The most read book of all time is the Bible, surpassing favorites such as The Lord of the Rings series, the Harry Potter series, and even classics like The Diary of Anne Frank and To Kill a Mockingbird. It is recorded by Business Insider that the Bible has sold 3.9 billion copies over the last 50 years, while the Harry Potter series has sold 400 million copies.
What is it about the Bible that has made it the book to “turn to” for the last half-century? It is a book that also has various translations to choose from and even different representations among the Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant faiths. The Book of Hebrews states it best when explaining why the Word of God is something everyone is drawn to:
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart, (Hebrews 4:12).
Let’s journey through the origins of the Bible, learning as we go of how the Bible has affected not only the lives of countless people but has also become the foundational building blocks for the leading faiths in our world today.
How Many Books Are in the Bible?
To offer a brief overview, the current English Bible consists of 66 books with two distinct sections: The Old Testament (39 books) and the New Testament (27 books). The two sections are arranged this way to highlight the birth of Jesus, with the Old Testament sharing the emerging prophecies of the Messiah and Jesus’ actual birth, death, and resurrection taking place at the start of the New Testament with the Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).
There are about 50 versions of the English Bible in circulation, with revised versions well into the hundreds. The most popular of the Bible translations is that of King James Version, which is also public domain and doesn’t require obtaining permission for reprinting Scripture verses in published books. Bible Study Tools even has a list of the best-known versions and translations of the Bible for readers to peruse, with a brief explanation of each version.
What’s the Difference Between the Hebrew Bible and the Protestant Bible?
How the Bible was established to include what it does of stories and parables is part of the canonization process, which is, initially, a Christian communion performed by the Roman Catholic Church (as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church) to appoint selected deceased members of the church into the determined canon, or list, to be considered a saint in the church.
The same process was applied to determine what books of the Bible would be included, seen as to whether they were inspired by the Spirit or not, to be the authorized Word of God. It comes from the Greek word “kanon,” which means reed or measurement.
The Hebrew Bible consists of 24 books, believed to be determined by the councils of Jamnia in AD 90 and 118 as the list of books to be part of the Bible. There is still debate over what all the council selected to be canonized of the Bible, as this council has only been mentioned in ancient Hebrew writings and no confirmation has been found that this council existed or what they canonized. It is believed the Hebrew Bible was written between 1200 to 100 BC and has been in its current form since the second century BC.
The believed criteria used to determine what books were to be canonized, as the Word of God, may have included prophetic authorship (text written by an apostle or prophet), inner witnesses of the Holy Spirit, eyewitness testimonies, and then the final acceptance of the book by the people. Given that Jesus’ disciples were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ actions and words, they were the ones to give authorization of the New Testament and whether something was divinely inspired or not.
The Hebrew Bible and the Protestant Bible have the same content in the Old Testament, but the organization is different, such as, for example, the Hebrew Bible has one book of Samuel while the Protestant Bible has two. Primarily for those of Jewish faith, especially Messianic Jews, the first five books of the Bible are the Torah (or Pentateuch) and the main asset of the Bible, detailing how God chose Abraham to be the father of many nations and established the Law (Ten Commandments) as the way to live for God. The New Testament is seen as commentary to the Torah/Old Testament.
What’s the Difference Between the Protestant Bible and the Catholic Bible?
The Protestant Bible comprises much of the Hebrew Bible but organizes the stories into a larger collection than its Jewish predecessor. While the Hebrew Bible was formed entirely from ancient scrolls (24 for each book), the Protestant Bible combines the Hebrew Bible with the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible written in the third and second century BC.
The Eastern/Greek Orthodox Church may use the New King James Version or other translations that allow more of the Greek translation to be used, coupled with their belief that the Bible’s New Testament, with the story of Jesus, is precedent over the Old Testament. The Catholic Bible consists of 46 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament (which is the same NT as the Protestant Bible).
The additional Old Testament sections in the Catholic Bible are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Baruch (includes Letters of Jeremiah), I and II Maccabees, and additional sections for the books of Daniel and Esther. Those of the Catholic faith believe what is in their Bible was canonized by the Synod of Rome council and the early church in AD 382.
It was decided several years later, during the Reformation, by Protestants to follow more of the Greek translations of the Bible instead of the entire Hebrew Bible, which had been canonized and accepted in the original King James Bible by the Catholic Church.
Thus, the Apocrypha is present in the Catholic Bible as the collection of books not found in the Protestant Bible. They can be found in the original 1611 King James Bible but were pulled from the Bible in 1885 and named “deuterocanonical books.”
Other Bible Translations for Other Faiths
Jehovah’s Witnesses use their own version of the Bible, New World Translation of Holy Scriptures, which they believe is more accurate, clearer, and has God’s name listed as they believe it should in the text. Before this version, Jehovah’s Witnesses heavily consorted the King James Bible.
For Mormons, there are four books they hold as the Word of God: The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ (which have believed records of how God interacted with people of America from 2000 BC to 400 AD), the King James Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants (collection of declarations about the formation and regulation of the Church of Jesus Christ in the last days), and The Pearl of Great Price (writings from Mormon church founder Joseph Smith).
What Does This Mean?
One can see while learning the path toward the creation of the Bible, that it is still one open to interpretation of whose Bible relates most to God’s spoken word on paper. The debate over using canonized Scripture or more Greek translation-infused Scripture will continue, as more people gravitate to reading and studying the Bible and the truth of the Holy Trinity.
What is hoped is readers find a translation that allows their relationship with God to bloom and strengthen their awareness that Jesus lived and died for us so that we would be united with God for eternity.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/jdsimcoe
Blair Parke is a freelance writer for BibleStudyTools.com and editor for Xulon Press. A graduate of Stetson University with a Bachelor's in Communications, Blair previously worked as a writer/editor for several local magazines in the Central Florida area, including Celebration Independent and Lake Magazine in Leesburg, Florida and currently freelances for the Southwest Orlando Bulletin.