03 April 2013

Origin and History of the Word "Bible"


TODAY, we call the Holy Scriptures the “Bible.” However, what is the meaning of the word Bible? What is the origin of the word? Why and when the Bible was called as such? Let us answer these questions in this article.

The Etymology of the word “Bible”

What is the etymology of the word “Bible”? Where does the word “Bible” came from? Let us discuss the origin of the word “Bible.”

Biblos: The Greek Word for “Book”
  • Etymologically, the word Bible was actually derived from the word biblion.1
  • Biblion was the Greek word used in the New Testament which means “small book.”2
  • The Greek word biblion is singular (“book”), and the plural of biblion is ta biblia or “books.”3
  • The whole collection of the biblical books came to be known as ta biblia.4
  • However, the New Testament word biblion is actually a diminutive of biblos.5
  • Another diminutive form of biblos is bibliaridion.6

Biblos: The New Testament word
  • Biblion was the word used in Revelation 6:14:
          “kaí ho ouranós apechoorísthee hoos biblíon helissómenon kaí pán óros kaí neésos ek toón tópoon autoón ekineétheesan.” (Emphasis mine) 7
  • Ta biblia was the word used in II Timothy 4:13.
          “Tón failóneen hón apélipon en Trooádi pará Kárpoo erchómenos fére kaí tá biblía málista tás membránas.” (Emphasis mine) 8
  • Bibliaridion was the word used in Revelation 10:9:
          “Kaí apeéltha prós tón ángelon légoon autoó doúnaí moi tó biblarídion Kaí légei moi Lábe kaí katáfage autó kaí pikraneí sou teén koilían all en toó stómatí sou éstai glukú hoos méli.” (Emphasis mine) 9

However, the “book” or biblion mentioned by the Bible was not referring to the form of the book familiar to us (a book with leaves and pages), but was actually referring to scroll or papyrus roll:
          “The books mentioned in the Bible were rolls of papyrus…Such a papyrus roll is that which John saw in his vision of heaven (Rev. 5:1), which contained so much writing that the outside (verso) was covered with it as well as the inside (recto), and which when rolled up was secured with seven seals.”10  
A biblion was particularly a scroll or a roll of papyrus. Papyrus roll or scroll was the common writing material in the ancient time:
          “The use of papyrus for writing purposes in Egypt goes back to c. 3000 B.C., and we have evidence that by the end of the twelfth century B.C. it was exported in large quantities from Egypt to Phoenicia for the same purpose.”11

Biblos: The name of the Papyrus Plant

The term biblos or biblion used to designate the papyrus roll or scroll was actually derived from the name of the papyrus plant itself, called byblos.
           “When we call the Holy Scriptures ‘the Bible’ we are actually using a word that in ancient times designated the papyrus plant.”12
The word “Bible” is actually the word used in ancient time to designate the papyrus plant. What is a papyrus plant?
           “This was a reed-plant, growing beside rivers and marshes and such places…”13
How was it prepared to become a writing material?
           “…the inner bark of which was extracted and dried in flat strips. When these strips were dried, a row of them was laid side by side, and above this another row as laid in criss-cross fashion, and two rows were gummed together. The result was a piece of writing material. Several of these pieces could be joined together end to end so as to form a long strip which was then rolled up into a scroll of convenient size, called in Greek a biblos or biblion.”14
This fibrous plant was also called bublos, the term biblos or byblos is later spelling.15
The Hebrew word for the marsh plant is gome, a word that is translated into Greek as papuros (the Latin spelling is papyrus). The English word “paper” is derived from the word papyrus. There are several references to this plant in the Old Testament (e.g. Ex. 2:3; Job 8:11; Is. 18:2; and Is. 35:7).

Biblos: The Papyrus Scroll

When the sheets of papyrus were rolled around a stick, it was called a scroll. The stick where sheets of papyrus were rolled was called the navel. Sometimes, scrolls roll up to thirty feet in length.

The writing on these scrolls or rolls of papyrus was done in columns. The front of these ancient writing materials was called recto, where the fibers run horizontally. The backside was called verso, where the fibers run vertically. Since the front side was smoother, one normally wrote only on that side. If the backside was also used for writing, then the scroll was called an opisthograph.
Sheets of papyrus were called chartes (charta in Latin), from which we get the word chart, charter, etc. Thus, the words papyrus, biblos or bublos, and chartes all refer to writing materials made from the reed plant.

Papyrus rolls were often wrapped with cloth or parchment and stored in some kind of container. The Dead Sea Scrolls were stored in jars. Sometimes the container had the author’s name and the title of the book on it.
A major literary production needed several scrolls. A single roll of a multivolume work was called a tomos or volumen in Latin (from the verb volvere, “to roll,” thus “a roll-book.” The entire work might be called a teuchos. Pentateuch (the Greek name of the Hebrew Torah, the first five books of the Bible) literally means “five books.”

Biblos: The Codex

As the scroll form of a book was in many ways inconvenient, this led to the development of the codex, the form of book familiar to us.
           “Four or more double-size sheets were laid on top of each other, folded in the middle and bound together, forming a codex. The Latin word codex originally meant the trunk of a tree, and then a block of wood split up into tablets or leaves. Such wooden tablets (perhaps coated with wax) were bound together to make a book. The same was done with leaves or sheets of papyrus. A codex, then, is a leaf book.”16

Scrolls and codex existed side by side for some time, but eventually the codex became more commonly used than scrolls. Codex made its appearance around the end of the apostolic era and quickly became popular with Christians.
           “While rolls and codices existed side by side for some time, eventually the codex won out over the roll as the better book form. One advantage of the codex was that one could more easily write on both sides of the individual leaves, and so the codex was cheaper to produce. Also it was much easier to locate passages in a codex than in a scroll, which had to be rolled back to locate the appropriate place.
           “It is believed that Christians helped to accelerate the changeover from scroll to codex. For example, Luke’s Gospel would demand an entire scroll. With a codex, however, all four Gospels could be brought together in a single codex book. Moreover, with the development of the codex, papyrus fell more and more into disuse and more durable materials, namely parchment, began to take over.”17
Not only the scroll form was replaced, but also the material used. The papyrus was popularly used until about third century AD. About this period, the use of animal skin (the parchment) became more popular and begun to take over. Eventually, the word biblos was also used for codex.

Biblos: The Port-City

As mentioned, large quantities of papyrus rolls were exported from Egypt to Phoenicia. Hence, the term byblos was also used as the name of that port-city in Phoenicia (now Lebanon):
           “Since large quantities of papyrus were used and shipped from the Syrian port of Byblos it is surmised that the Greek word for book may have been derived from that place-name.”18
 Large shipments of papyrus were sent through this port, called Gebal in the Old Testament, and Biblosin Greek. Therefore, the Greek word biblion or biblos (plural ta biblia) was first the name of the papyrus plant, then the name of the papyrus scroll, then the name of the codex (book form), and then the Greek word biblia was used to designate the collection of the books that comprise our Bible of today.

What the Scriptures was called
by Christ and His Disciples

The Lord Jesus Christ called these
books the “Scriptures”

Matthew 21:42, NKJV
          “Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD's doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes'?”

Mark 14:49, NKJV
           “I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”

Mateo 22:29, NKJV
           “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.”

The Apostles and Disciples of Christ also
called these books “the Scriptures”

Luke 24:3,2, NKJV
           “And they said to one another, "Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”
Acts 18:24, NKJV
            “Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus.”
Romans 15:4, NKJV
           “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”
I Peter 3:16, NKJV
           “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.”

Apostle Paul Called these Books
“Holy Scriptures”

II Timothy 3:15 NKJV
           “And that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 1:2, NKJV
           “Which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures.”
When the Scriptures called the “Bible”?

The first use of the word biblia to denotes the books of the Bible was when the Scriptures were translated into Greek in the thrid to second century BC, called Septuagint. Daniel 9:2 of the Greek translation of the Scriptures (the Septuagint) called the books of the prophets ta biblia.
Thus, as early as third and second century BC (long before Ignatius of Antioch invented the name Catholic Church in 110 AD), the Jewish Greeks already used the term “biblia” referring to the Holy Scriptures.
The Apostles and the first century Christians also used the term “biblia” to denotes the Holy Scriptures. In the Greek Text of II Timothy 4:13, Apostle Paul used the term “biblia” referring to the Holy Scriptires:
          “Tón failóneen hón apélipon en Trooádi pará Kárpoo erchómenos fére kaí tá biblía málista tás membránas.” (Emphasis mine) 8
          “The cloak that I left in Troas with Carpus, coming, bring thou and the books -- especially the parchments.” (II Timothy 4:13 YLT)

Since then, the word "Bible" came to designate the books of the Holy Scriptures. In the second century AD, the Greek-speaking "Christians" used the term "biblia" referring to the Holy Scriptures. In the fifth-century AD, Jerome called the whole Scriptures Bibliotheca Divina. In the 13th century A.D., when this term was translated in Latin, the plural biblia was used as singular to designate the collection of the books that comprise the Old and New Testament. Then the term was translated in French, and then translated to English "Bible."

The Word "Bible" Is Indeed In the Bible

Thus, the Catholic Church has bnothing to do with the used of the term “biblia” to designate the Holy Scriptures. It was not them who named the Holy Scriptures “biblia.” The Jewish Greeks were the first to used the word “biblia” to designate the books of the Holy Scriptures as early as third century BC, and then the apostles and the first century Christians in the first century AD.
Daniel 9:2 and II Timothy 4:13 are among the many verses that prove that the word “Bible” (“biblia” in Greek) is in the Bible. What else proves that the word “Bible” is indeed in the Bible? Here are some of the numerous verses of the English Bible that the word "Bible" can be read:
Matthew 21:42      “Haven’t you ever read in your Bible..”
               22:29      “You don’t know your Bible or God’s power…”
               26:54      “Could the Bible be true…”
Mark       12:10      “Haven’t you read this in your Bible?”
               14:49      “But what the Bible says has to come true…”
               15:28      “What the Bible said come true”
Luke       24:32      “…and explaining the Bible to us…”
               24:25      “He opened their minds to understand the Bible”
John       2:22        “They nelieved the Bible…”
               7:38        “…as the Bible has said…”
[The New Testament in the Language of Today, William F. Beck Translation]

End Note:
1       “It is from biblion, in fact, that our word ‘Bible’ is derived.” Bruce, F.F. The Books and the Parchment. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1984. p. 3.
2       Thayer, Joseph Henry. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981. p. 102.
3       “The plural of biblion is biblia…” (Bruce, p. 3)
4       “…the whole collection of Old and New Testament books came to be known by Greek-speaking Christians as ta biblia, ‘the books.’ ” (Bruce, p. 3)
5       Ewert, David. A General Introduction to the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990. p. 20
6       “However, it (biblion) lost its diminutive force, and another diminutive is used, namely, bibliaridion.” Ibid.
7       From Interlinear Transliterated Bible. Copyright © 1994, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.
8       Ibid.
9       Ibid.
10        Bruce, p. 4
11        Ibid., p. 4
12        Ewert, p. 19
13        Bruce, p. 3
14        Bruce, p. 3
15        Ewert, pp. 19-20
16        Ibid., p. 21
17        Ibid.
18        Ibid., p. 20)

SOURCE: Lopez, E. M. The Bible: Our Sacred Scripture, A General Introduction To The Bible. Quezon City, Philippines: 2010.

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