What is the difference between verse, Scripture, gospel, and Bible?

Q. What is the difference between scripture and verse, between Scripture and gospel, and between Bible and Scripture?

Thank you for your questions. I think the answers will be helpful to many readers.

Let me start with the word Bible. That word describes the collection of books that people of faith believe that God inspired various authors to write at different times in history and that God then gave to the world as a guide to what people should believe and how they should live. The Christian Bible has two parts, the Old Testament (books about things that happened before Jesus) and the New Testament (books about things that happened when Jesus came and afterwards).

Over 1500 years after the Bible was completed (that is, after the last books in the Bible were written), the whole Bible was divided into small sections so that people could find things in it more easily. These small sections are called verses. About 300 years earlier, the Bible had been divided for the same purpose into somewhat larger sections called “chapters.” Using a system that relies on books, chapters, and verses for reference, people can find things in the Bible very quickly. For example, if someone said, “I want to talk about Romans 5:8,” everyone who knew the system and had a Bible or Bible app with them could go right to that small section and read together, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Sometimes people refer to a verse as a scripture. (Note that the word is not capitalized in this usage.) They might say, for example, “There’s a scripture that says that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This can be confusing, because the word Scripture (capitalized) can also mean the same thing as “Bible.” The word “Bible” comes from the word “books,” while the word “Scripture” comes from the word “writing,” and they both refer to the same thing. Sometimes the plural term Scriptures is used to refer to the writings in the Bible, since there are many different ones.

Finally, the word gospel means “good news,” and it refers to the story of Jesus. It includes his birth, life, teachings, and miracles, and it is especially concerned with his death for us on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. This story is told in four different books in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each of these books presents the story from a slightly different perspective, and it is helpful to view it from all of these perspectives at once. When the term “gospel” is used as part of the title of one of these four books, it is capitalized, for example, the Gospel of Matthew. The term not capitalized can also be used to describe the message about Jesus itself, told in summary based on how it is told in these four books.

I hope these explanations are helpful, and I hope that as you read the Bible (that is, the Scriptures), you will hear more and more of the good news about Jesus (that is, the gospel).

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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