The Bible

A Little Bible Handbook
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Old Testament
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About the Author

A Little Bible Handbook

The great passages of the Bible
for beginners

© Tony Harwood-Jones
1988, 2002
(Online Edition revision in progress)


The Bible is the Word of God, but it is also the words of humans. Christians of many worldwide denominations (Anglican, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and others) believe that although God encouraged people to put their experience, thoughts, and feelings about Him into words, God did not over-ride their human minds. In the Bible, we have received the work of real people like ourselves. They were story-tellers, writers, editors, copiers, and translators. They spoke of God in the words and symbols of their day.

Although bound in one volume, the Bible is a collection of ancient books. It developed slowly, beginning with spoken stories and songs around 2,000 B.C. and was completed by the followers of Jesus about 325 A.D. There was a further period before the invention of the printing press, when the Bible had to be copied by hand, and when some words of the text may have been altered by the copyists.

The original language of the Old Testament was Hebrew, that of the New Testament, Greek. We are therefore dependent upon language scholars for the versions of the Bible we now have in English.

Words you should know:

the actual words of the Bible in original Hebrew or Greek. Because of possible copying errors, it requires scholarship to determine which text is most likely to have been the original.

The final results of translating the “text” into a modern language.

After scholars have decided what they think the original “text” was, and after they have decided the best way to “translate” it, the completed result is called a “Version” of the Bible.

A rendering of the Bible which gives the general sense of the original Greek and Hebrew, but not the exact words.

In reading about the Bible, you may come across the following terms:

the scientific and scholarly analysis of the Bible text in its historical context. The most carefully objective way of explaining the Bible.

a careful presentation of Bible “Exegesis” with an attempt to relate it to Theology, Philosophy, and History.

the work of the preacher, relating a Bible passage to life today. The most subjective way of explaining the Bible.

the system of thought whereby you determine which passage is more important, and which is less important.

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Current Versions of the Bible

Many people just starting out in Bible study ask “Which version should I get?” This question, however, has no simple answer - because some versions are easier to read, while some are more poetic, some are careful about such issues as gender language, and some are difficult, but give a more accurate rendering of the Hebrew and Greek.

Here are just a few of the current English versions of the Bible, ranked in order of this author’s own preference. Abbreviations commonly used for some of the versions are indicated in brackets.

1 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Careful translation of the Hebrew and Greek, some attention to gender-inclusive language. Widely accepted across many denominations.
2 Revised English Bible (REB) Elegant English, designed to be read at public worship. Traditional order of the text has been changed in some sections.
3 Contemporary English Version (CEV) Extremely simple English (grade 5 reading level). Communicates well.
4 New Jerusalem Bible Originally the work of French scholars, this version gives a good sense of the Bible’s ancient cultures. Contents follow the Roman Catholic sequence.
5 Today’s English Version (TEV) Simple, readable English. Also called the “Good News Bible”
6 Today’s New International Version An upgrade of the “NIV” [below]; international English, some attention to gender inclusive language.
7 New International Version (NIV) Good modern English. Comes out of Evangelical Protestantism.
8 Revised Standard Version Until recently, this was the best available 20th Century English Bible. High standard of scholarship, but English is archaic.
9 English Standard Version Published in 2001 this version calls on the legacy of the “RSV” (above), and aims at accurate, scholarly, word-for-word translating into current English.
10 King James Version (KJV) Sixteenth Century text, translated into beautiful but difficult English. Also called the “Authorized Version.”
11 New American Bible Roman Catholic, developed in the 1960’s, with a New Testament upgrade in the 1980’s. A less radical read of the ancient texts than the New Jerusalem Bible [above].
12 New King James Version Evangelical project which retains the King James Version’s treatment of the Greek and Hebrew while upgrading to modern English.
13 Christian Community Bible A Roman Catholic English version with its roots in Latin America. All editions come with an extensive set of footnotes.
14 The New Living Bible A “meaning-for-meaning” translation, rather than “word-for-word”. Evangelical origins.
15 The Message A “paraphrase” of the Bible - attempting to express the intent of the original texts by completely rephrasing them.

There are still more versions and paraphrases available, some of which deliberately alter the sense of the original languages in the name of a current philosophy, or in an attempt to make the storyline more readable.
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The following sections have been included on this page:
  • Introduction
  • Words you should know
  • Current Versions of the Bible

  • ... Complete Contents section
    ... Author’s home page