What does the word bible mean?The word bible can refer to any book that has teaching regarded as authoritative on a specific topic. For instance, a cookbook written by an award-winning, Michelin-rated chef in France might be called "the bible on French cuisine." A book detailing the best practices in quilting might be called "the quilters' bible." However, the word Bible is most often used in reference to the collection of Christian or Jewish Holy Scriptures.
The word Bible comes from the Greek word biblia, meaning "books." It is the diminutive form of the word biblos, which referred to any written document, but at the time, would have been sheets or scrolls of papyrus. Linguists believe the word may have come about because the Greeks imported Egyptian papyrus from the Phoenician seaport Byblos (also called Gebal). This naming process would be similar to sparkling white wine being called champagne because it originates in the Champagne region of France. Champagne is called that because it comes from Champagne. Papyrus was called biblos in Greek because it came from the port of Byblos.
Of course, in Greek, biblia were any books, not just the Holy Bible of writings sacred to Judaism and Christianity. The earliest use of the phrase biblia to refer specifically to Christian Scriptures is believed to be 2 Clement 2:14 written around AD 150 where it uses "ta biblia," meaning "the books," in reference to Scripture. Before this time, the collection of Jewish and Christian sacred writings were referred to as gramma and/or graphe (2 Timothy 3:15, 16), meaning "writings, documents, holy Writ, or scripture."
Jesus referred to the Hebrew Scriptures or Jewish Bible by its three-part format during His earthly, public teaching ministry. In Luke 24:44 He said, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." The Hebrew Bible is a collection of scrolls organized into three parts: the Torah (or Law of Moses), the Prophets, and the Writings (often referred to by the first scroll in that section—Psalms). The Christian Bible includes those same scrolls, and also the Gospels, Acts, the letters (or epistles), and Revelation.
Originally, these Scriptures were separate scrolls. Most communities owned copies of only some scrolls and would have tried to add to their collection of Scripture over time as resources allowed. These separate scrolls did not get compiled into the modern form of a book with leaves of paper stitched together on one side (called a codex) until the fourth or fifth century AD. Understanding that the Bible is an anthology that contains sixty-six different books helps explain why the Greek phrase ta biblia using the plural and meaning "the books" was used to refer to this collection of Holy Scriptures.
While other books with authoritative teaching on specific topics can be called bibles in a generic sense, there is no book with higher authority than the Holy Bible. These Scriptures are God's revealed Word to His people. "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Christian Scripture is directly inspired by the highest authority—God Himself—and it offers immeasurable benefit for our lives today. Most importantly, "the sacred writings… are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). The Holy Bible, from beginning to end, teaches its readers how to be saved by pointing to Jesus. So if you've never read the Bible, now might be a great opportunity to start.
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