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How Many Books In The Old And New Testament

There are 69 books in the Old Testament, and 27 in the New Testament. They are divided into three sections: Law, History, and Prophets; Poetry and Wisdom; Gospels.

There are 39 Old Testament books, divided into THREE parts of 12 books each. The same division is found in the New Testament, where it is called “The Four Gospels.”

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In his best-selling novel, “The Da Vinci Code,” Dan Brown wrote that the Bible was assembled during the famous Council of Nicea in 325 C.E., when Emperor Constantine and church authorities purportedly banned problematic books that didn’t conform to their secret agenda.

Except that’s not how it really went. “The Da Vinci Code” was fiction, but Brown wasn’t the first to credit the Council of Nicea with deciding which books to include in the Bible. Voltaire, writing in the 18th century, repeated a centuries-old myth that the Bible was canonized in Nicea by placing all of the known books on a table, saying a prayer and seeing which illegitimate texts fell to the floor.

In truth, there was no single church authority or council that convened to rubber stamp the biblical canon (official list of books in the Bible), not at Nicea or anywhere else in antiquity, explains Jason Combs, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University specializing in ancient Christianity.

“Dan Brown did us all a disservice,” says Combs. “We don’t have evidence that any group of Christians got together and said, ‘Let’s hash this out once and for all.'” (The Council of Nicea was convened to resolve a religious matter unrelated to the books of the Bible.)

What evidence scholars do have — in the form of theological treatises, letters and church histories that have survived for millennia — points to a much longer process of canonization. From the first through the fourth centuries and beyond, different church leaders and theologians made arguments about which books belonged in the canon, often casting their opponents as heretics.

The books that make up the Bible were written by various people over a period of more than 1,000 years, between 1200 B.C.E. and the first century C.E. The Bible contains a variety of literary genres, including poetry, history, songs, stories, letters and prophetic writings. These were originally written on scrolls of parchment, as opposed to being encapsulated in “books” as we think of them today. (Remember, the printing press wasn’t invented until 1440.)

biblical manuscripts
Rare and ancient biblical manuscripts are displayed at the “Book of Books” exhibition in the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, Israel. Note they are all on scrolls.
URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES
Over time, the books that were deemed authentic and authoritative by the communities who used them were included in the canon and the rest were discarded. Although the bulk of that editing work ended in the late 300s, the debate over which books were theologically legit continued until at least the 16th century when church reformer Martin Luther published his German translation of the Bible.

Disputed, Spurious and Downright Heretical
Luther had issues with the book of James, which emphasized the role of “works” alongside faith, so he stuck James and Hebrews in the back of the Bible alongside Jude and Revelation, which he also thought were questionable. Combs says that in Luther’s original Bible, those four books don’t even appear in the table of contents.

Eusebius was a Christian historian writing in the early 300s who provided one of the early lists of which books were considered legit and which were borderline bogus.

Eusebius broke his list down into different categories: recognized, disputed, spurious and heretical. Among the “recognized” were the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), Acts and Paul’s epistles. Under “disputed,” Eusebius included James and Jude — the same books Luther didn’t like — plus a few others that are now considered canon, like 2 Peter, 2 John and 3 John.

When Eusebius turns to the “spurious” and “heretical” categories, we get a glimpse into just how many other texts were in circulation in the second and third century C.E. Have you ever heard of the Apocalypse of Peter, the Epistle of Barnabas or the Gospel of Thomas? Combs says that there were hundreds of texts similar to those found in the New Testament and Old Testament that didn’t make it into the canon.

Making the Cut
Why did some books make the cut and not others? Combs cites three criteria used by early church leaders. The first was authorship, whether it was believed to have been written by an apostle, by Paul or by someone close to them. Mark, for example, wasn’t an apostle, but was an interpreter for Peter. The second criterium was antiquity, with older texts taking priority over newer ones. And the third was orthodoxy, or how well the text conformed with current Christian teaching.

“That last reason is so interesting, of course, because ‘current Christian teaching’ changed over hundreds of years,” says Combs.

While it’s not true to say that a single church council ruled on which books to include in the canon, it’s fair to say that over those first few centuries of theological debate, the winners got to decide which books would stay and which had to go.

It’s important to mention that not all Christian denominations consider the same books to be canon. Most Protestant Bibles have 66 books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. The Roman Catholic Bible has 73 books including the seven known as the Apocrypha. And the Ethiopian Orthodox Church includes 81 total books in its Bible, including pseudepigrapha like 1 Enoch and Jubilees.

What are the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha?
The word “apocrypha” comes from the Greek for “hidden” or “secret.” It’s a little confusing, because the word apocrypha is used in a couple of different ways when talking about books outside of the standard biblical canon.

First, there’s the category of “New Testament Apocrypha” which includes a long list of non-canonical texts written mostly in the second century C.E. and beyond that pertain to Jesus and his apostles. As Combs says, there are hundreds of these texts and we don’t have written specimens for all of them.

Then there’s a subset of Old Testament books that are included in the Roman Catholic Bible. These seven books, including Tobit, Judith and 1 & 2 Maccabees, are published between the Old and New Testaments in the Catholic Bible and called “the Apocrypha” or sometimes the “Deuterocanon” which means “second canon.”

And then there’s a third category called “pseudepigrapha” from the Greek for “false author.” This list includes more than 50 texts written between 200 B.C.E. and 200 C.E. by both Jewish and Christian writers expanding on stories and characters from the Old Testament. Notable Old Testament pseudepigrapha include 1 Enoch, Jubilees and the Treatise of Shem.

Stories You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School
Many of the New Testament texts familiar to Christians today were being used authoritatively already in the second century, but different congregations preferred some texts over others and included some texts that don’t appear in the New Testament. Here are a few:

The Gospel of Peter: Only a fragment of this text was recovered in 1886 in Egypt, but it includes the only narrative account of the resurrected Jesus leaving his tomb. According to Peter’s version, two giant angels descended to the tomb and escorted the resurrected Jesus out, who was also suddenly gigantic. But the oddest note was that the three figures were followed by a floating cross that could talk.

“And they heard a voice from the heavens, saying, ‘Thou hast preached to them that sleep.’ And a response was heard from the cross, ‘Yea.'”

The Gospel of Mary: Combs says that some apocryphal texts reflected theological and doctrinal debates going on within the early church, such as the role of women. In the Gospel of Mary (discovered in the late 19th century), Mary Magdalene is not only referred to as one of Jesus’s disciples, but perhaps his favorite one. In this text, after Jesus is resurrected, he relays esoteric teachings to Mary, who then tells the other disciples. Peter asks why they should listen to a woman, to which another disciple Levi [Matthew] responds:

“If the Savior made her worthy, who are you then, for your part, to cast her aside? Surely the Savior knows her full well. That is why he has loved her more than us.”

1 Enoch: Purportedly written by the ancient prophet Enoch before the time of Noah, this text was well-known to early Christians like third-century theologian Tertullian and quoted as authoritative scripture. The text is famous for its description of the “Watchers,” fallen angels mentioned briefly in the Old Testament book of Genesis. These angels lusted after human women and came down to Earth to be with them, creating giant offspring. In 1 Enoch, these angels also introduce evil into the world in the form of weapons, magic and sexy makeup.

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The most read book of all time is the Bible, surpassing favorites such as The Lord of the Rings series, the Harry Potter series, and even classics like The Diary of Anne Frank and To Kill a Mockingbird. It is recorded by Business Insider that the Bible has sold 3.9 billion copies over the last 50 years, while the Harry Potter series has sold 400 million copies.

What is it about the Bible that has made it the book to “turn to” for the last half-century? It is a book that also has various translations to choose from and even different representations among the Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant faiths. The Book of Hebrews states it best when explaining why the Word of God is something everyone is drawn to:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart, (Hebrews 4:12).

Let’s journey through the origins of the Bible, learning as we go of how the Bible has affected not only the lives of countless people but has also become the foundational building blocks for the leading faiths in our world today.

How Many Books Are in the Bible?
To offer a brief overview, the current English Bible consists of 66 books with two distinct sections: The Old Testament (39 books) and the New Testament (27 books). The two sections are arranged this way to highlight the birth of Jesus, with the Old Testament sharing the emerging prophecies of the Messiah and Jesus’ actual birth, death, and resurrection taking place at the start of the New Testament with the Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

There are about 50 versions of the English Bible in circulation, with revised versions well into the hundreds. The most popular of the Bible translations is that of King James Version, which is also public domain and doesn’t require obtaining permission for reprinting Scripture verses in published books. Bible Study Tools even has a list of the best-known versions and translations of the Bible for readers to peruse, with a brief explanation of each version.

What’s the Difference Between the Hebrew Bible and the Protestant Bible?
How the Bible was established to include what it does of stories and parables is part of the canonization process, which is, initially, a Christian communion performed by the Roman Catholic Church (as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church) to appoint selected deceased members of the church into the determined canon, or list, to be considered a saint in the church.

The same process was applied to determine what books of the Bible would be included, seen as to whether they were inspired by the Spirit or not, to be the authorized Word of God. It comes from the Greek word “kanon,” which means reed or measurement.

The Hebrew Bible consists of 24 books, believed to be determined by the councils of Jamnia in AD 90 and 118 as the list of books to be part of the Bible. There is still debate over what all the council selected to be canonized of the Bible, as this council has only been mentioned in ancient Hebrew writings and no confirmation has been found that this council existed or what they canonized. It is believed the Hebrew Bible was written between 1200 to 100 BC and has been in its current form since the second century BC.

The believed criteria used to determine what books were to be canonized, as the Word of God, may have included prophetic authorship (text written by an apostle or prophet), inner witnesses of the Holy Spirit, eyewitness testimonies, and then the final acceptance of the book by the people. Given that Jesus’ disciples were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ actions and words, they were the ones to give authorization of the New Testament and whether something was divinely inspired or not.

The Hebrew Bible and the Protestant Bible have the same content in the Old Testament, but the organization is different, such as, for example, the Hebrew Bible has one book of Samuel while the Protestant Bible has two. Primarily for those of Jewish faith, especially Messianic Jews, the first five books of the Bible are the Torah (or Pentateuch) and the main asset of the Bible, detailing how God chose Abraham to be the father of many nations and established the Law (Ten Commandments) as the way to live for God. The New Testament is seen as commentary to the Torah/Old Testament.

What’s the Difference Between the Protestant Bible and the Catholic Bible?
The Protestant Bible comprises much of the Hebrew Bible but organizes the stories into a larger collection than its Jewish predecessor. While the Hebrew Bible was formed entirely from ancient scrolls (24 for each book), the Protestant Bible combines the Hebrew Bible with the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible written in the third and second century BC.

The Eastern/Greek Orthodox Church may use the New King James Version or other translations that allow more of the Greek translation to be used, coupled with their belief that the Bible’s New Testament, with the story of Jesus, is precedent over the Old Testament. The Catholic Bible consists of 46 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament (which is the same NT as the Protestant Bible).

The additional Old Testament sections in the Catholic Bible are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Baruch (includes Letters of Jeremiah), I and II Maccabees, and additional sections for the books of Daniel and Esther. Those of the Catholic faith believe what is in their Bible was canonized by the Synod of Rome council and the early church in AD 382.

It was decided several years later, during the Reformation, by Protestants to follow more of the Greek translations of the Bible instead of the entire Hebrew Bible, which had been canonized and accepted in the original King James Bible by the Catholic Church.

Thus, the Apocrypha is present in the Catholic Bible as the collection of books not found in the Protestant Bible. They can be found in the original 1611 King James Bible but were pulled from the Bible in 1885 and named “deuterocanonical books.”

Other Bible Translations for Other Faiths
Jehovah’s Witnesses use their own version of the Bible, New World Translation of Holy Scriptures, which they believe is more accurate, clearer, and has God’s name listed as they believe it should in the text. Before this version, Jehovah’s Witnesses heavily consorted to the King James Bible.

For Mormons, there are four books they hold as the Word of God: The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ (which have believed records of how God interacted with people of America from 2000 BC to 400 AD), the King James Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants (collection of declarations about the formation and regulation of the Church of Jesus Christ in the last days), and The Pearl of Great Price (writings from Mormon church founder Joseph Smith).

What Does This Mean?
One can see while learning the path toward the creation of the Bible, that it is still one open to interpretation of whose Bible relates most to God’s spoken word on paper. The debate over using canonized Scripture or more Greek translation-infused Scripture will continue, as more people gravitate to reading and studying the Bible and the truth of the Holy Trinity.

What is hoped is readers find a translation that allows their relationship with God to bloom and strengthen their awareness that Jesus lived and died for us so that we would be united with God for eternity.

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