their collections of canonical texts is not the same. Different religious groups include different books within their canons, in different orders, and sometimes divide or combine books, or incorporate additional material into canonical books.
The Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, contains twenty-four books divided into three parts: the five books of the Torah (“teaching” or “law”), the Nevi’im (“prophets”), and the Ketuvim (“writings”).
Christian Bibles range from the sixty-six books of the Protestant canon to the eighty-one books of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church canon. The first part of Christian Bibles is the Old Testament, which contains, at minimum, the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible divided into thirty-nine books and ordered differently than the Hebrew Bible. The Catholic Church and Eastern Christian churches also hold certain deuterocanonical books and passages to be part of the Old Testament canon. The second part is the New Testament, containing twenty-seven books: the four Canonical gospels, Acts of the Apostles, twenty-one Epistles or letters, and the Book of Revelation.
By the 2nd century BCE Jewish groups had called the Bible books “holy,” and Christians now commonly call the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible “The Holy Bible” (τὰ βιβλία τὰ ἅγια, tà biblía tà ágia) or “the Holy Scriptures” (η Αγία Γραφή, e Agía Graphḗ). Many Christians consider the whole canonical text of the Bible to be divinely inspired. The oldest surviving complete Christian Bibles are Greek manuscripts from the 4th century. The oldest Tanakh manuscript in Hebrew and Aramaic dates to the 10th century CE, but an early 4th-century Septuagint translation is found in the Codex Vaticanus.
The Bible was divided into chapters in the 13th century by Stephen Langton and into verses in the 16th century by French printer Robert Estienne and is now usually cited by book, chapter, and verse. The Bible has estimated annual sales of 25 million copies, and has been a major influence on literature and history, especially in the West where it was the first mass printed book.
The English word Bible is from the Latin biblia, from the same word in Medieval Latin and Late Latin and ultimately from Koine Greek τὰ βιβλία ta biblia “the books” (singular βιβλίον biblion).
Medieval Latin biblia is short for biblia sacra “holy book”, while biblia in Greek and Late Latin is neuter plural (gen. bibliorum). It gradually came to be regarded as a feminine singular noun (biblia, gen. bibliae) in medieval Latin, and so the word was loaned as a singular into the vernaculars of Western Europe. Latin biblia sacra “holy books” translates Greek τὰ βιβλία τὰ ἅγια ta biblia ta hagia, “the holy books”.
The word βιβλίον itself had the literal meaning of “paper” or “scroll” and came to be used as the ordinary word for “book”. It is the diminutive of βύβλος bublos, “Egyptian papyrus”, possibly so called from the name of the Phoenician sea port Byblos (also known as Gebal) from whence Egyptian papyrus was exported to Greece. The Greek ta biblia (lit. “little papyrus books”) was “an expression Hellenistic Jews used to describe their sacred books (the Septuagint). Christian use of the term can be traced to ca. 223 CE. The biblical scholar F.F. Bruce notes that Chrysostom appears to be the first writer (in his Homilies on Matthew, delivered between 386 and 388) to use the Greek phrase ta biblia (“the books”) to describe both the Old and New Testaments together.
The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Hebrew Bible. While the Masoretic Text defines the books of the Jewish canon, it also defines the precise letter-text of these biblical books, with their vocalization and accentuation.
The oldest extant manuscripts of the Masoretic Text date from approximately the 9th century CE, and the Aleppo Codex (once the oldest complete copy of the Masoretic Text, but now missing its Torah section) dates from the 10th century.
Tanakh (Hebrew: תנ”ך) reflects the threefold division of the Hebrew Scriptures, Torah (“Teaching”), Nevi’im (“Prophets”) and Ketuvim (“Writings”).
The Torah comprises the following five books:
- Genesis, Bereshith (בראשית)
- Exodus, Shemot (שמות)
- Leviticus, Vayikra (ויקרא)
- Numbers, Bamidbar (במדבר)
- Deuteronomy, Devarim (דברים)
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 Biblical 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. He leads 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 was 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 among traditional scholars as to whether these were all written down at one time, or over a period of time during the 40 years of the wanderings in the desert, while several modern Jewish movements reject the idea of a literal revelation, and critical scholars believe that many of these laws developed later in Jewish history). These commandments provide the basis for Jewish religious law. Tradition states that there are 613 commandments (taryag mitzvot).
The Nevi’im tell the story of the rise of the Hebrew monarchy and its division into two kingdoms, ancient Israel and Judah, focusing on conflicts between the Israelites and other nations, and conflicts among Israelites, specifically, struggles between believers in “the LORD God” and believers in foreign gods, and the criticism of unethical and unjust behavior of Israelite elites and rulers; in which prophets played a crucial and leading role. It ends with the conquest of the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians followed by the conquest of the Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Former Prophets are the books Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. They contain narratives that begin immediately after the death of Moses with the divine appointment of Joshua as his successor, who then leads the people of Israel into the Promised Land, and end with the release from imprisonment of the last king of Judah. Treating Samuel and Kings as single books, they cover:
- Joshua’s conquest of the land of Canaan (in the Book of Joshua),
- the struggle of the people to possess the land (in the Book of Judges),
- the people’s request to God to give them a king so that they can occupy the land in the face of their enemies (in the books of 1st & 2nd Samuel)
- the possession of the land under the divinely appointed kings of the House of David, ending in conquest and foreign exile (1st and 2nd Kings)
The Book of Joshua (Yehoshua יהושע) contains a history of the Israelites from the death of Moses to that of Joshua. After Moses’ death, Joshua, by virtue of his previous appointment as Moses’ successor, receives from God the command to cross the Jordan River.
The book consists of three parts:
- the history of the conquest of the land (1–12).
- allotment of the land to the different tribes, with the appointment of cities of refuge, the provision for the Levites (13–22), and the dismissal of the eastern tribes to their homes.
- the farewell addresses of Joshua, with an account of his death (23, 24).
The Book of Judges (Shoftim שופטים) consists of three distinct parts:
- the introduction (1:1–3:10 and 3:12) giving a summary of the book of Joshua
- the main text (3:11–16:31), discussing the five Great Judges, Abimelech, and providing glosses for a few minor Judges
- appendices (17:1–21:25), giving two stories set in the time of the Judges, but not discussing the Judges themselves.
The Books of Samuel (Shmu’el שמואל) consists of five parts:
- the period of God’s rejection of Eli, Samuel’s birth, and subsequent judgment (1 Samuel 1:1–7:17)
- the life of Saul prior to meeting David (1 Samuel 8:1–15:35)
- Saul’s interaction with David (1 Samuel 16:1–2 Samuel 1:27)
- David’s reign and the rebellions he suffers (2 Samuel 2:1–20:22)
- an appendix of material concerning David in no particular order, and out of sequence with the rest of the text (2 Samuel 22:1–24:25)
A conclusion of sorts appears at 1 Kings 1-2, concerning Solomon enacting a final revenge on those who did what David perceived as wrongdoing, and having a similar narrative style. While the subject matter in the Book(s) of Samuel is also covered by the narrative in Chronicles, it is noticeable that the section (2 Sam. 11:2-12:29) containing an account of the matter of Bathsheba is omitted in the corresponding passage in 1 Chr. 20.
The Books of Kings (Melakhim מלכים) contains accounts of the kings of the ancient Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah, and the annals of the Jewish commonwealth from the accession of Solomon until the subjugation of the kingdom by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians.
The Latter Prophets are divided into two groups, the “major” prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets, collected into a single book.
The 66 chapters of Isaiah (Yeshayahu [ישעיהו]) consist primarily of prophecies of the judgments awaiting nations that are persecuting Judah. These nations include Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria, Israel (the northern kingdom), Ethiopia, Egypt, Arabia, and Phoenicia. The prophecies concerning them can be summarized as saying that Jehovah is the God of the whole earth, and that nations which think of themselves as secure in their own power might well be conquered by other nations, at God’s command.
Chapter 6 describes Isaiah’s call to be a prophet of God. Chapters 35–39 provide material about King Hezekiah. Chapters 24–34, while too complex to characterize easily, are primarily concerned with prophecies of a messiah, the Lord’s “chosen one”, a person anointed or given power by God, and of the messiah’s kingdom, where justice and righteousness will reign. This section is seen by Jews as describing an king, a descendant of their great king, David, who will make Judah a great kingdom and Jerusalem a truly holy city.
The prophecy continues with what can be characterized as a “book of comfort” which begins in chapter 40 and completes the writing. In the first eight chapters of this book of comfort, Isaiah prophesies the deliverance of the Jews from the hands of the Babylonians and restoration of Israel as a unified nation in the land promised to them by God. Isaiah reaffirms that the Jews are indeed the chosen people of God in chapter 44 and that Jehovah is the only God for the Jews as he will show his power over the gods of Babylon in due time in chapter 46. In chapter 45:1 the Persian ruler Cyrus is named as the messiah who will overthrow the Babylonians and allow the return of Israel to their original land. The remaining chapters of the book contain prophecies of the future glory of Zion under the rule of a righteous servant (52 and 54). Chapter 53 contains a poetic prophecy about this servant which is generally considered by Christians to refer to Jesus, although Jews generally interpret it as a reference to God’s people. Although there is still the mention of judgment of false worshippers and idolaters (65 & 66), the book ends with a message of hope of a righteous ruler who extends salvation to his righteous subjects living in the Lord’s kingdom on earth.
The Book of Jeremiah (Yirmiyahu [ירמיהו]) can be divided into twenty-three subsections, and its contents organized into five sub-sections:
- the introduction, ch. 1
- scorn for the sins of Israel, consisting of seven sections, (1.) ch. 2; (2.) ch. 3–6; (3.) ch. 7–10; (4.) ch. 11–13; (5.) ch. 14–17:18; (6.) ch. 17:19–ch. 20; (7.) ch. 21–24
- a general review of all nations, foreseeing their destruction, in two sections, (1.) ch. 46–49; (2.) ch. 25; with an historical appendix of three sections, (1.) ch. 26; (2.) ch. 27; (3.) ch. 28, 29
- two sections picturing the hopes of better times, (1.) ch. 30, 31; (2.) ch. 32, 33; to which is added an historical appendix in three sections, (1.) ch. 34:1–7; (2.) ch. 34:8–22; (3.) ch. 35
- the conclusion, in two sections, (1.) ch. 36; (2.) ch. 45.
In Egypt, after an interval, Jeremiah is supposed to have added three sections, viz., ch. 37–39; 40–43; and 44. The principal messianic prophecies are found in 23:1–8; 31:31–40; and 33:14–26.
Jeremiah’s prophecies are noted for the frequent repetitions found in them of the same words, phrases, and imagery. They cover the period of about 30 years. They are not in chronological order.
The Book of Ezekiel (Yehezq’el [יחזקאל]) contains three distinct sections.
- the Judgment on Israel – Ezekiel makes a series of denunciations against his fellow Judeans ( 3:22–24), warning them of the certain destruction of Jerusalem, in opposition to the words of the false prophets (4:1–3). The symbolic acts, by which the extremities to which Jerusalem would be reduced are described in Chapters 4 and 5, show his intimate acquaintance with the levitical legislation. (See, for example, Exodus 22:30; Deuteronomy 14:21; Leviticus 5:2; 7:18, 24; 17:15; 19:7; 22:8)
- prophecies against various neighboring nations, the Ammonites ( Ezek. 25:1–7), the Moabites ( 25:8–11), the Edomites ( 25:12–14), the Philistines ( 25:15–17), Tyre and Sidon ( 26–28), and against Egypt (29–32)
- prophecies delivered after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II: the triumphs of Israel and of the kingdom of God on earth ( Ezek. 33–39 ); Messianic times, and the establishment and prosperity of the kingdom of God
Twelve Minor Prophets
The Twelve, Trei Asar (תרי עשר), also called the Twelve Minor Prophets
- Hosea, Hoshea (הושע)
- Joel, Yoel (יואל)
- Amos, Amos (עמוס)
- Obadiah, Ovadyah (עבדיה)
- Jonah, Yonah (יונה)
- Micah, Mikhah (מיכה)
- Nahum, Nahum (נחום)
- Habakkuk, Havakuk (חבקוק)
- Zephaniah, Tsefanya (צפניה)
- Haggai, Khagay (חגי)
- Zechariah, Zekharyah (זכריה)
- Malachi, Malakhi (מלאכי)
Ketuvim or Kəṯûḇîm (in Biblical Hebrew: כְּתוּבִים “writings”) is the third and final section of the Tanakh. The Ketuvim are believed to have been written under the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) but with one level less authority than that of prophecy.
The poetic books
In Masoretic manuscripts (and some printed editions), Psalms, Proverbs and Job are presented in a special two-column form emphasizing the parallel stitches in the verses, which are a function of their poetry. Collectively, these three books are known as Sifrei Emet (an acronym of the titles in Hebrew, איוב, משלי, תהלים yields Emet אמ”ת, which is also the Hebrew for “truth”).
These three books are also the only ones in Tanakh with a special system of cantillation notes that are designed to emphasize parallel stichs within verses. However, the beginning and end of the book of Job are in the normal prose system.
The five scrolls (Hamesh Megillot)
The five relatively short books of Song of Songs, Book of Ruth, the Book of Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Book of Esther are collectively known as the Hamesh Megillot (Five Megillot). These are the latest books collected and designated as “authoritative” in the Jewish canon even though they were not complete until the 2nd century CE.
Besides the three poetic books and the five scrolls, the remaining books in Ketuvim are Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles. Although there is no formal grouping for these books in the Jewish tradition, they nevertheless share a number of distinguishing characteristics:
- Their narratives all openly describe relatively late events (i.e., the Babylonian captivity and the subsequent restoration of Zion).
- The Talmudic tradition ascribes late authorship to all of them.
- Two of them (Daniel and Ezra) are the only books in Tanakh with significant portions in Aramaic.
Order of the books
The following list presents the books of Ketuvim in the order they appear in most printed editions. It also divides them into three subgroups based on the distinctiveness of Sifrei Emet and Hamesh Megillot.
The Three Poetic Books (Sifrei Emet)
- Tehillim (Psalms) תְהִלִּים
- Mishlei (Book of Proverbs) מִשְלֵי
- Iyyôbh (Book of Job) אִיּוֹב
The Five Megillot (Hamesh Megillot)
- Shīr Hashshīrīm (Song of Songs) or (Song of Solomon) שִׁיר הַשׁשִׁירִים (Passover)
- Rūth (Book of Ruth) רוּת (Shābhû‘ôth)
- Eikhah (Lamentations) איכה (Ninth of Av) [Also called Kinnot in Hebrew.]
- Qōheleth (Ecclesiastes) קהלת (Sukkôth)
- Estēr (Book of Esther) אֶסְתֵר (Pûrîm)
- Dānî’ēl (Book of Daniel) דָּנִיֵּאל
- ‘Ezrā (Book of Ezra-Book of Nehemiah) עזרא
- Divrei ha-Yamim (Chronicles) דברי הימים
The Jewish textual tradition never finalized the order of the books in Ketuvim. The Babylonian Talmud (Bava Batra 14b-15a) gives their order as Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Daniel, Scroll of Esther, Ezra, Chronicles.
In Tiberian Masoretic codices, including the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, and often in old Spanish manuscripts as well, the order is Chronicles, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Esther, Daniel, Ezra.
The Ketuvim is the last of the three portions of the Tanakh to have been accepted as biblical canon. While the Torah may have been considered canon by Israel as early as the 5th century BCE and the Former and Latter Prophets were canonized by the 2nd century BCE, the Ketuvim was not a fixed canon until the 2nd century of the Common Era.
Evidence suggests, however, that the people of Israel were adding what would become the Ketuvim to their holy literature shortly after the canonization of the prophets. As early as 132 BCE references suggest that the Ketuvim was starting to take shape, although it lacked a formal title. References in the four Gospels as well as other books of the New Testament that many of these texts were both commonly known and counted as having some degree of religious authority early in the 1st century CE.
Many scholars believe that the limits of the Ketuvim as canonized scripture were determined by the Council of Jamnia c. 90 CE. Against Apion, the writing of Josephus in 95 CE, treated the text of the Hebrew Bible as a closed canon to which “… no one has ventured either to add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable…” For a long time following this date the divine inspiration of Esther, the Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes was often under scrutiny.
The Tanakh was mainly written in biblical Hebrew, with some portions (Ezra 4:8–6:18 and 7:12–26, Jeremiah 10:11, Daniel 2:4–7:28) in biblical Aramaic, a sister language which became the lingua franca of the Semitic world.
The Septuagint, or LXX, is a translation of the Hebrew scriptures and some related texts into Koine Greek, begun in the late 3rd century BCE and completed by 132 BCE, initially in Alexandria, but in time elsewhere as well. It is not altogether clear which was translated when, or where; some may even have been translated twice, into different versions, and then revised.
As the work of translation progressed the canon of the Greek Bible expanded. The Torah always maintained its pre-eminence as the basis of the canon but the collection of prophetic writings, based on the Nevi’im, had various hagiographical works incorporated into it. In addition, some newer books were included in the Septuagint, among these are the Maccabees and the Wisdom of Ben Sira. The Septuagint version of some Biblical books, like Daniel and Esther, are longer than those in the Jewish canon. Some of these apocryphal books (e.g. the Wisdom of Solomon, and the second book of Maccabees) were not translated, but composed directly in Greek.
Since Late Antiquity, once attributed to a hypothetical late 1st-century Council of Jamnia, mainstream Rabbinic Judaism rejected the Septuagint as valid Jewish scriptural texts. Several reasons have been given for this. First, some mistranslations were claimed. Second, the Hebrew source texts used for the Septuagint differed from the Masoretic tradition of Hebrew texts, which was chosen as canonical by the Jewish rabbis. Third, the rabbis wanted to distinguish their tradition from the newly emerging tradition of Christianity. Finally, the rabbis claimed for the Hebrew language a divine authority, in contrast to Aramaic or Greek – even though these languages were the lingua franca of Jews during this period (and Aramaic would eventually be given the same holy language status as Hebrew).
The Septuagint is the basis for the Old Latin, Slavonic, Syriac, Old Armenian, Old Georgian and Coptic versions of the Christian Old Testament. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches use most of the books of the Septuagint, while Protestant churches usually do not. After the Protestant Reformation, many Protestant Bibles began to follow the Jewish canon and exclude the additional texts, which came to be called Biblical apocrypha. The Apocrypha are included under a separate heading in the King James Version of the Bible, the basis for the Revised Standard Version.
Incorporations from Theodotion
In most ancient copies of the Bible which contain the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, the Book of Daniel is not the original Septuagint version, but instead is a copy of Theodotion’s translation from the Hebrew, which more closely resembles the Masoretic text. The Septuagint version was discarded in favour of Theodotion’s version in the 2nd to 3rd centuries CE. In Greek-speaking areas, this happened near the end of the 2nd century, and in Latin-speaking areas (at least in North Africa), it occurred in the middle of the 3rd century. History does not record the reason for this, and St. Jerome reports, in the preface to the Vulgate version of Daniel, “This thing ‘just’ happened.” One of two Old Greek texts of the Book of Daniel has been recently rediscovered and work is ongoing in reconstructing the original form of the book.
The canonical Ezra-Nehemiah is known in the Septuagint as “Esdras B”, and 1 Esdras is “Esdras A”. 1 Esdras is a very similar text to the books of Ezra-Nehemiah, and the two are widely thought by scholars to be derived from the same original text. It has been proposed, and is thought highly likely by scholars, that “Esdras B” – the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah – is Theodotion’s version of this material, and “Esdras A” is the version which was previously in the Septuagint on its own.
Some texts are found in the Septuagint but are not present in the Hebrew. These additional books are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah (which later became chapter 6 of Baruch in the Vulgate), additions to Daniel (The Prayer of Azarias, the Song of the Three Children, Susanna and Bel and the Dragon), additions to Esther, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, Odes, including the Prayer of Manasseh, the Psalms of Solomon, and Psalm 151.
Some books that are set apart in the Masoretic text are grouped together. For example the Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings are in the LXX one book in four parts called Βασιλειῶν (“Of Reigns”). In LXX, the Books of Chronicles supplement Reigns and it is called Paralipomenon(Παραλειπομένων—things left out). The Septuagint organizes the minor prophets as twelve parts of one Book of Twelve.
The Second Epistle to Timothy says that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”. (2 Timothy 3:16) Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, that God, through the Holy Spirit, intervened and influenced the words, message, and collation of the Bible. For many Christians the Bible is also infallible, and is incapable of error in matters of faith and practice.
Versions and translations
The original texts of the Tanakh were mainly in Hebrew, with some portions 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 there are words which are traditionally read differently from written, 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. 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 Roman Catholic Church to be the only authentic and official Bible in the Latin Rite.
Since the Protestant Reformation, Bible translations for many languages have been made. 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.
Archaeological and historical research
- What are the Books of the Bible? (whatshotn.wordpress.com)
- The text of the Old Testament (jessicahof.wordpress.com)
- The Septuagint: The KJV of the Ancient World (glanier.wordpress.com)
- Why accept the New Testament? (jessicahof.wordpress.com)