What is the Bible?
The Bible is a collection of 66 individual books that together tell the story of a group of people bound by a common faith in God. It is divided into two main sections: the Old Testament containing 39 books originally written primarily in Hebrew and the New Testament containing 27 books originally written primarily in Greek. For Presbyterians and others of the Reformed tradition the Bible is the means by which Christian believers come to understand how God has been present with humanity since the beginning of time and is present in our world today. By studying the scriptures we can begin to know of God’s faithfulness, constant love and eternal goodness.
The Old Testament tells the story of God’s covenant with the Hebrew people. It is regarded as sacred scripture by both Jews and Christians.
The New Testament contains four accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the account of the earliest Christian churches and other writings from the early Christian era. It is considered sacred scripture by Christians.
The Bible has been translated from its original languages into the languages of people throughout the world. The first translation into English was by John Wycliffe in the 14th century. Since that time, there have been a myriad of English translations. One of the most familiar, the King James Version (KJV), was commissioned by James I of England and published in 1611. Although the language of the King James Bible reflected the everyday speech of England in the 17th century, changes in speech patterns and the meaning of certain words have made it more difficult to understand than more modern translations.
Since the 1950s, there have been many translations of the Bible into contemporary English. Translations frequently used by Presbyterians in their worship services include the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). Both are considered excellent translations that are faithful to the original texts insofar as scholars can determine.
The church confesses the Scriptures to be the Word of God written, witnessing to God’s self-revelation. Where that Word is read and proclaimed, Jesus Christ the Living Word is present by the inward witness of the Holy Spirit. For this reason the reading, hearing, preaching, and confessing of the Word are central to Christian worship. The session shall ensure that in public worship the Scripture is read and proclaimed regularly in the common language(s) of the particular church.
—Book of Order, W-2.2001
Leaders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can be expected to affirm that “… the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments … [are] … by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to [them].”
—Book of Order, W-4.4003b