The Composition of the Bible

Spanning thousands of years of theology, history, and culture, the Bible tells a colossal story of God’s intentions for humanity. The Bible was written by many authors, but all inspired by God. It is neither a simple collection of books written by human authors, nor is it the literal words of God dictated to human scribes. It is a source of religious truth, presented in a diversity of styles, genres, and languages. All of its extensive information and sweeping accounts, however, are organized into a simple structure. Here is a look at that composition, including how many books are in the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, and the structural placing of some books that do not appear in all versions.

The Bible is divided into two main sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Together, the books in these two sections total 66 books in the Protestant Bible and 73 books in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles. Here’s how those numbers break down for the Old and New Testaments, as well as the “Apocrypha”—the books that account for the discrepancy between the Catholic and Protestant Bibles.

The Old Testament

The Old Testament is the portion of the Bible that mostly aligns with Jewish scripture. It encompasses 39 books in the Protestant Bible and 46 in the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles. In each case, the first five books are known as the Pentateuch, or the Torah.

The Apocrypha, or Deuterocanonical Books

The books that make up the difference between the Protestant and Catholic Old Testaments are referred to as the “Apocrypha'' by Protestants and “Deuterocanonical books” by members of Catholic and Orthodox churches. The Apocrypha includes eight full books, as well as two additions to books that remain in the Protestant canon. 'Apocrypha' and 'apocryphal' | Massachusetts Bible Society

In Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, the books of the Apocrypha are placed in their intended positions within the Old Testament. In Protestant Bibles, they are often omitted altogether. When they are included, they can sometimes be found in a separate section, distinct from the Old and New Testaments.

The New Testament

There are 27 books in the New Testament, including the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Gospels cover the life and teachings of Jesus. The next books show the application of those teachings in the early Christian church. The Book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament and the Bible as whole, is “the only canonical representative of a large genre of apocalyptic literature that appeared in the early Christian movement.”

With 66 to 73 books of scripture, the Bible covers a lot of content that may feel daunting. Here at the Massachusetts Bible Society, we’re dedicated to helping you learn. Biblical texts have been interpreted in diverse ways from generation to generation and are always filtered through the lens of the reader’s faith and life experiences. The Bible has authority for communities of faith who take time to study and prayerfully interpret its message, but it is also important for anyone who wants more fully to understand culture, religious thought, and the world in which we live. We believe that everyone should know the Bible, whether they accept it as their sacred text or not. To that end, we have created accessible and comprehensive resources for all who are curious.

Check out our Exploring the Bible courses and claim your free sample chapters, or explore our website for more! The Massachusetts Bible Society is a Christian organization that exists to promote biblical literacy, understanding, and dialogue that is grounded in scholarship, socially relevant, and respectful of the many voices within the Bible and all those who turn to the Bible in faith. Donate today or consider planned giving to help us bring biblical understanding to the world!

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