The word Bible is derived from the Greek word biblion, meaning “book,” but it is far more than a mere book. It is “the Word of God” and the foundation of Christian faith and living. It reveals God to us, it tells us of God’s basic plan for man, and it contains unparalleled truth and instruction, but it goes even beyond that! Its words are spirit and life.1 By them we are able to partake of the divine nature—to be more godly, more like Jesus.2
The Bible is actually a collection of books—66 in all—which were written by about 40 people under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.3
The Word “became flesh” in Jesus Christ.4
The Bible contains two major sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. (Testament in this case means “covenant” or “contract,” so the Old and New Testaments can be thought of as the old and new binding agreements between God and man.)
The dates that some of the Old Testament’s 39 books were first recorded is uncertain, but scholars generally agree that they were written over a period of about 1,000 years, from the fourteenth to the fourth century BC. They were written in Hebrew, except for a few passages in the book of Daniel which were written in Aramaic. The Old Testament prepared the way for the New, which was ushered in with Jesus’ coming.
The 27 books of the New Testament were written over a period of about 100 years, in Greek. They tell of Jesus’ life and ministry and the growth of the early church, and present the basics of Christian faith.
In the old covenant God promised to bless the Israelites if they would worship Him only and be ruled by His law—which He gave through Moses around 1300bc. The new covenant was announced by Jesus to His disciples at the Last Supper, the night before His death. As He passed a communal wine cup, He told them that the wine symbolized “the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.”5
Over 600 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Jeremiah foresaw a day when God would make a new covenant with His people. Under this new covenant, God would write His laws on people’s hearts rather than on tablets of stone.6 Jesus said that the second covenant is the fulfillment of what was promised in the first.7
The arrangement of the Old Testament in Christian Bibles was inherited from the pre-Christian Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint. It has four divisions: the historical books (the five books of Moses [also known as the Pentateuch]), plus twelve other historical books (Joshua through Esther), the poetic books (Job through the Song of Solomon), and the prophets (Isaiah through Malachi). They follow a general chronological order, with some overlaps.
The New Testament contains five narrative books— the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The Gospels deal with the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The book of Acts tells of some of the major happenings of the early church over the next 30 years, and is a sort of sequel to the Gospels.
Twenty-one letters, or epistles, follow the historical narratives. Thirteen of these letters were clearly written by the apostle Paul, while the remaining eight were written by other apostles or others closely associated with the apostles. In the last book in the New Testament, Revelation, the apostle John recounts prophetic visions of the Endtime and Jesus’ triumphant return.
The first mention in the Bible of anyone writing anything down is when God told Moses to “write this for a memorial in the book.”8 The stories of the patriarchs found in Genesis had been passed from generation to generation by word of mouth before this. The messages of the prophets were usually delivered orally before they were written. Narratives of the life and ministry of Jesus were repeated orally for years before they were written down. None of the original biblical documents have ever been discovered, but many ancient copies have—including multiple copies of some portions. The Bible translations we have today are based on those copies.