A Christian Bible is a set of books that a Christian denomination regards as divinely inspired and thus constituting scripture. Although the Early Church primarily used the Septuagint or the Targums among Aramaic speakers, the apostles did not leave a defined set of new scriptures; instead the canon of the New Testament developed over time. Groups within Christianity include differing books as part of their sacred writings, most prominent among which are the biblical apocrypha or deuterocanonical books.
Significant versions of the English Christian Bible include the Douay-Rheims Bible, the Authorized King James Version, the English Revised Version, the American Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard Version, the New King James Version, the New International Version, and the English Standard Version.
The books which make up the Christian Old Testament differ between the Catholic (see Catholic Bible), Orthodox, and Protestant (see Protestant Bible) churches, with the Protestant movement accepting only those books contained in the Hebrew Bible, while Catholics and Orthodox have wider canons. A few groups consider particular translations to be divinely inspired, notably the Greek Septuagint and the Aramaic Peshitta.
Apocryphal or deuterocanonical books
In Eastern Christianity, translations based on the Septuagint still prevail. The Septuagint was generally abandoned in favour of the 10th-century Masoretic Text as the basis for translations of the Old Testament into Western languages. Some modern Western translations since the 14th century make use of the Septuagint to clarify passages in the Masoretic Text, where the Septuagint may preserve a variant reading of the Hebrew text. They also sometimes adopt variants that appear in other texts, e.g., those discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
A number of books which are part of the Peshitta or the Greek Septuagint but are not found in the Hebrew (Rabbinic) Bible (i.e., among the protocanonical books) are often referred to as deuterocanonical books by Roman Catholics referring to a later secondary (i.e., deutero) canon, that canon as fixed definitively by the Council of Trent 1545–1563. It includes 46 books for the Old Testament (45 if Jeremiah and Lamentations are counted as one) and 27 for the New.
Most Protestants term these books as apocrypha. Modern Protestant traditions do not accept the deuterocanonical books as canonical, although Protestant Bibles included them in Apocrypha sections until the 1820s. However, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches include these books as part of their Old Testament.
The Roman Catholic Church recognizes:
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
- Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus)
- The Letter of Jeremiah (Baruch Chapter 6)
- Greek Additions to Esther (Book of Esther, chapters 10:4–12:6)
- The Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children verses 1–68 (Book of Daniel, chapter 3, verses 24–90)
- Susanna (Book of Daniel, chapter 13)
- Bel and the Dragon (Book of Daniel, chapter 14)
In addition to those, the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches recognize the following:
- 3 Maccabees
- 1 Esdras
- Prayer of Manasseh
- Psalm 151
Russian and Georgian Orthodox Churches include:
- 2 Esdras i.e., Latin Esdras in the Russian and Georgian Bibles
There is also 4 Maccabees which is only accepted as canonical in the Georgian Church, but was included by St. Jerome in an appendix to the Vulgate, and is an appendix to the Greek Orthodox Bible, and it is therefore sometimes included in collections of the Apocrypha.
The Syriac Orthodox tradition includes:
- Psalms 151–155
- The Apocalypse of Baruch
- The Letter of Baruch
The Ethiopian Biblical canon includes:
- 1–3 Meqabyan
and some other books.
The Anglican Church uses some of the Apocryphal books liturgically. Therefore, editions of the Bible intended for use in the Anglican Church include the Deuterocanonical books accepted by the Catholic Church, plus 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, which were in the Vulgate appendix.
The term Pseudepigrapha commonly describes numerous works of Jewish religious literature written from about 300 BCE to 300 CE. Not all of these works are actually pseudepigraphical. It also refers to books of the New Testament canon whose authorship is misrepresented. The "Old Testament" Pseudepigraphal works include the following:
- 3 Maccabees
- 4 Maccabees
- Assumption of Moses
- Ethiopic Book of Enoch (1 Enoch)
- Slavonic Book of Enoch (2 Enoch)
- Hebrew Book of Enoch (3 Enoch) (also known as "The Revelation of Metatron" or "The Book of Rabbi Ishmael the High Priest")
- Book of Jubilees
- Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch)
- Letter of Aristeas (Letter to Philocrates regarding the translating of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek)
- Life of Adam and Eve
- Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah
- Psalms of Solomon
- Sibylline Oracles
- Greek Apocalypse of Baruch (3 Baruch)
- Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
Book of Enoch
Notable pseudepigraphal works include the Books of Enoch (such as 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, surviving only in Old Slavonic, and 3 Enoch, surviving in Hebrew, c. 5th to 6th century CE). These are ancient Jewish religious works, traditionally ascribed to the prophet Enoch, the great-grandfather of the patriarch Noah. They are not part of the biblical canon used by Jews, apart from Beta Israel. Most Christian denominations and traditions may accept the Books of Enoch as having some historical or theological interest or significance. It has been observed that part of the Book of Enoch is quoted in the Epistle of Jude (part of the New Testament) but Christian denominations generally regard the Books of Enoch as non-canonical or non-inspired. However, the Enoch books are treated as canonical by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
The older sections (mainly in the Book of the Watchers) are estimated to date from about 300 BCE, and the latest part (Book of Parables) probably was composed at the end of the 1st century BCE.
Denominational views of Pseudepigrapha
There arose in some Protestant biblical scholarship an extended use of the term pseudepigrapha for works that appeared as though they ought to be part of the biblical canon, because of the authorship ascribed to them, but which stood outside both the biblical canons recognized by Protestants and Catholics. These works were also outside the particular set of books that Roman Catholics called deuterocanonical and to which Protestants had generally applied the term Apocryphal. Accordingly, the term pseudepigraphical, as now used often among both Protestants and Roman Catholics (allegedly for the clarity it brings to the discussion), may make it difficult to discuss questions of pseudepigraphical authorship of canonical books dispassionately with a lay audience. To confuse the matter even more, Eastern Orthodox Christians accept books as canonical that Roman Catholics and most Protestant denominations consider pseudepigraphical or at best of much less authority. There exist also churches that reject some of the books that Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants accept. The same is true of some Jewish sects. Many works that are "apocryphal" are otherwise considered genuine.
Role of the Old Testament in Christian theology
The Old Testament has always been central to the life of the Christian church. Bible scholar N.T. Wright says "Jesus himself was profoundly shaped by the scriptures." He adds that the earliest Christians also searched those same Hebrew scriptures in their effort to understand the earthly life of Jesus. They regarded the "holy writings" of the Israelites as necessary and instructive for the Christian, as seen from Paul's words to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:15), and as pointing to the Messiah, and as having reached a climactic fulfillment in Jesus himself, generating the "new covenant" prophesied by Jeremiah.
The New Testament is the name given to the second and final portion of the Christian Bible. Jesus is its central figure.
The term "New Testament" came into use in the second century during a controversy among Christians over whether or not the Hebrew Bible should be included with the Christian writings as sacred scripture. The New Testament presupposes the inspiration of the Old Testament. Some other works which were widely read by early churches were excluded from the New Testament and relegated to the collections known as the Apostolic Fathers (generally considered orthodox) and the New Testament Apocrypha (including both orthodox and heretical works).
The New Testament is a collection of 27 books of 4 different genres of Christian literature (Gospels, one account of the Acts of the Apostles, Epistles and an Apocalypse). These books can be grouped into:
Narrative literature, account and history of the Apostolic age
General epistles, also called catholic epistles
Apocalyptic literature, also called Prophetical
The New Testament books are ordered differently in the Catholic/Orthodox/Protestant tradition, the Slavonic tradition, the Syriac tradition and the Ethiopian tradition.
The mainstream consensus is that the New Testament was written in a form of Koine Greek, which was the common language of the Eastern Mediterranean from the Conquests of Alexander the Great (335–323 BCE) until the evolution of Byzantine Greek (c. 600).
The original autographs, that is, the original Greek writings and manuscripts written by the original authors of the New Testament, have not survived. But historically copies exist of those original autographs, transmitted and preserved in a number of manuscript traditions. There have been some minor variations, additions or omissions, in some of the texts. When ancient scribes copied earlier books, they sometimes wrote notes on the margins of the page (marginal glosses) to correct their text – especially if a scribe accidentally omitted a word or line – and to comment about the text. When later scribes were copying the copy, they were sometimes uncertain if a note was intended to be included as part of the text.
The three main textual traditions of the Greek New Testament are sometimes called the Alexandrian text-type (generally minimalist), the Byzantine text-type (generally maximalist), and the Western text-type (occasionally wild). Together they comprise most of the ancient manuscripts.
Development of the Christian canons
The Old Testament canon entered into Christian use in the Greek Septuagint translations and original books, and their differing lists of texts. In addition to the Septuagint, Christianity subsequently added various writings that would become the New Testament. Somewhat different lists of accepted works continued to develop in antiquity. In the 4th century a series of synods produced a list of texts equal to the 39, 46, 51, or 54-book canon of the Old Testament and to the 27-book canon of the New Testament that would be subsequently used to today, most notably the Synod of Hippo in 393 CE. Also c. 400, Jerome produced a definitive Latin edition of the Bible (see Vulgate), the canon of which, at the insistence of the Pope, was in accord with the earlier Synods. With the benefit of hindsight it can be said that this process effectively set the New Testament canon, although there are examples of other canonical lists in use after this time.
The Protestant Old Testament of today has a 39-book canon – the number of books (though not the content) varies from the Jewish Tanakh only because of a different method of division – while the Roman Catholic Church recognizes 46 books (51 books with some books combined into 46 books) as the canonical Old Testament. The Eastern Orthodox Churches recognize 3 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, Prayer of Manasseh and Psalm 151 in addition to the Catholic canon. Some include 2 Esdras. The Anglican Church also recognizes a longer canon. The term "Hebrew Scriptures" is often used as being synonymous with the Protestant Old Testament, since the surviving scriptures in Hebrew include only those books, while Catholics and Orthodox include additional texts that have not survived in Hebrew. Both Catholics and Protestants (as well as Greek Orthodox) have the same 27-book New Testament Canon.
The New Testament writers assumed the inspiration of the Old Testament, probably earliest stated in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God".
Ethiopian Orthodox canon
The Canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is wider than the canons used by most other Christian churches. There are 81 books in the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible. The Ethiopian Old Testament Canon includes the books found in the Septuagint accepted by other Orthodox Christians, in addition to Enoch and Jubilees which are ancient Jewish books that only survived in Ge'ez but are quoted in the New Testament, also Greek Ezra First and the Apocalypse of Ezra, 3 books of Meqabyan, and Psalm 151 at the end of the Psalter. The three books of Meqabyan are not to be confused with the books of Maccabees. The order of the other books is somewhat different from other groups', as well. The Old Testament follows the Septuagint order for the Minor Prophets rather than the Jewish order.