Luke is Just Volume One

Christopher R. Smith

Ever come to the end of a book and felt like you were still in the middle of the story?
Maybe you were.

Some of the longer biblical writings were divided into parts over time. But the overall literary patterns remain. That’s why we sometimes don’t get a sense of an ending when we reach the end of a book. In order to get the book’s full message, we to need read all the parts as a single work. Some editions of the Bible, like The Books of The Bible, actually put the pieces back together in the text.

Luke and Acts, for example, are actually a two-volume historical study written by Luke. As Luke Timothy Johnson observes, Luke the evangelist “uses geography to structure his story and to advance his literary and theological goals. … In the Gospel, the narrative moves toward Jerusalem. … In Acts, the geographic movement is away from Jerusalem.”¹

The journey to Jerusalem and subsequent journey from Jerusalem unites Luke and Acts into a single work. If John were not between Luke and Acts in modern bibles, we would have no problem seeing this progression.

Luke-Acts is a history of the Christian community—from its origins in the life and ministry of Jesus to its arrival on the world stage in Rome. The prologue and genealogy (1:1–4:13)serve as an overture to the main text—anticipating the book’s structural motif by describing four journeys from Galilee down to Jerusalem or Judaea.

Luke’s narrative about Jesus’ adult life takes place in Galilee (4:14–9:50). This first part of the main body primarily consists of miracle stories and discussions about these miracles being signs of Jesus’ true identity (7:18–23; 9:7–9, 18–22). The next part of the book (9:51–19:27) describes a long journey to Jerusalem. People come up to Jesus with questions and challenges; He demonstrates divine wisdom by informing and correcting them. Luke ends in Jerusalem (19:28–24:53), where Jesus teaches in the temple before suffering beatings and execution on the cross. Jesus is then raised from the dead.

In each location, Luke pursues successive aspects of his theological program: To show that Jesus is the Savior the whole world needs. The signs in Galilee represent the gospel witness to Jews; the dialogues along the journey to Jerusalem witness to the philosophically-minded Gentiles; and the story of Jesus’ suffering and death in Jerusalem show how He became the Savior of both groups in a way neither expected. The whole program can be summarized by what Paul, Luke’s co-worker, wrote to the Corinthians: “Jews demand signs, and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:22 NIV).

Acts completes the grand narrative by describing the journey of the Christian community from Jerusalem to the “end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This second volume of Luke’s study has six parts. The transitions between them are marked by variations on the phrase “the word of God grew and multiplied” (6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5 and 19:20)—a summary of the overall message of Acts.

The community of Jesus’ followers establishes its base in Jerusalem in the first part of the book (1:1–6:7). It breaks through a language barrier—symbolized early in the section by the events of Pentecost in Acts 2—as it includes Greek speakers among its members and leaders. Jesus’ followers will now be able to proclaim the gospel throughout the empire.

In the second part (6:8–9:31), the church breaks through a geographic barrier. Driven by persecution, it moves from Jerusalem into the rest of Palestine.

The gospel pushes through an ethnic stronghold in the third part (9:31–12:24). Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) come to believe in Jesus. A strong Gentile church is established in Antioch, and the members of the community receive a new name, reflecting their new, multi-ethnic identity: “Christians” (26:28; compare 1 Pet 4:16). Followers of Jesus were also known as those who followed “the Way” (24:22; compare John 14:5–7).

A second geographic barrier is breached in the fourth part of the book (12:25–16:5) as the Antioch church sends messengers beyond the eastern shores of the Mediterranean (13:1–2). But it doesn’t end there. In the fifth part of the book (16:6–19:20), in response to a vision from God, the messengers enter Europe (16:9–10). And then the church breaks through the final geographic wall by extending its witness “to the end of the earth,” symbolized by Paul’s arrival in Rome (28:11–30) in the sixth part of the book (19:21–28:31). A class division is also crushed as the good news about Jesus is proclaimed to kings and others in authority (28:17, 19).

Thus the overarching movement that unites Luke-Acts is completed. The journey to Jerusalem brings a Savior to the world. The journey from Jerusalem brings the world to the Savior.


The New Testament didn’t drop out of heaven.

Rick Brannan with John D. Barry

It was written and reproduced by people who were following God’s will and the leading of His Spirit. And the people who wrote it were persecuted, beaten and murdered for their beliefs. Likewise, many people who copied New Testament books, used them, and stored them, did so knowing that they could die for possessing this holy text. Some Roman authorities were not too pleased to have a Jewish teacher called the Son of God instead of Caesar. And they also didn’t like people following His way and rule over the regulations they had put in place. Because of this, the Christian faith was often perceived as being anti-empire.

Yet we still have many ancient copies of the New Testament. Our oldest fragment is called P52 (papyrus fragment 52). It contains John 18:31–33 and 37–38. It dates from 100–125 AD, which is shorter than a lifetime after John would have died—which means it could be one of the first copies of John’s Gospel. In total, 93 papyri¹dating to the 5th century or earlier that contain sections of the New Testament have been discovered.

Our oldest nearly complete bibles, named Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, date from the 4th century. A third nearly complete Bible, called Codex Alexandrinus, is from the 5th century. Another 69 manuscripts written on animal skins that date within the same chronological range are known to scholars. In total, 162 textual witnesses to the New Testament books produced in the 5th century or earlier have been discovered.

Let’s take a look at one New Testament book, the Gospel of John. Among the manuscripts noted above, 38 of them contain portions of the Gospel of John. By comparison, there are only three copies of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas in its original language and only one of another Gnostic gospel, the Gospel of Mary. The infamous Gospel of Judas only has one translation (in Coptic) attesting its existence. It isn’t hard to figure out which gospels were more widely used and highly regarded.

Amount of 5th Century and before Copies of New Testament Books

The total tallies represent the amount of copies attesting to each book. Small fragments and whole books count the same. If a manuscript contains more than one book, it has been counted once for each book it contains.


Aland, Barbara, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger, eds. Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th ed. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1998.

Comfort, Philip W. and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts.Wheaton: Tyndale House, 2001.

Institute for New Testament Textual Research, “Continuation of the list of manuscripts.” Accessed 7 Sept 2009. Online: 

Niese, Benedikt, David C. Noe, and Laura A. Marshall. Works of Flavius Josephus: Prefatory Material (English). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008.

Robinson, James, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English, Fourth revised ed. Leiden: E.J. Brill,

Robinson, James McConkey, Paul Hoffmann, and John S. Kloppenborg. The Critical Edition of Q : Synopsis Including the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Mark and Thomas With English, German, and French Translations of Q and Thomas. Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Minneapolis; Leuven: Fortress Press; Peeters, 2000.

Von Tischendorf, Constantin, Caspar René Gregory and Ezra Abbot, eds. Novum Testamentum Graece: Apparatus Criticus. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2005.

Chapters & Verses: Who Needs Them?

Christopher R. Smith

My pastor shifted uncomfortably in the pulpit. He didn’t know how to begin his sermon. Finally he blurted out, “I can tell you one thing: the book of Acts was never meant to be preached through chapter-by-chapter!” He and his associate had been taking turns doing that, but their sermons had become disjointed, filled with digressions on “what we were talking about last time” and promises to “say more about this next week.” The chapters just weren’t lining up with the episodes in the narrative.

There was a good reason for my pastor’s frustration. Chapters and verses in the New Testament were never intended to guide preaching or devotional reading. They were introduced so that reference works could be created. Chapters were added by Stephen Langton at the University of Paris around 1200 so passages could be cited in commentaries. Verses were put in around 1550 by Robert Estienne, a French scholar and printer who was working on a concordance to the Greek New Testament.

Chapters are designed to be about the same length. But the stories, oracles, poems and discussions that make up biblical books are of many different lengths. Chapters typically cut longer units into pieces. They add to the confusion by combining shorter units. In 1 Corinthians Paul discusses twelve different topics. His longer discussions have been cut up into chapters 1–4, 8–10 and 12–14. Shorter discussions are combined in chapters 6, 7, 11 and 16. Only two chapters (5 and 15) correspond accurately with a single discussion. This example shows why, in most cases, it’s difficult to make sense of a biblical book when reading or preaching through it chapter-by-chapter.

But if we eliminate chapter and verse numbers, won’t we be cast adrift on a sea of unorganized type? Isn’t something better than nothing?

Actually, the alternative isn’t nothing. Far from it. The biblical authors built natural structures right into the text of their works. We can learn to recognize these structures and follow them as we read, study and preach. The biblical books follow the conventions of the literary genres of their day. And the biblical authors often reinforce these outlines by repeating key phrases. Paul typically begins a new discussion in 1 Corinthians with “now concerning” (peri de, περι δε). At the end of each major section in Acts, Luke writes something like “the word of God grew and multiplied.”

Second John has a natural literary structure. Following the letter-writing practices of his day, John begins with his own name, then the recipient’s name, followed by a good wish. In the main body of the letter, he urges obedience and warns against false teachers. He conventionally closes by wishing for a reunion and sending greetings.

When compared with 3 John, 2 John shows how arbitrary verse divisions can be. The two letters end the same way. In 2 John, “reunion” and “greetings” each constitute one verse. But in 3 John, only the first part of “reunion” is found in verse 13; the second part is combined with “greetings” in verse 14!

When we consider a slightly longer letter such as Colossians, we see how chapter divisions are just as badly placed.

Paul has not met the Colossians. So he expands his opening section to explain, in a prayer, that he knows them through a mutual friend named Epaphras. He gives the essentials of his gospel and describes his struggle on behalf of the Gentiles. In the main body, he offers correction, followed by instruction. He ends the letter with personal greetings. The break between chapters 1 and 2 cuts off a small part of the opening section and groups it with the main body.

The break between chapters 2 and 3 is more reasonable. It comes between the two major themes. But the division between chapters 3 and 4 is ridiculous. It actually breaks up a sub-section of a sub-section. Why was a chapter break put there? Perhaps to give prominence to the command, “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair.” But certainly not to reflect the natural literary outline of the letter.

The Medieval imposition of chapters and verses on the biblical text inevitably leads to confusion. It’s unfortunate that a chapter-by-chapter approach is practically our default mode for expository preaching, home Bible studies, and devotional reading.

But there are alternatives. Using Bible software we can cut and paste without chapters and verses, or view the Bible text without paragraph divisions. In some printed versions, such as The New English Bible, the numbers are moved to the margins. The Books of The Bible from the International Bible Society presents the biblical text visually according to its natural literary outline. The text appears in a single column, with larger and smaller sections set off by white space of varying widths. Chapter and verse numbers are removed entirely from the text. (A traditional chapter and verse range is provided at the bottom of each page.) An introduction to each book describes how it is structured.

With resources like these, it’s safe to preach through Acts again—not chapter-by-chapter, but literary section by literary section.

Clash of the Manuscripts: Goliath & the Hebrew Text of the Old Testament

Michael S. Heiser

Goliath may have been killed three thousand years ago, but he’s still an imposing obstacle—this time to Bible scholars. But how can a story so easily followed by children be a conundrum for scholars? It happens all the time when you study Hebrew manuscripts.

The story of David and Goliath (1 Sam 17) presents a number of thorny problems to textual critics, scholars who specialize in studying manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible to determine the precise reading of the original text. Let’s look at two examples.

How Tall Was Goliath?

First Samuel 17:4 notes that Goliath’s height was measured at “six cubits and one span,” about nine feet, six inches. That measurement comes from one Hebrew manuscript tradition, known as the Masoretic text, a text that was fixed around 100 AD by the Jewish community in Israel. We know from the Dead Sea Scrolls that there were other editions of the Hebrew Bible. One of those was the Hebrew text from which the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament,1 was translated. The Septuagint at times disagrees with the Masoretic text. The Septuagint has the height of Goliath at four cubits and one span, or about six feet, six inches. The only Hebrew text of 1 Sam 17:4 found among the Dead Sea Scrolls also reads “four,” and the Jewish historian Josephus describes Goliath as, “a man of vast bulk, for he was of four cubits and a span in tallness.2”

The textual evidence is clearly on the side of the shorter Goliath, but that has no real importance for interpretation. Archaeologists have long noted that male human skeletal remains from the biblical period have an average height of slightly less than five and a half feet, so even the shorter Goliath was quite a bit taller than most people the Israelites had ever seen.3 The relatively diminutive stature of Israelites also helps us understand the comment in 1 Sam 9:2, that “from his shoulders upward [Saul] was taller than any of the people.” Saul should have been the one fighting Goliath, not David, and so the story makes clear who had God in his corner. Saul had been rejected as king; David was now Israel’s champion.

A Man of Vast Bulk: Goliath's Height

Who Killed Goliath?

The second example is much trickier. Second Samuel 21:19 records the violent death of Goliath but appears to flatly contradict the account in 1 Sam 17, where David slays the giant:

Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, struck down Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.
Unless David and Elhanan are the same person,4 we have a pretty clear problem that needs resolution.

The key to unraveling the statement that Elhanan killed Goliath is found in 1 Chr 20:5, which is a parallel passage to 2 Sam 21:19:

Elhanan the son of Jair struck down Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.

This verse allows us to say that Elhanan killed Goliath’s brother, not the more famous warrior defeated by David. That might erase the tension between 1 Sam 17 and 2 Sam 21:19, but now we have a contradiction between 1 Chr 20:5 and 2 Sam 21:19! Fortunately, there’s a way out of this mess, but it’s complicated. Get ready for some scribal detective work—pay close attention to the colors.

The word in brown (ʾoregim), colored three times, is exactly the same. It means “weaver,” but in the first line of 2 Sam 21:19 it is awkwardly placed after the name “Jaare.” The only way to make sense of this was to make the word part of the proper name, and so we have “Jaare-Oregim” in our verse. This raises suspicions for those who work in the Hebrew text since our word in brown is never used in conjunction with a proper name anywhere else in the Bible—it is always a common noun. Further in 2 Sam 21:19 the brown word appears twice­—this also doesn’t happen anywhere else in the Bible.

Taking these oddities together suggests very strongly that somewhere along the chain of copying the text of 1 Sam 17 one scribe made a mistake in 2 Sam 21:19 that caused a subsequent scribe some trouble. Most likely, we have a situation where a scribe knew he had a defective text and tried to improvise the best way he could. Explaining why this is the best approach to our problem requires reconstructing the scene of the crime. Our first step is determining if our brown word was indeed mistakenly repeated. We can test that idea by removing it to see what we get.

When we remove the word, the verses are nearly identical in form and meaning. This is a solid lead that some scribe in the past encountered a manuscript with the extra brown word and had to somehow deal with it. We’ll put the brown word back in a moment to explain the other errors in the manuscript so we can reach a complete solution.

Our next step is to notice that the red letters in the text are identical but are not translated the same way. This is because of the small word highlighted in blue that follows the red-lettered word.

In 2 Sam 21:19 the word consists of two letters and is untranslated because its sole job is to mark the direct object of the sentence.5 In 1 Chr 20:5 this word consists of three letters and means “brother of.” The first two letters of both words (תא / חא) look nearly identical. This is an important clue.

At this point, we have the raw materials to reconstruct what happened. If we assume that the scribe working on the manuscript of 2 Sam 21:19 had the wrong two-letter combination in his manuscript (תא instead of חא, the result of an error by an earlier scribe), the preceding words would make no sense. Here’s what I believe our unfortunate scribe was looking at (putting our suspicious brown word back in to illustrate his defective manuscript).

Translated literally, the scribe would be reading, “And Elhanan son of Jaare-Oregim killed Lahmi Goliath the Gittite.” The word that makes the sentence incoherent is Lahmi, the word colored in red. The scribe would know that this word could mean “my bread” if it was a common noun, but this would be gibberish (“And Elhanan son of Jaare-Oregim killed my bread Goliath the Gittite”). He also would have known that “Lahmi” never occurred anywhere else in his Bible as a proper name or another name for Goliath. By itself, then, Lahmi didn’t even make sense as a proper name (though it would if he had been reading “brother of” instead of the direct object marker). Our scribe’s solution was to remove some letters and substitute others (colored in green).

The result of these changes is “the Bethlehemite,” which makes the sentence comprehensible (“And Elhanan, son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite”). But while this makes perfect grammatical sense, the scribe’s clever attempt at dealing with his defective manuscript was what produced our problem, the contradiction with David’s slaying of Goliath!

The solution to the contradiction between 2 Sam 21:19 and 1 Chr 20:5 is recognizing that 2 Sam 21:19 is a defective reading since it is the result of a scribe’s sincere effort to cope with a problematic manuscript. We can account for the oddities in 2 Sam 21:19, by working our way to the precise reading of 1 Chr 20:5. Doing so erases all the contradictions, and so 1 Chr 20:5 should be used to correct 2 Sam 21:19.

David killed Goliath as 1 Samuel 17 says, and Elhanan killed Lahmi, the brother of Goliath.

A Man of Large Strides: Goliath's Foot Size

God's Word through Multiple Voices: Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah

Craig C. Broyles

In the Jan–Feb 2009 issue of Bible Study Magazine, Dr. Craig C. Broyles discussed the Greek Historian Herodotus’ account of Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah and the prophetic perspectives of Isaiah and Micah. This built upon his discussion in the Nov–Dec 2008 issue of the record of the events in 2 Kgs 18–19 and Sennacherib’s own account in a prism discovered in his palace. In this issue, Dr. Broyles tells us how we should respond to these diverse, discrepant accounts, and reflects on what these events tell us about the prophetic word of God.

The case of Assyrian King Sennacherib’s invasion into Hezekiah’s Judah in 701 BC is one of the best-documented and most controversial events in the Bible and in archaeology.

A Biblical Perspective on Hezekiah's Decisions

Second Kings 18:7 appears to commend Hezekiah’s decision to join the rebellion (“And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him”). The prophet Isaiah, however, condemns Jerusalem’s rulers for forming a coalition of rebellion with Egypt. Isaiah promotes the idea that Yahweh will “protect Jerusalem,” and cause “the Assyrian [to] fall by a sword, not of mortals” (Isa 31:5, 8; also see 30:31). Even though Judah has “deeply betrayed” the Lord, Isaiah promises their rescue (Isa 31:5–6). Meanwhile, Micah laments Sennacherib’s invasion as divine judgment (Mic 1:12).

How should we respond to this diversity and these discrepancies? Should we call them contradictions and dismiss the Bible as merely a human document? Or should we assert more forcefully that the Bible is God’s Word and concede that the resolution is simply unknown to us? First, we must not get defensive but rather take courage. If we have the conviction that the Bible is the word of God then we should believe that it is fully trustworthy—when properly interpreted—and can endure any legitimate scrutiny. Second, we should endeavor to be “noble-minded” like the Jews in Berea who were “examining the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11 NASB).

To come to terms with the perspective of 2 Kings we must examine the basis of the narrator's claims more closely.

Scholars often call the writer of 2 Kings the Deuteronomistic Historian because his judgments of the kings of Israel and Judah are based on the book of Deuteronomy, especially chapter 12. His assessment that Hezekiah “did what was right in the sight of the Lord” is because he “broke down the pillars, and cut down the sacred pole” (2 Kgs 18:3–4; compare 18:22), just as prescribed in Deut 12:3.

His comment that Hezekiah “rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him” (2 Kgs 18:7) is contrasted with the failure of his predecessor, King Ahaz, who constructed a pagan altar for the Jerusalem temple in deference to “the king of Assyria” (2 Kgs 16:10–18). From this Deuteronomic perspective, resistance to pagan idolatry becomes fused with independence from a foreign, pagan state.

The claim that Hezekiah “prospered” (literally, “succeeded;” 2 Kgs 18:7), even when “he rebelled against the king of Assyria,” must be seen in comparison to the king of northern Israel, Hoshea, who likewise rebelled. In Hoshea's case, “the king of Assyria carried the Israelites away to Assyria” (2 Kgs 18:11); whereas, in Hezekiah's case, his refusal to serve under Assyrian control and insistence on maintaining his throne and most of his people, was followed by the Assyrian repulsion from Jerusalem. This insertion of 18:9–12, which is repetition from 17:5–8, into the story of Hezekiah confirms this interpretation.

Sennacherib's Prism

Hezekiah’s “success” is mitigated just a verse later: “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them” (2 Kgs 18:13). Hezekiah then apologizes to the Assyrian king and agrees to pay whatever tribute is imposed, including “silver” and “gold” from “the temple of the Lord” (2 Kgs 18:14–15). In addition, both Hezekiah himself (2 Kgs 19:4) and Isaiah (2 Kgs 19:30–31) refer to “the surviving remnant of the house of Judah.” Although the storyline in 2 Kings precedes the miraculous rescue of Jerusalem in center stage (2 Kgs 18:17–19:37), 2 Kgs 18:13–16 are important verses that might go overlooked. But other passages elsewhere in the Bible, namely Micah’s lament for these destroyed cities of Judah, make sure that the readers of the Bible do not forget those outlying towns that were not as fortunate as the capital city of Jerusalem (Mic 1:1–16). Sennacherib’s Prism claims that he had taken captive “200,150 people” and had “diminished his land.” And the wall relief of the siege of Lachish in Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh graphically illustrates the cruel terror with which the Assyrians repay their rebels, as does the archaeology of Lachish itself.

Theological Reflections on Hezekiah's Decisions

Our “examining of the Scriptures” brings into sharp relief an essential point for responsible interpretation of the Bible. If we merely quote chapter and verse, presuming this represents God’s entire perspective on any given issue, then we misrepresent the Word of God which is often presented through many words, as well as diverse passages in the Holy Scriptures.

The events surrounding Hezekiah’s rebellion against the Assyrian Empire and Sennacherib’s invasion testify powerfully to the consequences of ignoring Yahweh’s prophetic word, on the one hand, and to Yahweh’s faithfulness during the eleventh hour, on the other hand. We can well imagine Hezekiah’s dilemma. On the one side he has his political and military advisers, and on the other, the prophet Isaiah. At stake are the lives and territory of the kingdom of Judah. Trusting in Yahweh may seem the obvious choice while reading the Bible, but if we were living in the midst of the realities and complexities of a vassal state¹ rebelling against a ruthless empire—with its siege machines and threats of mass burials—we too may have made the decisions Hezekiah did. As today, the decision that befits faith and common-sense wisdom may not be clear.

Counting The Ten Commandments

One of the most enduring elements of the Bible and the Judaeo-Christian worldview within Western culture is the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. Even if one can’t recite them all, most people have seen the fiery finger of God etch the commandments into two stone tablets as Moses—for many of us, Charlton Heston—watches in awe.

It seems to go without saying that the list of the Ten Commandments is something that Judaism and Christianity have always agreed upon. Well, that is not exactly true.

Historically speaking, Jews and Christians—and even denominations within Christianity—have disagreed on exactly how the Ten Commandments should be listed and expressed. In fact, how to precisely spell out the commandments was an issue of considerable importance during the Protestant Reformation. The difference concerns how many commands are to be found in the first six verses and last two verses of Exod 20:2-17, the initial listing of the commandments received by Moses at Sinai.¹ The chart below illustrates the disagreements.

One point of context is required before we can understand the thinking behind the differences in the listing and expression of the commandments. Any listing of the commandments must result in a total of ten, because three other passages of Scripture fix the number of commandments at ten. Exodus 34:28, Deut 4:13, and Deut 10:4 each clearly tell us that God gave Moses ʿasereth hadvarim (“ten words”; “ten statements”) at Sinai.

Interestingly, the Jewish tradition treats the statement in Exod 20:2 (compare Deut 5:6) as a command when the wording has no imperative force to it at all. This latitude arises from the fact that the Hebrew text of the Old Testament exclusively uses ʿasereth hadvarim (“ten words”) instead of ʿasereth hamitsvot (“ten commandments”) with respect to the contents of Exod 20 and Deut 5. After regarding Exod 20:2 as the first “word” of the ten, verses 3-6 are then thematically understood as speaking to a single prohibition: making idols for worship.

There are actually three imperative statements in this group of verses (“You shall have no other gods before me”; “You shall not make for yourself a carved image”; “You shall not bow down to them or serve them”), but to consider them as separate commands would move the total beyond ten.

Christian perceptions of Exod 20 are not rooted in the Hebrew terminology ʿasereth hadvarim (“ten words”), and so Christian formulations do not regard verse one as the first point of the Decalogue. As a result, all of Exod 20:2-6 is considered the starting point, and the imperative wording (“You shall not”) prompted the “commandment” terminology so widely known and used today.

What's In Your Bible

Vincent Setterholm

Jews and Christians throughout the centuries have produced bibles that vary in content and organization. This chart is a sampling of the different bibles used today.

Protestant Reformers like Martin Luther doubted the canonicity* of the Apocrypha*, but when Luther prepared his translation of the Bible into German, he did not remove the Apocrypha; he simply moved those books to an appendix. This tradition continues in many European bibles.

The English were the first group of people to remove the Apocrypha altogether. In 1599, an edition of the Geneva Bible was published without the Apocrypha. In 1615, during the reign of King James the First, George Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury, declared the penalty for printing a Bible without the Apocrypha to be a year in prison! But over the next three centuries the growing influence of Puritans and Presbyterians over the populace, the government, and the British and Foreign Bible Society led to a strong tradition of printing bibles containing only 66 books.

The situation today reflects this bifurcation. The bibles used by many European Protestants, as well as the Anglican Church, still include the Apocrypha. Most other English-speaking Protestant churches have bibles without the Apocrypha.