Find out more about the Bible

8 out of 10 Britons think it’s got something significant to offer us; it's China's new best-seller; it's a sacred text to billions.

But discussion of the Bible is not always well-informed. This style guide is designed to help you find out more about the history, interpretation and use of one of the world's most significant texts.

Click on any box to see a short introduction to the topic; click again to read a longer article. Use the categories above to select all articles on any topic.

What does the Bible mean?

This is very often a question of starting points! The technical terms for interpreting the Bible are hermeneutics and exegesis. Biblical interpretation involves trying to find out what a biblical text means. And what the Bible ‘means’ is somet... Read more

Brits and the Bible

It’s easy to get the impression that the Bible is unpopular and viewed negatively by most British people. However, Bible Society’s research shows that this is not necessarily the case. Read more

Rules and regulations. Is the Bible mostly 'thou shalt nots'?

Is the Bible best described as an Encyclopaedia of rules, regulations and teaching? Read more

How did we get the Bible in English?

The translation of the Bible into English began in Anglo-Saxon times. In the seventh century CE, a poet named Caedmon translated a series of biblical stories into ‘Old English’ (Anglo-Saxon) verse. There were copies of parts of the Bible in Old E... Read more

The Bible in the public domain

Many Christians understand the Bible to have not only personal and religious meaning, but political and social significance too. Read more

Ways of interpreting the Bible

Over the centuries, Jewish and Christian scholars have developed different ways of interpreting the Bible. Read more

How does the Bible affect people's public beliefs?

The Bible isn’t merely understood by Christians as a private religious text. Many view it as a sourcebook for developing religious beliefs. However, there are several ways of understanding the role that the Bible has in this process: Read more

Interpretation: Old or New Testament?

Most Christians believe that the Old Testament should be interpreted in the light of the New Testament. Read more

The 'four senses' of interpretation

An early monk called John Cassian (360-435) identified four ways in which the Bible could be understood: the literal, the symbolic, the ethical and the mystical. Read more

'Chinese whispers' and the Bible

Having compared all of the different text types, scholars can then reconstruct the biblical text. But how reliable is this reconstructed text? Read more

Is the Bible a book from God?

The usual way that Christians understand the Bible to be a book from God is to say that he inspired it. The concept of ‘inspiration’ comes from 2 Timothy 3.16, which refers to the Bible by the Greek word theopneustos (which some translate as ... Read more

Thousands of languages still wait for the Bible

Hundreds of Bible translation projects are currently under-way, spearheaded by the work of the United Bible Societies. The major language groups are well catered for – but more than 4,500 languages still wait for even one book of the Bible. Read more

Bible translated 'at rate of knots'

Between the fifteenth and nineteen centuries, translation and production of the Bible really took off. This was for three main reasons: Read more

The Bible: just another holy book?

Sometimes, people assume that the holy books of different religions are pretty much alike in terms of their size and subject matter, but this isn’t actually the case. Read more

Does the Bible contain errors?

The concept of inspiration is often – but not always – linked with another idea called ‘biblical inerrancy’. This is the belief that the Bible does not contain errors. Read more

Ye Olde Bible. Is the Bible best depicted as a black leather book, written in old-fashioned language?

Of course, there are lots of Bibles like this – with gold lettering on the front! But the most common Bibles for sale in the UK and the English-speaking world are modern-language versions with other kinds of covers. Read more

'The prophets' collection developed and finalised

Following the coming together of the Law, other books were added under a new category called ‘the Prophets’. Read more

The first collection of Bible books: the 'law'

The first five books of the Bible, known as ‘the Law’ (or ‘the Torah’) were the first to come together as a collection. Read more

Ways of understanding 'inspiration': copywriter

Some people think God inspired the messengers, rather than the texts that they wrote. Read more

Ways of understanding 'inspiration': editor

Some people think God prompted the biblical authors to write down the words he wanted, but respected their skills, limitations and abilities. Read more

Should the Bible be translated?

Not all religions believe that their sacred texts should be translated. This is often because they stress not only the holiness of the text, but of the original languages too. However, Judaism and Christianity both have a history of translating the B... Read more

Changes and originals: how exactly did changes creep into copies of the biblical text?

There are a whole series of reasons. These include: Mistaking certain words when copying; Missing out phrases or words when copying; Confusing similar letters, missing out letters, writing letters in the wrong order or adding extra letters; Mis-... Read more

Repackaged Bibles – the latest trend?

Moses got the Commandments on tablets of stone. Now we’re all reading the Bible on tablet computers. The Bible has even been produced in LEGO format. So just why are ‘repackaged’ Bibles the latest trend? Read more

Early copies of the Old Testament

To establish the text of the Old Testament, textual critics compare a number of different kinds of text. By comparing similarities and differences among these, they can work out how the biblical text looked thousands of years ago. Read more

Early copies of the New Testament

To establish the text of the New Testament, textual critics do a similar thing as with the Old Testament. There are three main families of ancient Greek manuscripts (of which there are more than 5,000) in a number of forms. Read more

Ways of understanding 'inspiration': reader

Some people think God inspires the readers of the Bible, rather than the writers. Read more

Finalising 'the Writings' collection

The exact content of the Writings collection of the Old Testament remained up in the air for several reasons. One of the main issues was that there were various different collections of Bible books in circulation when Jesus lived. One, in Hebrew, ten... Read more

Important changes to the Bible

Most of the changes to the biblical text are on the same level of importance as the height of Goliath. The basic point is the same - Goliath was very tall. Biblical texts from the Dead Sea give one height, some from the Septuagint provide another. Read more

The text of the Bible: does the Bible contain typos?

The text of the Bible has been copied and studied far more than that of any other book. The technical term used for the study of the biblical text is ‘textual criticism’. Textual criticism is a field of research that involves investigating the... Read more

Ways of understanding 'inspiration': was the Bible created by God 'dictating' his thoughts word-for-word?

Some people think that the biblical writers were a bit like human dictaphones, automatically recording the thoughts and words of God in the Bible. This literal, mechanical view of inspiration was held by some Jewish writers and others in the early... Read more

From presentation- to pocket-sized. How many people does it take to lift a copy of the Bible?

Between the third and ninth centuries, translations of the New Testament emerged in other languages. This included Coptic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Georgian, Slavonic and Arabic. The most popular version of the Bible, however, was the Latin Vul... Read more

Translation over the centuries

The Old Testament began to be translated from Hebrew into Greek during the third century BC. The resulting translation, which was used by Jews who spoke Greek, became known as the Septuagint. It was later used by the early Christians and prompte... Read more

How the Old Testament came together

The ‘Old Testament’ is the term which Christians use for the sacred books of the Jewish people. Although there is substantial agreement, Christians do have different views about exactly how many books belong in the Old Testament. This disagreemen... Read more

How many books? Why do some Bibles include more than others?

Christians understand the Bible to be made up of two collections – the Old Testament & the New Testament. The vast majority of Christians agree on 66 books of the Bible, which includes 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. ... Read more

Public or private? Does everyone use the Bible in the same way?

The Bible has been - and is - used by Christians on both a private and public level. A quick consultation of the social networking world, however, shows that Christians can have very different views about how best to do this. The following are real F... Read more

Different types of Bible literature. Is the Bible more 'Pride and Prejudice', 'Shaun of The Dead' or 'The Matrix'?

The Bible contains many different types of literature, known as genres. This includes history (as it was understood in ancient times), songs, letters, biographies, poetry, legal documents and parables. Read more

Starting points: the reader. Does the Bible's meaning depend on who's reading it?

Some people believe that what a biblical text ‘means’ depends on who is reading it. They argue that readers don’t simply take in information; they actively manufacture meaning as they read a text. This is sometimes known as ‘reader-response c... Read more

Starting points: the text

Some people think that the Bible should be interpreted as literature. This is sometimes known as the ‘literary’ or ‘formalist’ approach to interpretation. Read more

Starting points: the author

Traditionally, Christians have believed that what the biblical author meant to get across is what people should consider. Sometimes this approach is described by the term ‘authorial intention’. Read more

Accessorising with the apocrypha and anagignoskomena

The issue of which books to include in the Old Testament came to a head when a biblical scholar named Jerome made a new Latin translation of the Old Testament (the Vulgate) at the turn of the fifth century AD. Read more

How did the New Testament come together?

The vast majority of Christians today agree that the New Testament contains twenty-seven books (four gospels, the book of Acts, twenty-one epistles and the book of Revelation). However, the settling on this particular collection wasn’t as straightf... Read more

What's in a name?

The Old Testament we are most familiar with today sometimes follows the Septuagint and sometimes the Hebrew Bible in terms of the names and order of books. Read more