Origin of the Word Bible
Leslie S. Rainey is a missionary. He served the Lord in Palestine until refused a renewal of his visa. He is the author of several books especially prepared for college students in Zambia, the country in which he now labours. We always appreciate his thoughtful ministry.
Just why was the Book that has had the greatest moral influence in the world called the “Bible?” From the coronation service we shall ever recall the words, “The most valuable thing that this world affords … Here is wisdom; this is the royal law; these are the lively oracles of God.” In the study of the words of the Bible there is none more interesting than that connected with the Book of God. In the museum of Cairo as well as in the writings of men, we have learned that the Bible was written long before printing was invented or paper was discovered. “In Southern Asia, and in Egypt, and in the valley of the Jordan, there grew a plant called papyrus. The outer covering of this plant was called biblus, which was stripped off, put into water, and after a rather long process was changed into parchment. This parchment was tough and flexible and with constant use would last for a hundred years.” It was on this parchment the early prophets wrote the Scriptures.
Then, another difficulty arose. As lasting as this parchment was, it would finally wear out. The parchment was glued together in long strips, and then made into a roll. On these rolls the various books of the Bible were written. Being read, studied, and handled as they were, these rolls began to wear out. It was then necessary to copy in order to preserve the written Word and this had to be done by scholars who were experts in language, and who understood the message of the prophets who wrote it.
Then it was that a new order of scholars arose known as the ‘scribes.” Their main duty was to copy the written books exactly as they were written, and being educated especially for this, in the course of time they began to explain to the people the meaning of the various books of the Bible. The books of the Old Testament existed in this parchment form for several hundred years, and new copies were constantly being made to replace the older ones about worn out. The scribes were the most learned men of their day.
Let us remember, however, that the scribes never wrote the Bible originally. The prophets did that as God revealed Himself and His message to them. But after the prophets were gone, somebody had to look after the parchments, preserve them, and recopy as might be needed. And so that class of men, highly trained to do this, came into existence and were called scribes. These men occupied a high profession and were greatly honoured. God’s Word was entrusted to their care for many hundreds of years.
Then another thing happened, something quite common in the use of language. The word biblus, that is, the parchment’s name on which the words were written began to be applied to the Sacred Writings itself. Then, since the writings were in rolls of books, the word biblus came to mean book.
Now the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, yet the name Bible is of Greek origin. This came in the process of translating the Hebrew into Greek; and through the Latin into English, we have the word Bible, which literally means “book.”
Today if you were to visit a modern book store in Jerusalem, Israel, and ask for a Bible the word used would be “tanack.” It is made up of three letters, T, N. and K. The first of these three letters stands for the Torah, the first five books of the Bible; the second letter N, the prophets; the last letter, K, or our English C, Coteveem, meaning the Writings. The Hebrew Bible was arranged in three sections (Luke 24:44).
The Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
The Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings … Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve Minor Prophets.
The Writings: Poetical: Psalms, Job, Proverbs; Rolls: used on special feast days), Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther.
Non-Prophetical: Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles.
I have always thought the Old Testament ended on a tragic note of corruption and condemnation, the very opposite of the book of Revelation. According to our King James Version this is true, but not according to the Bible of the Jews. The last book of the Hebrew Old Testament is Chronicles as verified by our Lord in mentioning Abel as the first martyr in Genesis, and Zechariah the last, in the book of Chronicles. In Chronicles the nation is visualized going up to Jerusalem and the very words, “Let him go up” (Chronicles 36:23), are suggestive of worship. Thus, as the New Testament ends on the note of triumph, so the Old Testament concludes with the divine testimony as to the wisdom and knowledge of God and His faithfulness concerning the covenant people known as the Jew.
Though the Bible is composed of many books, it is still one book, “The Book.”
The Word of God is unlike all other books, it is a Holy Book. It is holy as to its source, “God hath spoken in His holiness” (Psalm 60:6). You can search the world and analyze the so-called holy books of religion, but only the Bible can be truthfully called the Holy Bible. It is holy in substance for from cover to cover it is marked by spirituality because of the Holy Spirit of God. Do we not read, “The Spirit spake through David” (2 Samuel 23:2)?
It is holy in speech because holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). There is no revelation from God in the works of wicked men. Men like Shakespeare and Carlyle, Ruskin, etc., have written wise and wonderful words, but none have written about a holy Saviour, a holy calling, a holy name, a holy love and a holy home.
It is holy in sequel for its ultimate aim is to make holy men and women. God’s desire was to make a holy nation but the nation Israel failed. Now in our generation the design of the Holy Spirit is to take out a people for His name and by His Spirit make them sanctified vessels meet for His use.
Paul’s advice to a young man in 2 Timothy 2:15 defines the high cost of serving God in the Sacred Scriptures. It will result in a sturdy Christian character, a daily surrendered life, a sanctified course through this world, and a sure and straight presentation of truth in our message. Such a life is influential, invincible and inspirational and has as its incentive that everything in our lives be the exact counterpart of the plan defined in the Scriptures.
Oh, that in our generation when there is a famine of hearing the Word of God, we might get back to the Book, the basis of all spiritual, national, and individual blessing as revealed in the “Oratorio of Scripture” (Psalm 119)!