The Bible

The Bible

A page from a 17th century Armenian BibleA page from a 17th century Armenian Bible The Bible is a collection of 66 books that together tell the story of God’s relationship with humankind. The books of the Bible were written over a period of about 1600 years, beginning around 1400 BC. Many of the stories were passed from one generation to the next by word of mouth before being written down. The Christian Bible is divided into two parts: the Old and New Testament. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, the language of the Jews, and the New Testament in Greek. The Old Testament, also called the Hebrew or Jewish Bible, contains the sacred writings of the Jewish religion. The first five books—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—make up the Torah, a word meaning “teaching” in Hebrew.

Map of the Ancient Near EastMap of the Ancient Near East

A view of the Sea of Galilee todayA view of the Sea of Galilee today

Holy Land

The Bible’s 39 books tell the story of the people of ancient Israel. Most of the events in the Bible take place in or around the Holy Land, known at various times as as Canaan, Israel or Palestine, but the lands of the Bible include the Fertile Crescent, an arc of land stretching eastwards from Israel to Mesopotamia and Sumer, the rich farming land that lies between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in modern Iraq, and, in the other direction, Egypt, the great civilization on the banks of the Nile to the southwest of the Holy Land.

Bible glossary

Abraham   Abraham was the founder of the Jewish nation. He was originally called Abram, but his name was changed by God to Abraham. He travelled to Canaan on God’s command. God promised Abraham that his descendants would form a great nation.

Adam   The first human created by God, who lived with Eve in the Garden of Eden. They were both expelled for disobeying God.

Ahab   The King of Israel, who worshipped the pagan god, Baal.

Ai   Ai means "City of Ruin". It was burnt to the ground by Joshua and the Israelites.

Anointing   The applying or marking with oil or ointment a person who has been chosen for holy service. In the Bible, priests, prophets and kings were anointed.

Apostles   The original group of twelve men chosen by Jesus to learn from him and carry on his teaching after his death. Paul, who converted to Christianity after Jesus was crucified, is also considered to be an apostle. Disciple is another word for apostle.

Archangel   An important angel

Ark of the Covenant   The box built to contain the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. It was believed to represent the presence of God.

Ascension   Jesus’s return to heaven at the end of his life on Earth.

Assyria   A powerful empire in northern Mesopotamia. The Assyrians conquered Israel.

Baal   The most important of the Canaanite gods.

Babylon   A city on the River Euphrates and the centre of an empire that destroyed Jerusalem, and to where the Jews were taken into captivity.

Baptism   The ceremony using water to wash away, or cleanse someone, of their sins, and which marks a person’s decision to become a Christian. Water may be sprinkled on someone’s head, or they may be immersed in it.

Barabbas   The robber whose release the people of Jerusalem demanded when Pontius Pilate offered them the choice of him or Jesus to be put to death.

Barnabas   Barnabas was a missionary from Cyprus. He travelled with Paul, preaching God’s message.

Bethlehem   Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David. It was here that Mary gave birth to Jesus, centuries later.

Birthright   A father’s blessing to his firstborn son. It gave the son leadership over his brothers, but also the responsibility to care for his family after his father died.

Blessing   The gift of holy protection.

Caiaphas   High Priest of the Jews at the time when Jesus was captured, tried and handed over to the Romans for execution.

Canaan   Canaan is the name of the land promised to the Israelites by God.

Capernaum   A town on the west shore of the Sea of Galiee, home to Peter and some of the other disciples, and where Jesus began his teaching after being baptized by John the Baptist.

Christ   see Messiah

Crucifixion   A means of execution by tying or nailing someone to a wooden cross, used by the Romans for punishment.

Daniel   Daniel was exiled to Babylon as a teenager. He was a trusted wise man, with the ability to interpret dreams. He was thrown to the lions, but survived unharmed.

David   David was one of the kings of Israel. He defeated the giant, Goliath, when he was just a boy and became a great leader.

Disciple   see apostle

Eden, Garden of   God created Eden for all people to live in. It was a paradise land from which four rivers flowed out into the world. It is usually identified with MesopotamiaAdam and Eve were expelled from the Garden when they disobeyed God.

Elijah   Elijah was a prophet who was transported up to heaven in a chariot of fire when he died.

Esther   Esther was a beautiful Jewess who saved the Jews in Persia by exposing one of the King’s officials as a traitor.

Exile   The period that the inhabitants of Israel spent in Babylon after the kingdoms of Judah and Israel were conquered.

Exodus   The journey the Israelites made from Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan.

Ezekiel   Ezekiel lived in Babylon during the exile of the Jews. He prophesied their return to Judah.

Gabriel   An archangel sent by God to announce the birth of baby Jesus to Mary

Galilee   The region where Jesus grew up. The Sea of Galilee is central to many of the Gospel stories.

Gentile   A person who was not a Jew.

Gethsemane   The Garden on the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem where Jesus was arrested by soldiers of the Jewish authorities.

Golgotha   The place outside Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified.

Goliath   The mighty Philistine warrior defeated by David.

Gospel   The teaching that God has redeemed humankind (forgiven peoples’ sins) through Jesus Christ. "Gospel" is also the name given to each of the first four books of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—which tell the story of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection.

Hebrew   Another word for a Jew. Hebrew is also the name of the language of the Israelites. Modern Hebrew is one of the two official languages of the modern state of Israel (the other is Arabic).

Herod   The ruler of Judea during the early years of Jesus’s life. He was told about the birth of a new king by the magi (wise men). Fearing that this king would take his throne, he ordered that all male children under two years be killed.

Holy spirit   An invisible “life force” and one of the ways God chose to make his presence known to people on Earth.

Isaac   Isaac was the son God gave to Abraham and Sarah when they were both very old. His name means “laughter”, because his parents laughed in disbelief when God told them they would have a son.

Isaiah   A prophet who foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon and the coming of the Messiah.

Israel   Another name for the Promised Land. It was divided into the twelve Hebrew tribes. When the kingdom of Israel was divided after the death of Solomon, Israel was the name given to the northern kingdom.

Jacob   Jacob was the son of Isaac. After tricking his dying father, he fled to Haran. Here he married his cousin, Rachel. His name means “usurper”, because he stole the birthright of his brother Esau. His name later changed to Israel, meaning “he who has fought with the Lord”.

Jeremiah   The prophet who foresaw the capture of the Israelites by Babylon.

Jericho   The first city to be defeated by Joshua when he led the Israelites into Canaan. Jericho is one of the oldest cities in the world.

Jeroboam   The man who became king of the northern kingdom of Israel when Israel was divided after the death of Solomon.

Jerusalem   The Israelite capital city. Jerusalem means “City of Peace”, but the city has been fought over by Jews, Christians and Muslims for many years. The temple was built to house the Ark of the Covenant during the reign of Solomon.

Jesus   The name Jesus, a variation of Joshua, means “saviour”. Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God, sent by God to save them.

Jews   The name given to the Israelites when they were in Exile in Babylon. Originally applied only to those from Judah (Judea), after the Exile it came to mean everyone of the Jewish faith.

John the Baptist   John the Baptist was sent by God to announce the coming of Jesus. He was the son of Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, and also a cousin to Jesus.

Jonah   Jonah was swallowed by a whale when he disobeyed God’s command. He was only set free when he repented.

Jordan, River   The River Jordan flows from Mount Hernon to the Dead Sea. John the Baptist baptized Jesus in this river.

Joseph   Joseph was the husband of Mary, mother of Jesus. He worked as a carpenter in Nazareth.

Joseph, son of Jacob   Sold by his brothers as a slave, he was taken to Egypt where he eventually became the pharaoh’s vizier (the equivalent of prime minister).

Joseph of Arimathea   A follower of Jesus who took Jesus’s body from the cross and buried it.

Joshua   After Moses died, Joshua was chosen to lead the Israelites. He led them from the desert into Canaan, which he divided between the twelve tribes.

Judah   Named after the tribe that lived in this area, Judah is made up of the Judean Hills south of Jerusalem and the desert bordering the Dead Sea. When kingdom of Israel was divided after the death of Solomon, Judah was the name given to the southern kingdom. Known also by the Roman name, Judea (or Judaea), its capital city is Jerusalem.

Judas Iscariot   Judas betrayed Jesus to the Jewish authorities for thirty pieces of silver.

Judges   Leaders of the Israelite tribes between the death of Joshua and Samuel.

Lazarus   Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha. When he died, Jesus brought him back to life.

Mary   A young Jewish woman chosen by God to bear his son, Jesus Christ.

Mary Magdalene   A friend and follower of Jesus. She was the first person to see Jesus when he rose from the dead.

Messiah   A name meaning “one chosen by God”, also known as “the anointed one” or “saviour”. Christos (Christ) was the Greek translation.

Ministry   The work of teaching people about God and how Christians should lead their lives.

Moses   The man who led the Jewish people during their Exodus from Egypt. He received the Ten Commandments from God and was the first and greatest prophet.

Nazareth   The town in Galilee where Jesus grew up. He is often known as Jesus of Nazareth.

Noah   The man favoured by God to build an ark so that his family and the world’s creatures would survive the Great Flood.

St Paul   Native of Tarsus in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) Paul was an apostle and a great missionary.

Parable   A short, simple story that uses people’s ordinary lives to illustrate a point about Christian teaching.

Passover   The annual commemoration of the night when God killed all the firstborn children of Egypt in order to force the Egyptians to allow the Israelites to return to the Promised Land. God “passed over” the houses of the Israelites, identified by their doors having lambs’ blood smeared on them.

Patriarch   The male head of a tribe. The four Patriarchs in the Old Testament were Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

Persecution   The harassment or ill-treatment of people, especially because of their race or religious beliefs.

Peter   Originally known as Simon, Jesus called him Peter, a word meaning the “the rock” in Greek. He was a fisherman who became one of Jesus’s twelve disciples, together with his brother, Andrew. After Christ’s death, he became the founder of the Church of Rome.

Pharisees   Learned teachers of the Torah, the Jewish law.

Philistines   A group of pagan peoples, sometimes called the "Sea Peoples", who settled on the southwestern shores of Canaan, and gave that region its name: Palestine. They were often at war with the Israelites.

Pontius Pilate   The Roman governor in charge of Judea during Jesus’s life. He condemned Jesus to death at the request of the Jews.

Promised Land   A region on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean and at the western end of the Fertile Crescent that was promised by Abraham, the ancestor of all Israelites, to be the home of his descendants, a land where they could live in freedom. It was first known as Canaan, later as Israel or Palestine.

Prophet   A man or woman called by God to speak to the people on his behalf. They guided the Israelites, warning of any troubles that lay ahead.

Psalms   Sacred songs, poems and prayers collected together as one of the books in the Bible’s Old Testament. By tradition, many were written by King David.

Rebekah   Wife of Isaac, mother of Jacob and Esau.

Rehoboam   Son of Solomon, whose misrule caused ten of the twelve Hebrew tribes to break away and form the northern kingdom of Israel.

Resurrection   Being restored to life after death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a central part of Christian faith.

Ritual   Words or actions that form part of a religious ceremony.

Sacrifice   The offering of living animals or people to God made as an act of worship. A sacrifice involved ritual killing.

Sadducees   An elite group of Jews who insisted that the strict laws laid down in the time of Moses be kept. They were rivals of the Pharisees, but both groups came together to convict Jesus.

Samaria   A city and region in central Israel. The Samaritans were despised by Jews because they intermarried with non-Jews.

Samson   Samson ruled Israel as one of the Judges for twenty years. He was known for his great physical strength.

Samuel   Samuel was the last great Judge of Israel, and one of the first prophets.

Saul   Chosen by Samuel to be the first King of Israel.

Scriptures   Writings that are regarded as the word of God. For Jews, the Scriptures are the books of the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible. For Christians, the Scriptures also include the New Testament.

Sin   A term meaning a rebellion against God, or one of God’s laws.

Sinai   A desert peninsula to the southwest of Israel. Moses received the Ten Commandments on a mountain in Sinai.

Solomon   Solomon, son of King David, was King of Israel. He built the great Temple in Jerusalem which he dedicated to God and His Ark of the Covenant.

Temple   The centre of Jewish worship, built by Solomon to house the Ark of the Covenant. It was the only place where sacrifices could be made.

Ten Commandments   Laws given by God. God gave them to Moses on Mount Sinai. Inscribed on two stone tablets, they were the terms of a covenant, or agreement, made between God and the Israelites.

Ur   A city in Sumeria, Mesopotamia, where Abraham was born.

Yahweh   The Hebrew name for God. Actually YHWH, the written version “Yahweh” is the most common, although no one knows what the original vowels and pronunciation were.

Zacchaeus   A rich but dishonest tax collector. He changed his ways when he met Jesus in Jericho.

Zion   A hill near Jerusalem that has become another name for the city itself, or even the whole of Israel.

See also in Culture

The word “Bible” comes from the Latin word “biblia” (itself from the same word in Greek), meaning “the books”.

Annual sales of the Bible around the world are estimated to be about 100 million copies.

The Gutenberg Bible, printed by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany in the 1450s, was the first mass-produced book in the West.

There are a number of versions of the Christian Bible, each with a different selection of books and a different ordering, used by the different forms of Christianity—Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox etc. The books in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible are placed in a different order to those in the Jewish Bible.

Islam identifies three sets of books from the Bible as revelations from God given to trusted messengers: the first five books of the Old Testament or Torah (Tawrat) given to Moses (Musa); the Psalms (Zabur) given to David (Daud); the Gospels (Injil ) given to Jesus (Isa). Together with the Qur'an, these books from the Bible make up Islam's Scriptures.

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