The Bible, or Sacred Scripture, is a collection of books that Christians believe is God’s revelation of himself to humanity. Structurally, there are two main sections of the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The Church, “relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 105)
The Old Testament, comprised of 46 books, covers the time from creation to about 100 B.C. The New Testament, comprised of 27 books, covers the period from just before the birth of Jesus Christ until about 110 A.D. The canon, or list of books, was finalized around 400 A.D.
A good book to read on the origins of the Bible can be found here: Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church or here: Where We Got the Bible
Protestant Bibles have the same New Testament books as the Catholic Bible, but have kept fewer books in their Old Testament. The decision, by Martin Luther, to remove books from the Bible occurred about 1500 years after Christ. He wanted to remove some books in the New Testament, but relented when friends encouraged him against it. The books that were removed are referred to by non-Catholics as the Apocrypha, a term that comes from the Greek apokryphos, meaning hidden. To use this term is misleading and inaccurate. If they must be classified, the more appropriate and accepted term is Deuterocanon which means “second canon” those whose Scriptural character was contested in some quarters, but which long ago gained a secure footing in the Bible of the Catholic Church. (Catholic Encyclopedia: Canon of the Old Testament)
The Bible is not one book with one type, or genre, of literature. It is more like a library, with many books written for many different reasons and by different authors. The Old Testament includes prophetic and historical writings, poetry, and songs. The New Testament consists of prophetic, historical, and biographical writings as well as letters to various churches.
The original books were written in Hebrew or Greek. There are no originals in existence; everything we have comes from copies of the originals, some closer in age to the originals than others. Copies are just that, a copy of the exact words from the original language to that same language with very little interpretation, if any. Translations, on the other hand, must include the interpretation of the translator as to what the original language means for the different language into which it is being translated.
There are many translations of the Bible. Translations go from being as literal as possible to the original language, to very liberally interpreting what the translator thinks the authors meant when they wrote. There are other factors that determine a final translation, but that’s for the academicians to discuss. You can click on this link to learn more about Bible translations: Catholic Answers: Bible Translation Guide
If you’re interested in reading the Bible, there are websites that offer it online. Some translations are easier to read than others. Some are designed for scholarship while others for readability. I would recommend the New Revised Standard Version, the New American Bible, or the Douay-Rheims.
Start your reading of the Bible with one of the first three Gospels. There are four Gospels in the Bible, they are the first four books of the New Testament and they contain the story of Jesus Christ. Our suggestion would be to start by reading the Gospel of Matthew, and then read a letter or two from Paul, James, John or Peter. The Acts of the Apostles, the 5th book in the New Testament is also another good book to read. It tells the story of what the disciples did after Jesus died. The Acts of the Apostles chronicles the early years of the new Christian Church.
“The (Bible) was never intended to teach doctrine, but only to prove it, and that, if we would learn doctrine, we must have recourse to the formularies of the Church; for instance to the Catechism, and to the Creeds. …After learning from them the doctrines of Christianity, the inquirer must verify them by Scripture.” Apologia Pro Vita Sua, St John Henry Cardinal Newman (Apologia Pro Vita Sua)