Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Does the Holy Bible Call Itself the Holy Bible?

Sam Shamoun

Muslims argue that, unlike the word Quran which appears as the name given to their scripture within their own sacred writings, the Holy Bible never refers to itself by that name. They claim that nowhere does one find verses where the word Bible is employed to describe the Scriptures which the Jews and Christians came to believe were sacred, nor does one find these writings ever referring to themselves as holy.

There are several glaring problems with these objections.  First, the term Bible does in fact originate from the Holy Bible itself. It is derived from the Latin biblia, which itself comes from the Greek. Biblia is the plural form of the Greek biblion, which is a diminutive of biblos. In Latin the word biblia became a feminine singular.

In time the collection became classified as THE Book or Bible. This is primarily because even though the Holy Bible consists of 66 individual books, the author is one, namely the Holy Spirit of God:

The word ‘Bible’ COMES FROM THE GREEK BIBLOS or bublos, the inner bark enclosing the pitch of the papyrus plant from which paper (papyrus) was made in ancient times. The diminutive plural biblia (books) WAS VIEWED AS A SINGULAR IN LATIN, AND FROM THIS CAME THE MODERN ENGLISH WORD…” (Encyclopedia Americana, Year 2000 Edition, Volume 3, p. 648; bold and capital emphasis ours)

And:

The term ‘Bible’ is derived, through the Latin Biblia (originally a neuter plural, but treated since the early Middle Ages AS A FEMININE SINGULAR), from the Greek ta Biblia, literally "the books," with the word hiera (sacred) expressed or understood. The singular of this Greek word, Biblion (a diminutive in form, but with the diminutive force lost), occurs in Lk 4.17, in reference to the "SCROLL" of Isaiah from which Jesus read in the synagogue at Nazareth. The earlier form he BiBlos (the book, i.e. the Bible), which occurs in 2 Mc 8.23, as does its plural hai BiBloi, in the Septuagint of Dn 9.2, comes from an original form, he BiBlos, designating Egyptian papyrus, first known to the Greeks as writing material imported from the Phoenician city of BYBLOS. Synonymous terms for the sacred book(s) are hai graphai (the writings, the Scriptures) and he graphe (the writing, Scripture, the Bible as a whole), which are used in Mt 21.42; 22:29; 26:54; etc. and Acts 8.32; Rom 4.3; 9.17; etc., respectively.

“The use of the singular number in these terms to designate the many writings that constitute the Bible comes FROM THE REGARDING OF THE COLLECTION AS A SINGLE UNIT, despite its many authors, HAS GOD AS ITS CHIEF AUTHOR…” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition, Volume 2, p. 354; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Second, as has been already noted, the words biblos, biblion and biblia are all used in the Holy Scriptures in reference to the revelation:

"And He was handed the book (biblion) of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book (to biblion), He found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.’ Then He closed the book (to biblion), and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him." Luke 4:17-20 NKJV

"And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book (en to biblio touto)." John 20:30 NKJV

"For it is written in the Book (biblo) of Psalms ..." Acts 1:20 NKJV

"Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets (en biblo ton propheton) ..." Acts 7:42 NKJV

"For as many as are of the works of the law are under curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law (en to biblio tou nomou), to do them." Galatians 3:10 NKJV

"When you come, bring the cloak I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books (kai ta biblia), especially the parchments." 2 Timothy 4:13

"I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, "What you see, write in a book (graphon eis biblion) and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia…" Revelation 1:10-11

"For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book (tes propheteias tou bibliou): If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book (en tou biblio); and if anyone takes away words of the book of this prophecy (tou bibliou tes propheteias), God shall take away his part from the Tree of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (en to biblio touto)." Rev. 22:18-19

Third, the Bible does call itself Holy:

"which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures," Romans 1:2

"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." 2 Timothy 3:15

In fact, even the words Old and New Testaments are derived from the Holy Scriptures themselves. For instance, the word Testament is the Latin translation of the Greek diatheke, which is used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word for covenant (brit).

The Scriptures speak of God making a New Covenant and the New Testament scriptures are the record and fulfillment of that promise:

"But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one. But showing its fault, God says to them, ‘Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will complete a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not continue in my covenant and I had no regard for them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and I will inscribe them on their hearts. And I will be their God and they will be my people. And there will be no need at all for each one to teach his countryman or each one to teach his brother saying, 'Know the Lord,' since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer. When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear." Hebrews 8:6-13 NET Bible

"And so he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the eternal inheritance he has promised, since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant. For where there is a will, the death of the one who made it must be proven. For a will takes effect only at death, since it carries no force while the one who made it is alive. So even the first covenant was inaugurated with blood. For when Moses had spoken every command to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats with water and scarlet wool and hyssop and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has commanded you to keep.’ And both the tabernacle and all the utensils of worship he likewise sprinkled with blood." Hebrews 9:15-21 NET

"And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’" Luke 22:20 NET

It is little wonder that Paul could refer to the Hebrew Scriptures, specifically the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, as the Old Covenant/Testament:

"But if the ministry that produced death, carved in letters on stone tablets, came with glory so that the Israelites could not keep their eyes fixed on the face of Moses because of the glory of his face (a glory that was fading away), how much more glorious will the ministry of the Spirit be? For if there was glory in the ministry that produced condemnation, how much more does the ministry that produces righteousness excel in glory! For indeed, what had been glorious now has no glory because of the tremendously greater glory of what replaced it. For if what was fading away came with glory, how much more has what remains come in glory! Therefore, since we have such a hope, we behave with great boldness, and not like Moses who used to put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from staring at the end of the glory that was fading away. But their minds were closed. For to this very day, the same veil remains when they hear the old covenant read. It has not been removed because only in Christ is it taken away. But until this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds, but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed." 2 Corinthians 3:7-16 NET

Thus, not only does the Holy Bible refer to itself as the Holy Bible, it even distinguishes the two sets of Scriptures, and their covenants, as the Old and New Testaments respectively.