Sacred Texts

The canonical Christian Bible
(bracketed books are not accepted by all denominations)
Old Testament
PentateuchGenesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
Historical BooksJoshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, [Tobit], [Judith], Esther, [1 Maccabees], [2 Maccabees]
Wisdom BooksJob, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, (Song of Songs), [Wisdom], [Sirach]
Major ProphetsIsaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, [Baruch], Ezekiel, Daniel
Minor ProphetsHosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, Malachi
New Testament
GospelsMatthew, Mark, Luke, John
Apostolic HistoryActs
Letters of PaulRomans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon
Other LettersHebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude

Christian scriptures are gathered in the Bible. The word bible comes from the medieval Latin biblia, which means books. Not all the literature produced in Judaism and Christianity is in the Bible. The list of books collected in the Bible is called the canon, a Greek word that means rule or norm. The canon contains only those books considered authoritative, and therefore read regularly, studied, and used in religious services.

Christianity collects the Jewish scriptures in the Old Testament. Twenty-seven manuscripts from the 1st century of the Common Era are collected in the New Testament. The first Christians defined testament in the sense of "will and testament," or "covenant," so the Old Testament is the record of the sacred covenant between God and the people through Abraham and Moses, and the New Testament is the record of the new Christian covenant through Jesus.

Because Judaism and Christianity canonized, or authoritatively affirmed, the scriptures separately, the first Christians included seven books in the Old Testament that were not in the Jewish canon. The Christian Old Testament and the Jewish scriptures were different until the Protestant Reformation, when reformers revised the Old Testament canon to agree with the Jewish canon. The Catholic Bible now refers to these seven books as deuterocanonical (meaning "belonging to the second canon"), while the Protestant Bible refers to them as apocryphal (meaning "outside the canon"), and some Protestants do not recognize them as having any kind of canonical status.

The early followers of Jesus were Jews, and so their scriptures were the Jewish scriptures. They read them and studied them, praying their prayers and singing their songs. When eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus began dying, their memories became precious. People began writing them down. Soon there was a proliferation of gospels and letters, and churches began the process of vetting them for authenticity.

Athanasius of Alexandria

The idea of a New Testament canon first emerged in the 2nd century C.E., when Church leaders began making lists of the books determined to be authentically apostolic. In 367, Athanasius of Alexandria listed all twenty-seven books of the New Testament in a letter and referred to it as the canon. Athanasius's list was widely recognized in the eastern churches, and then was approved by a number of authoritative councils in the West. In this way the New Testament became the second part of the Christian Bible.

Earliest surviving text of the New Testament (ca. 120 CE): Greek text from John 18The twenty-seven books of the New Testament were all written in Greek. The four Gospels each give an account of the life of Jesus, highlighting the events leading up to and including his death by crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. They conclude with the events after his death, when followers shared stories of having seen Jesus alive again. The Book of Acts, which was originally part of the Gospel of Luke, gives an account of the first Christians and the apostles Peter and Paul.

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