6 Things You Need to Know When You Read the Bible


For many people, a bit of background information can help make the experience of studying any subject matter richer. That is definitely true of the Bible. As we prepare to read and study Scripture, it is helpful to know something about what we’re actually reading and studying. Here are 6 important things you need to know about the Bible.

1. The Bible Is One Book and Many Books

While we see the Bible as one book today, it is also a collection of writings. These writings focus on God’s relationship with humanity from the beginning of the world until its ultimate restoration at the end of history. They also explain God’s character and will, and provide us wisdom and guidance to live faithfully today.

How many books are in the Bible?

In the Protestant canon (meaning the collection of recognized writings), the Bible comprises 66 books. Roman Catholic, Greek and Russian Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox Bibles contain additional books within their canon. (See the complete list of the Roman Catholic Bible canon here).

Protestants refer to these additional works as the Apocrypha. These are works or questioned or unknown origins that are considered beneficial and encouraging but not authoritative in their place within the Christian life.

2. The Bible Is God’s Word

To call the Bible “God’s Word” is to say that it is God’s message to humanity. It tells us what God wants us to know about who he is, what he is like, what he has done and is doing in the world, and how he expects us to live.

The Old and New Testaments both affirm the Bible as the Word of God. Verses like Proverbs 30:52 Timothy 3:16Matthew 4:4, and John 17:17 are just a handful that state this truth.

Because the Bible is God’s Word and tells us all that we need to know to live faithfully, Christians should study it regularly.

3. The Bible Was Written by God Through Human Authors

The Bible was written by more than 40 distinct authors over 1500–1600 years. While the names of some of these authors are unknown, the majority are known to us through tradition. This is why Christians attribute the first five books of the Bible to Moses, for example.

Many New Testament books, like the Gospels, are named for their authors. Others identify their author within their text, as in Paul’s epistles. Only the author Hebrews is unknown.

While humans wrote the Bible, but they didn’t write it alone. God was actively involved in the process, inspiring the words of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV). He sometimes gave precise messages to write down (Habakkuk 2:2). More often, he guided the authors’ thoughts so that what their intended message was also his.

4. We Can Trust That the Bible Hasn’t Been Changed or Lost

Because the Bible was written more than 1500 years ago, we do not have access to the original manuscripts. Instead, we have copies that have been faithfully transcribed and shared over the centuries. The oldest fragments we have of the Old Testament writings date back to the fourth century BC, and were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. More copies of the New Testament are available than any other ancient writing.

That might concern some people because they could think that its message has been changed or lost over time. But the large number of copies and the consistency between them means that we can trust that the Bible we have today contains the message of its original authors. We recommend you read Why I Trust the Bible: Answers to Real Questions and Doubts People Have about the Bible by William D. Mounce.

5. The Bible Was Not Written in English

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. It has been translated into hundreds of languages since it was first written. The earliest translation of the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, is the Septuagint, which was completed around 130 BC. (The Septuagint is referenced frequently by the New Testament authors.)

The first complete translation of the Bible in the Christian era was an Aramaic translation completed in the mid-first century. A complete translation into Latin, the Vulgate, was completed in the late-fourth century, with other translations into many languages following throughout the centuries.

Do I need to know the original languages to study the Bible?

Knowing the original languages is not required to study the Bible. We are blessed to have a wealth of resources to help us understand the meaning of the Scriptures without having to know the original languages. (Bible Gateway has several tools to help!)

Need help understanding what we mean when we refer to the “original languages?” Read What was the original language of the Bible? on the Bible Gateway Blog..

Why are there so many different Bible translations?

There are hundreds of translations of the Bible because Christians want people to be able to know and understand the message of Scripture. That’s why it has been translated into more than 700 languages, with another 2000 translation projects in the works.

The Bible has been translated into English many times throughout history. The earliest English translation was completed by John Wycliffe in the mid-14th century. William Tyndale translated the Bible into early modern English in the 1500s. His Bible was influential in the creation of the King James Version.

King James Version of the Bible was first published in 1611 after being commissioned by King James of England. It was the preeminent English translation for over 300 years. It continues to be among the most popular today.

In the 21st century, more than 100 Bible translations are in the English language that vary in approach but all are developed from available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. (You can read more about the history of English translations translation approaches.)

Bible Gateway is grateful to be a part of helping make the Bible accessible to all people, and have visitors using the free tools available on the site from virtually every area of the world, in dozens of languages.

To see a complete list of the Bibles on Bible Gateway, visit to the Available Versions page.

6. The Bible Testifies to Jesus Christ

The Bible has many themes within it, but from beginning to end, the Bible is ultimately about God’s plan to rescue and redeem people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All of Scripture, from beginning to end, testifies to this truth, as Jesus himself taught (John 5:39-40Luke 24:27).

We need to keep this in mind when we read and study the Bible. It helps us to better understand how the New Testament authors understood and interpreted the Old Testament. And it helps us to keep our focus on the main point of Scripture: Jesus.

Read With Confidence

As you consider these points about the Bible, we hope they help you to read with confidence. No matter what Bible version you read, and regardless of your experience studying Scripture, there is good news waiting for you in its pages.

10 Tips for Studying Your Bible

Note: The products linked above are published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.

Bible Gateway is the internet's premier Bible reading and research tool. With more than 200 versions of the Bible in over 70 languages freely available to read, research, and reference anywhere — plus a library of audio Bibles, mobile apps, devotionals, email newsletters, and more — Bible Gateway equips you not only to read the Bible, but to understand it.

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