The Bible

While this entire book is about biblical literacy, this first chapter is about the Bible itself. It includes the name of every book of the Bible, with a brief statement of the theme of the book. Each book of the Bible is identified as being from the Old Testament (ot) or the New Testament (nt).

Every literate person should know that the book of Psalms is a collection of poems found in the Old Testament and that the Gospels are biographies of Jesus found in the New Testament. But literate Christians also recognize Zephaniah as one of the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament, and they know that 1 Thessalonians is a letter from the Apostle Paul to one of the early churches.

This chapter also includes a chart of the best-known English translations of the Bible, such as the King James Version, the New International Version, and The Living Bible. The entry for each translation is immediately followed by the abbreviation most commonly used for that translation or version.

Also included in this chapter are descriptions of Bible study tools such as Bible dictionary and Bible commentary. Finally, there are terms such as Greek, Hebrew, koinē, manuscript, Dead Sea Scrolls, and Textus Receptus that relate to the manner in which the Bible was first written and has been handed down through the centuries.

Acts or Acts of the Apostles (nt)

The book of Acts follows the Gospels and tells of the founding and growth of the Christian church in the first century a.d It was written by Luke and starts where the narrative of the Gospel of Luke ends. In the second chapter, just ten days after Jesus' ascension into heaven, we see the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The main character in the first twelve chapters is Peter, who became one of the leaders in the emerging church in Jerusalem. The remaining chapters then follow Paul on his various missionary journeys. The time period covered by the book of Acts is approximately a.d. 30-65.

Amos (ot)

One of the Minor Prophets, this book contains the messages of the prophet Amos. Amos was a shepherd who pronounced God's judgment upon the people of the northern kingdom of Israel shortly before Israel was taken into Exile by the Assyrians in 722 b. c.


Another name for the New Testament book of Revelation. The word apocalypse means 'disclosure' or 'revelation'.


Seven books in the Old Testament (plus additions to the books of Esther and Daniel) that are included in Roman Catholic Bibles but are not included in the Jewish Bible or in most Protestant Bibles. These books, usually called "Apocrypha" by Protestants, are called "Deuterocanonical books" by Catholics. When the Old Testament Canon was being consolidated several centuries before Christ, the Apocryphal books were considered to be of lesser authority than the books that were accepted into the canon. For a list of books in the Apocrypha, see Old Testament.

Although the word Apocrypha comes from a Greek word meaning 'hidden', the word apocryphal has generally come to mean spurious, or something that is probably not true.


An ancient language closely related to Hebrew. Several portions of the Old Testament were originally written in Aramaic. The Jews of Jesus' day spoke Aramaic, so presumably Jesus' own teachings were originally spoken in Aramaic, then later recorded in Greek.


The holy book of the Christian faith, containing the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is often called the Holy Bible. Most Christians believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God. The books of the Bible were written by dozens of writers over a period of about 1,500 years.

The books that Christians call the Old Testament constitute the entirety of the Jewish Bible. The Old Testament tells of the Creation, the fall of man covenant with Abraham, and the history of Abraham's descendants, the Jews, till about 430 b.c. It also contains the Mosaic law, Hebrew poetry (including the Psalms and Proverbs), and the messages of the prophets.

The New Testament contains the four Gospels, which tell the stories of the life and ministry of Jesus, culminating in his suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection. Next comes the book of Acts, which tells of the early church in the first century, and the Epistles, which are letters to the Christians of the first century.

For a complete list of the books of the Bible, see Old Testament and New Testament.

The Bible defines many concepts that are foundational to Western culture—concepts such as justice and mercy, fair play, marriage, and family relationships.

The Bible, particularly the King James Version, has had more impact on the literature of the English language than has any other single source.

The Most Popular English Translations of the Bible

Douay-Rheims Bible A Roman Catholic translation produced in the early seventeenth century—about the same time as the King James Version. For the most part it was translated from the Latin Vulgate Until the 1970's, when the New American Bible was completed, the Douay-Rheims Bible was the standard English translation of the Bible for the Roman Catholic church.

Holman Christian Standard Bible (hcsb) A word-for-word translation sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention and published in 2000.

King James Version (kjv) Until recently, the King James Version was the most widely used English translation of the Bible. It was first published in 1611 under the authorization of King James I of England In Britain it is called the Authorized Version (av). Its stately language has had a great influence on spoken English and on English literature over nearly four centuries. Most biblical phrases and quotations that are popularly known (see the entries under "Quotations from the Bible") are from the King James Version. In recent years, modern translations have replaced the King James Version in many churches.

Living Bible, The (tlb) A popular paraphrase by Kenneth N. Taylor first published in 1971. In the early 1970's it was the best-selling book in the United States. A revision of The Living Bible was published in 1996 under the title Holy Bible, New Living Translation (nlt).

Message, The A popular paraphrase by Eugene Peterson that uses contemporary and sometimes edgy language to convey the meaning of the text. It was published in 1993 (NT) and 2002 (complete Bible).

New American Bible (nab) A translation sponsored by the Roman Catholic church. Sometimes called the Confraternity Bible, it was first published in 1970 and is the translation now most widely used by Catholics.

New American Standard Bible (nasb) A translation first published in 1971, it gained popularity among evangelicals as an accurate word-for-word style of translation. It was updated in 1995.

New International Version (niv) A popular translation that has been widely accepted by evangelicals since its publication in 1978. It has recently surpassed the King James Version as the most widely-used English translation of the Bible. In 2005 a revision called Today's New International Version (tniv) was published. A children's edition based on the niv is the New International Readers Version (nirv).

New King James Version (njkv) A popular revision of the King James Version. Many difficult and archaic words have been updated, and the words thee and thou have been replaced with the contemporary you.

New Living Translation (nlt) A dynamic-equivalence, or thought-for-thought, translation first published in 1996. It is a revision of The Living Bible and was created by a team of ninety scholars. It combines the accuracy of the best translations with the readability of The Living Bible.

Revised Standard Version (RSV) The standard Bible used by many denominations. The translation was sponsored by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA and was first published in 1952. In 1990 a revised edition called the New Revised Standard Version (nrsv) was published.

Today's English Version (TEV) This modern translation, published by the American Bible Society, has been quite popular since its publication in 1976. It uses simple English and tends to be a thought-for-thought style of translation. It is also called the Good News Bible. An updated version was published in 1995 as the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

Bible Commentary

A book that provides information and interpretation to help the reader understand the biblical text. Some commentaries cover the entire text of the Bible in one volume. Other commentary series devote an entire volume to each book of the Bible.

Bible Concordance

A listing of key words in the Bible, along with the references where they are found. Many Bibles have abridged concordances printed at the end of the book. Complete concordances list every occurrence of every word in the Bible, usually with a phrase to show the context for the word.

Bible Dictionary

A dictionary that defines all the terms and names found in the Bible.

Biblical Criticism

The process of applying scientific methods in studying the text of the Bible. Biblical criticism is often divided into lower and higher criticism. Lower (or textual) criticism focuses exclusively on the text itself. Its objective is to determine as nearly as possible the exact wording of the original text. Higher criticism addresses issues such as date of writing, authorship, and the oral traditions assumed to lie behind the written text.

Higher critics have often been accused of starting with presuppositions that deny the supernatural or that assume that prophetic passages could not have been written before the occurrence of the event they foretell. Many higher critics doubt the historical accuracy of many parts of the Bible. Other scholars, who prefer to take the text at face value, feel that higher criticism is not a valid way of approaching the text.

Books of the Bible

The Bible is made up of sixty-six individual books (seventy-three books when the Apocrypha are included). Each book is divided into chapters and verses. The longest book in the Bible is Psalms, with 150 chapters. Five books have only one chapter. The books of the Bible were written by many different authors over a long period—possibly as long as 1,500 years (1400 b.c. to a.d. 95). For a complete list of the books of the Bible, see Old Testament and New Testament.

The titles of books that start with a number (e.g., 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel) are usually pronounced First Samuel (rather than One Samuel) and Second Samuel (rather than Two Samuel).

The word Bible comes from the Greek word for 'book'.

Books of Moses

The first five books of the Old Testament are called the Books of Moses, reflecting the traditional view that they were written by Moses. They are also called the Pentateuch (Greek for 'five books') and Torah. The Books of Moses contain the stories of the Creation, the fall of man, God's covenant with Abraham, the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Mosaic law, and the experiences of the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. (See Genesis; Exodus; Leviticus; Numbers; Deuteronomy.)