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What is the Holy Bible?


The Holy Bible is God's written word to mankind. It has been written over thousands of years by many people under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and miraculously preserved until today. There are many ancient documents, but those in the Holy Bible are of great importance to Jews and Christians, because they explain the way to fellowship with God and the way to live.

What is in the Bible?

The Holy Bible is a collection of books. These are arranged in the Old Testament (before Jesus Christ) and New Testament. The Old Testament contains the same books as the Jewish Bible, or Tanakh, and consists of 3 or 4 main sections:

  • The Law (Torah), called the 5 Books of Moses. These are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These tell about creation, the patriarchs, the miraculous way that God broke the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, and more.
  • History. These tell how God has intervened, interacted, and taught people through history. God's mixture of justice, mercy, and love are clearly seen in these books.
  • Wisdom literature (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs), also called the poetic books include prayers, great wisdom, and some prophesy. Many of the things written in the Psalms were fulfilled by Jesus, the Messiah. The history and wisdom literature books combined are referred to as "The Writings" (Kethuvim).
  • The Prophets (Nevi'im). These contain God's Word to His people, both in terms of current activities and in predicting future events.

The New Testament consists of 4 sections:

  • The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) tell about Jesus' life and teaching.
  • Acts records the history of the early church and some of the miracles done by the Holy Spirit.
  • The Letters (also called the Epistles) contain important teaching for those who follow Jesus Christ.
  • Revelation is a book of prophesy that tells about what is going to happen, as well as sending some warning messages to the current assemblies of Christians.

For more information, open up a Bible (or access one on line) and read it.

What is the Apocrypha?

The Apocrypha is a set of books or parts of books that are found in some Bibles, but not others. Part of these are considered to be part of the Catholic Bible, and some aren't. The set of books that are in the Apocrypha/Dueterocanonical books are not universally agreed on, but the Roman Catholic definition is the one most widely held. These books contain some "additions" to Esther and Daniel, as well as some interesting history books. I put "additions" in quotes, because they are found in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, but not in any existing Hebrew manuscripts.

The Apocrypha may be arranged in the traditional Catholic order, interspersed through the Old Testament, or in a separate section between the Old and New Testaments (like Martin Luther first did in his Bible translation into German). The Luther order is the more popular one for ecumenical works, now, because it is more acceptable to more people.

The Apocrypha contains helpful additional history that helps you to understand the Old and New Testaments, even for those who don't regard the Apocrypha to be of the same level of inspiration as the 66 books of the Bible that all Christians consider to be inspired by God. There are also some wisdom books that contain some practical advice that is at least as good as what you may find in the works of contemporary Christian and Jewish authors. Churches vary in their position on the Apocrypha. Some say it is good to read, but not to build doctrine on. Some build doctrine on it. Some avoid it. Most seem to avoid the issue. (My personal opinion is that it is worth reading and preserving, and that it helps us to understand the 66 books in the Bible that all Christians agree are canonical.) Go ask your pastor or priest about this.

What language was the Bible written in?

The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew. The New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek. There are a few passages in Aramaic and Chaldean. Because languages continually evolve, and people speak many languages, the Holy Bible is being translated by many groups, with the goal of providing a copy to everyone in their own language.

What is God's name?

Although there is only one true God, He is called by many names in the Holy Bible. In Hebrew, God's  most common proper name is represented by the 4 consonants YOD HE WAW HE, which is usually written "Yahweh" in English. Sometimes "Jehovah" is used, which is what you get when you combine the vowels for "Adonai" (Lord) with the consonants for "Yahweh." This name is sometimes rendered "LORD" in English translations, not to be confused with "Lord" (the rendition of "Adonai") -- note the small capital letters in one and not the other. Trust me, God knows who you are talking to when you pray, so please don't sweat this one too much.

Why do different versions of the Holy Bible differ in some details?

This is a troubling question for some people. After all, it is important to know exactly what God intended, isn't it?

God, in His sovereign will, chose to entrust His Holy, perfect word to human, fallible scribes (past and present) and translators (past and present). That means that some copies of the Bible have minor copying errors in them. This applies both to the original languages and to translations. Computers help modern scribes, but errors still creep in. For example, if you have the Bible Explorer CD-ROM, there is a whole sentence missing from John 21:17 in the ASV. That sentence is there in my paper copy of the ASV, but not on the CD-ROM. Scribes manually copying manuscripts sometimes made this kind of mistake, too. The process of trying to reconstruct what the original said from a set of copies that all differ in some details is called "textual criticism."

Right now, we have 3 main schools of thought as to what the original Greek New Testament was: the "Textus Receptus," the "Majority Text," and the "UBS" text. The "Textus Receptus" (received text) is essentially that which underlies the KJV. The "Majority Text" basically follows what the majority of currently existing manuscripts say. The "UBS" text gives greater weight to a relatively few manuscripts written on "older" media, even when they disagree with the majority. The good news is that all 3 of these agree VERY closely, and they don't disagree in any way that affects any major doctrine. All 3 certainly agree with respect to the central Good News about Jesus Christ being God's Son in the flesh, who died for our sin, but rose again, thus giving us hope in the promise of eternal life. In fact the Textus Receptus and Majority Text are basically the same in most places. The UBS text seems to have several small "dropouts" with respect to the Majority Text, like John 5:4. (Look for it in a footnote in the NIV). It also casts doubt on Mark 16:9-20 by bracketing it, even though there are ONLY 2 significant manuscripts that leave it out. Nevertheless, the UBS text seems to have developed quite a following, today, even though the Majority Text makes more sense to me.

Another source of differences in Bible versions come from the fact that there is more than one way to translate the same thing, depending on style, target vocabulary, translation philosophy, etc. These differences are generally not difficult to deal with though, because they mean the same thing. For example:

But be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deluding your own selves. -- James 1:22 (WEB, RSV)

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. -- James 1:22 (NIV)

Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. -- James 1:22 (NAB)

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. -- James 1:22 (NASB95)

You get the idea...

Which English translation of the Holy Bible is best?

Which one do you read and apply to your life?

Here are a few of the best:

  • The New King James Version (NKJV) is good for those who are used to the KJV, but want something in Modern English. The New Testament is based on the Textus Receptus, but has footnotes where the UBS and Majority Text differ. This is the Bible my pastor likes to preach from. The more I work on Bible Translation, the more impressed I am with the accuracy of this translation and closeness to the original Greek. Copyrighted, but used in a public search engine.
  • The New International Version (NIV) is the best-selling English Bible. Its New Testament is based on the UBS Greek text. Its language is easy to read, and its accuracy is well respected. I often read from this aloud to my family. This is the Bible my third grade son reads regularly. It is not widely available on line, due to copyright restrictions, but you can find it at the Bible Gateway.
  • Todays New International Version (TNIV) is a language update of the NIV. This translation attempts to be more gender-inclusive in its language than the NIV, but does not compromise in the masculine nature of God the Father. It is copyrighted, but you can download the New Testament in PDF format from
  • The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update (NASB95) is an excellent translation, with wording that is more literal than the NIV, and which holds to the style of the original more closely. The NASB is well known for paying close attention to tenses of words, etc. It is based on the UBS4 Greek text. Available from Parsons Technology and Logos, as well as some printed Bibles. Downloadable from
  • The New American Standard Bible (1977) is almost as good as the NASB95, except that it reverts to archaic English in the Psalms and in the language of prayer, and is a little harder to read. It is not widely available on line, due to copyright restrictions, but you can find it at the Bible Gateway.
  • The World English Bible (WEB) is a revision of the ASV of 1901 into Modern English. The New Testament is revised to reflect the Majority Text. God's name in the Old Testament is rendered as "Yahweh" instead of "Jehovah" because that is widely regarded to be more correct. This is an all-volunteer project still in progress. The purpose of the WEB is to put an accurate, whole, Modern English Bible into the Public Domain. Note that there are no other English translations in this category that I'm aware of. Please see for more information. You can have daily readings from the WEB sent to you by email by sending email to with "subscribe bible" in the body of the message.
  • The Amplified Bible (Amp) is excellent for detailed study of a passage. It seeks to reveal the full richness of the underlying Greek and Hebrew, and often reveals insights that you might miss in reading a more conventional translation. This isn't real good for reading aloud (because of its punctuation and wordiness), but I recommend that you get one for study to set along side one of the above translations. The Amplified Old Testament is not available in any electronic form, because of copyright and greed issues between the copyright owners. The Amplified New Testament is available from Logos.
  • The New English Translation (NET) is a scholarly translation with extensive notes. You may download a free copy for your personal use at Copyrighted.

Here are some other translations that are worth considering:

  • The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) is an accurate, readable translation based on the UBS4 Greek text. Copyrighted.
  • The English Standard Version (ESV) is an accurate, readable, literal translation based on the UBS4 Greek text. Copyrighted.
  • God's Word is a fresh, new translation from the God's Word to the Nations Bible Society. It is easy to read and well done. Copyrighted.
  • The New Living Translation (NLT) is a thought-for-thought translation that seeks to retain the readability of The Living Bible, but with greater accuracy. Copyrighted.
  • The Revised Standard Version (RSV) is another hybrid Modern/Archaic English Bible. (Archaic in the Psalms and in prayer, as if God only spoke Elizabethan English.) It is pretty well trusted, though. This used to be my mother's favorite Bible -- until she got an NIV. The RSV is copyrighted, but it is available freely with The Online Bible.
  • The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is a decent Modern English Bible with some scholarly respect. It strives to avoid "sexist" terminology by translating, for example, "brother" as "brother or sister," and trying to avoid gender-specific language by compromising on number (i. e. "their" for "his"). Generally, these substitutions are usually justified by context. This is an ecumenical work, with editions available that contain the Apocrypha/Dueterocanonical books for not only the Roman Catholic tradition, but for several other denominations, as well. Copyrighted, hard to find on line.
  • The New American Bible (NAB) is a "Catholic" Bible (with the Apocrypha interspersed in the Old Testament). It is very readable and accurate. Copyrighted.
  • The New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) is a "Catholic" Bible that is a bit more free in its translation, concentrating on readability and English style. Copyrighted.
  • The New International Reader's Version (NIrV) is a simplified (3rd grade level) Bible that is based on the NIV. It is the best limited vocabulary Bible I have seen. Copyrighted.
  • The New Century Version (NCV) is a fairly free translation that reads like a newspaper. It is targeted at the 3rd grade reading level. Copyrighted.
  • The Contemporary English Version (CEV) is the American Bible Society's latest English entry. It is aimed at a 3rd grade reading level, but I think it is really more like 2nd grade level. If you don't mind calling Passover "The Feast of Thin Bread," it is OK. Copyrighted.
  • Today's English Version (TEV), also called the Good News Bible or Good News for Modern Man, is an older Modern English Bible from the American Bible Society. In some ways, I like it better than the CEV, but it has taken some flak for being too loose of a translation. Actually, I believe that they did fairly well with a limited vocabulary. Copyrighted.
  • The Jewish New Testament is an interesting mix of Hebrew and English terminology that brings out the Jewish nature of the Rabbi called Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah. Highly recommended for all Jews. Copyrighted.
  • The Revised English Bible (REB) is a very readable British English (as opposed to American English) Bible, a revision of the New English Bible (NEB). It is available both with and without the Apocrypha. It has a respectable list of churches that endorse it. Some bracketed sections of the UBS4 Greek text are ommitted entirely, so don't look too hard for the story of the woman caught in adultery in this Bible. Copyrighted.
  • The Philips New Testament is a free translation/paraphrase that is easy to read, and has good impact. Copyrighted.
  • The Living Bible (TLB) is a paraphrase of the KJV that sacrifices accuracy for readability. Sometimes in makes a point pretty well. The flashlight in Psalms 119:105 seems a bit odd, though. Copyrighted.
  • The Message is a paraphrase that claims to be a translation. It is very earthy, and is a great commentary, but not very accurate. Copyrighted.
  • The King James Version (KJV), sometimes called the Authorized Version (AV) was quite revolutionary when it came out in 1611 (and was revised a few times to correct its large collection of typos). It is still very popular, in spite of its archaic and difficult to understand language. Indeed, there is a cult-like following of this translation that claim that this is the only true Word of God, superior even to the original languages. While that claim is bizarre, there are a vociferous few people on this news group who hold to that opinion. The King James Version of the Holy Bible is in the Public Domain. You can publish, copy, distribute it for free, or sell it, all without having to ask anyone's permission.
  • The Webster Bible (a revision of the KJV bible) has updated spelling, but retains the same grammar and almost all of the wording of the KJV. The Webster Bible is in the Public Domain.
  • The American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901 is a revision of the Revised Bible, a revision of the KJV for language and to take advantage of some new (then) manuscript discoveries to allow greater accuracy. The ASV uses "Jehovah" for God's name, instead of "LORD" (which the KJV and many others use). The language of the ASV is less archaic than the KJV, but still far from modern. The ASV is in the Public Domain.
  • The Bible in Basic English (BBE) is an extremely limited vocabulary translation (1,000 words). The BBE is very wordy, and some passages are hardly recognizable. Other passages come out amazingly clear and accurate, considering that the target language has far fewer words than the original languages used. It accidentally entered the Public Domain at least in the USA, by being published without a copyright notice back when that was required. It remained copyrighted in Great Britain, and regained its copyrighted status in the USA when the GATT treaty went into effect.
  • Tanakh, the Holy Scriptures is a good Modern English translation of the Jewish Bible (the same as the Christian Old Testament) from the traditional Hebrew text. "Tanakh" is an acronym for "Torah (Law), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Kethuvim (Writings)." This is the work of Jewish scholars and rabbis from the three largest branches of Judaism in America, done with reference to other Jewish and Christian translations. I recommend this as a good reference for both Christians and Jews who speak English. This work is copyrigheted by the Jewish Publication Society.
  • The Young's Literal Translation (YLT) is somewhat archaic, but it is fairly well done and is freely available on line.
  • The Darby Translation is another somewhat archaic translation. It is freely available on line.
  • The Weymouth New Testament in Modern Speech is a decent translation of the New Testament only. It is freely available on line.
  • The Hebrew Names Version (HNV) of the World English Bible is an edition of the World English Bible that uses traditional Hebrew names instead of the Greek/English forms common to most English translations of the Holy Bible. For example, "Jesus" is rendered "Yeshua" and "Moses" is rendered "Moshe." Like the WEB, the HNV is in the Public Domain. It is available on line at You can have daily readings from the HNV sent to you by email by sending email to with "subscribe hnv" in the body of the message.
  • The New English Translation (NET) Bible is a new translation being done by the Biblical Studies Foundation (which is run by some people of good reputation). The NET is copyrighted, but available on line. In fact, this study Bible was designed to be read with a web browser. Copyrighted, but online at

Actually, there are so many good translations that it is easier to list the ones to avoid: the New World Translation is notoriously inaccurate, and systematically seeks to rob Jesus of His Deity. See John 1:1 for an example, where the NWT renders "a god" instead of "God". The New Testament and Psalms, an Inclusive Version is politically correct to the point of heresy. Avoid those.

What Bible study software is available?

There is a LOT of it, for different platforms, at different prices (ranging from free to extremely expensive), and with vastly varying features, quality, and performance. A few good ones are BibleWorks, Logos, Online Bible and Parsons Quickverse. For free open-source Bible study software, see

Please see the Bible Software FAQ at for more complete information.

Where can I download and read the Bible on the Internet?

There are many places. Here are some good starting places:

Why can't I download the Some Bible Translations?

It is probably because they are copyrighted, and the copyright owner chooses not to allow them to be given away freely. See the copyright notices at the Gospelcom Bible Gateway. This is the case with almost all Modern English Bible translations, except for the World English Bible, the NET Bible, the Weymoth New Testament in Modern Speech, and the God's Living Word Translation. You can, however, download the TNIV New Testament. You can also download the New American Standard Bible. This was not the case when I first wrote this FAQ, but popular demand and common sense seem to have convinced both Zondervan and the Lockman Foundation that giving away some electronic copies of their translations will probably do more good for their profits than harm, and I think that they, too, like the idea of more people reading the Bible for the spiritual good that it does.

What is the value of pi in the Bible?

This is kind of a trivial question, but it seems to surface quite often. Pi (the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle) is really not given in the Bible. There is a pair of references that seem at first glance to indicate that this value is 3, but a closer reading shows that it really doesn't.

Now he made the sea of cast metal ten cubits from brim to brim, circular in form, and its height was five cubits, and thirty cubits in circumference. Under its brim gourds went around encircling it ten to a cubit, completely surrounding the sea; the gourds were in two rows, cast with the rest. It stood on twelve oxen, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south, and three facing east; and the sea was set on top of them, and all their rear parts turned inward. It was a handbreadth thick, and its brim was made like the brim of a cup, as a lily blossom; it could hold two thousand baths. - 1 Kings 7:23-26 (NASB)

2 Chronicles 4:2-5 is similar, describing the same temple furnishing. Since the "sea" was flared "like a lily blossom", the diameter measurement was made "from brim to brim," but the circumference measurement was probably a direct measurement made below the flared brim. If you paid attention in geometry class, you could compute the amount of the flare of the brim to be about (10-(30/3.1416 ))/2 = 0.225 cubits (about a handbreadth) on each side. Construction of a scale model using these dimensions and description is left as an exercise for the reader.

What about Bible contradictions?

Those who claim the Bible is full of contradictions generally only find them because they don't really read what the Bible actually says in its own context.

To really read the Bible to find out what it means, you need to read with the following questions in mind:

  1. What does the text say? (observation)
  2. What does it mean? (interpretation)
  3. How does it apply to me? (application)

The following guidelines are helpful in proper Bible reading:

  1. Scripture interprets Scripture. If an idea you get from one verse is out of line with the rest of what the Bible says, you need to reevaluate what you thought that verse said. "Let everything be established by 2 or 3 witnesses" before you make a doctrine of something.
  2. Literal where possible -- what it says, it means.
  3. Consider the form of the writing in each section (i. e. historical, narrative, parable, poetry, teaching, prediction of the future, etc.).
  4. Consider grammar and history. This means understanding how natural languages work in general, and at least something of how the original languages of the Bible work. It also means that it is helpful to understand the history, culture, geography, etc., of the original audience.

Who wrote this FAQ?

If you have comments or suggestions about this FAQ, please send them to Michael Paul Johnson. The master copy of this FAQ in html is kept at The ASCII text version is kept at

( Courtesy: )

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