The History of the Bible


The History of the Bible refers to two distinct topics: first of all, how the book of the Bible came about (and this happened over time), and secondly to the Biblical history contained in the Bible itself.




History and the Bible

The Bible contains and transmits God’s Revelation of Himself. Though God reveals Himself in many and varied ways, He does so mainly within human history. He is present, He intervenes and He is at its origin as its Creator. He even allows for historical verification to prove the truthfulness of His words and promises. If ancient historians and researchers sometimes try to find the historical truth (in the modern sense) behind biblical accounts - whatever their results or the strength of their hypotheses - the fact remains that the predominance of the literary genre of the story is there to attest to the importance of history for the self-revelation of God. God is not a fiction, a concept or a fable; He is a personal being who reveals himself, who speaks, who acts, and who dialogues with humanity. Thus, the coming in person of God Himself, foretold by the prophets, appears as the culmination of this long process of revelation. He is so involved in human history that He enters it personally, assuming human nature, becoming man in Jesus himself. Far from being a mad or scandalous claim, the coming of God in the flesh corresponds to the whole, long adventure of Revelation.

The Christian Bible

The Christian Bible is more significant than that of the Jews, for it comprises two Testaments, the Old and the New. Indeed, for Christians, Jesus, about whom we know from the New Testament, is truly the Messiah announced in the Old Testament, the only Begotten Son of God. The Jews, however, are still waiting for the Messiah; for them, Jesus Christ is simply a rabbi.

The Old Testament (from the Latin 'testamentum', 'covenant') is therefore for Christians the story of the first covenant of God with Israel, which is fulfilled in the second covenant, or New Testament, through the person of Christ, the Messiah.

The Old Testament consists of 39 books (for Jews and Protestants) or 46 (for Catholics and for the Orthodox), and is divided into three main groups: the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the other writings. The first five books form the Pentateuch (from the Greek word ‘πέντε’, meaning ‘five’). They contain Genesis or the story of the creation of the world, then the story of the Patriarchs and the life of Moses. The Jews call this Pentateuch "Torah" ("the Law" in Hebrew). The other books are historical, poetic or prophetic. The Jews kept only the books written in Hebrew, while the Catholics and Orthodox have maintained in their canon also those books that were written in Greek or of which only the Greek translation is available.

The New Testament is devoted to the story of Jesus' life, from His teaching to His death, resurrection and ascension, then to how the Christian religion spread throughout the Mediterranean basin. The new covenant of God is offered not only to the Jewish people, but to all men. It consists of 27 books, written in Greek by the disciples of Jesus who followed his teaching or converted soon after his death.

The first four books of the New Testament are the "Gospels" (a term which means “good news” in Greek). The evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote them in the 1st century A.D. They are divided into chapters and verses.

The New Testament includes the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles (short religious treatises presented in epistolary form) by Paul and a few other apostles. These letters are addressed to various Christian communities, which were then in the process of being established. The New Testament ends with the Apocalypse by John - a series of end times visions.

Translations of the Bible

The Bible (Old Testament) was translated from Hebrew into Greek in the 3rd century BC. This translation is attributed to seventy scholars gathered in Alexandria, hence the name Septuagint. Eight centuries later, in the 5th century AD, Saint Jerome translated the entire Bible into Latin which is called the Vulgate. Finally, in the 16th century, Martin Luther translated the Bible into the vernacular, namely German. This translation was at the origin of the Reformation and Protestantism. Other translations in different languages multiplied afterwards. Other translations in different languages then followed, including the Bible of King James I of England, used in Anglican and English Protestant churches.

The Establishing of the Christian Bible

In the first centuries after Jesus Christ, the Church gathered together certain writings which she considered holy and inspired, distinguishing them from others, called 'apocryphal' (that is to say of dubious origin, uninspired and unreliable regarding the faith). At the end of the 1st century, Judaism, in reaction to Christianity, wanted to establish the canon (the official list) of the Holy Scriptures and only retained books written in Hebrew or Aramaic. It therefore rejected from its canon the books of the Old Testament which had been written in Greek or of which only the Greek text was preserved (which they therefore called apocrypha while Catholics named them deuterocanonical). At the end of the third century, several Councils added a set of 27 Books to the Holy Scriptures of Israel, thus fixing the Christian Bible as we know it today.

The composition of the Bible

The Bible is thus composed of varied books in different genres: creation accounts, legislative texts, historical accounts; sapiential, prophetic, and poetic texts, hagiographies, and letters. Writing them spanned more than a thousand years and their authors, mostly unknown, were first inspired by oral traditions which they fixed in writing.

The texts that make up the Bible are not necessarily presented in the chronological order of when they were written: thus, for example, the first account of the creation of the world (which we find in Genesis) dates from the 6th century BC. Christ; it was composed after the second, older story of the creation of the world (10th century BC). The chronological order of the composition of the Bible is not what is the most important: rather, the Bible unfolds around the history of an election - that of the Jewish people - and of a revelation: that of God, which becomes concrete by an alliance with all men and which endures until the end of time.



To know more

Organization of the section 'History of the Bible' in the Marian Encyclopedia:

The articles follow the order of composition of the Bible: the stages of the history of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament, the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning Christ, then, in the New Testament, the way in which Christ reveals himself as Son of God and Redeemer.