There’s a lot of really interesting stuff to learn about the Bible beyond its core message. I’m keeping a running list of really interesting facts that I’ve learned about the Bible—feel free to comment with some that you think should make the list
Want more than just the facts?I wrote The Beginner’s Guide to the Bible to give people a non-preachy, jargon-free overview of what the Bible is, what it’s for, and what it’s all about. You’ll walk away from it with enough knowledge to have a thoughtful conversation about the Bible with a pastor, an atheist, or anyone else.
1. The Bible’s content was written over the course of at least 500 years
If you grew up with a lot of exposure to the Bible, it might be easy to assume the authors of the books of the Bible were like modern journalists: writing things down as they happened. However, this was not the case. The Bible includes stories from the first century CE as well as stories about the beginnings of the cosmos—but most biblical scholars agree that the books we find these stories in reached their present forms between 350 BCE and 150 CE.
Of course, these books reference sources from outside that window. For example, parts of the Torah rely on oral traditions and writings that are much older than the present form of the Pentateuch, and the Song of Deborah (the fifth chapter in the book of Judges) is often referred to as one of the oldest works of Hebrew poetry in the Bible.
2. The Bible was written in three languages
Those languages are Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Most of our Old Testament was written in Hebrew, which was the language the original readers spoke. A few bits of the Old Testament were written Aramaic (looking at you, Ezra and Daniel). The New Testament was written in Greek, the commonly-spoken language of the time.
If you’d like to learn how to study the Bible in these languages yourself, check out Zondervan Academic’s certificate program.*
3. The Bible was written on three continents
Most was written in what is modern-day Israel (Asia). But some passages of Jeremiah were written in Egypt (Africa) and several New Testament epistles were written from cities in Europe.
This is important to keep in mind when reading the Bible: it wasn’t written in a single room by a unified group of people. Instead, these writings were accumulated over the centuries and eventually compiled into the volume we call “the Bible” today.
4. The Bible was written by more than 40 traditional contributors (in reality, there were many more)
The books of the Bible are traditionally attributed to heroes of the Jewish and Christian faiths. Moses is given credit for the first five books of the Bible, most of the prophets are given credit for the books named after them, etc.
The reality is a bit messier than this, of course. While many Christians see Moses as a historical figure, we don’t have any evidence that he existed outside the Bible itself—so it’s more likely that the books attributed to Moses were written by various religious leaders over the centuries. Similarly, it’s unlikely that Jonah wrote the book of Jonah, Isaiah may have had some help over the centuries, and so on and so forth.
Plus, there are some books whose authors we just don’t know, like the New Testament book of Hebrews.
5. Most of the people who wrote the Bible were of Hebrew ethnicity
More than 75% of the Bible’s text is in the Old Testament, which was predominantly written by Hebrew prophets and scribes. Likewise, most of the New Testament was written by Christian Jews.
6. All Christian Bible canons contain the same 66 “core” books
While Catholic and Orthodox traditions contain a few more books in their Bibles, every major Christian sect acknowledges the 66 books in the Protestant Bible as canonical. Centuries after Christianity had begun, Judaism established their canonical Hebrew Bible. This is identical in content to the Protestant Old Testament today. Christians, however, continued using several significant documents from the Septuagint, a Greek translation of many sacred Hebrew books (such as the works of Tobit and Judith).
During the Reformation, Martin Luther pushed for the Protestant canon to distinguish between books that the Jews had considered canonical and the other books that had been used by Christians along the way. These other books are called the deuterocanon (“second canon”), and were originally pushed to the back of the Old Testament in Protestant Bibles. Eventually these books were dropped from later printed editions of the Protestant Bible, but remain in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles.
7. Chapters and verses were added in the 1200s CE
The original books of the Bible were not divided into chapters and verses. These came about a thousand years after the last book of the Bible had been written. This makes it much easier to tell other people what parts of the Bible you’re referencing!
8. The Bible is a mix of proactive and reactive texts
Each book of the Bible is a product of its time. Some books were written in reaction to certain events, such as Lamentations being written in reaction to the fall of Jerusalem. Others were more proactive, prescribing principles or teachings for readers moving forward. (Proverbs is a great example of this!)
Each book was written to ancient readers (i.e., not us!), and then preserved by tradition over long periods of time. If you keep this in mind, you’ll have an easier time understanding various parts of the Bible.
9. We don’t have the original documents!
It would be great if we could go read the very first edition of the Gospel of Matthew, or the first scroll of Isaiah—but those documents have been lost to the ages. Instead, we’re working with copies of copies of copies of the original works.
Still, it seems these texts were faithfully (if imperfectly) preserved. While we do find variants in biblical manuscripts, on the whole, the message and content has been largely the same for the past few millennia.
10. The Bible is about 611,000 words long (in its original languages)
In those original languages, the Bible’s word count is about 611,000. That word count is not going to line up with your Bible though, for a few reasons:
- When translating the Bible from its original languages to English, translators tend to use more words to get across the original author’s point.
- Different translations word passages differently, which results in a variation in word count.
But even so: it’s interesting to think that while the Bible is longer than Moby Dick, it’s nowhere near as long a read as the Harry Potter saga. You can learn more about just how long the Bible is here.
11. The Bible is non-linear, and the books aren’t in chronological order
The Bible is a collection of individual documents pulled together into one series over time. Because of this, the Bible doesn’t read like a single timeline—it jumps around. And while the Bible contains many narrative sections, it’s not all narrative. The Bible also includes songs, wisdom literature, decrees, and letters written by religious leaders.
12. Each* book of the Bible is a standalone work
This is one of the most important things to keep in mind when reading the Bible: there was no “The Bible” to speak of when each of the individual books was written! Each book was written with its own rhetorical goals in its own time. It wasn’t until much later that people started thinking of Genesis and Revelation as parts of “the same” book.
Some of these books are collections of smaller books in themselves (for example, Psalms is a collection of five smaller “books” of poetry). Others were compiled as parts of larger collections, such as the individual books of the Torah. But while there is some intertextual awareness, it’s very important to remember that the authors of the books of the Bible were not consciously contributing to a greater project. This is why when you study the Bible, it’s best to make sure you read each book as a standalone document.
*EXCEPTIONS: In the Old Testament, you’ll find a handful of books with “First” or “Second” in their titles. These books represent “Part 1” and “Part 2” of a single work. So while we have the eight books of 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, originally there were just the four books: Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Ezra–Nehemiah. Why were these books divided? Because putting them all on one document would make the scroll too heavy for practical use!
More facts for Bible trivia night
If you want to stock up on some good did-you-know? Facts about the Bible, I’ve put together a few for you below. =)
1. The longest book of the Bible is Jeremiah
This prophet had a lot to say. He even wrote in the twentieth chapter of his book:
But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. (Jeremiah 20:9)
Granted, Jeremiah is the longest book based on how we currently arrange the books of the Bible. If we did it the old school way, the two-part book of Kings would be the longest book.
And if we did it really, really, really old school, the five-part Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) would dwarf all other contenders. This megabook alone makes up about one fifth of the whole Bible!
You can learn more about the longest books of the Bible here.
2. The shortest book of the Bible is 3 John
3. The books of the Old Testament are arranged differently in Judaism
The English Bibles we use group the books of the Bible loosely by type of literature. So in the Old Testament, you have the books of law first, then books about Israel’s history in the promised land, then books of wisdom and poetry, then books by the prophets.
But the Old Testament isn’t always arranged this way. For example, in Judaism’s Hebrew Bible (the TaNaKh), the books of law come first (the Torah), followed by the former and latter prophets (a blend of prophets and history), followed by “the writings” (a blend poetry, history, and prophetic books). In this arrangement, the last book is Chronicles, not Malachi.
4. There are at least 185 songs in the Bible
About 150 of these are in the book of Psalms. (I say “about” because there’s some debate as to whether a few of the separate Psalms were originally meant to be sung as one.) But throughout both the Old and New Testaments, people will sing songs about God or the events around them.
And 185 is a bare minimum—that’s only if you count the portions of Scripture that are specifically labelled as “song,” “psalm,” “dirge,” or “chant.”
You can see the list (and infographic) here.
5. The authorship of Hebrews has remained anonymous for centuries
Several books of the Old Testament were written by people unnamed. Tradition doesn’t identify the authors of Joshua–Kings, Esther, or Job. Plus, many of the books with traditional authors assigned to them were likely penned and edited by other people. For example, while Jonah is the traditional author of Jonah, there’s a good case to be made that some later scribe wrote this satire of the compassionate God, the rebellious prophet, and the repentant cows.
The church has been (roughly) consistent with assigning authors (or at least names of authors) to books in the New Testament. Even works that are technically anonymous, like the Gospels, were so important that the early church leaders consistently assigned their authorship to either the same traditional person or a small group of candidates.
But the book of Hebrews is a glaring exception. Authorship of this book has been debated for centuries. Augustine was sure Paul wrote it. Luther was convinced it was the eloquent Apollos. Tertulian assigns the work to Barnabas. But we just don’t know.
Granted, there seems to have always been a large group of Christians who doubt Simon Peter wrote 2 Peter. But pseudepigraphy is a whole other ball of wax. ;-)
6. The word “Trinity” is never mentioned in the Bible.
Most Christians believe that God eternally exists in three persons: The Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. And all three are referred to as divine in Scripture—in fact, I’ve found 20 times when the three of them are mentioned in the same verse.
However, do a word search: the word “Trinity” doesn’t come up.
7. There are 21 dreams recorded in the Bible
And most of them are had by two different men named Joseph! You can see the whole list here.
8. The book of James is the bossiest book of the Bible
If you make a list of words in each book of the Bible and then a list of commands in the same book, the book with the highest concentration of words is the book of James. (You can read about how I found this here.)
I’ll be docking more facts here as I keep studying and writing about the Bible. Stay tuned. =)
*Sometimes I’ll partner with organizations to help more people know about their resources—in return, they give me a kickback when people purchase. This is one of those times. ;-)