The Terms of the Bible
The word Bible comes from the Greek word biblios, which means “a roll” or “a book”. It is the Greek term used in Luke 4:17 to identify, specifically, the scroll of Isaiah.
“The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him, and unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written:” Luke 4:17 CSB
The word scripture comes also from a Greek word. The Greek word graphei literally means “writings” and is used to identify both “sacred” and “secular” writings. In Romans 3:4, Paul uses a form of the word to say “as it is written” referring to the text of Psalms 51:4 before quoting it.
“Absolutely not! Let God be true, even though everyone is a liar, as it is written: That you may be justified in your words and triumph when you judge.”
Romans 3:4 CSB
“Against you – you alone – I have sinned and done this evil in your sight. So you are right when you pass sentence; you are blameless when you judge.” Psalms 51:4
In 2 Timothy 3:16, it is used to generally recognize “all scripture”. It is important to note that Paul assuredly was referring primarily to the Old Testament as the New Testament cannon was not yet formed at the time of Paul’s writing. While the New Testament was being written down literally as Paul was penning his letter to his “beloved son”, we can’t be positive that Paul even realized that he was writing some of the very “scripture” he was talking about being “inspired”.
“All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 CSB
However, we do know that Peter recognized Paul’s writings as “scripture” since he stated as much in 2 Peter 3:15-16.
“Also, regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our dear brother Paul has written to you according to the wisdom given to him. He speaks about these things in all his letters. There are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable will twist them to their own destruction, as they do also with the rest of the Scriptures.” 2 Peter 3:15-16 CSB
*Note: 1 Timothy 1:12-16, Romans 2:4, and Romans 9:22-24 all deal with “the patience of our Lord”. While it is likely that Peter was never exposed to the letter written to Timothy due to their private address and that they were likely written relatively recently before Peter’s death. It is likely that Peter had read Paul’s letter to the church at Rome as it was written approximately 5-15 years prior to Peter’s death and most agree that Peter was imprisoned in Rome prior to his execution where he was likely ministered to by the local congregation while writing 2 Peter from his prison cell.
This isn’t just important because it identifies Paul’s letters as scripture. We need to look at Galatians 2:6-14 to understand the magnitude of this accreditation given by Peter.
“Now from those recognized as important (what they once were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism) – they added nothing to me. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised, since the one at work in Peter for an apostleship to the circumcised was also at work in me for the Gentiles. When James, Cephas, and John – those recognized as pillars – acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only that we would remember the poor, which I had made every effort to do. But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. For he regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party. Then the rest of the Jews joined his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were deviating from the truth of the gospel, I told Cephas in front of everyone, “If you, who are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel Gentiles to live like Jews?” Galatians 2:6-14 CSB
We see that Paul bluntly and publicly charges Peter as a hypocrite. I can only imagine the humiliation for Peter being called out in such a way. So, for Peter to later compare Paul’s writings to and consider them equal with “the rest of the Scriptures” would not come as a loose comment from an excited follower of Paul. No, this statement can only come from God’s own breath through the Holy Spirit as Paul stated in 2 Timothy 3:16. Peter was aware by the Spirit that it was not Paul speaking, but the Holy Spirit of God.
- Word of God
The phrase “word of God” is a common one today used to synonymously replace “Bible” or “scriptures”. However, it is not a modern term, nor a modern assignment. The phrase originates in the Bible and comes from the Greek word logos which, as we previously discussed, literally means “word, discourse, account, or reasoning”.
In Matthew 15:5-6, Jesus uses the phrase to reference the Old Testament Law of Moses.
“But you say, ‘Whoever tells his father or mother, “Whatever benefit you might have received from me is a gift committed to the temple,” he does not have to honor his father.’ In this way, you have nullified the word of God because of your tradition.” Matthew 15:5-6
We also see in John 10:34-36 that Jesus uses the phrase “word of God” to reference Jewish law when quoting Psalms 82:6 and, in the same passage, identifies it synonymously with “the Scripture”.
“Jesus answered them, “Isn’t it written in your law, I said, you are gods? If he called those whom the word of God came to ‘gods’ – and the Scripture cannot be broken – do you say, ‘You are blaspheming’ to the one the Father set apart and sent into the world, because I said: I am the Son of God?” John 10:34-36
“I said, “You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High.” Psalms 82:6
Again, in Romans 3:2, the phrase “word of God” is used. This time to identify all scripture given to the Jews.
“Considerable in every way. First, they were entrusted with the very words of God.” Romans 3:2
In Hebrews 4:12, “word of God” refers to all scripture of all time, whether Old Testament or New Testament.
“For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
The term “testament” is not an extremely common term. It essentially means “covenant” and is most commonly used to distinguish between the old covenants of God and the new.
- Other Terms
A brief look at less common terms used to recognize or identify scripture, or parts of scripture, reveals several other terms.
- “The Law” – John 10:34 (above) uses the term to refer to all the Old Testament. In John 1:17, Acts 13:39, Malachi 4:4, Matthew 5:17 and several other places throughout scripture, “the law” refers specifically to the Law of Moses. Most often today, theologians, clergy, and layman us the term in this same way to identify the Law of Moses in conversation and study.
- “The Law and Prophets” is a term used to refer to the Old Testament in its entirety. However, in some cases, it can refer only to the Law of Moses and the Prophets, while excluding what the Jews called “The Writings”. The writings include poetry, philosophy, and some historical narratives such as the books of Proverbs, Psalms, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, and 1st and 2nd
- In Psalms we find a host of terms that are used to identify or describe scripture or parts of scripture. We see: instruction, testimony, precepts, command, ordinances, ways, judgement, statutes, promises, and path. We’ll not discuss them individually for the sake of time.
In summary of the terms of the Bible, we see that “Bible” emphasizes the idea of revelation of God given by roll or book. We see that “scriptures” emphasizes that the words are inspired by God or “God breathed”. We see that “word of God” emphasizes the unity of all scripture and, as previously discussed, the first chapter of John clearly identifies Jesus as “The Word”. We see that “testament” is used as a synonym for covenant and to distinguish between the old covenants and the new. Then, we also see that there are multiple other terms used throughout the Bible to identify or describe God’s words and revelation to us.