Frequently Asked Questions about the Bible

Keywords: Bible, Holy Bible, alt.bible, Scriptures, Tanakh, Law, Torah, Prophets, History, Old Testament, Apocrypha, New Testament.

This document covers the following questions:

Disclaimers

This FAQ is biased. It reflects the author's Christian beliefs, reverence for
God, and a great respect for God's Holy Word, the Bible. I believe that the Holy
Bible was inspired by God, who had His servants speak, write, and preserve His
word. The Bible reflects the style of the many people involved, but it is from
God, and should be respected as such.
This FAQ is also incomplete, and may contain typos or other errors. If you
have a suggestion for improving it, please email me at
mpj@ebible.org.
[Top]

What is alt.bible for?

The alt.bible usenet newsgroup is for unmoderated, open discussion of the
Holy Bible. This group is dedicated to Bible study. Appropriate postings all
have something to do with the Holy Bible. This is a place to ask questions about
the Bible, post answers, post Bible study materials, post portions of the Holy
Bible, and discuss matters of practical application of Bible teaching. All other
topics and materials should be redirected to another news group. This FAQ is
also posted to related news groups.
[Top]

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.
[Top]

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.
[Top]

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.
[Top]

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.

[Top]

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.
[Top]

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...
[Top]

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
    http://tniv.info/bible/index.php.
  • 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 http://www.lockman.org/.

  • 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 href="http://www.biblegateway.com/">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 href="http://www.ebible.org/bible/WEB">http://www.ebible.org/bible/WEB for
    more information. You can have daily readings from the WEB sent to you by
    email by sending email to majordomo@ebible.org 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 href="http://netbible.org/">http://netbible.org/. 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.
    • 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 href="http://www.ebible.org/bible/hnv">http://www.ebible.org/bible/hnv.
      You can have daily readings from the HNV sent to you by email by sending email
      to majordomo@lists.sni.net 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 href="http://www.bible.org/netbible/index.htm">http://www.bible.org/netbible/index.htm

    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.
    [Top]

    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 http://www.crosswire.org/.

    Please see the Bible Software FAQ at http://www.storm.ca/~sabigail/faqs/softfaq2.htm for more complete
    information.
    [Top]

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

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

    [Top]

    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 href="http://www.ebible.org/bible">God's Living Word Translation. You
    can, however, download the TNIV New Testament.
    You can also download the href="http:/lockman.org">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.

    [Top]

    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.
    [Top]

    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.

    [Top]

    What does the Bible say about ______?

    Fill in the blank. Homosexuality, ordination of women, and some other topics
    tend to generate lots of discussion (and noise). My advice to you is to search
    the Scriptures for yourself, and ask God to reveal His truth to you.
    [Top]

    Who wrote this FAQ?

    If you have comments or suggestions about this FAQ, please send them to
    Michael Paul Johnson at
    mpj@ebible.org. The
    master copy of this FAQ in html is kept at
    http://ebible.org/bible/biblefaq.htm.
    The ASCII text version is kept at
    ftp://ebible.org/pub/biblefaq.txt.

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