title: What is the Bible?
description: A look at the Bible of the Christian faith.
keywords: bible,christian
date: 2016-06-20
updated: 2016-07-04
author: Robert J. Hammond

What is the Bible?


Dictionary.com, LLC:

  1. the collection of sacred writings of the Christian religion, comprising the Old and New Testaments.
  2. also called Hebrew Scriptures. the collection of sacred writings of the Jewish religion: known to Christians as the Old Testament.
  3. (often lowercase) the sacred writings of any religion.
  4. (lowercase) any book, reference work, periodical, etc., accepted as authoritative, informative, or reliable.


  1. when capitalized, (a) the sacred scriptures of Christians comprising the Old Testament and the New Testament; (b) the sacred scriptures of some other religion (as Judaism).
  2. obsolete: Book.
  3. when capitalized: a copy or an edition of the Bible;
  4. a publication that is preeminent especially in authoritativeness or wide readership.

For the purposes of this study the first definitions are of interest. I am looking at the Bible used by the Christian Church all around the world for centuries.

What is a Biblical Manuscript?

A biblical manuscript is a handwritten copy of an original text. The word Bible itself is derived from the Greek word biblia which means books; and the word manuscript is Latin manu (meaning by hand) and scriptum (meaning written). An original manuscript refers to the actual parchment upon which the author physically wrote and is called “autographa” and is distinct from a general manuscript which would be a copy. There are numerous biblical manuscripts (copies).

What is a Bible Translation?

The Bible is a collection of writings by different authors over a long period of time. The original texts that form the Bible are written in three different languages: ancient Hebrew, ancient Aramaic, and ancient Greek. Most people are not experts in all three ancient languages, thus for common use it is important that the Bible exist in a particular person's own native language. This requires translating the Bible from its original manuscrips into the target language. Most versions (but not all) are translations from the original Biblical languages.

What is a Bible Version?

A Bible Version is a particular translation into a particular language. For instance, three popular versions of the Bible in the English language are the New International Version, the New American Standard Version, and the King James Version. Though all are English translations they each have employed different techniques and philosophies in translating from the original languages into English. It is simple to know whether two English Bibles are different versions--just look at the several sample chapters and to find if they are word-for-word the same or not. Generally, different versions will render the original languages into English slightly differently.

What is a Bible Revision?

A Bible revision is usually an update to a particular version of the Bible, but is considered the same version and not a new version or new translation. The changes would be relatively minor.

What is a Revised Version?

Confusingly, a revised version is not quite the same thing as a revision/update. A revised version will be a new version, a new translation referenced from one or more original versions. A Bible Revision or Bible Update is usually considered to be the same version as its original and does not include a full re-translation, but a Revised Version is considered a completely new translation with potentially major changes.

What is an Editorial Revision?

Rather than a new translation, an Editorial Revision seeks to make minor modifications to the wording (but not the meaning) of an existing translation with the intent to modernize the language of the version upon which it is based. Editorial revisions might not be quite as trustworthy as original translations because it is possible, despite best efforts, to change the meaning of a verse unintentionally.

What is a Paraphrase?

A paraphrase is not a direct translation from an original language—it is not exact. An examination of a paraphrase Bible shows that its author's choice of words may not exactly agree with those of a true translation. A paraphrase Bible may be a bit easier to read than a translation, and should be thought of as someone retelling the Bible in his own words. I don't believe a paraphrase Bible should be relied upon as a single source for Bible study, but can certainly be interesting to read in order to understand another person's interpretation and understandings.

What is an Edition?

An edition is a specific layout or packaging of a Bible version. A particular version of the Bible may come in a variety of formats: large print, pocket sized, electronic, online, etc. Or it may be packaged with additional material or for specific audiences: concordance, maps, scholarly commentary, etc.

How is the Bible Organized?

The Bible contains sixty-six books separated into two main divisions: the Old Testament with thirty-nine books which are the holy writings of ancient Israel, and the New Testament with twenty-seven books which are the Christian writings during and after the time of Christ.

The Old Testament books are further classified into five sections:

The New Testament books are also classified into sections:

When was the Bible Written?

The Bible as a collection of various writings was written over a period of approximately one thousand years starting roughly around 1400 BC.

Where was the Bible Written?

The Bible is a collection of individual writings which were created in many different places.

Who is the Author of the Bible?

This is an extremely interesting mystery. The Scriptures are said to be “inspired” by God (and the Bible actually claims this about itself in 2 Timothy 3:16) yet actually written by around 40 men of different backgrounds in different parts of the world over a long period of time. Inspiration is a process of prophesy, a way for God to guide the thoughts but man to actually write them. The creative style and background of the man is clearly on display, but the distinct unified message of God is also present and preserved. Inspiration does not mean the human writer was merely enthusiastic and created a work, nor does it mean the writings are necessarily inspiring like an uplifting poem. The writers were not merely secretaries duplicating what God said but were actually persons who received a revelation from God and were able to participate in the writing of Scripture overseen by God.