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BIBLE. The collection of books recognized and used by the Christian church as the inspired record of God’s revelation of himself and of his will to mankind.

I. Names. The word “Bible” is from Greek biblia, plural of biblion, diminutive of biblos (book), from byblos (papyrus). In ancient times papyrus was used in making the paper from which books were manufactured. The words biblion and biblia are used in the OT (LXX) and the Apocrypha for the Scriptures (Dan.9.2; 1Macc.1.56; 1Macc.3.48; 1Macc.12.9). By about the fifth century a.d. the Greek church fathers applied the term biblia to the whole Christian Scriptures. Later the word passed into the western church, and although it is really a plural neuter noun, it came to be used in the Latin as a feminine singular. Thus “The Books” became by common consent “The Book.”

The plural term biblia stresses the fact that the Bible is a collection of books. That the word came to be used in the singular emphasizes that behind these many books there lies a wonderful unity. That no qualifying adjective stands before it points to the uniqueness of this book.

The names “Old Testament” and “New Testament” have been used since the close of the second century a.d. to distinguish the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. The Old Testament is composed of books produced by writers under God’s covenant with Israel; the New Testament contains writings of the apostles (members of God’s new covenant people). The term Novum Testamentum occurs first in Tertullian (a.d. 190-220). “Testament” is used in the NT (kjv) to render the Greek word diathēkē (Latin testamentum), which in classical usage meant “a will” but in the LXX and in the NT was used to translate the Hebrew word ber̂ith (“a covenant”).

II. Languages. Most of the OT was written in Hebrew, the language spoken by the Israelites in Canaan before the Babylonian captivity. After the return from exile, Hebrew gave way to Aramaic, a related dialect generally spoken throughout SW Asia. A few parts of the OT are in Aramaic (Ezra.4.8-Ezra.7.18; Ezra.7.12-Ezra.7.26; Jer.10.11; Dan.2.4-Dan.7.28). The ancient Hebrew text consisted only of consonants, since the Hebrew alphabet had no written vowels. Vowel signs were invented by the Jewish Masoretic scholars in the sixth century a.d. and later.

Except for a few words and sentences, the NT was composed in Greek, the language of ordinary conversation in the Hellenistic world. The difference of NT Greek from classical Greek and the Greek of the LXX used to be a cause of bewilderment to scholars, but the discovery, since the 1890s, of many thousands of papyri documents in the sands of Egypt has shown that the Greek of the NT is identical with the Greek generally spoken in the Mediterranean world in the first century. The papyri have thrown a great deal of light on the meaning of many NT words.

III. Compass and Divisions. The Protestant Bible in general use today contains sixty-six books, thirty-nine in the OT and twenty-seven in the NT. The thirty-nine OT books are the same as those recognized by the Palestinian Jews in NT times. The Greek-speaking Jews of this period, on the other hand, recognized as Scripture a larger number of books, and the Greek OT (LXX), which passed from them to the early Christian church contained, in addition to the thirty-nine books of the Hebrew canon, a number of others, of which seven—Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, plus the two so-called additions to Esther and Daniel—are regarded as canonical by the Roman Catholic church, which therefore has an OT canon of forty-six books. Jews today consider canonical only the thirty-nine books accepted by Protestants.

The books in the Hebrew Bible are arranged in three groups: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Law comprises the Pentateuch. The Prophets consist of eight books: the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets). The Writings are the remaining books: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. The total is traditionally reckoned as twenty-four, but these correspond to the Protestant thirty-nine, since in the latter reckoning the Minor Prophets are counted as twelve books, and Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah as two each. In ancient times there were also other enumerations, notably one by Josephus, who held twenty-two books as canonical (after the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet), but his twenty-two are the same as the twenty-four in the traditional reckoning.

In the LXX both the number of books and the arrangement of them differ from the Hebrew Bible. It is evident that the NT writers were familiar with the LXX, which contained the Apocrypha, but no quotation from any book of the Apocrypha is found in their pages. The books of the Apocrypha are all late in date and are in Greek, though at least one (Sirach) had a Hebrew origin. The more scholarly of the church fathers (Melito, Origen, Athanasius, Jerome) did not regard the Apocrypha as canonical, although they permitted their use for edification.

The Protestant OT does not follow the grouping of either the Hebrew canon or the LXX. It has, first, the five books of the Pentateuch; then the eleven historical books, beginning with Joshua and ending with Esther; after that what are often called the poetical books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs; and finally the prophets, first the major and then the minor.

All branches of the Christian church are agreed on the NT canon. The grouping of the books is a natural one: first the four Gospels; then the one historical book of the NT, the Acts of the Apostles; after that the letters to the churches, first the letters of Paul and then the general letters; and finally the Revelation.

IV. Text. Although the Bible was written over a period of approximately 1,400 years, from the time of Moses to the end of the first century a.d., its text has come to us in a remarkable state of preservation. It is of course not identical with the text that left the hands of the original writers. Scribal errors have crept in. Until the invention of printing in the middle of the fifteenth century, all copies of the Scriptures were made by hand. There is evidence that the ancient Jewish scribes copied the books of the OT with extreme care. The recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls, some going as far back as the second and third centuries b.c., contain either whole books or fragments of all but one (Esther) of the OT books; and they bear witness to a text remarkably like the Hebrew text left by the Masoretes (from a.d. 500 on). The Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint, was begun about 250 b.c. and completed about one hundred years later. Although it differs in places from the Hebrew text current today, it is also a valuable witness to the accuracy of the OT text.

In the NT the evidence for the reliability of the text is almost embarrassingly large and includes about 4,500 Greek manuscripts, dating from a.d. 125 to the invention of printing; various versions, the Old Latin and Syriac going back to about a.d. 150; and quotations of Scripture in the writings of the church fathers, beginning with the end of the first century. The superabundance of textual evidence for the NT may be appreciated when it is realized that very few manuscripts of ancient Greek and Latin classical authors have survived, and those that have survived are all late in date. Among the oldest manuscripts of the Greek NT that have come down to us are the John Rylands fragment of the Gospel of John (c. 125); Papyrus Bodmer II, a manuscript of the Gospel of John dating c. 200; the Chester Beatty Papyri, consisting of three codices containing the Gospels and Acts, most of Paul’s Letters, and the Revelation, dating from c. 200; and codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, both written about c. 350.

V. Chapters and Verses. The books of the Bible originally had no chapters or verses. For convenience of reference, Jews of pre-Talmudic times divided the OT into sections like our chapters and verses. The chapter divisions we use today were made by Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury, who died in 1228. The division of the NT into its present verses is found for the first time in an edition of the Greek NT published in 1551 by a printer in Paris, Robert Stephens, who in 1555 also brought out an edition of the Vulgate that was the first edition of the entire Bible to appear with our present chapters and verses. The first English Bible to be so divided was the Genevan edition of 1560.

VI. Translations. The Old and New Testaments appeared very early in translations. The OT was translated into Greek (the LXX) between 250 and 150 b.c., and other translations in Greek appeared soon after the beginning of the Christian era. Parts, at least, of the OT were rendered into Syriac as early as the first century a.d., and a Coptic translation appeared probably in the third century. The NT was translated into Latin and Syriac c. 150 and into Coptic c. 200. In subsequent centuries versions appeared in the Armenian, Gothic, Ethiopic, Georgian, Arabic, Persian, and Slavonic languages. The Bible, in whole or in part, is now available in more than 1,100 different languages and dialects. Many languages have been reduced to writing in order that the Bible might be translated into them in written form, and this work still goes on in many lands.

VII. Message. Although the Bible consists of many different books written over a long period of time by a great variety of writers, most of whom did not know one another, it has an organic unity that can be explained only by assuming, as the book itself claims, that its writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit to give God’s message to man. The theme of this message is the same in both Testaments, the redemption of man. The OT tells about the origin of man’s sin and the preparation God made for the solution of this problem through his own Son the Messiah. The NT describes the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan; the four Gospels telling about the Messiah’s coming; the Acts of the Apostles describing the origin and growth of the church, God’s redeemed people; the Epistles giving the meaning and implication of the Incarnation; and the Revelation showing how some day all of history will be consummated in Christ. The two Testaments form two volumes of one work. The first is incomplete without the second; and the second cannot be understood without the first. Together they are God’s revelation to people of the provision he has made for their salvation.

See also: TEXTS AND VERSIONS; Old Testament; New Testament.

Bibliography: B. F. Westcott, The Bible in the Church, 1864; F. F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments, 1953; C. F. H. Henry, Revelation and the Bible, 1959; P. R. Ackroyd et al., The Cambridge History of the Bible, 3 vols., 1970; A. C. Partridge, English Bible Translation, 1973; D. A. Carson, King James Version Debate, 1979; E. H. Glassman, The Translation Debate, 1981; J. P. Lewis, The English Bible: From KJV to NIV, 1981; M. A. Noll and N. O. Hatch (eds.), The Bible in America, 1982.——SB

See Old Testament; Synoptic Gospels; John, Gospel of; Acts of the Apostles; Epistles, General and Pauline; Hebrews; Revelation

BIBLE. This is the general name given to the sacred Scriptures of the Christian Church. A discussion of this subject must necessarily embrace a wide variety of aspects, but in an article of this restricted nature it will be possible to give only the most general survey of its content, history, unity, and other related features. If further details are required, reference should be made to articles dealing with the separate sections.


Descriptive terms.

The Eng. word “Bible” is directly derived from the Gr. word βιβλίον, G1046, (“a little book”), which in turn was derived from the word for the bark of the papyrus plant (βίβλος, G1047) which was used widely for writing material. The pl. form βιβλία (“books”) was at first used of the collection of holy writings, but since this neuter pl. has the same form as a feminine sing., it became mistaken for a sing. form, hence “books” became “book” (Bible). The mistake in the grammatical derivation of the word was not inappropriate as the growing conviction developed regarding the unity of the whole. In Jerome’s time the whole collection was known as the divine library (Bibliotheca), which draws attention to the diversity within the whole. The Bible is simultaneously “the book” and “the books,” both a single volume and a library.

The term “Scriptures” which is used in the NT and in the writings of the Church Fathers represents the Gr. word γραφάι (“writings”). It also is used in the sing., but in this case generally denotes a particular passage of Scripture. It is clear from the NT use of these forms that the OT was regarded as possessing special authority. This is borne out by the significance of the formula “It is written,” which is so frequently used to introduce important OT testimonia. Since the pl. is used for the whole collection, “Scriptures” corresponds to the early use of “books,” although the sing. came to be used later in a collective sense.

Another term which is important in descriptions of the sacred writings is “Testament,” which is derived from the Lat. Testamentum, but corresponds to the Gr. διαθήκη, G1347. In spite of the fact that the Gr. term normally means “testament” in the sense of “will,” it is used in the LXX to tr. the Heb. בְּרִית, H1382, “covenant.” When used as a title for the OT or NT, it is understood in this latter sense. The OT contains the books of the Old Covenant, as the NT contains the books of the New Covenant. Since it was the Lord who used the term “New Covenant” at the Last Supper, it was not a great step from there to think of the whole process of salvation under the figure of a covenant (cf., Epistle to the Hebrews), which naturally suggested that the former covenant was old by comparison. It is in this sense that the descriptive adjectives “old” and “new” are to be understood.

Divisions within the Bible.

Within the OT there are well-defined groupings of books, but neither the order nor the grouping of these in the Eng. text follows the Heb. text. The grouping of the latter was threefold: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (known in the Gr. VS as the Hagiographa). The books of the Law comprise the first five books of the Bible. The Prophets consist of most of the historical books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) and the prophetical books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets, Hosea to Malachi). The Writings include all the rest (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles). Since the double books, the minor prophets, and Ezra-Nehemiah were respectively counted as single books, the normal rabbinical reckoning of the books was twenty-four. This was not followed by Josephus (Apion I. 8), who numbers only twenty-two, evidently by joining Ruth with Judges, and Lamentations with Jeremiah. Jerome (Preface to OT) follows the same reckoning. Josephus also differs from the general rabbinical procedure by classifying thirteen prophetical books instead of eight. This is effected by transferring from the third group all the books except Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes.

The NT bears witness to a threefold division of the OT Scriptures, e.g., in Luke 24:44, “the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms,” the latter description clearly standing for the Hagiographa of which Psalms was the first book. Sometimes the Law and the Prophets alone are mentioned (e.g., Matt 5:17; Acts 13:15). At times the Law seems to stand for all the books, since citations are made under the term which are drawn from books outside the Pentateuch (e.g., John 10:34, a citation from Ps 82:6). More often, however, the NT does not use the terms for the divisions, but the more comprehensive term, “the Scripture.”

It will be observed from the above that none of the books known as the Apocrypha were regarded by either the rabbis or Josephus as belonging to the Jewish Scriptures. These books were mainly those added to the books of the Heb. Canon in the LXX. Since this Gr. VS became the Bible of the Early Church, it is remarkable that none of the books of the Apoc. are cited in the NT as Scripture. Some suppose that Jude cites the Book of Enoch in this way, but it is highly debatable whether he intends to call it Scripture. It is worth noting that Melito of Sardis (c. a.d. 170) found it necessary to consult the Jews in the countries where the OT books had originated in order to settle the question of the content of the OT. At the same time he used the LXX, but clearly did not consider that this was authoritative for the additional books. The apocryphal books were included in the Vul. of Jerome and through this means became part of the Scriptures of the Roman Catholic Church. This was made conclusive at the Council of Trent in 1546. The Reformers rejected the Apoc. from the Canon, but allowed it for reading purposes. The concern in this article will be for the Bible excluding the Apoc.

In the NT the division of the books follows the classification of the literary forms: gospels, Acts, epistles, and apocalypse. There is a natural sequence in this order, although it has nothing to do with chronology. The gospels were placed first because they focus attention on Jesus Christ, whose work and teaching formed the central feature of the Christian message. The Acts was from early times linked with the gospels, partly because it was viewed as a continuation of the Gospel story, and partly because it was always associated with the third gospel as the work of Luke. The epistles follow naturally from Acts because they preserve data regarding the apostolic preaching. The concluding book, the Apocalypse of John, presenting a vision of the future state of the Church, forms a fitting consummation to the NT collection. It is significant that many unauthentic books began to circulate at an early period, mainly among heretical sects, which were with few exceptions patterned on the same four types as in the NT collection. It was essential for the Christians to be able to differentiate between those which were genuine and those which were not, and this they did with little hesitation (see CANON OF THE NT).

A division which occurred during the history of the NT Canon was based on the existence, or otherwise, of doubts concerning any of the books. Those unchallenged were called homologoumena (confessed or accepted), and those over which some had doubts were called antilegomena (disputed). These latter were Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 1 and 3 John, Jude, and the Apocalypse. Such a division as this belongs to the history of the Canon and did not affect the arrangement of the books within the NT.

The languages of the Bible.

There are three languages which are involved in the original text of the Bible. Hebrew is the language of the major part of the OT, but a few portions are preserved in Aram. These are Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26; Daniel 2:4-7:28; and Jeremiah 10:11. Aramaic, which is closely related to Heb., was adopted by the Jews during the Exile and subsequently became the general Palestinian language for trade and social intercourse. By the time of Jesus it had become the native language of Pal. while Heb. was used only as the sacred language of the Scriptures. About the second cent. b.c. the square Heb. script which is still used was introduced. The method of writing Heb. consonants has remained virtually unchanged over the last 2,000 years. Prior to that there were many changes. The vowels, which were omitted from all older Heb. writing, were introduced about a.d. 500 by the Massoretes (editors), and since that time have become standard in Heb. orthography. Much valuable information has come to light from the Qumran library on the state of the Heb. language some 700 years before the Massoretes fixed the text, but there is a remarkable degree of agreement between these earlier and later evidences.

The form of the Gr. in which the NT is written is known to be the Koiné (or common) Gr., in widespread use at the time as the everyday language of the people. It differed in certain features from the classical Gr. in that less precision was placed on grammatical structure. Many of the niceties of classical Gr. had vanished. Even within the less precise Koiné there were marked differences of style which are apparent in the NT. Luke’s gospel, for instance, is written in a better style of literary Koiné than Mark’s, while within Luke there are portions in a different style of Gr. (the prologue is more classical than the rest, while Luke 1:5-2:52 is in a Sem. style akin to that of the LXX). So much lexigraphical data about the Koiné has come to hand from the rubbish heaps of Egypt, that the NT exegetes have valuable aids for the understanding of the texts.

The text of the Bible.

When dealing with a book, or more precisely a collection of books, parts of which reach back to great antiquity, it is natural to inquire how reliably the texts have been preserved. This question is simpler to answer for the NT than for the OT, since the amount of data available is vastly more for the former than for the latter. The quantity of available material for the verifying of the NT text presents its own problems in the need for some method of classifying and assessing the evidence.

The OT text.

There are four main streams of information for this text. 1. The oldest evidence comes from Qumran. Among the MSS discovered there are many which preserve parts of the OT text. Although for some books the amount of evidence preserved is extremely fragmentary, there is some portion of text extant from all the books except Esther. Much work still needs to be done in examining the text, as only a few of the Biblical texts have been published so far. What information is available shows that for the main part the Qumran texts agree with the MT or traditional text (see below). This evidence, which has only recently come to hand, has in fact increased the knowledge of the OT text by more than a 1,000 years. In addition to MSS of the Heb. text, there are many commentaries on OT books which throw further light on the text. Another factor in the Qumran evidence is the existence of some early fragments of Gr. texts of the OT which are valuable in tracing the early history of the LXX (see below).

2. The next line of evidence is the LXX. This is a complete tr. of the OT into Gr. including the books of the Apoc. Its origins are obscure, but the demand for it certainly seems to have arisen in Egypt. There was a large colony of Jews in Alexandria, few of whom would have been acquainted with Heb. A Gr. VS also would have been valuable throughout the Diaspora. Tradition has it that the Egyp. king Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-246 b.c.) instigated the work, but there is no knowing what reliance to place on this tradition. It is prob. safe to conclude that the tr. was completed by 200 b.c. Its usefulness as evidence for the Heb. text is problematical, as it frequently deviates from the traditional text, in many cases adding to it. In some cases liberties have been taken to paraphrase or else to modify by means of explanatory phrases, and this process shows that caution must be exercised in using the LXX as a guide to the Heb. text. At the same time, since there are some instances where the Heb. text as it stands is unintelligible, it may be that the LXX has preserved an accurate reading. Another caution against the LXX is that the trs. have at times misunderstood the unpointed Heb. text and have consequently introduced corruptions.

3. The third line of evidence comes from the Targs. and the Talmud. The former are Aram. paraphrases which became necessary because the Jewish people were unable to understand the readings from the Heb. texts. These paraphrases were originally oral and there is no knowing precisely when they were first written down. In all probability, this had partially happened by the time of the birth of Christ, although most of the extant evidence for them comes from the 4th cent. a.d. There are Targs. preserved on all the OT books except Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Some of the Targumists kept much closer to the Heb. text than others. The work of Onkelos is of most value. These Targs. throw more light on the interpretation of the text than on the text itself, but they do at times supply information about the latter.

The Talmud contains the oral law (Mishnah) which came to have equal status with the written law, but which for a long period of time was not committed to writing. The Talmud also contains the comments of the rabbis on the Mishnah (known as the Gemara). Since the Talmudists explained and commented on the Scriptures, they frequently referred to text. matters, esp. those affected by the absence of vowel signs. The Talmud belongs to the period of the 4th and 5th centuries a.d. The text used is that of the received text.

4. The only other extant evidences for the Heb. text are the MSS preserving the MT. This text, which became the traditional text, was prepared by the editors (Massoretes) about a.d. 500. The OT text was edited in the light of data from the Talmud. A pointing system was used to indicate the vowels on the basis of the most probable interpretation of the text from the tradition of the rabbis. This text was subsequently so carefully preserved that there is remarkable uniformity among the extant MSS of pointed Heb., the earliest of which is a copy of the Pentateuch produced in the 10th cent. a.d. The reason for the lack of earlier evidence is that the Talmud instructs the copyist of any MSS which is used for public worship to destroy the old copy when the new copy has been produced.

From these varied lines of evidence it may be concluded that there is reasonable certainty concerning the text at the time of the Lord, although in several passages it is impossible to be conclusive.

The NT text.

The problem with the text of the NT rests rather in the abundance of material than in lack of it. There are thousands of Gr. MSS in addition to a great quantity of texts of the VSS. The majority of the MSS are subsequent to the 8th cent. a.d. It soon became evident to text. editors, when the science of text. criticism was developed during the 18th cent., that late MSS were of little value for ascertaining the original text, since in course of transmission scribal errors tended to be perpetuated. It was not, however, until later that it was recognized that a specific process of ecclesiastical editing took place at the end of the 4th cent., which meant that the majority of the later MSS conformed to that edited text. The focus of attention among text. editors has, therefore, shifted to the earlier MSS.

The MS evidence consists of three main types: papyrus MSS, vellum MSS using the capital or uncial type of script, and vellum MSS using a cursive script (small flowing style). The cursive MSS are valuable only when they preserve an earlier form of text, as they occasionally do. There are papyri of a fragmentary kind, which belong to the 2nd cent., as for instance the Rylands fragment of John’s gospel. There are others which are more extensive that may be dated in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, such as the Bodmer papyri and the Chester Beatty papyri. The latter exists for parts of the gospels, Acts, epistles of Paul, and the Apocalypse. The most important uncial MSS are Codex Vaticanus (B) and Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph), both of which were produced in Alexandria during the first half of the 4th cent. Aleph is the earliest complete text of the NT, but B, which is defective after Hebrews 9:14, is generally recognized as superior in text. Most modern editors are agreed that these codices have preserved a text nearer to the original than any other in freedom from corruption. This was due in large measure to the labors of B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, and the influence of their 1881 ed. of the Gr. NT. Much work has since been done on the text. As a result certain of Westcott’s and Hort’s opinions have been modified in individual readings, but their high estimate of these MSS would still be strongly supported. Other important uncials are Codex Alexandrinus (A) and Codex Bezae (D). The latter is of special importance because it preserves a longer text than the other older uncials and is of quite different character.

In addition to these MSS there are several VSS, some of which are valuable as evidence for the underlying text because that text reaches back to a period earlier than the existing uncial texts, although the MS evidence belongs to a rather later period. The Old Lat. and Old Syr. VSS are most valuable, representing an original text of about a.d. 200. Both these VSS had later edd., the Lat. Vul. and the Syr. Pesh., but these are less valuable. Next in importance is the Coptic VS (in Sahidic and Bohairic dialects) which possesses a text closely akin to the text of B. There were other VSS, such as Old Armenian and Old Georgian, which preserve some significant readings, but which have survived mainly in later ed. forms. The NT was tr. into Gothic by an Arian missionary. There was also an Ethiopic VS and an Arabic VS, but these VSS are not valuable for the textual ed. of the NT text.

Most of the Early Church Fathers frequently alluded to or else definitely quoted the text of the NT, sometimes adding comments on variant readings. This is a fruitful source of information because it enables the ed. to ascertain the type of text used in certain areas and also to date that text. Sometimes the evidence from patristic sources is earlier than any other evidence (as, for instance, in the case of writers such as Irenaeus and Tertullian). However, patristic citations have their limitations, since it is essential to be sure that an uncorrupted text of the patristic author has been preserved before much use may be made of the evidence. Moreover, some authors were notoriously loose in their method of quoting Scripture, and these are of less value for supplying information about the text they used.

From the mass of evidence there have emerged several text. streams from which edd. have been able to construct a provisional text of the NT. The Alexandrian stream is regarded as the most reliable, but the Western text (represented by D and the Old Lat.) is one of considerable antiquity and may well preserve some genuine readings where it differs from the Alexandrian. Another stream is known as the Caesarean text because it was at first believed to have been based in Caesarea. A fourth stream is the Syr., and the fifth is the Byzantine type of text, which became the traditional ed. text and later became known as the Textus Receptus (TR). It is the consensus of text. opinion that the NT text, as it can now be ed. according to acknowledged principles of text. editing, stands reasonably close to that originally written, although there are many isolated readings over which certainty cannot be obtained. It is possible that some of these problems may yet be resolved should more MS discoveries be made, but in the meantime the approach to the text may be governed by the assurance that the proportion of uncertainty regarding the text of the NT is small and does not affect doctrinal issues.

Versions of the Bible.

Some mention has already been made of various ancient VSS. All of these were called forth by practical needs. In addition to the LXX there were other Gr. VSS of the OT (those of Aquila, Theodotion, and Symmachus), which caused Origen in the 3rd cent. a.d. to produce a remarkable work known as the Hexapla, in which he compared by means of parallel columns all the Gr. VSS with the Heb. text and suggested his own revision. When Jerome tr. the OT, he went back to the Heb. text because the Old Lat. VS of the OT was based directly on the LXX. Other ancient VSS of the OT were parallel to those in the NT (the main VSS were the Syr. and the Coptic) and showed that the expanding use of the OT was closely linked with the developing needs of the church. The whole Bible existed in at least seven VSS by the 6th cent. a.d., in Lat., Syr., Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, Gothic, and Ethiopic.

During the Middle Ages the movement to tr. the Bible into the language of the people found little support. The Vul. had become purely ecclesiastical, and the Bible itself was largely ignored. Medieval philosophy had replaced Biblical theology. Consequently, it was not until the Reformation period that once again the practical needs of the people exercised dominant influence in the field of Bible tr. The earliest attempts to put the Scriptures into Eng. may be followed in the article on Bible (English Versions). Various VSS appeared before the KJV was published in 1611. Most of the earlier attempts were based on the Vul., but a serious attempt was made by the scholars who produced the KJV to base it on the Heb. and Gr. texts. Similar movements occurred in other European countries, most notably in Germany and France.

It was a considerable time after this before those movements began which aimed to tr. the Bible into the vernacular of other peoples of the world, even into tribal languages. The modern Bible societies which exist for this purpose developed alongside the modern missionary movement. The British and Foreign Bible Society began in 1804, and the American Bible Society in 1816, and many similar societies sprang up throughout Europe. For example, the Basel Bible Society in 1806 undertook the production of German Bibles. In the same year the Berlin Bible Society was founded. So great was the interest awakened by this movement that a Roman Catholic Bible Society (Regensburg) was founded in 1805, but its activity did not meet with the approval of the Vatican and was suppressed in 1817. Switzerland, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries all had similar movements, which began in the early years of the 19th cent. This remarkable awakening of interest, not only in the tr. of the Scriptures but also in the distribution of them has continued unabated. The present number of VSS of the whole or parts of the Bible totals more than twelve hundred and is an undeniable testimony to the relevance of the Bible to meet the needs of the various peoples of the world. More recently, special movements such as the Wycliffe Bible Translators have been formed to attempt to fill in the gaps left in this tr. work. The aim to place the Bible in the hands of the people, which began even before the Reformation, has not yet been completed for all areas of the world. New VSS of the Bible, or parts of it, are constantly appearing, and this fact bears testimony to its continuing significance.

The canon of the Bible.

There are sixty-six books in the Bible, thirty-nine in the OT and twenty-seven in the NT. The question naturally arises: why these books, no more and no less? The answer takes one into the field of canonicity. As with the text, so with the canon, only the briefest survey is possible, and those desiring more detail should consult the separate articles on the Canon of the OT and the Canon of the NT. Once again, much more specific information is at hand for the NT, than for the OT.

The OT Canon.

The most convenient starting point for this is a statement in the Talmudic treatise Baba Bathra (c. a.d. 200), which contains a list of books virtually the same as the present Canon. During the 2nd cent. a.d. there was some discussion among the Jews regarding Proverbs, Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. The problems did not concern canonicity as much as internal difficulties. There was no discussion of ancient tradition or questions of authorship. During this period there is evidence that the Christian Church was prepared to accept only those books which formed part of the Heb. Canon, and for this reason the evidence from Jewish sources is important.

At an assembly of Jewish elders (c. a.d. 90) held at Jamnia under the presidency of Rabbi Eleazar, there was some debate about the canonicity of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon, but both were accepted. Since Jamnia became the center of Palestinian Judaism after the fall of Jerusalem, its decisions would have had far-reaching effects among the Jews.

During the 1st cent. a.d. the main evidence comes from Josephus and the NT. As already mentioned, Josephus refers to twenty-two books, but these are almost certainly the same books as the present Canon. There is the possibility that Josephus may have rejected Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon, but since he was a Pharisee this is most unlikely. In all probability Josephus reflects the popular approach to the OT Canon in his time. He mentions that the boundary of the accepted books is marked by the time of Artaxerxes, after which no authorized books were issued. In the NT not all the OT books are quoted. Some of the Hagiographa and a few of the prophets are lacking (e.g., Judges, Obadiah, Nahum, and Zephaniah). It is not possible to conclude from this that the OT was definitely fixed by this time, but the evidence points in that direction. Throughout the NT the OT is assumed to possess the character of inspired Scripture. The Lord and His apostles shared the beliefs of the Jewish people generally regarding the authority of the OT. It is significant that although there are certain allusions drawn from the Apoc., there is no instance of an apocrpyhal book being cited as Scripture (Jude 14 is no exception). The OT Canon of the Early Church would certainly seem to approximate the Heb. rather than the Gr. Canon, in spite of the use of the text of the LXX.

Prior to the birth of Jesus, the main evidence is drawn from the Qumran library and from the Prologue to Sirach. There is no specific canonical list which has been preserved from Qumran, but there are now extant fragments of the texts of all the OT books except Esther. From the number of MSS preserved for some of the books, it is possible to ascertain which were the most popular, namely Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Psalms. The commentaries on the OT books show something of the high regard in which the Qumran covenanters held the Scriptures, even if the exegesis is heavily weighted in favor of the covenanters’ own situation. From these commentaries it is clear that there was a marked difference between the canonical Scriptures and the numerous other books in the Qumran library. There are many apoc. and pseudepig. books, but no similar commentaries upon them.

The Prologue to Sirach (c. 130 b.c.) speaks of the Law, Prophets, and other books, but there is no clear evidence regarding the third group. Most of the books in this group seem to have been known, but there is some uncertainty about Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. Previous to this date the evidence for the OT Canon is sparse except in the case of the Pentateuch. Tradition has it that Ezra was mainly responsible for the collecting of the material into a recognized canon. Although this has been challenged by many scholars, who date some of the books subsequent to this date, it is highly probable that a major part of the material is preexilic. In the absence of enough evidence on the origin of the OT canon, it is impossible to be certain. As men of old were moved by the Spirit to write the books, so men were led by the Spirit to preserve and treasure the books. The canon was not organized, but it grew. The same phenomenon is seen in the history of the NT canon.

The NT Canon.

The growth of the NT canon can be traced in various stages. The earlier stages are the most difficult to reconstruct because of the scarcity of evidence. It is not until c. a.d. 180 and after that the evidence becomes prolific, but it is clearly the period previous to this which is likely to prove most significant. The high regard for the OT provided a pattern, for since the OT was read in the Christian services, soon the teaching of Jesus and the events of His death and resurrection would claim attention. It is impossible to say how early it was that the first NT books were placed on an equality with the OT. Later the apostolic epistles would be publicly read to provide an answer to the many problems which would constantly arise. This importance attached to apostolic witnesses is significant in the whole history of NT canonicity and may be regarded as its real key.

The basis for the NT canon was the testimony of the gospels and of the apostles. These were the authorities for the teaching of Christ and His immediate authorized representatives. The definition of the qualifications required of a claimant for the apostolic office (Acts 1:21, 22) is of great importance in studying the history of the NT canon. The replacement for Judas was required to have been an associate with the disciples throughout the ministry of the Lord Jesus, from the time of His baptism by John the Baptist until His ascension, and to have been a witness of the Resurrection. In other words the apostles had to be in a position to authenticate the tradition of the words and deeds of Jesus. This explains why so much emphasis was placed, not only in the earliest period but also later, on the apostolic origin of the various books.

It was the heretical Marcion who first gave expression to the idea of an authorized canon, understood in the sense of a published list. Marcion’s Bible consisted of only eleven books, the gospel of Luke and ten epistles of Paul (excluding the Pastorals). The OT was excluded in toto. Even the NT books retained were severely ed., many excisions being made.

This type of approach to the Canon did not meet with general support. By the time of Irenaeus and Tertullian, the Christian churches generally were not only staunchly maintaining the OT as Scripture, but were also placing most of the NT books on an equal footing with it. There is sufficient positive evidence to show that most of the NT books were in authoritative use. This was certainly true of the four gospels, the epistles of Paul, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Acts. The Apocalypse was much read in Asia. The other books do not appear to have been cited in the patristic authors, except Hebrews which was known to Clement of Rome and to Tertullian, who once cited it. Jude was also known to Tertullian and was regarded as apostolic by him. For the rest it is necessary to turn to evidence from the 3rd cent. This suggestion raises the problem of whether these books have any claim to remain part of the Canon. Two important observations must be made regarding the NT in the 1st and 2nd cent. a.d. In spite of the fact that certain books outside the NT were in some areas revered (esp. in Egypt), the evidence shows that basically the Early Church was highly selective in its approach to Christian lit. The growth of competing gospels, acts, and other pseudo-apostolic lit. was not allowed to modify this basic approach. The books accepted were those which preserved apostolic doctrine. When Tertullian is arguing for those gospels which were considered authentic, he makes out a case for Matthew and John because the evangelists were apostles, and for Mark and Luke because they were pupils of the apostles Peter and Paul respectively. The second important feature of this period is the lack of any official pronouncement on the part of the orthodox churches regarding the NT Canon, in spite of Marcion’s list. This is sufficient to show that the contents of the NT were the result, not of ecclesiastical selection, but of established usage. The churches needed no official exhortation to regard these NT books on a par with the OT. They did so instinctively as part of their understanding of the continuity of Christianity with the OT predictions.

The period of the 3rd and 4th centuries, during which the questions surrounding the “disputed books” were settled, is marked by a distinction between the attitude of the E and the W. The eastern churches, although aware of doubts held by some over these disputed books, more rapidly came to recognize them as Scripture. By the time of Athanasius (mid-4th cent.) there was no longer any doubt except over the Apocalypse, which was not included in the list attached to the decrees of the Council of Laodicea in a.d. 363. The W was slower to include books over which any question had arisen, but by the time of Augustine and the Council of Carthage in a.d. 397 all the books were accepted.

Did the decisions of the two councils close the canon forever? Both Luther and Calvin felt at liberty to raise questions about some of the books, although neither of them questioned canonicity. Luther’s action in preferring certain of the NT books above others, on the ground of their testimony to the doctrine of justification by faith, virtually introduced the idea of degrees of canonicity, but his approach was basically affected by his own personal experience, not by critical analysis. In spite of the questionings of the Reformers, the Canon remained unchanged. Because of their constant appeal to the Bible as the sole authority for Faith and practice, it was reinstated as of fundamental importance to the Christian Church.

During the last 150 years there have been other factors which have caused further questionings. Biblical criticism has subjected the Bible to scientific examination and sometimes to examination which has been anything but scientific, the results of which have been claimed to show that the idea of an authoritative canon can no longer be held (see Biblical Criticism). OT criticism has led to a radical reconstruction of the growth of the OT, which cannot but affect the approach to the canon, even if it has not in fact led to a revision. The same is true for the NT. The question, therefore, arises whether a uniform canon is necessary. Can those, for instance, who do not accept the authenticity of certain books legitimately exclude these from their canon, even if all do not share their estimate of these books? Most scholars are reluctant to claim this. The general approach adopted by adverse critics of parts of the Scriptures has been to retain the canonicity, but to reduce its significance. Hence, if the Pentateuch is not accepted as coming from the time of Moses, it can still be treated as a useful source of data. Similarly, any of Paul’s epistles which are not regarded as being written by him are still retained as canonical. What is affected is not their canonicity, but their authority. These two concepts are so closely linked that the question must be asked whether such books ought not to be declared non-canonical, if canonicity is to retain any relevant meaning. So drastic a step could never be taken while any doubt remained regarding the correctness of critical conclusions. The Bible cannot be viewed on the basis of opinion. The testimony of the Christian conscience throughout the centuries cannot be dispensed with so readily. The canon of Scripture, as Calvin perceived, is witnessed by the testimony of the Spirit to the individual Christian and to the community as a whole.

The use of the Bible.

As the sacred Scriptures of the Christian Church, the Bible has been used in a variety of ways, and some indication of this will be valuable to illustrate its remarkable scope and versatility. Some of the main uses may be classified as follows.

The liturgical use.

It is impossible to be certain what procedure was adopted in the earliest churches with regard to Bible reading as a regular feature of worship. But it is a fair assumption that the Christians were influenced by Jewish practice. A three year lectionary for the OT is known to have been used among Jews during the Christian period, but it is not certain how early this commenced. Some scholars think that it was already in existence in the Lord’s time. There are some theories which suppose that certain of the gospels were constructed on a lectionary pattern (cf. Carrington’s theory for Mark, and Guilding’s theory for John). But, these are suppositions, which, while possible, cannot be regarded as substantiated. It may be assumed that regular reading of the OT and NT in public worship soon developed. There are several references in the patristic writers which show that public reading of any NT book was an evidence of it being an accepted, i.e., a canonical book. In the Muratorian Fragment such a book as the Shepherd of Hermas was allowed for private, but not public, reading.

During the Middle Ages the use of Scripture for this purpose fell out of favor, and it was only restored at the Reformation. This was coincident with it becoming the court of appeal for the Protestant churches. The reaction of the Roman Catholic Church was to forbid the use of Scripture even privately among the laity (see next section).

The private use.

Because of the great cost involved in producing MSS, most of the copies of the Bible during the early period were owned by churches or by a few wealthy individuals. The common people could not possess their own copies, and they depended on the public readings for their knowledge of Scripture. Moreover, this method was invaluable for Christians who were illiterate. It was not until about the 8th cent. a.d. that a smaller, and therefore cheaper, kind of codex of the Bible came into use. This was a decided advantage, for it was then possible for considerably more people to possess their own copies. The practice of reading the Scriptures for study purposes had been commended long before by Augustine and Jerome, but during the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic Church did nothing to encourage it. In the early part of this period there was no direct prohibition of Bible reading, but with the neglect of Lat. and the lack of VSS in the vernacular, the church condoned the fading out of the practice by default.

When groups such as the Albigenses and Waldenses arose (during the 12th and 13th centuries), who appealed to the Bible, the church more strongly opposed the private use of Scripture. This attitude reached its climax in 1546 at the Council of Trent, when it was stipulated that no VS made by heretics was to be read without the consent of the bishop. While this is still the official attitude of the Roman Church, there has been a significant modification since Vatican Council II. This has been prompted no doubt by the ecumenical approach. The rigid stand taken at Trent was to combat the free use of Scripture by the Reformers, particularly by Martin Luther. There is no doubt that one of the mainstays of Protestantism has been its doctrine that God is His own interpreter of the Word. Those movements have been strongest which have recognized the supreme importance of the devotional use of the Bible.

The theological use.

In the modern church, as in the ancient the Bible has been at the center of theological discussion. The revival of interest in Biblical theology in the mid-20th cent. is significant because it reveals a growing recognition that no adequate theological structure can exist without a Biblical foundation. At the basis of all true Biblical theology is a sound exegetical understanding. It is for this reason that the astonishing flow of commentaries on the Bible continues unabated. Attention is drawn to the theological use of the Bible merely to emphasize its central importance in all theological debate. Most deviations of doctrine are due either to a neglect of Biblical truths or else to a misinterpretation of fundamental Biblical principles.

The literary use.

In spite of the fact that the Bible was never intended to be read as lit., it has certain literary qualities and has undoubtedly exerted great influence over other lit., particularly in the Eng.-speaking world. The KJV in England was a powerful means for standardizing Eng. usage, not only in the realm of vocabulary, but also of style. A comparison of this VS with its predecessors is sufficient to show how varied the literary characteristics were before the standardizing took place. Similar processes have happened in other cultures, but prob. not to the same remarkable extent, since the KJV was produced during the most flourishing period of Eng. prose style.

From a literary point of view the Bible contains samples of drama, poetry, historic prose, and plain narrative. In the NT the samples of epistolary writing are unparalleled elsewhere for their intimacy and wide appeal. They conform neither to the contemporary private letters, nor to the literary epistle designed for a wide audience. Like the gospels, these literary forms were created to meet a specific need. Whereas the Bible still merits literary study, it is not for this reason that it is the bestselling book in the world.

The inspiration and authority of the Bible.

The doctrine of inspiration is dealt with elsewhere (see Inspiration), but no general article on the Bible would be complete without drawing attention to it. Except for those who adopt a radical approach to the Bible, most would agree that it is an inspired book. There are differences of opinion, however, over the meaning of “inspired,” and it is essential therefore to embark on a brief clarification of terms.

Inspiration can consist of no more than a sudden flash of insight, or it can refer to that state of mind which lifts an author or artist out of his normal rut and enables him to achieve what is normally beyond his powers. Biblical inspiration is different. Men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Peter 1:21). The impulse came from God, not man, but caution is necessary. This does not mean a mechanical view of inspiration, for this makes the men cease to be men. The mode of inspiration is less important than the fact. Justin’s concept of the Spirit playing on the strings of a lyre does less than justice both to the writers and to the Spirit. The motive that prompted it—to safeguard the divine revelation from corruption—was highly commendable, but the Spirit has ways of insuring the purity of the revelation other than by a complete suspension of the human faculties. He who created those faculties could certainly work through them.

If a mechanical inspiration must be rejected, in what sense did the Spirit inspire the Bible? It is not sufficient to limit inspiration to the message of salvation, for in that case any book which presented Christ would be equally inspired, and the Bible would lose that unique authority which Christians have always instinctively ascribed to it. The inspiration must have some reference to the book itself as the means by which God speaks to man. Consequently, it has been the conviction of many that inspiration must extend to the words, in the sense that the words used are the best medium through which the truths of revelation could be expressed. The emphasis falls on the result rather than on the process. Just as all the different factors in the various parts of the OT and NT converge to form a unity under the influence of the Spirit of God, in a manner undreamt of by the separate authors, so the same Spirit has perfectly coordinated the various processes which went to make up the writing to insure an inspired result. There is no other book which possesses the power to challenge and yet reassure, to illuminate and to comfort, to instruct and to warn as the Bible can. This in itself bears testimony to its inspiration.

Closely linked with its inspiration is its authority. Why does a book containing such diverse material exercise so great an authority over men’s minds? This is not the place to discuss the nature of Biblical authority (see Authority), but the subject cannot be bypassed. It is a plain fact that the Bible does possess the power to exercise authority, whatever the explanation might be. The witness of the Spirit draws attention to the major purpose of Scripture, i.e., to show the dominating progression of God’s revelation to man, which reaches its climax in the Incarnation and the Atonement. The religious aspect of this authority is well expressed in the words of the Westminster Confession: “We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture, and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellences, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts.” Because of this inner testimony of the Spirit to the message of the Bible, the Bible itself assumes an authority for the believer. It is this which marks it out from all other books, however inspiring they might be, but it is this that has raised problems.

One of the major problems affecting the authority of the Bible is whether or not it should be submitted to historical criticism in the same way as other books. One school of thought adopts the view that, since the Bible is an inspired book, it is irrelevant to submit it to human examination. Questions of authorship are invalid, since the Holy Spirit is its author. Date and background are again irrelevant, for the Spirit can apply the word without historical aids. But unless the human situation and personality of the authors did not affect the production of the various books, it must be valuable to inquire into them. Another school of thought, which equally recognizes the work of the Spirit in the production of the books, nevertheless concedes that since Christianity is a historical religion, its Scriptures must be subject to historical criticism (see Biblical Criticism). There is a sense in which the Bible is unique, and the Biblical critic must recognize this in his approach. He must take into account that the human writers were men of the Spirit in a way that their secular contemporaries were not. At the same time, it has been the contention of the best of Biblical critics that the Bible can withstand criticism and need not fear careful examination. Another school of thought considers that criticism should take no account of inspiration. It is this approach which has resulted in a spate of speculative theories regarding the origin of many of the OT and NT books, which have in turn led to a rejection of their authenticity. To this school belong the older liberals and the more recent demythologizers, to whom questions of inspiration and authority are of no essential importance, if, indeed, of any relevance. This exalts the critic’s status higher than that of the Bible, since it gives him an authority which it denies to the Bible itself. What does the critic do when his opinions about the Bible conflict with the claims of the Bible? If the authority of the Bible has no influence upon him, he will reject these claims and maintain his own opinion. If the authority be maintained, he will question the validity of his own deductions. There is sometimes a dilemma, and in these cases the critic’s presuppositions will sway his opinion.

There is no easy theory of inspiration which is not fraught with some difficulties, but no theory is adequate which sets an unnatural hedge around the Bible to protect it from the most searching, though reverent, examination. It is significant that not a few speculative theories, which were once so confidently promulgated, have been exploded because of further evidence that has since come to light. The theory of a late 2nd cent. date for John’s gospel or the historical unreliability of Acts may be cited as striking examples which should cause considerable reserve before any theories, however specious, are regarded as facts. In spite of a great deal of destructive criticism, the Bible still retains its powerful and unique influence over men’s minds. The Bible is its own vindicator.

The unity of the Bible.

Elsewhere will be found discussions on the unity of the OT and of the NT (see articles, THE OT AND THE NT). But it is important to consider briefly the unity of the combined Testaments. Mention has more than once been made in this article of the essential link between the OT and NT, and of the fact that these form one, not two books. Certain features of that unity may helpfully be pointed out. First, since the Spirit inspired both parts, it may be expected that the one part will be complementary to the other. What is foreshadowed in the OT is fulfilled in the NT. Secondly, since the Christian faith finds its basis in the ministry and mission of Christ in the NT, some concept of a progressive revelation, which ever moves toward fuller insights until it reaches perfection in Christ, is essential for a true appreciation of the role of the OT. Thirdly, some unity is seen in the arrangement of the books. Since there is a threefold division of the OT (Law, Prophets, Writings), so there is a threefold structure in the NT (gospels-Acts, epistles, Apocalypse). It would be fruitless to look for any closer correspondence between these structures. The unity is far deeper than that. Fourthly, the basic unity rests on the unity of message. It is the same God who reveals Himself in both OT and NT; a God who condemns sin, but is ever ready to show mercy to the penitent; a God who has chosen sacrifice as the medium through which salvation can be achieved; a God who has sent His Son, predicted by prophets in the OT, manifested in flesh in the NT.

The many times that the NT writers cite the OT shows the apostolic assumption that there was a unity between God’s act in Christ and the revelation of the OT.

The uniqueness of the Bible.

Since for Christians the Bible is a sacred book the question arises as to how it compares with the sacred books of other religious systems. In what sense is it superior to these? The question is important because, unless its superiority can be established, the Bible cannot claim to be unique as a revelation of religious truth. The major religious lit. of the world outside the Bible consists of the Veda of Brahmanism, the Tripitaka of Buddhism, the Zend-Avesta of Zoroastrianism, the sacred texts of Confucianism, and the Koran of Islam.

The Vedic hymns, which consist of four books, gathered ritualistic commentaries around them known as Brahmana, together with the Upanishads (speculative philosophical treatises). In addition to these sacred hymns, there are the Laws of Menu which enshrine certain codes for the regulation of conduct, many of which are of high moral quality. Most of these writings are addressed to nature deities. Although much of the material in these writings is of ancient origin, its present form is prob. no earlier than the 2nd cent. a.d. In these writings the aim of the soul is to attain absorption into the self-existent.

The Tripitaka, or three baskets, of Buddhism were not written down much before the time of Christ, although the teachings of the Buddha are of considerable antiquity. The three vols. which comprise this sacred lit. are the Vinaya Pitaka, the Abidhama Pitaka, and the Sutta Pitaka, which contain rules for community living, philosophic doctrines, and the oral teachings of the Buddha, respectively. The main theme of these books is the soul’s quest for escape from existence.

Some of the writings which make up the Zend-Avesta are thought to be as early as 800-700 b.c., but there is no certain knowledge as to when Zoroaster lived. There was originally a sacred text and twenty-one books of commentary upon it, but only fragments remain. These make up three sections: Yasna (liturgies), Visperad (sacrificial litanies), and Vendidad (laws and legendary narratives). The religious viewpoint of these fragments is mixed, although the writings do preserve some fine passages.

The texts of Confucianism claim no supernatural authority. There are five of these; parts are Confucius’ own teaching and parts are earlier material. These sacred books are a mixture of chronicles, magical formulae, moral laws, and songs. At times they preserve some noble concepts. Confucianism contains no god. It is, therefore, strictly not a religion. The texts must be regarded as moral precepts which possess no authority to bolster them. A famous sacred book produced by Lao-tsze, a philosopher born some time before Confucius, but who in late life met him, is known as the Tao-ti-King and contains some fine moral injunctions. It was this sacred text which led to Taoism, which did not however, develop until 500 years later, and bore little resemblance to the teachings of Lao.

The Koran consists of revelations claimed to have been received by Mohammed and written down by his followers. In its original form it possessed no system of arrangement and dealt with a great variety of subjects, only some of which are religious. The main significance of the Koran for Islam is that the teaching purports to have been originally written by the finger of God and to have been transmitted to Mohammed in a series of revelations. The book itself, therefore claims to possess divine authority.

There are several features which distinguish all these sacred books from the Bible and show the superiority of the latter. The most striking is the lack of historical background. None of them conceive of any revelatory value in history as the Bible does. The place that history takes in the Christian Scriptures is taken by ritual or explanatory comment, or superstition in these other books. It is for this reason that the Biblical revelation has been adaptable to the needs of succeeding eras, whereas the other books have not. What is based in history has an immediate relevance because of its essentially human appeal. Moreover, the other books exalt the past above the present. They go back to fine thoughts of noble minds, but can give no power to tr. those thoughts from past to present. Contrasted with these, the Bible calls for a present confrontation, a challenge to a holier life with God in the present. The past is important only as it leads to a real experience now. Compared with the other books, the Bible is a Book of hope. It faces the problem of sin, but points to a means of overcoming it. It does not hold out the gloomy despair of the Veda or the Tripitaka, or the fatalism of the Koran. In short, it is the subject matter of the Bible which makes it superior to the other books. Its concept of God, of man’s need, of salvation and destiny, and, above all, the presentation of Christ illustrate this superiority. It has a message for man’s varied needs. Moreover, the Bible presents a complete picture of man’s religious situation, which the other books do not. The latter, although they present occasional glimpses of light, are mainly dark from a religious point of view. The Bible, on the other hand, presents a progressive view of truth, reaching its climax in the assertion of Jesus, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Such a claim enshrines the uniqueness of Christianity and of its sacred Scriptures. The superiority of the Bible over all other books claiming to be divine revelation rests on the superiority of Christ, not merely as a moral teacher, but as a Savior.


C. A. Briggs, General Introduction to the Study of Holy Scripture (1899); A. S. Peake, The Bible. Its Origin, Its Significance, and Its Abiding Worth (1913); B. W. Anderson, Rediscovering the Bible (1951); D. Johnson, The Christian and His Bible (1953); H. H. Rowley, The Unity of the Bible (1953); F. Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts (Rev. ed. 1958); K. J. Foreman and others, Introduction to the Bible (1959); F. F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments (1963); S. L. Greenslade (Ed.). The Cambridge History of the Bible. The West from the Reformation to the Present Day (1963).

Bible, Introduction

bi’-b’-l, (biblia):


1. Bible

2. Other Designations--Scriptures, etc.

3. Old Testament and New Testament



1. The Jewish Bible

Josephus, etc.

2. The Septuagint

The Apocrypha

3. The Vulgate (Old Testament)

4. The New Testament

(1) Acknowledged Books

(2) Disputed Books


1. The Old Testament

(1) Indications of Old Testament Itself

(a) Patriarchal Age

(b) Mosaic Age

(c) Judges

(d) Monarchy

(e) Wisdom Literature--History

(f) Prophecy

(aa) Assyrian Age

(bb) Chaldean Age

(g) Josiah’s Reformation

(h) Exilian and Post-Exilian

(i) Daniel, etc.

(j) Pre-exilic Bible

(2) Critical Views

(a) The Pentateuch

(b) Histories

(c) Psalms and Prophets

(3) Formation of Canon

(a) Critical Theory

(b) More Positive View

(c) Close of Canon

2. The New Testament

(1) Historical Books

(a) The Synoptics

(b) Fourth Gospel

(c) Acts

(2) The Epistles

(a) Pauline

(b) Epistle to Hebrews

(c) Catholic Epistles

(3) Prophecy

Book of Revelation

(4) New Testament Canon


1. Scripture a Unity

2. The Purpose of Grace

3. Inspiration

4. Historical Influence


1. Chapters and Verses

2. The King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American)

3. Helps to Study


General Designation:

This word designates the collection of the Scriptures of the Old Testament and New Testament recognized and in use in the Christian churches. Different religions (such as the Zoroastrian, Hindu, Buddhist, Mohammedan) have their collections of sacred writings, sometimes spoken of as their "Bibles." The Jews acknowledge only the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Christians add the writings contained in the New Testament. The present article deals with the origin, character, contents and purpose of the Christian Scriptures, regarded as the depository and authoritative record of God’s revelations of Himself and of His will to the fathers by the prophets, and through His Son to the church of a later age (Heb 1:1,2). Reference is made throughout to the articles in which the several topics are more fully treated.

I. The Names.

1. Bible:

The word "Bible" is the equivalent of the Greek word biblia (diminutive from biblos, the inner bark of the papyrus), meaning originally "books." The phrase "the books" (ta biblia) occurs in Da 9:2 (Septuagint) for prophetic writings. In the Prologue to Sirach ("the rest of the books") it designates generally the Old Testament Scriptures; similarly in 1 Macc 12:9 ("the holy books"). The usage passed into the Christian church for Old Testament (2 Clem 14:2), and by and by (circa 5th century) was extended to the whole Scriptures. Jerome’s name for the Bible (4th century) was "the Divine Library" (Bibliotheca Divina). Afterward came an important change from plural to singular meaning. "In process of time this name, with many others of Greek origin, passed into the vocabulary of the western church; and in the 13th century, by a happy solecism, the neuter plural came to be regarded as a feminine singular, and `The Books’ became by common consent `The Book’ (biblia, singular), in which form the word was passed into the languages of modern Europe" (Westcott, Bible in the Church, 5). Its earliest occurrences in English are in Piers Plowman, Chaucer and Wycliffe.

2. Other Designations--Scriptures, etc.:

3. Old Testament and New Testament:

II. Languages.

The Old Testament, it is well known, is written mostly in Hebrew; the New Testament is written wholly in Greek, the parts of the Old Testament not in Hebrew, namely, Ezr 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26; Jer 10:11; Da 2:4-7:28, are in Aramaic (the so-called Chaldee), a related dialect, which, after the Exile, gradually displaced Hebrew as the spoken language of the Jews (see Aramaic; Languages of the Old Testament). The ancient Hebrew text was "unpointed," i.e. without the vowel-marks now in use. These are due to the labors of the Massoretic scholars (after 6th century AD).

The Greek of the New Testament, on which so much light has recently been thrown by the labors of Deissmann and others from the Egyptian papyri, showing it to be a form of the "common" (Hellenistic) speech of the time (see Language of the New Testament), still remains, from its penetration by Hebrew ideas, the influence of the Septuagint, peculiarities of training and culture in the writers, above all, the vitalizing and transforming power of Christian conceptions in vocabulary and expression, a study by itself. "We speak," the apostle says, "not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth" (1Co 2:13). This is not always remembered in the search for parallels in the papyri. (For translations into other languages, see Versions.)

III. Compass and Divisions.

The story of the origin, collection, and final stamping with canonical authority of the books which compose our present Bible involves many points still keenly in dispute. Before touching on these debatable matters, certain more external facts fall to be noticed relating to the general structure and compass of the Bible, and the main divisions of its contents.

1. Jewish Bible

Josephus, etc.:

A first step is to ascertain the character and contents of the Jewish Bible--the Bible in use by Christ and His apostles. Apart from references in the New Testament itself, an important aid is here afforded by a passage in Josephus (Apion, I, 8), which may be taken to represent the current belief of the Jews in the 1st century AD. After speaking of the prophets as writing their histories "through the inspiration of God," Josephus says: "For we have not myriads of discordant and conflicting books, but 22 only, comprising the record of all time, and justly accredited as Divine. Of these, 5 are books of Moses, which embrace the laws and the traditions of mankind until his own death, a period of almost 3,000 years. From the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes, the successor of Xerxes, king of Persia, the prophets who followed Moses narrated the events of their time in 13 books. The remaining 4 books consist of hymns to God, and maxims of conduct for men. From Artaxerxes to our own age, the history has been written in detail, but it is not esteemed worthy of the same credit, on account of the exact succession of the prophets having been no longer maintained." He goes on to declare that, in this long interval, "no one has dared either to add anything to (the writings), or to take anything from them, or to alter anything," and speaks of them as "the decrees (dogmata) of God," for which the Jews would willingly die. Philo (20 BC-circa 50 AD) uses similar strong language about the law of Moses (in Eusebius, Pr. Ev., VIII, 6).

In this enumeration of Josephus, it will be seen that the Jewish sacred books--39 in our Bible--are reckoned as 22 (after the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet), namely, 5 of the law, 13 of the prophets and 4 remaining books. These last are Ps, Prov, So and Eccl. The middle class includes all the historical and prophetical books, likewise Job, and the reduction in the number from 30 to 13 is explained by Jgs-Ruth, 1 and 2 S, 1 and 2 K, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezr-Neh, Jer-La and the 12 minor prophets, each being counted as one book. In his 22 books, therefore, Josephus includes all those in the present Hebrew canon, and none besides--not the books known as the APOCRYPHA, though he was acquainted with and used some of these.

Other Lists and Divisions.

The statement of Josephus as to the 22 books acknowledged by the Jews is confirmed, with some variation of enumeration, by the lists preserved by Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, vi.26) from Melito of Sardis (circa 172 AD) and Origen (186-254 AD), and by Jerome (Pref to Old Testament, circa 400)--all following Jewish authorities. Jerome knew also of a rabbinical of division into 24 books. The celebrated passage from the Talmud (Babha’ Bathra’, 14b: see Canon of the Old Testament; compare Westcott, Bible in Church, 35; Driver, LOT, vi) counts also 24. This number is obtained by separating Ru from Judges and Lamentations from Jeremiah. The threefold division of the books, into Law, Prophets, and other sacred Writings (Hagiographa), is old. It is already implied in the Prologue to Sirach (circa 130 BC), "the law, the prophets, and the rest the books"; is glanced at in a work ascribed to Philo (De vita contempl., 3); is indicated, as formerly seen, in Lu 24:44. It really reflects stages in the formation of the Hebrew canon (see below). The rabbinical division, however, differed materially from that of Josephus in reckoning only 8 books of the prophets, and relegating 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezr- Neh, Esther, Job and Da to the Hagiographa, thus enlarging that group to 9 (Westcott, op. cit., 28; DB, I, "Canon"). When Ru and La were separated, they were added to the list, raising the number to 11. Some, however, take this to be the original arrangement. In printed Hebrew Bibles the books in all the divisions are separate. The Jewish schools further divided the "Prophets" into "the former prophets" (the historical books--Josh, Jgs, Sam and Ki), and "the latter prophets" (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets as one book).

New Testament References.

2. The Septuagint:

Hitherto we have been dealing with the Hebrew Old Testament; marked changes are apparent when we turn to the Septuagint, or Greek version of the Septuagint current in the Greek-speaking world at the commencement of the Christian era. The importance of this version lies in the fact that it was practically the Old Testament of the early church. It was used by the apostles and their converts, and is freely quoted in the New Testament, sometimes even when its renderings vary considerably from the Hebrew. Its influence was necessarily, therefore, very great.


The special problems connected with origin, text and literary relations of the Septuagint are dealt with elsewhere (see Septuagint). The version took its rise, under one of the early Ptolemies, from the needs of the Jews in Egypt, before the middle of the 2nd century BC; was gradually executed, and completed hardly later than circa 100 BC; thereafter spread into all parts. Its renderings reveal frequent divergence in manuscripts from the present Massoretic Text, but show also that the translators permitted themselves considerable liberties in enlarging, abbreviating, transposing and otherwise modifying the texts they had, and in the insertion of materials borrowed from other sources.

The Apocrypha.

The most noteworthy differences are in the departure from Jewish tradition in the arrangement of the books (this varies greatly; compare Swete, Introduction to Old Testament in Greek, II, chapter i), and in the inclusion in the list of the other books, unknown to the Hebrew canon, now grouped as the Apocrypha. These form an extensive addition. They include the whole of the existing Apocrypha, with the exception of 2 Esdras and Pr Man. All are of late date, and are in Greek, though Sirach had a Hebrew original which has been partly recovered. They are not collected, but are interspersed among the Old Testament books in what are taken to be their appropriate places. The Greek fragments of Esther, e.g. are incorporated in that book; Susanna and Bel and the Dragon form part of Daniel; Baruch is joined with Jeremiah, etc. The most important books are Wisdom, Sirach and 1 Maccabees (circa 100 BC). The fact that Sirach, originally in Hebrew (circa 200 BC), and of high repute, was not included in the Hebrew canon, has a weighty bearing on the period of the closing of the latter.

Ecclesiastical Use.

It is, as already remarked, singular that, notwithstanding this extensive enlargement of the canon by the Septuagint, the books just named obtained no Scriptural recognition from the writers of the New Testament. The more scholarly of the Fathers, likewise (Melito, Origen, Athanasius, Cyprian, Jerome, etc.), adhere to the Hebrew list, and most draw a sharp distinction between the canonical books, and the Greek additions, the reading of which is, however, admitted for edification (compare Westcott, op. cit., 135-36, 168, 180, 182-83). Where slight divergencies occur (e.g. Es is omitted by Melito and placed by Athanasius among the Apocrypha; Origen and Athanasius add Baruch to Jer), these are readily explained by doubts as to canonicity or by imperfect knowledge. On the other hand, familiarity with the Septuagint in writers ignorant of Hebrew could not but tend to break down the limits of the Jewish canon, and to lend a Scriptural sanction to the additions to that canon. This was aided in the West by the fact that the Old Latin versions (2nd century) based on the Septuagint, included these additions (the Syriac Peshitta followed the Hebrew). In many quarters, therefore, the distinction is found broken down, and ecclesiastical writers (Clement, Barnabas, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Basil, etc.) quote freely from books like Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, Tobit, 2 Esdras, as from parts of the Old Testament.

3. The Vulgate (Old Testament):

An important landmark is reached in the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A. D.) or Latin version of Jerome. Jerome, on grounds explained in his Preface, recognized only the Hebrew Scriptures as canonical; under pressure he executed later a hasty translation of Tobit and Judith. Feeling ran strong, however, in favor of the other books, and ere long these were added to Jerome’s version from the Old Latin (see Vulgate). It is this enlarged Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A. D.) which received official recognition, under anathema, at the Council of Trent (1543), and, with revision, from Clement VIII (1592), though, earlier, leading Romish scholars (Ximenes, Erasmus, Cajetan) had made plain the true state of the facts. The Greek church vacillated in its decisions, sometimes approving the limited, sometimes the extended, canon (compare Westcott, op. cit., 217-29). The churches of the Reformation (Lutheran, Swiss), as was to be expected, went back to the Hebrew canon, giving only a qualified sanction to the reading and ecclesiastical use of the Apocrypha. The early English versions (Tyndale, Coverdale, etc.) include, but separate, the apocryphal books (see English Versions). The Anglican Articles express the general estimate of these books: "And the other books (as Jerome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine" (Art. VIII). Modern Protestant Bibles usually exclude the Apocrypha altogether.

4. The New Testament:

From this survey of the course of opinion on the compass of the Old Testament, we come to the New Testament. This admits of being more briefly treated. It has been seen that a Christian New Testament did not, in the strict sense, arise till after the middle of the 2nd century. Gospels and Epistles had long existed, collections had begun to be made, the Gospels, at least, were weekly read in the assemblies of the Christians (Justin, 1 Apol., 67), before the attempt was made to bring together, and take formal account of, all the books which enjoyed apostolic authority (see Canon of the New Testament). The needs of the church, however, and very specially controversy with Gnostic opponents, made it necessary that this work should be done; collections also had to be formed for purposes of translation into other tongues. Genuine gospels had to be distinguished from spurious; apostolic writings from those of later date, or falsely bearing apostolic names. When this task was undertaken, a distinction soon revealed itself between two classes of books, setting aside those recognized on all hands as spurious: (1) books universally acknowledged--those named afterward by Eusebius the homologoumena; and (2) books only partially acknowledged, or on which some doubt rested--the Eusebian antilegomena (Historia Ecclesiastica, iii.25). It is on this distinction that differences as to the precise extent of the New Testament turned.

(1) Acknowledged Books.

The "acknowledged" books present little difficulty. They are enumerated by Eusebius, whose statements are confirmed by early lists (e.g. that of Muratori, circa 170 AD), quotations, versions and patristic use. At the head stand the Four Gospels and the Acts, then come the 13 epistles of Paul, then 1 Peter and 1 John. These, Westcott says, toward the close of the 2nd century, "were universally received in every church, without doubt or limitation, as part of the written rule of Christian faith, equal in authority with the Old Scriptures, and ratified (as it seemed) by a tradition reaching back to the date of their composition" (op. cit., 133). With them may almost be placed Revelation (as by Eusebius) and He, the doubts regarding the latter relating more to Pauline authority than to genuineness (e.g. Origen).

(2) Disputed Books.

The "disputed" books were the epistles of James, Jude, 2 John and 3 John and 2 Peter. These, however, do not all stand in the same rank as regards authentication. A chief difficulty is the silence of the western Fathers regarding James, 2 Peter and 3 John. On the other hand, James is known to Origen and is included in the Syriac Peshitta; the Muratorian Fragment attests Jude and 2 John as "held in the Catholic church" (Jude also in Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen); none of the books are treated as spurious. The weakest in attestation is 2 Pet, which is not distinctly traceable before the 3rd century (See Canon of the New Testament; articles under the word) It is to be added that, in a few instances, as in the case of the Old Testament Apocrypha, early Fathers cite as Scripture books not generally accepted as canonical (e.g. Barnabas, Hermas, Apocrypha of Peter).

The complete acceptance of all the books in our present New Testament canon may be dated from the Councils of Laodicea (circa 363 AD) and of Carthage (397 AD), confirming the lists of Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome and Augustine.