Bible Basics and FAQ

6a00d8341c464853ef0192aa3a77a5970d-500wiRight, first thing’s first. Unless you’re Jesus, in which case the first shall be last.

In this introduction we’ll be addressing the following questions, the answers to which are commonly unknown or misunderstood by many. It is worth noting that some of these basic questions continue to be hotly debated among scholars today, and will be discussed at greater length in future posts.


  1. What exactly is the Bible?
  2. What are the contents of the Bible?
  3. Who wrote the Bible?
  4. How did we get the Bible?
  5. Which Bible version should I use?

Q1: What exactly is the Bible?

Derived from the Greek biblia, the word bible means “little books,” denoting its nature as an anthology or library of diverse compositions, from poetry and narrative to law and prophecy. For an extended answer on the etymology of the word, check out “What’s in a name? from biblia to Bible” by Dr. Steven DiMattei

The Bible itself, simply put, is a diverse anthology of ancient documents composed over a period of roughly 1,00 years. When we talk about the Bible we tend to do it in a very generalized manner, as if there is one universally recognized Bible that dropped from heaven in the bookshelf format we find today. However, it is important to recognize that not all Bibles are the same; as you’re about to see, a Jewish Bible is different from a Catholic Bible which is different from a Protestant Bible. The major difference to know for now is that Jews only recognize the Tanakh – what Christians refer to as the Old Testament – as scripture, where as Christians accept both the Old and New Testament.

Q2: What are the contents of the Bible?

The 66 book biblical canon at a glance:

First section: the Hebrew Bible/Tanakh/Old Testament, 39 Hebrew books composed by Jews between the 12th and 2nd century BCE (roughly); Jewish adherents combine certain texts to make a total of 24 books (more below). A few of the books were written in both Hebrew and Aramaic. TaNaKh is a Jewish term and acronym composed of consonants designating the first letter of the three major divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures:

  1. Torah (“Law”), also known as the Pentateuch (Greek, “five scrolls”)
  2. Nevi’im (“Prophets”)
  3. Kethuvim (“Writings”)

Second section: the New Testament, 27 Greek books composed by early Christians between 50 and 150 CE, divided into four main categories:

  1. Gospels
  2. Acts
  3. Epistles
  4. Revelation

Click here to continue reading question two

Q3: Who wrote the Bible?

Whether you see the Bible as the word of God or not, the fact remains that it has human fingerprints all over it. It didn’t fall from heaven in the format commonly found today, as convenient as that would have been. It is worth emphasizing again that the Bible is not a single book but rather many books; an anthology, each with its own author, each with its own historical and theological context.

“Different authors have different points of view. You can’t just say, ‘I believe in the Bible.’”
― Scholar Bart Ehrman

Furthermore, these writings weren’t sewn together as an official anthology until many years after its composition – hundreds of years in most cases. Indeed, while the oldest contents of the Old Testament are believed to have originated as early as the 12th century BCE (beginning as oral tradition), it isn’t until 200 BCE that we find clear evidence for a Biblical canon taking shape.

Given the unique makeup of the Bible, then, as more than one book, perhaps it is best to not stick with one question. Let’s focus first on the authorship of the Old Testament followed by the New Testament, and lastly when each group of texts were canonized as scripture.

Click here to continue reading question three

Q4: How did we get the Bible?

Let’s do a quick run through of important periods in the Bible’s long history of translation and composition. Be sure to also check out this Interactive Timeline of Bible translations for a more extensive list.

Papyrus scrolls (~1oth century BCE)

FRONTIn its earliest stages, the books of the Hebrew Bible were individually written and copied onto papyrus, paper-like sheets made from the papyrus plant, and then rolled around a small wooden stick to form a scroll. The manufacture of papyrus scrolls probably originated among the Egyptians in 3000 BCE. The Bible makes references to Papyrus a number of times (e.g. Isa. 18:2; Job 8:11, 9:26). Over the centuries these scrolls were slowly accumulated among the Hebrew communities until an anthology of scripture is recognized by the 3rd century BCE.

Parchment (200 BCE)

10822765895_0ded47cc6d_oDue to its better durability, papyrus was gradually replaced by parchment beginning in 200 BCE, formed from the tanned hides of calves. The change wasn’t sudden as shown in the Dead Sea manuscripts (3rd century BCE–1st century CE), our earliest surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible which were written on both papyrus and parchment. In about the 4th century CE, parchment had pretty much displaced papyrus, which is why the vast majority of ancient New Testament manuscripts that we have today come to us on this material.


Click here to continue reading question four

Q5: Which Bible version should I use?

Thousands of online search results doesn’t exactly make buying a Bible easy for a newcomer.

Should I get the NIV Faithgirlz! Bible or the Extreme Teen Bible?

The Stock Car Racing Bible or the Body Sculpting Bible for Men?

Maybe a free King James Version from the Mormons? Or perhaps a Crusade Analytical Edition for $3,000. 

What about the LOLcat Bible? No? What about Da Jesus Book in case I move to Hawaii?

Decisions, decisions. Ultimately it comes down to what you want to get out of the Bible. If you seek highly accurate and objective translations from an reliable, scholarly, non-denomination source…I recommend the Oxford New Revised Standard Edition (less than $16 if you leave out the Apocrypha). Of course, if you’re poor fisherman like the Apostle Peter there are plenty of free online Bibles to choose from as well.

To further aid you in your quest for a Bible, check out this Holy Bible Buyer’s Guide from the Biblical Archaeology Society.

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