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American Tract Society Bible Dictionary


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This word signifies the Book, by way of distinction, the Book of all books. It is also called Scripture, or the Scriptures, that is, the writings. It comprises the Old and New Testaments, or more properly, Covenants, Exodus 24:7 ; Matthew 26:28 . The former was written mostly in Hebrew, and was the Bible of the ancient Jewish church; a few chapters of Daniel and Ezra only were written in Chaldee. The latter was wholly written in Greek, which was the language most generally understood in Judea and the adjacent countries first visited by the gospel. The entire Bible is the rule of faith to all Christians, and not the New Testament alone; though this is of especial value as unfolding the history and doctrines of our divine Redeemer and of his holy institutions. The fact that God gave the inspired writings to men in the languages most familiar to the mass of the people who received them, proves that he intended they should be read not by the learned alone, but by all the people, and in their own spoken language.

The Old Testament contains thirty-nine books. Josephus and the church fathers mention a division into twenty-two books, corresponding with the twenty-two letter of the Hebrew alphabet. But we have no sufficient evidence that such a division obtained among the Jews themselves. They arranged the books of the Old Testament in three divisions, called, the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, that is, the Holy Writings. The Law embraces the five books of Moses. These are divided into convenient sections to be read through once a year in their synagogues. The second division, the Prophets, is subdivided into the former prophets, namely, the historical books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings; and the later, that is, the prophets proper, with the exception of the book of Daniel. The later prophets are once more distributed into the greater-Isaiah, Jeremiah, (not including Lamentations,) and Ezekiel; and the less-the twelve minor prophets. Selection from both the earlier and the later prophets are read in the synagogues along with the sections of the Law; but these don not embrace the whole of the prophets, and the arrangement of them differs among different divisions of the Jews. The Holy Writings (Hagiographa) embrace all the remaining books of the Old Testament, namely, (according to the Masorectic arrangement,) Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles. In the arrangement of the Old Testament books now prevalent, the historical books come first, then the devotional and didactic, and lastly the prophetical. The Jews ascribe to Ezra the honor of arranging and completing the canon of the Old Testament books, being inspired for this work by the Spirit of God, and aided by the learned and pious Jews of his day. The New Testament writings were received each one by itself from the hands of the apostles, and were, as their inspired works, gradually collected into one volume to the exclusion of all others.

The division into chapters and verses was not made until comparatively modern time, though there appears to have been a more ancient separation into short sections or paragraphs. The chapters now used were arranged probably by Cardinal Hugo, above the year 1240. The division into verses was made in the Old Testament in 1450, and recognized in the Hebrew Concordance of Rabbi Nathan. The arrangement of the verses of the New Testament as we now have them was perfected in the Latin Vulgate, an edition of which with verses was published by Robert Stephens, a learned French printer, in 1551. He also modified and completed the division of the Old Testament into verses, in an edition of the whole Bible, the Vulgate, in 1555. This division into verses, and even into chapters, having regard more to convenience of reference than to the meaning must often be disregarded in reading in order to get the true sense.

The genuineness, authenticity, and divine origin of the Scriptures cannot be here discussed. The reader is referred to the treatises of Bogue, Gregory, Keith, McIlvaine, Nelson, Spring, etc., published by the American Tract Society, and numerous other valuable and standard works.

The first well-know English translation of the New Testament was that of Wicliffe, made about 1370, before the invention of printing; though others had been made, one as early as king Alfred, of parts of the Bible into Saxon. In the time of Edward I, 1250, it required the earnings of a day laborer for fifteen years to purchase a manuscript copy of the entire Bible. Now, a printed copy may be had for the earning of a few hours. The first printed English Testament was that of Tyndal, in 1526, which was afterwards followed by his translation of the Pentalteuch. The first complete English Bible is that of Myles Coverdale, in 1535. Matthew's Bible appeared in 1537. Coverdale and some other prelates, who resided at Geneva during the bloody reign of Mary, published there another edition in 1560, hence called the Geneva Bible. At the accession of queen Elizabeth a new revision was made, which appeared in 1568, and is called the Bishop's Bible. This continued in use till our present English version, made by order of James I, was published in 1611. The first copy of this was made by forty-seven of the most learned men in England, divided into six companies. This first copy was then revised by a committee of twelve, or two from each of the six companies; and then again by two others. The work of translation and revision occupied between four and five years; and the faithful, clear, and vigorous standard Bible thus secured, is an enduring monument of the learning, wisdom, and fidelity of the translators.

One of the most remarkable movements of modern time, and that which holds out the greatest promise of good for the coming triumphs of the Redeemer's kingdom, and the temporal as well as spiritual welfare of future generations, is the mighty effort which is making to circulate the holy Scriptures, not only in Christian, but also in heathen lands. In the year 1804, the British and Foreign Bible Society was formed; and the success which has attended this glorious object has by far exceeded the most sanguine expectations of its founders and supporters. "Their voice has gone out through all the earth of the world." During the first fifty years of this society, it printed or assisted in printing the Scriptures in 148 languages, in about sixty of which they had never before been printed, and issued upwards of 29,000,000 copies of the sacred writings. The Scriptures have now been published in about 220 different languages and dialects. Other similar association have followed nobly this glorious example; and of these none had labored with more effect than the American Bible Society, which was formed in 1816, and has now, 1859, issued thirteen millions of Bibles and Testaments.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of the topics are from American Tract Society Bible Dictionary published in 1859.

Bibliography Information
Rand, W. W. Entry for 'Bible'. American Tract Society Bible Dictionary. 1859.

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