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Bible Frequently Asked Questions


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Archive-name: books/bible/bible-faq
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Last-modified: 23 October 2002
URL: http://ebible.org/bible/biblefaq.htm
URL: ftp://ebible.org/pub/biblefaq.txt

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Keywords: Bible, Holy Bible, alt.bible, Scriptures, Tanakh, Law, Torah,
Prophets, History, Old Testament, Apocrypha, New Testament.
___________

Disclaimers
___________

This FAQ is biased. It reflects the author's Christian beliefs,
reverence for God, and a great respect for God's Holy Word, the
Bible. I believe that the Holy Bible was inspired by God, who
had His servants speak, write, and preserve His word. The Bible
reflects the style of the many people involved, but it is from
God, and should be respected as such. Some people disagree with
me. Their postings abound, and I feel no need to represent them
here.  This FAQ is also incomplete, and may contain typos or
other errors. If you have a suggestion for improving it, please
email me at mpj@ebible.org.

______________________

What is alt.bible for?
______________________

The alt.bible usenet newsgroup is for unmoderated, open
discussion of the Holy Bible. This group is dedicated to Bible
study. Appropriate postings all have something to do with the
Holy Bible. This is a place to ask questions about the Bible,
post answers, post Bible study materials, post portions of the
Holy Bible, and discuss matters of practical application of
Bible teaching. All other topics and materials should be
redirected to another news group. This FAQ is also posted to
related news groups.

_______________________

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.

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. --
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NASB)

_____________________

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, and
consists of 3 or 4 main sections:

* The Law (Torah), called the 5 Books of Moses. 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 are 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 New Testament consists of 3 sections:

* The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) tell about Jesus'
life and teaching.

* Acts 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.

* Revelation 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.

For more information, open up a Bible (or access one on line)
and read it.

______________________

What is 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/Dueterocanonical 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 contains helpful 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.


_______________________________________

What language 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.

___________________

What is God's name?
___________________

Although there is only one true God, He is called by many names
in the Holy Bible. In Hebrew, God's  most common proper name is
represented by the 4 consonants YOD HE WAW HE, 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." This name is sometimes
rendered "LORD" in English translations, not to be confused with
"Lord" (the rendition of "Adonai") -- note the small capital
letters in one and not the other. Trust me, God knows who you
are talking to when you pray, so please don't sweat this one too
much.

___________________________________________________________________

Why do different versions 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 my
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 3 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 3 of
these agree VERY closely, and they don't disagree in any way
that affects any major doctrine. All 3 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, even though the
Majority Text makes more sense to me.

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:


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

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

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

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers
who delude themselves. -- James 1:22 (NASB95)

You get the idea...

____________________________________________________

Which English translation of the Holy Bible is best?
____________________________________________________

Which one do you read and apply to your life?

Here are a few of the best:

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. This is the Bible my pastor likes to preach from. The more I
work on Bible Translation, the more impressed I am with the accuracy of
this translation. Copyrighted. Used in some online search engines and
available in many Bible study software packages.

The New International Version (NIV) is the best-selling English Bible.
Its New Testamentis based on the UBS Greek text. Its language is easy to
read, and its accuracy is well respected. I often read from this aloud
to my family. It is not widely available on line, due to copyright
restrictions, but you can find it at the Bible Gateway.

Todays New International Version (TNIV) is a language update of the NIV.
This translation attempts to be more gender-inclusive in its language
than the NIV, but does not compromise in the masculine nature of God the
Father. It is copyrighted, but you can download the New Testament in PDF
format from http://tniv.info/bible/index.php.

The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update (NASB95) 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. It is based on the
UBS4 Greek text. Available from Parsons Technology and Logos, as well as
some printed Bibles.  Downloadable from
http://www.gospelcom.net/lockman/download/index.htm.

The New American Standard Bible (1977) is almost as good as the NASB95,
except that it reverts to archaic English in the Psalms and in the
language of prayer, and is a little harder to read. It is not widely
available on line, due to copyright restrictions, but you can find it at
the Bible Gateway.

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.  Please see http://www.ebible.org/bible/WEB for more
information.  You can have daily readings from the WEB sent to
you by email by sending email to majordomo@ebible.org with
"subscribe bible" in the body of the message.

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,
because of copyright and greed issues between the copyright
owners.

The New English Translation (NET) is a scholarly translation with
extensive notes. You may download a free copy for your personal use at
http://netbible.org. Copyrighted. 

Here are some other translations that are worth considering:

The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) is an accurate, readable
translation based on the UBS4 Greek text. Copyrighted. 

God's Word is a fresh, new translation from the God's Word to the
Nations Bible Society. It is easy to read and well done.
Copyrighted.

The New Living Translation (NLT) is a thought-for-thought
translation that seeks to retain the readability of The Living
Bible, but with greater accuracy. Copyrighted.

The Revised Standard Version (RSV) is another 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. This used to be my mother's favorite Bible
until she got an NIV. The RSV is copyrighted, but it is
available freely with The Online Bible.

The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is a decent Modern
English Bible with some 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 usually justified by context.
This is an ecumenical work, with editions available that contain
the Apocrypha/Dueterocanonical books for not only the Roman
Catholic tradition, but for several other denominations, as
well. Copyrighted, hard to find on line.

The New American Bible (NAB) is a "Catholic" Bible (with the
Apocrypha interspersed in the Old Testament). It is very
readable and accurate.  Copyrighted.

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. It is the best
limited vocabulary Bible I have seen. 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, but I think it is really closer to 2nd grade. If
you don't mind calling Passover "The Feast of Thin Bread," it is
OK.  Copyrighted.

Today's English Version (TEV), also called the Good News Bible
or Good News for Modern Man 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. Actually, I think that they did a good job within
the confines of its limited vocabulary. 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. Highly recommended for
all Jews. Copyrighted.

The Revised English Bible (REB) is a very readable British
English (as opposed to American English) Bible, a revision of
the New English Bible (NEB). It is available both with and
without the Apocrypha. It has a respectable list of churches
that endorse it. Copyrighted.

The Philips New Testament is a free translation/paraphrase that
is easy to read, and has good impact. Copyrighted.

The Living Bible (TLB)is a paraphrase of the KJV that sacrifices
accuracy for readability. Sometimes in makes a point pretty
well. Sometimes the flashlight in Psalms 119:105 bothers me,
though. 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 archai c and
difficult to understand language. Indeed, there is a cult-like
following of this translation that 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 this
news group who hold to that opinion. The King James Version of
the Holy Bible is in the Public Domain. You can publish, copy,
distribute it for free, or sell it, all without having to ask
anyone's permission.

The Webster Bible (a revision of the KJV bible) has updated
spelling, but retains the same grammar and almost all of the
wording of the KJV. The Webster Bible is in the Public Domain.

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 Bible in Basic English (BBE) is an extremely limited
vocabulary translation (1,000 words). The BBE is very wordy, and
some passages are hardly recognizable. Other passages come out
amazingly clear and accurate, considering that the target
language has far fewer words than the original languages used.It
accidentally entered the Public Domain at least in the USA, by
being published without a copyright notice back when that was
required. It retained its copyrighted status in Great Britain.
It regained copyrighted status in the USA when the GATT treaty
was signed.

Tanakh, the Holy Scriptures is a good Modern English translation
of the Jewish Bible (the same as the Christian Old Testament)
from the traditional Hebrew text. "Tanakh" is an acronym for
"Torah (Law), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Kethuvim (Writings)." This
is the work of Jewish scholars and rabbis from the three largest
branches of Judaism in America, done with reference to other
Jewish and Christian translations. I recommend this as a good
reference for both Christians and Jews who speak English. This
work is copyrigheted by the Jewish Publication Society.

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 Hebrew Names Version (HNV) of the World English Bible is an
edition of the World English Bible that uses traditional Hebrew
names instead of the Greek/English forms common to most English
translations of the Holy Bible. For example, "Jesus" is rendered
"Yeshua" and "Moses" is rendered "Moshe." Like the WEB, the HNV
is in the Public Domain. It is available on line at
http://www.ebible.org/bible/hnv  You can have daily readings
from the HNV sent to you by email by sending email to
majordomo@lists.sni.net with "subscribe hnv" in the body of the
message.

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. Copyrighted, but online at
http://www.bible.org/netbible/index.htm

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. See John 1:1 for an example, where the NWT renders
"a god" instead of "God". The New Testament and Psalms, an
Inclusive Version is politically correct to the point of heresy.
Avoid those.

_______________________________________

What Bible study software is available?
_______________________________________

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. A few good ones are BibleWorks,
Logos, Online Bible and Parsons Quickverse. For free open-source Bible
study software, see http://www.crosswire.org. 

Please see the Bible Software FAQ at
http://www.storm.ca/~sabigail/faqs/softfaq2.htm for more complete
information.

________________________________________________________

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

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

http://ebible.org/bible/ - Lots of links

http://ebible.org/bible/web/ - World English Bible

http://www.bf.org - lots of links

http://www.cdrom.com/pub/bible - lots of downloads

http://netbible.org - NET Bible

http://www.gospelcom.net/bible/ - Read and search several Bibles

_____________________________________________

Why can't I download some Bible translations?
_____________________________________________

It is probably because 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 NET Bible, the Weymoth New Testament in Modern Speech, and the God's
Living Word Translation. You can, however, download the TNIV New
Testament. You can also download the New American Standard Bible.

_____________________________________

What is the value of pi in the Bible?
_____________________________________

This is kind of a trivial question, but it seems to surface
quite often. Pi (the ratio of the circumference to the diameter
of a circle) is really not given in the Bible. There is a pair
of references that seem at first glance to indicate that this
value is 3, but a closer reading shows that it really doesn't.

Now he made the sea of cast metal ten cubits from brim to brim,
circular in form, and its height was five cubits, and thirty
cubits in circumference. Under its brim gourds went around
encircling it ten to a cubit, completely surrounding the sea;
the gourds were in two rows, cast with the rest. It stood on
twelve oxen, three facing north, three facing west, three facing
south, and three facing east; and the sea was set on top of
them, and all their rear parts turned inward. It was a
handbreadth thick, and its brim was made like the brim of a cup,
as a lily blossom; it could hold two thousand baths. - 1 Kings
7:23-26 (NASB)

2 Chronicles 4:2-5 is similar, describing the same temple
furnishing. Since the "sea" was flared "like a lily blossom",
the diameter measurement was made "from brim to brim," but the
circumference measurement was probably a direct measurement made
below the flared brim. If you paid attention in geometry class,
you could compute the amount of the flare of the brim to be
about (10-(30/3.1416 ))/2 = 0.225 cubits (about a handbreadth)
on each side. Construction of a scale model using these
dimensions and description is left as an exercise for the
reader.

________________________________

What about Bible contradictions?
________________________________

Those who claim the Bible is full of contradictions generally
only find them because they don't really read what the Bible
actually says in its own context.

To really read the Bible to find out what it means, you need
to read with the following questions in mind:

  1. What does the text say? (observation)

  2. What does it mean? (interpretation)

  3. How does it apply to me? (application)

The following guidelines are helpful in proper Bible reading:

  1. Scripture interprets Scripture. If an idea you get from one
     verse is out of line with the rest of what the Bible says,
     you need to reevaluate what you thought that verse said.
     "Let everything be established by 2 or 3 witnesses" before
     you make a doctrine of something.

  2. Literal where possible -- what it says, it means.

  3. Consider the form of the writing in each section (i. e.
     historical, narrative, parable, poetry, teaching,
     prediction of the future, etc.).

  4. Consider grammar and history. This means understanding how
     natural languages work in general, and at least something
     of how the original languages of the Bible work. It also
     means that it is helpful to understand the history,
     culture, geography, etc., of the original audience.

_____________________________________

What does the Bible say about ______?
_____________________________________

Fill in the blank. Homosexuality, ordination of women, and some
other topics tend to generate lots of discussion (and noise).
My advice to you is to search the Scriptures for yourself, and
ask God to reveal His truth to you.

___________________

Who wrote this FAQ?
___________________

If you have comments or suggestions about this FAQ, please send them to
Michael Paul Johnson at mpj@ebible.org. The master copy of this FAQ in
html is kept at http://ebible.org/bible/biblefaq.htm. The ASCII text
version is kept at ftp://ebible.org/pub/biblefaq.txt.

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