What is the Bible?

‘I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word’ (Psalm 119.16).

THE BIBLE IS regarded as the ‘Holy Book’ of the Christian Religion, just as the Koran is thought of as the basis of Islam. In this issue of ‘Light’ we are publishing the first two articles in a series which is planned to look at the Bible as a book. The series will consider where it came from, how we got it in its present form and to think about the influence it should have, its authority and whether it has a message for us today.

Most Christian homes have a Bible. It is still the world’s best seller in English, but sadly, it seems to be less and less read. We hope this series of articles will encourage our readers to study what is not only an important book, but also one that should have a real influence on our thinking and behaviour.


Find your Bible and look at it – as if you had not seen it before. On the spine there are probably the words, ‘HOLY BIBLE’. Both are words which we use almost without thinking what they mean.

The word ‘Bible’ is related to the Greek word ‘biblios’ and we find the first part of the word in our word ‘bibliography’ which means a book list – usually a list of books related to a particular subject. The word ‘Bible’ means ‘books; collection of books; library’.

The word ‘Holy,’ means ‘consecrated, sacred; morally and spiritually perfect; belonging to, commissioned by or devoted to God’ (Concise Oxford Dictionary). This word is also used (because of its derivation) to mean ‘special’ or ‘set apart for a special purpose’.

So the title of the book we are looking at really means that it is a special library or a collection of books – commissioned by God, set apart for a particular purpose. One of the purposes of this series of articles is to try to understand why the Bible is special and what makes it special. It is certainly not just one book, but a collection of books.

Open the Bible and look at the index at the front. You will see the titles of all the separate booklets, which make up the whole Bible. They are divided into two groups: 39 in the section called the Old Testament and 27 in the part called the New Testament. The books of the Old Testament were all written before the time of Christ and the New Testament books after the time of Christ in the first century AD. Practically the whole of the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek. So the whole of the Bible has had to be translated so that we can read it in English, French, Telugu, Ewe, Russian, or in whatever language we speak.

‘Car Dieu a tellement aimé le monde qu’il a donné son Fils unique, afin que tout homme qui croit en lui ne meure pas mais qu’il ait la vie éternelle’

If we now turn the pages of the Bible we will find the books are of different length and many of them have strange names – Genesis, Deuteronomy, Habakkuk and Malachi for example in the Old Testament and Thessalonians, Philemon and Revelation in the New Testament. Some of these words are the opening Hebrew words of the books:In the box above we read John chapter 3 verse 16 in French (EFC Version), not only spoken in France but also in various African countries and in other parts of the world.

Genesis means the beginning and the opening words of the book are ‘In the beginning…’ Exodus is linked to our word ‘Exit’ and means the ‘way out’. The book tells about the way in which the Hebrew people were brought out of Egypt and what happened afterwards.

Other titles of books are the names of teachers or leaders or others who wrote the books. Malachi and Habakkuk are the names of prophets (teachers) as are Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. You can usually tell why the book is so called by looking at the opening verses of the book.

In the New Testament, most of us know the names of the first four books. They are the names of the writers who recorded the four accounts of the life and work and teaching of Jesus – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Most of the other booklets are letters named after the writers – like Peter or James.

Some are named after the groups of Christians to whom they were written. For example, Ephesians is a letter written to Christians at Ephesus by the Apostle Paul. Philippians is the name of the letter by the same writer to Christians at Philippi.

The Book of Revelation is different. It is an account of the visions that were given to the Apostle John at the end of his life when he was in exile on the Island of Patmos. It begins: ‘The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw – that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ’ (Revelation 1.1 NIV).


If we study the various books of the Bible carefully we find that about 40 different people were involved as writers. They wrote while living in various countries – Mesopotamia, Greece, Egypt, Italy and, of course, Israel. The books were also written over a long period of time – about 1,500 years. The Bible, then, in a very real sense is not just one book, but a library. It is because this collection is bound together for convenience, that it is often printed on very thin paper, to make the book manageable. The fact that we do have all these separate writings bound together in one volume is certainly one thing that makes it different and rather special.


For ease of reference we usually group the books of the Bible as follows:


  • The Law

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

These first five books are sometimes called ‘The Pentateuch’, a word which means the ‘five’ books which are also called ‘The Books of Moses’. In the Hebrew Scripture these books are called the Torah.

  • Historical Books

Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I and II Samuel, I and II Kings, I and II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther.

These books describe the history of Israel from the death of Moses to the establishment of the kingdom under Saul, David and Solomon; then the division of the Kingdom into the northern Israel and the southern Judah. Both kingdoms were eventually conquered and the people taken into exile. Only Judah was allowed to return from captivity. The return is described in the books called by the names of Ezra and Nehemiah.

  • Poetic Books

Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.

The Psalms are, in fact, divided into five ‘mini books’.

  • The Prophets

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi

The opening verses of these books will usually say at which period of history the prophets preached.




  • The Gospels

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The Gospel writers tell us about the birth of Jesus, his ministry and teaching, his crucifixion and resurrection.

  • History


The full name is ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ and the book describes the spread of Christianity and the missionary journeys of Paul.

  • Letters

Romans, I and II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I and II Thessalonians.

These were written by Paul to the new churches.

1and II Timothy, Titus and Philemon

These were written by Paul to individuals


Written to the Jewish Christians particularly

James, I and II Peter, I, II, and III John and Jude

Other letters by the writers by whose name they are called

  • Prophecy


Visions seen by John exiled on the Island of Patmos