The Bible is the central religious text of Christianity, composed of Judaic and early Christian texts written over centuries. Its name comes from the Greek biblia, meaning “books.” The plural is quite appropriate: the Bible itself is composed of many individual books, the total number varying across denominations – ranging from 66 to 81.
All versions of The Bible divide into two parts: the first is the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. Most versions of this collection share the same texts divided into three sections, although the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) condenses and arranges the texts differently.
The Tanakh’s first section – the Torah or Pentateuch – encompasses five books. The Torah catalogues ancient Hebrew history, from the creation of the world in Genesis, to the flight from Egypt in Exodus, to their wandering through the desert in Numbers. The Torah also provides thorough instructions on worship and purity, specifically in Leviticus. At the Torah’s close in Deuteronomy, the Hebrews stand on the borders of their promised land, preparing to claim it from the Moabites.
Next comes Nevi’im (Prophets), which records the rise of the Hebrew monarchy, its division into two kingdoms, and their eventual defeat with the destruction of Temple in Jerusalem. Through these texts, a series of prophets – human messengers of God – warn the Hebrews from wrongdoing and of God’s impending wrath – but are almost always ignored. The final section is Ketuvim (Writings or Scriptures), a mix of poems, proverbs, philosophical musings, and short narratives about prophets or Jewish leaders. In the Jewish ordering of the Tanakh, this last section ends with the Persian decree that allows the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.
The Christian New Testament covers the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as messiah (savior) and God. The New Testament begins with the four Gospels, which focus on Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection from the dead. The three Synoptic Gospels – Mark, Matthew, and Luke – share many of the same stories and were written in the latter half of the first century. The fourth gospel, John, was written last and focuses more on Christ’s miracles and divine nature.
The narrative of Luke’s gospel continues in Acts of the Apostles, which follows the early Christian movement from Jesus’ resurrection, to the ministry of Paul. Paul was a Roman-born Jew turned Christian preacher. Christianity owes much of its doctrines – and much of the New Testament – to Paul’s Epistles, letters expounding on Christ’s teachings. The Bible concludes with Revelations, a book detailing Jesus’ return to earth the end of the world.
Obviously, The Bible’s books are immensely important to Christians and Jews across the world. The Bible often finds itself at the center of arguments, among and between religious and secular groups. Even if you see The Bible as just a book, you can’t deny that it proves – for better or worse – words and stories are pretty powerful things.