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The Bible

Page history last edited by diana.hayes@iwc.edu 10 years, 4 months ago



“The great biblical themes are about God, his revealed works of creation, provision, judgment, deliverance, his covenant, and his promises.  The Bible sees what happens to mankind in the light of God's nature, righteousness, faithfulness, mercy, and love”

--- John B. Gable and Charles B. Wheeler



The most sacred book of the Jewish and Christian religions is the Bible or sometimes referred to as the Holy Scriptures.  They consider it to be the Word of God, and they base their rituals, ceremonies, and beliefs on it.  The word Bible actually comes from the Greek word biblio meaning books, which is exactly what the Bible is.  The Protestant Bible consists of 66 books dividing into two major components, called the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The Old Testament has 39 books and the New Testament has 27 books. However the Roman Catholic bible contains more books, 73 books, than the Protestant's 66 books. Although Christians accept both the Old and New Testament, Judaism only accepts the Old Testament, which is also known as the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh.  The Tanakh has 24 books and varies from the Old Testament in book arrangement[1] [4].  The books vary from Bible to Bible based on the canon of Judaism and Christianity.  The canon is the standardization for the books in the Bible[5].


Throughout the Bible, the reader will find many forms of literature.  At least 50 forms appear in the Old Testament alone [1].  They include various areas like songs, hymns, riddles, proverbs, and history.  The Bible mostly consists of stories describing great and ordinary people.  It is admired for its vivid descriptions of faith, its realistic views of how to live life, and the striking personalities described of the people.  In the Bible, God is not defined or is discovered of His existence, but is educating what He does in the world, and what He expects and promises to all human beings.  The Bible is the most widely read book all throughout history.  It is probably also the most influential [1].  The Bible has been translated numerous times in all different languages, and has been a symbol of hope and peace for many believers.




The Bible first started as an oral literature thousands of years ago.  Eventually, it evolved as people wrote down various parts of the book.  For many centuries, the Bible only existed in a handwritten form until the mid 1400’s.  It was then that the Bible became one of the first books in the Europe to be printed from movable type [1].  The Gutenberg Bible was the first Bible printed in Johannes Gutenberg’s workshop in Mainz, Germany.


      Gutenberg Bible




The unknown original authors of the Bible are still being discussed and analyzed today.  The History Channel broadcasted a video series entitled Who Wrote the Bible?  There are 12 parts of this video series, but Part I is available for your viewing below.  This video series is fantastic and thoroughly explains the history of the Bible in great detail.








The Old Testament

The majority of the Old Testament was first written in Hebrew.  It has 39 books and begins with the book of Genesis, which gives an account of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth.  It then largely deals with the history and religious life of ancient Israel from about 1300 B.C. to the 100’s B.C [1].  The majority of the Old Testament tells the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery from Egypt.  


The Old Testament contains several types of literature: there are narratives combined with rules and instructions (Torah, or Pentateuch) and anecdotes of Hebrew persons, prophets, priests, kings, and their women (Former Prophets) [2].  These types of literature consist of the three sections of the Hebrew Bible: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.  In the Christian Bible there are four sections: the Pentateuch, Historical Books, Wisdom Books, and the Prophets [1]. 

The three sections in the Hebrew Bible are further discussed here.  The Law consists of five books:  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  These books are very important in the Jewish religion, because they form the basis of religious life and education for the Jews.  Beginning in Exodus, the story of creation is discussed and the ancestry and departure of the Israelites from Egypt under the leader Moses is described.  The Law ends with the death of Moses and the Israelites’ promise being fulfilled. 


The Prophets also played a major role in the life of the ancient Hebrews.  They were seen as teachers and thinkers who inspired the people of their age.  The Prophets are broken down into the "Major Prophets" consisting of the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, and the Latter Prophets which are named Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and The Twelve.  The Twelve contains the teachings of twelve "Minor Prophets" [1][6].  The difference between the Major Prophets and the Minor Prophets are simply the difference in their emphasis on history.  The Major Prophets used historical sources to write about important Hebrew leaders, while the Minor Prophets contain sermon-like messages spoken in the name of God.


The Writings consist of 11 books: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs or Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles.  The Book of Psalms consists of hymns and prayers and is often what is transcribed to sing in a sermon or worship service. The Book of Proverbs contains short sayings, many of them about proper conduct. The Book of Job is a dialogue between Job and his friends about God’s presence in the world.  The Song of Solomon is a collection of love poems.  Ecclesiastes is a largely pessimistic discussion of the meaning of life.  The six remaining books deal mainly with the history of the ancient Hebrews [1].



"History in the Old Testament is not history in the modern sense; it is the story of events seen as revealing the divine presence and power" [2].



The development of the Old Testament is quite complicated.  There is evidence that the ancient Hebrews adopted some of the religious and legal traditions of other Near Eastern cultures, but there are no written sources that tell how the Old Testament began to develop [1].  Biblical scholars have specifically paid attention to how the Law came to be written since the 1700’s.  If asking of the Jewish and Christian tradition, these books are “the books of Moses,” even though these books don’t give credit to Moses as the author.  Consequently, in analyzing the books of the Law, Biblical scholars have noticed differences in vocabulary, style, and the names of God.  There are other flaws which made scholars believe that several persons or groups wrote the Law, and these versions were written over a long period of time and then were combined by editors.  The authors of the Writings are unknown, though ancient leaders like Daniel and Solomon are said to have written them.  Overall, the ancient Jews probably recognized the five books of the Law as a distinct collection before 250 B.C [1].



The New Testament

The New Testament has 27 books organized into four sections- the Gospels, Acts, the Letters, and Revelation which cover approximately 100 years.  It records the life of Jesus Christ, and also deals with the development of the early church and faith in Jesus.  Like the Old Testament it was written in Greek, which was the central language during the time of Jesus, although Jesus and His disciples spoke Aramaic.  Unlike the Old Testament, the number of books and their order are the same throughout Roman Catholics and the Protestant versions.


The Gospels subdivide into four books-Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  The word gospel comes from the Old English word godspell, which means good news [1].  Eventually, the church associated the Gospels with two of Christ’s apostles, Matthew and John, and there two companions, Mark and Luke.  They are considered to be the authors of the Gospels traditionally.  These four Gospels describe the life of Jesus, and three of the four writers have similarities in detail.  However, the Gospel of John differs by expressing the teachings of Jesus through long statements.


The Acts of the Apostles is one book, and it continues the story in Luke focusing on the expansion of the early church.  The Letters make up 21 books.  The first 13 letters are called the Pauline Letters, mostly being written by Saint Paul which preserve Paul’s preaching, discussing problems of faith and conduct.  The last eight are called the General Letters because they were written by early church leaders but scholars have no evidence on the authors’ identities.  These deal with problems faced by 2nd and 3rd generation Christians, and somewhat imitate the style of the Pauline letters.


The last book of the New Testament is Revelation, which describes God’s final triumph, through Christ, over evil and death.  This description is through visions of the future sent by God to the author by an unknown angel.



       This is a brief video about the New Testament.



The Apocrypha 


The Apocrypha, meaning 'hidden', are a set of fifteen books interwoven in the Old Testament and accepted in the canon by Roman Catholics, but rejected by Protestants[9].  The Apocrypha is found in the Septuagint canon which was found in Alexiandria, Egypt.  Septuagint means seventy since the Old Testament found in this canon was supposedly translated into Greek in seventy days by seventy scholars.  The Roman Catholics only accept eleven of the fifteen books as canonical, belonging to the canon[9].  This is the reason why the Roman Catholics have more books than the other Christian demoninations[9].  The Roman Catholics accept the Apocrypha for several reasons; the New Testament quotes from the Septuagint, and early leaders and councils of the church accept it.  The Council of Trent even went into saying that those who do not receive the books "let him be anathema".  Anathema meaning excommunicated from the church.  The Protestant's reasons for rejecting the Apocrypha are; the New Testament does not directly quote the Apocrypha, some leaders did not accept it, some of the stories seem imaginary, and finally the books were never part of the Old Testament Hebrew canon[9].  The Apocrypha also mentions some doctrines and practices that do not agree with those mentioned in the canon[8]. 



Translations of the Bible

The first translation of the Bible was an oral version of the Old Testament in Aramaic [1].  Unfortunately, Jews who only spoke this language could not understand the Bible when it was orally read aloud in Hebrew.  A translator would have to be provided, standing beside the reader in a synagogue.  Also, Jews who spoke Greek also needed translations of the Bible.  According to tradition, 72 Jewish scholars in Egypt began translating the Bible into Greek during the mid 200’s B.C, taking about 200 years to translate the entire Old Testament [1].  Eventually, the need for additional translations spread as Christianity grew.


Appearing in the 1380’s was the first complete English translation of the Bible, made by John Wycliffe and his followers.  The Pope at that time was so angry at Wycliffe and his followers that 44 years after Wycliffe's death, the Pope ordered his bones "to be dug up, crushed, and scattered in the river"[7].  Following suit, Martin Luther and William Tyndale helped to transfer Bibles into German and English.  Miles Coverdale, an English bishop prepared the first complete English Bible to be printed [1].  He used Luther and Tyndale’s versions as resources. 


The King James Version appeared in 1611, authorized by King James I himself.  The beauty and grace of the translation established the King James Version as one of the great treasures of the English Language [1].  After his version was published, no important English translations were seen for more than 200 years.  This was when the King James Version was the most widely used translation, until the mid-1800’s.  New translations were wanted, because of the major change of the English Language itself.  Many scholars were looking for more knowledge and understanding to the Bible and the King James translation no longer had the same meaning.  Unfortunately, the Revised Version did not last, and most individuals preferred the King James Version.


Modern English translations have tried to replace the older version of the Bible.  These modern translations seek to reproduce the flavor of modern speech and language.  For example, dialogue is printed as dialogue would be today, and poetry is printed in its verse form, and paragraphs logically separate new ideas. 



The Bible in worship

The Bible is used throughout all of Jewish and Christian private and public worship services.  In public worship, the reading of the Bible is done in groups according to an official schedule, often seen in Jewish and many Christian settings.  In some Protestant churches, the minister often selects the reading before the service, which is usually related to the sermon in some way.  During mass in the Roman Catholic Churches, Bible passages are read.  Also, parts of the Bible are read during ceremonies such as baptisms, weddings or funerals.  The Book of Psalms has been set to music and sung as hymns in many Jewish and Christian worship settings.  These are sung as a congregation throughout the service.




Implications for Media Ecology

Media Ecology is a discipline that in some ways is connected with the Bible(Page 17).  “All literacy forms quickly become public property.  Even in our own age-the age of innovation-successful forms are quickly absorbed into the general culture and become available to anyone who wants to use them.  This was the case in biblical times-but with one important difference: "Biblical writers seem, for the most part, to have wanted to submerge their individuality in the chosen form and made no effort to give the result a personal stamp.”  This quote was taken from John B. Gabel and Charles B. Wheeler's book entitled The Bible as Literature: An Introduction.  The form of the Bible was of an essence when it was first being written down or analyzed.  It being a new form of communication and literacy, the Bible would have invented many media ecology questions of that time.


“In the mid-fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries, however, certain historical developments changed the picture entirely.  The first of those developments was the invention of the printing (more precisely, the invention of printing from movable type)” [3].  Before the printing press, only one single copy of a book could be made at a time and the cost of the book was determined by how long it took for the copyist to complete the book.  Fortunately, when the printing press was invented, the Bible was able to be translated and copied many times.  For the price of one Bible, literally hundreds could be produced for the same price.  According to Gabel and Wheeler negatives came out of this new era of printing.  The Bible was now up for translation in several different languages making “a scholar’s careful efforts to produce an accurate version of the Bible in some given language would be reflected in hundreds of printed copies” [3]. 


The final movement that affected the form of the Bible and they way it was communicated throughout society was the Protestant Reformation.  Because of this the Protestant Bible was translated into the tongues of the people using the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament instead of the Latin Vulgate being used at that time[3].  The Protestant Reformation created a new branch of Christianity and helped open the door to new branches to be formed.


The Bible radically changed the world by being the first book printed from the printing press, and by being one of the most widely read book with it being translated in 2,018 languages[5]. 




[1] “Bible." World Book Encyclopedia. 1994.

[2] Biblical Literature." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 20  Nov.  2008  <http://search.eb.com/eb/article-73409>.

[3]  Gabel, John B., and Charles B. Wheeler. The Bible as Literature: An Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

[4] "History of the Bible." AllAboutTheJourney.org. 2011. 8 March 2011 <http://www.allaboutthejourney.org/history-of-the-bible.htm>.

[5]"Fast Facts on the Bible." Bible Resources.org. 2011. 14 March 2011 <http://bibleresources.bible.com/afacts.php>.                                         [6] Bulkeley, Tim. "The Book of Twelve: the "Minor" Prophets." Amos: Hypertext Bible Commentary. 2005.
[7] Jeffcoat III, John L. "English Bible History" GREATSITE.COM. 2010. <http://www.greatsite.com/timeline-english-bible-history/>
[8] "What Is The Apocrypha?" Essortment. Demand Media. 2011. 9 March 2011. <http://www.essortment.com/apocrypha-58224.html>.
[9] Lutzer, Erwin W. "How Many Books Are in The Bible?" Bible.Org. 2011. <http://www.bible.org/article/how-many-books-are-bible>.


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Original Author:  Emily Hauenstein

Comments (2)

Jeff Martinek said

at 11:17 pm on Dec 2, 2008

Jeff Martinek said

at 7:35 pm on Dec 11, 2008

Good work, Emily. This is a very thorough article! -- JM

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