AskDefine | Define biblical

Dictionary Definition

biblical adj
1 of or pertaining to or contained in or in accordance with the Bible; "biblical names"; "biblical Hebrew" [syn: scriptural]
2 in keeping with the nature of the Bible or its times or people; "biblical styles in writing"; "a beard of biblical proportions"; "biblical costumes"

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Of, or relating to, the Bible
  2. In accordance with the teachings of the Bible (according to some interpretation of the later)
    The biblical teaching is that...
    biblical morality
  3. In the expression "of biblical proportions", very large, exceeding previous records.


of, or relating to, the Bible
  • Dutch: bijbels
  • Finnish: raamatullinen
  • German: biblisch
  • Japanese: (, seisho no)
  • Russian: библейский
  • Spanish: bíblico , bíblica
in accordance with the teachings of the Bible
exceeding previous records
  • Finnish: raamatullinen
  • German: biblisch
Translations to be checked
translations to be checked

Extensive Definition

The Bible is the collection of religious writings of Judaism and of Christianity. The exact composition of the Bible is dependent on the religious traditions of specific denominations. Modern Rabbinic Judaism generally recognizes a single set of canonical books that comprise the Tanakh, the Jewish version of the Bible. The Christian Bible includes the same books as the Tanakh (referred to in this context as the Old Testament), but in a different order, together with specifically Christian books collectively called the New Testament. Among some Christian traditions, the Bible includes additional Jewish books that were not accepted into the Tanakh.
The Hebrew Bible comprises three parts: the Torah ("Teaching", also known as the Pentateuch or "Five Books of Moses"), the Prophets, and the Writings. It was primarily written in Hebrew with some small portions written in Aramaic.
The Christian Bible includes the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, which were originally written in Greek, preceded by the protocanonical books of the Old Testament and sometimes a number of deuterocanonical books: Eastern Orthodox Churches use all of the books that were incorporated into the Septuagint, the earliest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible; Roman Catholics include some of these books in their canon; and many Protestant Bibles follow the Jewish canon, excluding the additional books. Some editions of the Christian Bible have a separate Biblical apocrypha section for books not considered canonical.
According to the United Bible Society, as of December 31, 2007, translations of the full Bible were available for 438 languages, translations of one of the two testaments in 1,168 additional languages, and portions of the text existed in 848 additional languages. This means that partial or full translations of the Bible exist in a total of 2,454 languages.


According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word bible is from Anglo-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."). This stemmed from the Greek term (ta biblia ta hagia), "the holy books", which derived from βιβλίον (biblion), "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 from which Egyptian papyrus was exported to Greece.
Biblical scholar Mark Hamilton states that the Greek phrase Ta biblia ("the books") was "an expression Hellenistic Jews used to describe their sacred books several centuries before the time of Jesus," and would have referred to the Septuagint. The Online Etymology Dictionary states, "The Christian scripture was referred to in Greek as Ta Biblia as early as c.223."


The Tanakh (Hebrew: ) 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).


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:
The Hebrew book titles come from the first words in the respective texts. The Hebrew title for Numbers, however, comes from the fifth word of that text.
The Torah focuses on three moments in the changing relationship between God and people. The first eleven chapters of Genesis provide accounts of the creation (or ordering) of the world, and the history of God's early relationship with humanity. The remaining thirty-nine chapters of Genesis provide an account of God's covenant with the Hebrew patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (also called Israel), and Jacob's children (the "Children of Israel"), especially Joseph. It tells of how God commanded Abraham to leave his family and home in the city of Ur, eventually to settle in the land of Canaan, and how the Children of Israel later moved to Egypt. The remaining four books of the Torah tell the story of Moses, who lived hundreds of years after the patriarchs. His story coincides with the story of the liberation of the Children of Israel from slavery in Ancient Egypt, to the renewal of their covenant with God at Mount Sinai, and their wanderings in the desert until a new generation would be ready to enter the land of Canaan. The Torah ends with the death of Moses.
The Torah contains the commandments, of God, revealed at Mount Sinai (although there is some debate amongst Jewish scholars, if 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). Everyone agrees though that there are 613.
The Torah is divided into fifty-four portions which are read in turn in Jewish liturgy, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Deuteronomy, each Sabbath. The cycle ends and recommences at the end of Sukkot, which is called Simchat Torah.


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 seventeen 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—Shemuel (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)


The Ketuvim, or "Writings" or "Scriptures," may have been written during or after the Babylonian Exile but no one can be sure. According to Rabbinic tradition, many of the psalms in the book of Psalms are attributed to David; King Solomon is believed to have written Song of Songs in his youth, Proverbs at the prime of his life, and Ecclesiastes at old age; and the prophet Jeremiah is thought to have written Lamentations. The Book of Ruth is the only biblical book that centers entirely on a non-Jew. The book of Ruth tells the story of a non-Jew (specifically, a Moabite) who married a Jew and, upon his death, followed in the ways of the Jews; according to the Bible, she was the great-grandmother of King David. Five of the books, called "The Five Scrolls" (Megilot), are read on Jewish holidays: Song of Songs on Passover; the Book of Ruth on Shavuot; Lamentations on the Ninth of Av; Ecclesiastes on Sukkot; and the Book of Esther on Purim. Collectively, the Ketuvim contain lyrical poetry, philosophical reflections on life, and the stories of the prophets and other Jewish leaders during the Babylonian exile. It ends with the Persian decree allowing Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple.
The Ketuvim comprise the following eleven books:
  • 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

The Tanakh was mainly written in Biblical Hebrew, with some portions (notably in Daniel and Ezra) in Biblical Aramaic.
Some time in the 2nd or 3rd century BC, the Torah was translated into Koine Greek, and over the next century, other books were translated (or composed) as well. This translation became known as the Septuagint and was widely used by Greek-speaking Jews, and later by Christians. It differs somewhat from the later standardized Hebrew (Masoretic Text). This translation was promoted by way of a legend (primarily recorded as the Letter of Aristeas) that seventy (or in some sources, seventy-two) separate translators all produced identical texts.
From the 800s to the 1400s, Jewish scholars today known as Masoretes compared the text of all known biblical manuscripts in an effort to create a unified, standardized text. A series of highly similar texts eventually emerged, and any of these texts are known as Masoretic Texts (MT). The Masoretes also added vowel points (called niqqud) to the text, since the original text only contained consonant letters. This sometimes required the selection of an interpretation, since some words differ only in their vowels—their meaning can vary in accordance with the vowels chosen. In antiquity, variant Hebrew readings existed, some of which have survived in the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea scrolls, and other ancient fragments, as well as being attested in ancient versions in other languages.
Versions of the Septuagint contain several passages and whole books beyond what was included in the Masoretic texts of the Tanakh. In some cases these additions were originally composed in Greek, while in other cases they are translations of Hebrew books or variants not present in the Masoretic texts. Recent discoveries have shown that more of the Septuagint additions have a Hebrew origin than was once thought. While there are no complete surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew texts on which the Septuagint was based, many scholars believe that they represent a different textual tradition ("Vorlage") from the one that became the basis for the Masoretic texts.

Old Testament

The Old Testament is the collection of books written prior to the life of Jesus but accepted by Christians as scripture. Broadly speaking, it is the same as the Hebrew Bible, however it divides and orders them differently, and varies from Judaism in interpretation and emphasis, see for example Isaiah 7:14. Several Christian denominations also incorporate additional 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 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, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches include these books as part of their Old Testament.
The Roman Catholic Church recognizes the following books:
In addition to those, the Eastern Orthodox Church recognizes the following:
Some other Orthodox Churches include a few others, typically:
The Anglican Church uses the Apocryphal books liturgically, but not to establish doctrine. Therefore, editions of the Bible intended for use in the Anglican Church include the Deuterocanonical books accepted by the Catholic church, plus 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh.
There is also 4 Maccabees which is not accepted as canonical by any church, but was included by St. Jerome in an appendix to the Vulgate, and it therefore sometimes included in collections of the Apocrypha.

New Testament

The Bible as used by the majority of Christians includes the Rabbinic Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament, which relates the life and teachings of Jesus, the letters of the Apostle Paul and other disciples to the early church and the Book of Revelation.
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 was written primarily in Koine Greek in the early Christian period, though a minority argue for Aramaic primacy. Nearly all Christians recognize the New Testament (as stated below) as canonical scripture. These books can be grouped into: The order of these books varies according to Church tradition. The New Testament books are ordered differently in the Catholic/Protestant tradition, the Lutheran tradition, the Slavonic tradition, the Syriac tradition and the Ethiopian tradition.

Original language

The books of the New Testament were likely 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.

Historic editions

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.
There are also several ancient translations, most important of which are in the Syriac dialect of Aramaic (including the Peshitta and the Diatessaron gospel harmony), in the Ethiopian language of Ge'ez, and in Latin (both the Vetus Latina and the Vulgate).
In 331, the Emperor Constantine commissioned Eusebius to deliver fifty Bibles for the Church of Constantinople. Athanasius (Apol. Const. 4) recorded Alexandrian scribes around 340 preparing Bibles for Constans. Little else is known, though there is plenty of speculation. For example, it is speculated that this may have provided motivation for canon lists, and that Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus are examples of these Bibles. Together with the Peshitta, these are the earliest extant Christian Bibles.
The earliest surviving complete manuscript of the entire Bible is the Codex Amiatinus, a Latin Vulgate edition produced in eighth century England at the double monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow.
The earliest printed edition of the Greek New Testament appeared in 1516 from the Froben press, by Desiderius Erasmus, who reconstructed its Greek text from several recent manuscripts of the Byzantine text-type. He occasionally added a Greek translation of the Latin Vulgate for parts that did not exist in the Greek manuscripts. He produced four later editions of this text. Erasmus was Roman Catholic, but his preference for the Byzantine Greek manuscripts rather than the Latin Vulgate led some church authorities to view him with suspicion.
The first printed edition with critical apparatus (noting variant readings among the manuscripts) was produced by the printer Robert Estienne of Paris in 1550. The Greek text of this edition and of 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 as the text nunc ab omnibus receptum ("now received by all").
The churches of the Protestant Reformation translated the Greek of the Textus Receptus to produce vernacular Bibles, such as the German Luther Bible and the English King James Bible.
The discovery of older manuscripts, which belong to the Alexandrian text-type, including the 4th century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, led scholars to revise their view about the original Greek text. Attempts to reconstruct the original text are called critical editions. Karl Lachmann based his critical edition of 1831 on manuscripts dating from the 4th century and earlier, to demonstrate that the Textus Receptus must be corrected according to these earlier texts.
Later critical editions incorporate ongoing scholarly research, including discoveries of Greek papyrus fragments from near Alexandria, Egypt, that date in some cases within a few decades of the original New Testament writings. Today, most critical editions of the Greek New Testament, such as UBS4 and NA27, consider the Alexandrian text-type corrected by papyri, to be the Greek text that is closest to the original autographs. Their apparatus includes the result of votes among scholars, ranging from certain to doubtful , on which variants best preserve the original Greek text of the New Testament.
Most variants among the manuscripts are minor, such as alternate spelling, alternate word order, the presence or absence of an optional definite article ("the"), and so on. Occasionally, a major variant happens when a portion of a text was accidentally omitted (or perhaps even censored), or was added from a marginal gloss. Fortunately, major variants tend to be easier to correct. Examples of major variants are the endings of Mark, the Pericope Adulteræ, the Comma Johanneum, and the Western version of Acts.
Critical editions that rely primarily on the Alexandrian text-type inform nearly all modern translations (and revisions of older translations).
However for reasons of tradition, especially the doctrine of the inerrancy of the King James Bible, some modern scholars prefer to use the Textus Receptus for the Greek text, or use the Majority Text which is similar to it but is a critical edition that relies on earlier manuscripts of the Byzantine text-type. Among these scholars, some argue that the Byzantine tradition contains scribal additions, but these later interpolations preserve the orthodox interpretations of the biblical text—as part of the ongoing Christian experience—and in this sense are authoritative.

Christian theology

While individual books within the Christian Bible present narratives set in certain historical periods, most Christian denominations teach that the Bible itself has an overarching message.
There are among Christians wide differences of opinion as to how particular incidents as described in the Bible are to be interpreted and as to what meaning should be attached to various prophecies. However, Christians in general are in agreement as to the Bible's basic message. A general outline, as described by C. S. Lewis, is as follows:
  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 by a variety of imperfect men over thousands of years. Many others, who identify themselves as Bible-believing Christians, 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.
Belief in sacred texts is attested to in Jewish antiquity, 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, the most explicit being Bible verse 2|Tm|3:16|ESV: "All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."
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." Some biblical scholars 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.

Hebrew Bible

The New Testament refers to the threefold division of the Hebrew Scriptures: the law, the prophets, and the writings. Bible verse 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 (Bible verse |Luke|11:51|NRSV, Bible verse |Luke|24:44|NRSV), and the Talmud.
During the Protestant Reformation, certain reformers proposed different canonical lists than what was 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 term "Hebrew Scriptures" is only synonymous with the Protestant Old Testament, not the Catholic, which contains the Hebrew Scriptures and additional texts. Both Catholics and Protestants have the same 27-book New Testament Canon.

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, also First and 2 Esdras (the latter also known as 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.

Bible versions and translations

see Bible translations In scholarly writing, ancient translations are frequently referred to as "versions," with the term "translation" being reserved for medieval or modern translations. 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 than 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 382 AD. 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.
Bible translations for many languages have been made through the various influences of Catholicism, Orthodox, Protestant, etc especially since the Protestant Reformation. The Bible has seen a notably large number of English language translations.
The work of Bible translation continues, including by Christian organisations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators (, New Tribes Missions ( and the Bible Societies ( Of the world's 6,900 languages, 2,400 have some or all of the Bible, 1,600 (spoken by more than a billion people) have translation underway, and some 2,500 (spoken by 270 million people) are judged as needing translation to begin.

Characteristics of early Bible texts

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

Differences in Bible translations

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

Inclusive language

Traditionally, English masculine pronouns have been used interchangeably to refer to the male gender and to all people. For instance, "All men are mortal" is not intended to imply that males are mortal but females are immortal. English language readers and hearers have had to interpret masculine pronouns (and such words as "man" and "mankind") based on context. Further, both Hebrew and Greek, like some of the Latin-origin languages, use the male gender of nouns and pronouns to refer to groups that contain both sexes. This creates some difficulty in determining whether a noun or pronoun should be translated using terms that refer to men only, or generically to men and women inclusively. Context sometimes, but not always, helps determine whether to decode them in a gender-insensitive or gender-specific way.
Contemporary language has changed in many cases to reflect criticism of the use of the masculine gender, which has been characterized as discriminatory. Current style guides, such as APA, MLA, NCTE, and others, have published statements encouraging, and in some cases requiring, the use of inclusive language, which avoids language this approach regards as sexist or class-distinctive.
Until recently, virtually all English translations of the Bible have used masculine nouns and pronouns both specifically (to refer to males) and generically (when the reference is not necessarily gender-specific). Recent examples of translations which incorporate gender-inclusive language include the New Revised Standard Version, the Revised English Bible, and Today's New International Version.

Chapters and verses

See Tanakh for the Jewish textual tradition.
The Hebrew Masoretic text contains verse endings as an important feature. According to the Talmudic tradition, the verse endings are of ancient origin. The Masoretic textual tradition also contains section endings called parashiyot, which are indicated by a space within a line (a "closed" section") or a new line beginning (an "open" section). The division of the text reflected in the parashiyot is usually thematic. The parashiyot are not numbered.
In early manuscripts (most importantly in Tiberian Masoretic manuscripts, such as the Aleppo codex) an "open" section may also be represented by a blank line, and a "closed" section by a new line that is slightly indented (the preceding line may also not be full). These latter conventions are no longer used in Torah scrolls and printed Hebrew Bibles. In this system the one rule differentiating "open" and "closed" sections is that "open" sections must always begin at the beginning of a new line, while "closed" sections never start at the beginning of a new line.
Another related feature of the Masoretic text is the division of the sedarim. This division is not thematic, but is almost entirely based upon the quantity of text.
The Byzantines also introduced a chapter division of sorts, called Kephalaia. It is not identical to the present chapters.
The current division of the Bible into chapters and the verse numbers within the chapters has no basis in any ancient textual tradition. Rather, they are medieval Christian inventions. They were later adopted by many Jews as well, as technical references within the Hebrew text. Such technical references became crucial to medieval rabbis in the historical context of forced debates with Christian clergy (who used the chapter and verse numbers), especially in late medieval Spain. Chapter divisions were first used by Jews in a 1330 manuscript and for a printed edition in 1516. However, for the past generation, most Jewish editions of the complete Hebrew Bible have made a systematic effort to relegate chapter and verse numbers to the margins of the text.
The division of the Bible into chapters and verses has often elicited severe criticism from traditionalists and modern scholars alike. Critics charge that the text is often divided into chapters in an incoherent way, or at inappropriate rhetorical points, and that it encourages citing passages out of context, in effect turning the Bible into a kind of textual quarry for clerical citations. Nevertheless, the chapter divisions and verse numbers have become indispensable as technical references for Bible study.
Stephen Langton is reputed to have been the first to put the chapter divisions into a Vulgate edition of the Bible, in 1205. They were then inserted into Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in the 1400s. Robert Estienne (Robert Stephanus) was the first to number the verses within each chapter, his verse numbers entering printed editions in 1551 (New Testament) and 1571 (Hebrew Bible).

Biblical criticism

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

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

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 (or 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."
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— 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. Every book in turn has been hypothesized to bear traces of multiple authorship, even the book of Obadiah, which is only a single page. In some cases the traditional view on authorship has been overturned; in others, additional support, at least in part has been found.
The development of the hypothesis has not stopped with Wellhausen. Wellhausen's hypothesis, for example, proposed that the four documents were composed in the order J-E-D-P, with P, containing the bulk of the Jewish law, dating from the post-Exilic Second Temple period (i.e., after 515 BC); 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). 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. The relevance of these ideas to contemporary religious life is left to clerics and adherents of contemporary religions to decide.

Theological responses


The claim that the Torah—"the Five Books of Moses"—were not written by Moses, but by many authors long after Moses was said to have lived, directly challenged Jewish orthodoxy. For most, this claim implies that the Torah itself—especially its account of God's revelation at Mt. Sinai—is not historically reliable. Although many Orthodox scholars have rejected this "Higher Criticism", most Conservative and virtually all Reform Jewish scholars have accepted it. Consequently, there has been considerable debate among Jewish scholars as to the nature of revelation and the divine nature of the Torah. Conservative Jewish philosopher Elliot Dorff has categorized five distinct major Jewish positions in these debates within Conservative Judaism in the 20th century:
  • Orthodox (characterized by Eliezer Berkovitz and Norman Lamm): "Verbal Revelation: The Torah, including both the Written and Oral Traditions, consists of the exact words of God. He gave it all as one piece at Sinai."*
  • Conservative I (characterized by Isaac Lesser, Alexander Kohut, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and David Novak): "Continuous Revelation:God dictated His will at Sinai and other times. It was written down by human beings, however, and hence the diverse traditions in the Bible."
  • Conservative II (characterized by Ben Zion Bokser, Robert Gordis, Max Routtenberg and Emil Fackenheim): "Continuous Revelation: Human beings wrote the Torah, but they were divinely inspired."
  • Conservative III (characterized by Louis Jacobs, Seymour Seigel, Jacob Agus, David Lieber and Elliot Dorff): "Continuous Revelation: The Torah is the human record of the concounter between God and the People Israel at Sinai. Since it was written by human beings, it contains some laws and ideas which we find repugnant today."
  • Conservative IV/Reconstructionist (characterized by Mordecai Kaplan, Ira Eisenstein and Harold Schulweis): "No Revelation: Human beings wrote the Torah. No claim for divinity of the product."
In addition to the 5 categories described by Elliott, other positions have been adopted:
  • Traditional Rabbi David Weiss HaLivni, the founder of the Union for Traditional Judaism, adapted a position he describes as chatu yisrael ("Israel sinned"), that God revealed the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai but it subsequently became corrupted and lost, and Ezra restored it by redacting it from multiple manuscripts reflecting disparate traditions. Under this view, the Torah is the best available record of the Divine will, has prophetic commendation, and is binding on the Jewish people, but is not necessarily entirely free of disparaties.
  • Reform (characterized by the Movement's 1937 Guiding Principles): "Progressive revelation: The Torah is God's will written by human beings. As time goes on, we get to understand his will better and better (="progressive revelation").
  • Reconstructionist Reconstructionist Judaism generally adapts the textual critical approach in toto and regards the Torah as either inspired rather than revealed, or an entirely human product rather than the product of an external God.


In 1943 Pope Pius XII's encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu gave the Vatican's imprimatur to textual criticism.

Archaeological and historical research

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.
With regard to the Exodus and the 40-year sojourn in the desert, archaeological digs in possible Biblical locations have been unsuccessful so far. There is also no archaeological evidence of a conquest of the land and cities of Canaan of the kind recounted in the Book of Joshua.
However, after the split of the Kingdom of Israel in the second half of the 9th century BC, archaeological findings fit the Biblical chronology.

Nomadist theory

The ancestors of the Hebrews and the Jews are believed to be either nomads who have become sedentary, or people from the plains of Canaan, who fled to the highlands to escape the control of the cities. These positions are held by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman in The Bible Unearthed, by the American archaeologist William Dever in Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come from?, and by Jean-Marie Husser, professor at Marc Bloch University in Strasbourg, France.

See also


See Biblical exegesis.

Religious texts


References and further reading

  • Anderson, Bernhard W. Understanding the Old Testament. ISBN 0-13-948399-3.
  • Berlin, Adele, Marc Zvi Brettler and Michael Fishbane. The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-19-529751-2.
  • Asimov, Isaac. Asimov's Guide to the Bible. New York, NY: Avenel Books, 1981. ISBN 0-517-34582-X.
  • Dever, William G. Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did they Come from? Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003. ISBN 0-8028-0975-8.
  • Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005. ISBN 0-06-073817-0.
  • Finkelstein, Israel and Silberman, Neil A. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-86913-6.
  • Geisler, Norman (editor). Inerrancy. Sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. Zondervan Publishing House, 1980, ISBN 0-310-39281-0.
  • Head, Tom. The Absolute Beginner's Guide to the Bible. Indianapolis, IN: Que Publishing, 2005. ISBN 0-7897-3419-2.
  • Hoffman, Joel M. In the Beginning. New York University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8147-3690-4.
  • Lindsell, Harold. The Battle for the Bible. Zondervan Publishing House, 1978. ISBN 0-310-27681-0.
  • Lienhard, Joseph T. The Bible, The Church, and Authority. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1995.
  • Miller, John W. The Origins of the Bible: Rethinking Canon History Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8091-3522-1.
  • McDonald, Lee M. and Sanders, James A., eds. The Canon Debate. Hendrickson Publishers (January 1, 2002). 662p. ISBN-10: 1565635175 ISBN-13: 978-1565635173
  • Riches, John. The Bible: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-19-285343-0
  • Taylor, Hawley O. "Mathematics and Prophecy." Modern Science and Christian Faith. Wheaton: Van Kampen, 1948, pp. 175–83.
  • Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, s.vv. "Book of Ezekiel," p. 580 and "prophecy," p. 1410. Chicago: Moody Bible Press, 1986.

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