God On The Net

Questions About The Bible

Introductory Notes

This page answers questions about the Bible itself—structure, organization, versions, etc.  The information is adapted from the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) in the alt.bible newsgroup.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the various alt.bible and alt.christnet newsgroups.  I have found that many regulars who claim to be Christians are actually advocating mixtures of Christian and non-Christian doctrines such as homosexuality is okay, reincarnation, Mormonism, etc.  The groups also tend to attract some of the most vicious, vulgar and perverse profanity on the Net—(from the non-Christians, of course!) much worse than the sexually-oriented newsgroups!

Also see the discussion about the history and structure of the Bible in the Christian Doctrine page.

"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.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NASB)  All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

"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 is the same as the Jewish Bible, or Tanakh except that the order and titles of the some of the books are somewhat different.  When referring to the Bible, the word "Testament" means "covenant".

The Old Testament consists of 4 main sections:

  • The Law (Torah), called the 5 Books of Moses or the Pentateuch (rhymes with "lent a book."). 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 is 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 Prophets are dividend into the Major Prophets and the twelve Minor Prophets. This has to do strictly with the lengths of the works as they have come down to us. Judaism considers the writings of the "minor" prophets to be a single book, referred to as "The Twelve".

Note: The Hebrew Bible (the version used by both traditional and Messianic Jews) has the books in a different order and combines some Old Testament books that Christianity separates. Also, some of the verse numbering is slightly different.  However the content is identical.

The New Testament consists of 4 sections: 

  • The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) tell about Jesus' life and teaching.
  • The book of Acts of the Apostles 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. They are arranged from longest (Romans) to shortest of Paul's letters, then longest to shortest of the non-Pauline letters.
  • The book of Revelation, called  The Apocalypse by Roman Catholics, 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.

Also see Names of the Books of the Bible (in various languages).

"What is the Canon?"

The Bible consists only of books that are considered divinely inspired.  Collectively, these are referred to as "the canon."  The Old Testament consists of 39 books and the New Testament consists of 27.  The Roman Catholic Church also considers the Apocrypha to be part of the canon.

"Who chose the Canon?"

The particular books of both the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament just "sort of came to be accepted" over time.  Various Church councils, bishops, etc., put together lists.  By about 327 A.D.  the current 27-book New Testament was pretty much accepted as the new scriptures.  In the mid-1500's the Roman Catholic Church added the Apocrypha to the books it considers canonical. Both Protestants and Jews have never considered the Apocrypha to be divinely inspired, and hence do not consider them canonical.

"What is the Talmud?"

The Talmud is a compilation of rabbinical writings about the Hebrew Bible and non-Messianic Judaism.  It consists of commentaries and commentaries on the commentaries.  It is a major study tool for Jewish scholars but is not generally used by Christians.  Obviously, it only deals with the Old Testament.  However, it does contain some commentary on Jesus written within a few generations after His death.  (Mainly, it says that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier and practiced sorcery and was executed for practicing sorcery.  It fails to mention that the Jewish leaders did not have legal authority to perform executions for any reason and the Roman government couldn't have cared less about "sorcerers".)

There are two Talmuds--the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian (Iraq) Talmud. When the term "the Talmud" is used it always refers to the Babylonian Talmud. Both Talmuds were written in the 6th century A.D.--about 500 years after Jesus. Both Talmuds are extensive and expansive commentaries on many aspects of Jewish law, not merely Bible commentaries.

"What are 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/Deuterocanonical 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 contain 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.

"The Apocrypha" refers to a certain set of books:

  •  Tobit
  •  Judith
  •  1 Maccabees
  •  2 Maccabees
  •  2 Esdras
  •  Baruch
  • The Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach (Jesus was a common name.)
  • additions to the book of Daniel
  • additions to the book of Esther

"What is the Septuagint?"

As Jews spread away from Israel they began to use the local languages, rather than Hebrew.  In the ancient world Greek was the most widely spoken language.  Eventually, the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek.  According to legend (preserved in the so-called Letter of Aristeas) the translation of the Torah (the five books of Moses) was done in Alexandria, Egypt in 72 days by 72 learned Jews, six from each of the Twelve Tribes at the command of Ptolemy Philadelphus around 270 B.C.  This group became known as "The Seventy" and the translation became known as the Septuagint, from the Greek word for seventy.

In scholarly texts, even some study Bibles, the Septuagint is frequently referred to as LXX, Roman numerals for 70.

The Septuagint is important for a number of reasons.

Obviously, if a translation is completed the original must already exist in its entirety.  The fact that the Septuagint was translated by 250 B.C. proves that all Messianic prophecies were made at least 250 years before the birth of Jesus, i.e., they can't be revisionist history written after the fact. (In fact, the latest Old Testament prophecies were made in the book of Malachi, about 400 B.C.)

More importantly, the Septuagint helps us understand ambiguities in the Hebrew text.  For instance, in the prophecy about the virgin birth, the English word that is closest in meaning to the original Hebrew (almah) is "maiden", not "virgin."  Obviously, a sixty year old woman can be a virgin, but only a young woman can be a "maiden."  Historically, young unmarried Jewish women did not have sexual intercourse.  Hence, the term maiden implied virginity.  But the Hebrew word can also simply mean "young woman."  Hence, looking solely at the Old Testament Hebrew, it cannot be determined whether the prophecy is that the Messiah will be born of a virgin or simply that his mother will be young.  However, in the Greek translation, the Jewish translators chose a Greek word that means virgin.  This tells us how the prophecy was interpreted during the time of the Old Testament prophets.

Important note about the Septuagint:

The above section presents pretty much the "standard" description of the Septuagint that you will find in the vast majority of Christian resources.

There is no such thing as "the" Septuagint !!!

"Common wisdom" is that the seventy-two rabbis translated the entire Old Testament and Apocrypha. That is false. It is not certain that a "group of 72" translated anything. There is good reason to believe that that is a myth that was concocted to give the translation credibility.

It is absolutely certain that the entire OT and Apocrypha were not translated at one time and place by a single group of translators!

Because it is a translation, contrary to common belief the Septuagint is not widely studied from a critical perspective. Most information about the Septuagint from "biblical scholars" is simply a rehash of something they were told twenty years ago in seminary. The truth is that the various books were translated individually over a period of more than 100 years. In many cases Septuagint experts have no idea who translated a particular book. Often, only fragments survived. If a scribe did not have a portion of text, he would simply copy that section from some other translation. There was so much inter-copying that scholars cannot tell which version was the source of the copying and which version received the copied text.

There are other problems with the Septuagint. Unlike the Hebrew-language scriptures, Greek texts were not copied by professional Jewish scribes. Almost half of the ancient Septuagint texts definitely were copied by Christians, which makes them suspect in the eyes of many. The reason for the suspicion is this: sometimes the Greek text differs from the Hebrew text. But the surviving copies of the Hebrew text were made much later than the text used for the original translations. Is the difference because the original translators were working from a more accurate version of the Hebrew? Or is the difference because Christian scribes changed the translations to be more consistent with Christian interpretations of the Old Testament books?

From a non-religious perspective, the Septuagint is historically significant for a completely different reason--it was the very first large document ever translated from one language to another. The process of translation can be quite complex. A major question is always when to translate text literally, and when to use wording that does not track the original text as closely but conveys the idea better. All such technical questions were completely new to the translators of the Septuagint.

"What are the Targums?"

As today, in Old Testament times the priests would read from the Scriptures to the congregation. Eventually it became necessary to do a translation into Greek, called the Septuagint.  (See above.)  However, translation was only done in later times.

Prior to the problem of Greek-speaking Jews not understanding Hebrew, similar problems arose in other areas, particularly Babylon.  The common practice in Jewish religious services was to read from the scriptures in Hebrew and to verbally summarize what was read in the local language, Aramaic.  Originally the priests were forbidden to write down the summaries, for fear that people might become confused and think the summaries were scripture. Eventually, however, a standard set of written summaries was developed.  These are called targums.  And eventually the summaries were replaced with actual translations.

The targums are important because they help us understand ambiguous passages, understand how the Hebrew Bible was interpreted before Christian influences, and they provide confirmation that text is from ancient times rather than being a later addition.   

"What is the Kaballah?"

The Kaballah (also spelled with a "c") is Jewish mysticism. The Kaballah deals with the occult and is not considered divinely inspired or even reliable by Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity or Messianic Judaism.

"What are the pseudepigrapha?"

If you check out any of the larger bookstores you will find books such as The Lost Books of Eden, the Book of Enoch, and The Lost Books of the Bible.  At one time there were approximately eighty texts circulating that were called "gospels."  There is a "Gospel of Peter", a "Gospel of Thomas", a "Gospel of Barnabas", a "Gospel of Paul", etc.

In the First Century it was common practice to attach the name of a famous Christian to a work to give it more credibility.  Also, concepts of authorship were different.  One was: Fred Smith works for Bill Jones for a number of years. Bill is highly regarded in the community and  teaches Fred a lot.  Later, Fred writes a book using a lot of information he got from Bill.  Therefore, there's nothing wrong with saying that Bill is the author, not simply a source.  We would consider that deceptive, but First-Century Middle Eastern cultures didn't.

The pseudepigrapha are works which purport to be written by some well-known first-century Christian but which seem to not be divinely inspired and not written by that person.  This is usually because the works contain alleged incidents or theology that contradict the generally accepted scriptures.  A few such works purport to be from the pre-Christian era, e.g., the Book of Enoch.

"What are apocryphal books?"

The pseudepigraphia are also referred to as apocryphal literature.

"What does LXX mean?"

LXX is Roman numerals for 70.  It is the abbreviation for the Septuagint, described above.

"What do MS and MSS mean?"

MS is an abbreviation for "manuscript" and MSS is an abbreviation for "manuscripts."  These refer to the old texts, i.e., parchments, scrolls, etc., not simply to the text. In other words, you would not use MS to refer to a quote from the NIV or the KJV, but you might refer to the Dead Sea Scrolls as MSS.

"What are the 'original autographs'?"

In a biblical context, this refers to the documents originally written by the authors, i.e., the actual Letter to the Romans written by Paul, the actual Letter to the Ephesians, etc.  All the original autographs have been lost or destroyed.  However, thanks to the science of textual criticism, scholars are confident that the reconstructions we now possess are at least 98-1/2 percent accurate.  In other words, for each 200 words of text there are a maximum of three errors.  Furthermore, the variations consist of minor words, e.g., one text may read "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son ..." and another text may read "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son ...."  Obviously, the variation doesn't change the meaning in any way.

"If the Bible is God's word and He specially protects it, why did He let the original documents get lost or destroyed?"

  1. God knew that if the originals were still available, many people would make the documents objects of worship.  This is like worshiping the Bible itself instead of the God who inspired it, and it would be idolatry. Some cultures do worship the Bible. This is know as bibliolatry.

  2. The Anglo-American legal system has a rule called the Best Evidence Rule.  This rule says that the best evidence of what a document says is the document itself, not a copy.  If the original autographs still existed, obviously this reasoning would apply -- let's not look at a copy of the Ten Commandments, let's look at the stone.
    That sounds reasonable, but inevitably arguments would arise that someone had doctored the original.  There would be nothing to compare it to -- you don't look at a copy when you have the alleged original.

  3. God works with people in their normal circumstances.  He didn't hand First-Century apostles a computer, printer and wordprocessor, or a ball-point pen and paper.  The writing materials available in the First Century normally decayed with age.

"What languages 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.

It is important to understand that there is no such thing as "Biblical Greek" or "Biblical Hebrew". For centuries, most scholars thought that the New Testament was written in a special 'ecclesiastical' Greek, i.e., one used only by the writers of the New Testament. However, archaeological discoveries over the past 150 years have proven that the New Testament was written in the ordinary Greek of the day. (When schools give courses in "Biblical Greek" or "Biblical Hebrew", they are distinguishing them from modern Greek or Hebrew.)

"What language did Jesus speak?"

Jesus' main language was Aramaic, a language related to Hebrew.  He might also have spoken some Greek and/or Hebrew. Even before Jesus' time, Hebrew was already a 'dead' language, i.e., no one spoke it in everyday use. Like Latin today, it was only spoken in some religious ceremonies.

"Are chapters, verse numbers, punctuation, capitalization, section headings, or footnotes part of the Bible?"

No.  Chapters, verses, punctuation, capitalization, section headings and footnotes all have been added for convenience.  The chapter and verse numbers have been agreed upon, so they are standard.  They were based on the Hebrew version of the Old Testament. The specific chapter and verse divisions and numbers in use today in Christian Bibles were developed by Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton in the 13th century (before the Protestant Reformation).

Judaism later adopted the concept. However, in a number of  instances Langton's chapter divisions were chosen to have chapters of the same length, resulting in a single "block" of text being artificially subdivided into two chapters or part of text being in the "wrong" chapter. For instance, the final verse of Genesis Chapter 1 is actually Genesis 2:3 and the first verse of Chapter 2 is actually Genesis 2:4:

    Genesis 1:1   In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth ...
    Genesis 2:1-3   [1] Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. [2] And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. [3] Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

    Real beginning of Chapter 2: Genesis 2:4   This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens

Similarly, almost every Psalm begins with instructions such as which instruments or what melody to use. When Jewish religious leaders decided to adopt the Christian "chapter and verse" divisions, in a number of instances they corrected the artificial divisions. For instance, verse 2 of the Christian Psalm numbering is always verse 1 of the Jewish numbering and the "instruction" section does not have a number in Jewish Bibles.

There is no standard set of punctuation, capitalization, section headings, or footnotes.

Virtually all English translations use "Spirit" to indicate the Holy Spirit and "spirit" to indicate man's spirit or any other spirit.  It is important to realize that this is always a matter of the translator's interpretation of the text.  There are a few places that use the word "Spirit" which probably do not refer to the Holy Spirit -- the original Greek doesn't draw a distinction, so we must rely on the context.

"Why do some verse cites include letters, e.g., [7b] ?"

Chapter and verse numbers are based on the original Hebrew and Greek texts.  In some cases, a single verse may contain two or more sentences.  When quoting an excerpt, only part of the verse may be relevant to a commentator's point.  Alternatively, the first or last part of the verse may continue from or to another verse.  The first sentence of a verse is considered to be [a], the second [b], etc.  For instance, James 4:7b says "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."  It is the part of the verse that talks about the devil.

"What does ff mean in verse cites, e.g., Genesis 1:7ff ?"

"ff" after a verse is shorthand for "and following". In other words, Genesis 1:7ff means "Genesis chapter 1 starting at verse 7 and continuing for the next few verses".

"Why are some Bible words in italics?  There doesn't seem to be any pattern and they don't seem to be emphasizing the word."

Translators sometimes find it necessary to add a word to make the text understandable in English.  The King James translators decided to italicize those added words to avoid misleading the reader.  All subsequent translations based on the KJV have continued this practice, such as the New King James (NKJV), Revised Standard Version (RSV) and New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). With other completely new translations that are not updates of the KJV, New American Bible (NAB), New American Standard Bible (NASB), New International Version (NIV), some translators have adopted the practice and others have not.

"What is God's name in the Bible?"

Although there is only one true God, He is called by many names in the Holy Bible. In Hebrew, God's proper name is represented by the 4 consonants YUD HAY VAV HAY, 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."

The translation of "Yahweh" is "I AM" (or "I AM WHO I AM") so that is actually God's name in English.  The English word "God" comes from germanic language roots.  Technically, it is just a description of a type of beings, a class of beings, e.g., God, angels, humans, etc.

"Why do different editions 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 the 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 three 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 three of these agree VERY closely, and they don't disagree in any way that affects any major doctrine. All three 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.

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:

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

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

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

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

You get the idea...

"Why are almost all modern English translations copyrighted?"

In the late 1800's a group of Bible scholars decided that the English language had changed so much since King James' time that the KJV needed to be updated.  Originally, a group of British Bible scholars were chosen to do updates.  During the project, American scholars were invited to form an advisory committee and make suggestions, which they did.  Some of the American suggestions were incorporated and some were not.  The final translation was not copyrighted. Shortly afterwards, various American publishers decided to add the American suggestions and published the result, commonly known as the American Standard Version, or ASV.

The American versions were still quite reliable, generally differing only in style in a few places. But the fact that there were unauthorized, uncontrollable altered versions which were essentially the same as the officially-sanctioned versions bothered many translators and theologians. Without some way of controlling publication rights, there is no way to prevent heresy from being added by anyone who wants to.

"Which English translation of the Holy Bible is best?"

Which one do you read and apply to your life?

If you are: Recommended
Non-Christian, beginner, child, or
have reading difficulties
The New Living Translation -- NLT
NIV Children's Edition
Contemporary English Version -- CEV
Intermediate knowledge of Christianity New International Version -- NIV
Advanced or want to be New King James Version --NKJV
New American Standard -- NASB
The Complete Jewish Bible -- CJB
Jewish or want to evangelize Jews New American Standard -- NASB
The Complete Jewish Bible -- CJB
Advanced (apologist/theologian level) New JPS Tanakh (plus Advanced above)
Spanish-speaking Visíte a La Biblia en Español

Here are a few of the best translations:

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. According to the translators, the language is seventh-grade level. It is not available free on-line due to copyright restrictions, but you can find it at the Bible Gateway.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) 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. The NASB follows the wording of the original languages more closely than either the NIV, KJV, or NKJV.

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. Copyrighted. Available as a free software download from www.BerBible.com.  This is my favorite translation and I use the BerBible software and highly recommend it.

The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is a very decent Modern English Bible with lots of 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 justified by context, though, so they don't bother many people. Copyrighted, hard to find on line.

The New Living Translation (NLT) is a thought-for-thought paraphrase. It often adds wording that is not in the actual biblical text to make the meaning clear. Although the NLT can be very useful, if you find a passage unclear, confusing, or problematic, you should double-check the text against a reliable translation such as NKJV or NASB to make sure the problem isn't from added wording. Copyrighted.

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. Not available in any electronic form. Copyrighted.

The Revised Standard Version (RSV) is a 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. The RSV is copyrighted, but it is available freely with The Online Bible.

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. 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. If you don't mind calling Passover "The Feast of Thin Bread," it is OK. I have found this particularly useful for teaching children (4-6 grade). Copyrighted.

Today's English Version (TEV) 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. 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. It is used almost exclusive by Messianic Judaism (which includes both Jewish and Gentile Messianics). The one thing I don't like about the JNT and CJB is they often use Hebrew words that even most Jews who regularly attend synagogue wouldn't know, such as Y'hudah (Judea) and Shomron (Samaria). Copyrighted.

The Complete Jewish Bible (CJB), by the same author as the Jewish New Testament, is widely used by Messianics. The Hebrew Bible is arranged in the traditional Jewish order rather that the Christian order and has the traditional parasha and aliyah divisions. (If you aren't Jewish, don't worry about those two Hebrew words.  They are only used by Jews.) The Hebrew Bible portion is a modern English paraphrase of the 1917 JPS Tanakh rather than a translation from scratch. Copyrighted.

The Tanakh, New JPS Translation (NJPS), is a translation of the Hebrew Bible commonly used in non-Messianic Judaism. Some portions of the JPS Tanakh are excellent -- much clearer than any Christian translation. However, portions with messianic content are frequently marked "meaning of Hebrew unclear". Also, where several different English words could be used to translate a word, the word most at odds with Christian interpretations is routinely used, e.g. in Isaiah 7, 'Behold, the Lord himself will give you a sign, the young woman will be with child.' (instead of virgin) and in Isaiah 53, 'He was taken away by disease.'  (instead of affliction or oppression) Copyrighted 1985.

Do not use a JPS Tanakh for evangelizing. There are too many of these 'problem' word choices in key passages. However, it is a good idea to review such passages occasionally so you will be familiar with what your listener(s) are reading. Also understand that, contrary to common belief, most Jews are not familiar with the Bible, not even the Tanakh. Most Jews do not attend synagogue regularly and Jewish religious services primarily involve liturgy, i.e., reciting prayers or singing songs with standardized wording, not reading or preaching from the Bible. (Messianic congregations generally use the same Bibles as Protestants, plus The Complete Jewish Bible, by David H. Stern, a Messianic Jew who holds a Master of Divinity degree from Dallas Theological Seminary).

The New English Bible (NEB) is a fairly readable British English (as opposed to American English) Bible generally available in the United States with the Apocrypha. It has a respectable list of churches that endorse it.

The language is a mix of modern and archaic, with "thee" and "thou" being used for God's speech. There are a few words that are perfectly acceptable to British readers but somewhat offensive to many Americans, e.g., "ass" instead of donkey.  Also, some of the language in Ezekiel is extremely graphic, much more so than in most other translations.

The footnotes and introductory materials for the different books tend to lean toward a modernist interpretation of the Bible that may bother many readers. For instance, it talks about two versions of the Creation story and says that many Church leaders thought Ezekiel was psychotic. 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, people who 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 the alt.bible newsgroup, for example, who hold to that opinion. The King James Version of the Holy Bible is in the Public Domain outside the United Kingdom. You can publish, copy, distribute it for free, or sell it, all without having to ask anyone's permission.

For serious English-language Bible study the KJV is mandatory. Like the Luther translation in German or the Reina-Valera translation in Spanish, it is the "Gold Standard" against which all other English transations are measured.

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 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 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. For more information visit: www.ebible.org/bible/WEB

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.

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. (Jehovah's Witnesses will disagree with me, here. So be it.) The New Testament and Psalms, an Inclusive Version is politically correct to the point of heresy. The Joseph Smith Jr. (founder of Mormonism) "authorized" "translation." Avoid those.

Regarding the New American Bible (NAB), a Roman Catholic translation, although I like a lot of the wording and formerly I recommended the NAB here, over the years I have had a chance to work with the Ezekiel book more in detail and I have found a number of problems. In just the first chapter, for instance, where the Hebrew says, "the sole[s] of their feet were like the sole of a calf's foot" the NAB says, "the soles of their feet were round". The verse sequence is: 1-6-7-10-9-12-8-11-13-14 (etc.)

NAB Ezekiel Chapter 10 contains verses from three different chapters and those are out of sequence!


Chap 8:1-2
Chap 8:4
Chap 10:20-22
Chap 10:14-15
Chap 10:9-13
Chap 10:16-17
Chap 10:1-8
Chap 10:18-19
Chap 11:22-23

Rememberthis is Chapter 10.

End of Chapter 10
Then totally re-arrange the middle.

They might as well include the first 8 verses someplace!

And let's end with the final verses from the next chapter!

With that much "butchering" of the text, my recommendation would be, "Avoid the NAB like the plague!"

"What Bible study software is available?"

See  Studying the Bible.

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. The person who wrote the alt.bible FAQ this page is derived from uses the Online Bible and Parsons Quickverse the most.

I also found an excellent CD-ROM called The Bible Library from Ellis Enterprises, Inc.

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

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

www.BerBible.com - NKJV, KJV and several others. I use their NKJV version and highly recommend it.

www.e-sword.net - A wide variety of Bibles in a number of languages.

www.ebible.org/bible - World English Bible, plus lots of links

www.bf.org - lots of links

www.bible.org/isb/demo.htm - NET Bible to read on line

www.gospelcom.net/bible/ - NIV, NASB, etc. to read (not download)

For Bibles in foreign languages see Bible Searches and Other Languages

Study Tools:

Hitchcock's Bible Names Dictionary

"Why can't I download the NIV, NKJV or the NASB?"

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 Weymoth New Testament in Modern Speech, and (maybe) the Bible in Basic English (which may be copyrighted in some countries).

The New King James Version is available from www.Berbible.com and that is the version I now primarily use. Unlike a lot of Bible software, the Berbible software uses a high-speed index.


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