The word Bible is derived from the Greek word biblion, meaning “book,” but it is far more than a mere book. It is “the Word of God” and the foundation of Christian faith and living. It reveals God to us, it tells us of God’s basic plan for humankind, and it contains unparalleled truth and instruction. Its words are spirit and life (John 6:63). By them we are able to partake of the divine nature—to become more godly, more like Jesus (2 Peter 1:4).

The Bible is actually a collection of books—66 in all—which were written by about 40 people under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 NKJV).

The Bible contains two major sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. (Testament in this case means “covenant” or “contract,” so the Old and New Testaments can be thought of as the old and new binding agreements between God and man.) The dates that some of the Old Testament’s 39 books were first recorded is uncertain, but scholars generally agree that they were written over a period of about 1,000 years, from the fourteenth to the fourth century BC.

The Old Testament prepared the way for the New, which was ushered in with Jesus’ coming. The 27 books of the New Testament were written within the first century AD in Greek. They tell of Jesus’ life and ministry and the growth of the early church, and they present the basics of Christian faith.

In the Old Testament covenant God promised to bless the Israelites if they would worship Him only and be ruled by His law—which He gave through Moses around 1300 BC. Over 600 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Jeremiah foresaw a day when God would make a new covenant with His people. Under this new covenant, God would write His laws on people’s hearts rather than on tablets of stone (Jeremiah 31:31–34). Jesus said He was the fulfillment of the old covenant even as he ushered in a new one (Matthew 5:17).

The New Testament contains five narrative books—the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The Gospels deal with the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The book of Acts tells of some of the major happenings of the early church over the next 30 years and is a sort of sequel to the Gospels.

Twenty-one letters, or epistles, follow the Gospels and Acts. Thirteen of these letters were clearly written by the apostle Paul, while the remaining eight were written by other apostles or other people closely associated with the apostles. In the last book in the New Testament, Revelation, the apostle John recounts prophetic visions of Jesus’ Second Coming.

The first mention in the Bible of anyone writing anything down is when God told Moses to “write this for a memorial in the book” (Exodus 17:14). The stories of the patriarchs found in Genesis had been passed from generation to generation by word of mouth before this. The messages of the prophets were usually delivered orally before they were written.

Narratives of the life and ministry of Jesus were repeated orally for years before they were written down. Many ancient fragments of early biblical documents, some dating to the second century AD, have been recovered—including multiple copies of some portions. The Bible translations we have today are based on those copies.