Spiritual Affirmation

How to Select a Bible – How Many Books Are In Your Bible?

by Jude Wetherell

What is the Bible, and how should you pick which Bible to read? In part two of our new video series, Believe Out Loud explores the history of this central sacred text, the differences between Bibles across faith traditions and some of the reasons why Scripture varies between these different communities. Subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about future videos in the series!


Jude: The Bible is the central text of Christianity, and its stories been told and retold through the ages.

[Video clip from The Ten Commandments] Thou shalt not steal!

Jude: It brings us the wanderings of the people of Israel and opens the world to Jesus’ life and his teachings. The Bible has also sold more copies than any other book in history.[1] And there are a lot of different versions. Which one is going to work for you?

[BOL Bible Study logo]

Jude: The Bible might seem like one book. But really, it is a compendium of ancient documents and scrolls. These Jewish scriptures and early Christian writings were compiled in the Fourth Century—seventeen hundred years ago. From the beginning, the Bible has been experienced and organized differently by different faith traditions.

Many of these differences can be seen in the Hebrew Bible, or the “Old Testament.” In Jewish tradition, the Bible has twenty-four books. The first 5 books are called the Torah, then there are 8 books of writing by Prophets, and then 11 books of wisdom, literature and history, ending with Second Chronicles.

The Protestant Bible jumps up to 66 books. That’s because it divides the Old Testament into 39 books. It also ends with Malachi, one of the Prophets, instead of Chronicles.

In addition to the Old Testament, there are 27 books in the New Testament, including the Gospels and writings of Jesus’ evangelists.

With Catholic Bibles, we’re up to 73 books, while Orthodox Christians count 76 books.

Where do the extra books come in? Catholic and Orthodox Bibles include books from Greek Biblical translations that were known to early Christians.

Centuries later, Protestant Bibles were based only on the original source texts used to compile the Old Testament.

So the Bible unfolds for us in different ways through the lens of various faith traditions. We come to new understandings through our own interpretation and life experience. And we also learn more about Scripture as Biblical archaeologists make new discoveries.

For most of the past two millenniums, Bibles were based on materials from the 10th century or later. That changed with the Dead Sea Scrolls were unearthed in 1947.

British Pathe archival footage: Scholars at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem are undertaking the painstaking work of piecing together ancient Biblical scrolls found in a mountain cave near the Dead Sea…

Jude: These are the earliest versions of the Old Testament, written down nearly two thousand years ago. They may more closely reflect how Scripture was read in Jesus’ time. Many later 20th century Bibles use the Dead Sea Scrolls as their Old Testament source text.

But older Bibles like the Geneva Bible and the King James Version don’t incorporate them. For this reason, many passages in the King James Version differ from newer translations. Some include additional text.

The K.J.V. was the dominant English version for hundreds of years. It’s had a major influence on literature, politics and culture. But the way we read the Bible is changing all the time, and it will probably continue to change. A new scroll fragment from the region of Israel near the Dead Sea was unearthed as recently as early 2021.

There’s always been wide variety in the ways the Bible is read and interpreted. And most importantly, how it has been translated. So be sure like and subscribe for Part III of this series, where we’ll be talking about Biblical translation. And let us know your thoughts and questions about journeying into sacred text, in the comments.

Related Topics