Truth, Word, Bible - Why Does This Book Have So Many Names?

Lisa M. Samra

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

If you are like the average American, you probably have a Bible. According to a 2017 survey by the American Bible Society, 87 percent of respondents said they own at least one Bible.

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The Best-Selling Book of All Time

If you are like the average American, you probably have a Bible. According to a 2017 survey by the American Bible Society, 87 percent of respondents said they own at least one Bible.

Owning a Bible is not a new phenomenon. In a 2006 New Yorker article, journalist Daniel Radosh observed, “The familiar observation that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time obscures a more startling fact: The Bible is the best-selling book of the year, every year.” The 20 million Bibles sold each year in the United States highlights the ongoing importance we place on this best-selling book.

There are actually many ways that people refer to this beloved book. Perhaps you have heard it called “Truth” or the “Word” or “Scripture.” Let’s explore together some of the names given to the Bible.

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Holy Bible or Good Book

The title “Bible” comes from the Greek word “biblos” meaning a book or library. To differentiate the Bible from other books and to recognize the spiritual significance of this book, the cover of your Bible likely says, “Holy Bible,” meaning “Holy Book.”

Understanding the Greek root for the English word “Bible” also serves as the foundation for the designation “Good Book.” The Bible is the “Good Book” because it's a book that contains the gospel, or good news about how to have a relationship with God and an eternal future with Him in heaven.

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The Word

In the days before telephones and digital communication, to receive a word from someone meant you had communication or information from a friend or loved one usually in the form of a letter or personal message. The Bible is often referred to as the “Word of God” or “God’s Word” because it is communication from God to humanity revealing who He is and how to have a relationship with Him.

This common designation is also derived from the understanding that scripture originates from God Himself. 2 Timothy 3:14 tells us that “all scripture is God-breathed,” meaning that although the Bible was written by more than 40 individuals on three different continents, each person was directed by God’s Spirit to compose the books that comprise our Bibles.

A fuller picture of how Scripture is “God-breathed” is found in 2 Peter, which explains “prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The Bible can be called “God’s Word” because He is the ultimate author of all 66 books.

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I love getting encouraging notes and cards from family and friends, and I have kept many of them so that I can go back and read their gracious words. The same is true with God’s word to us.

Having the “Word of God” available to us today is possible because God’s message to humanity was written down. The written aspect of God’s communication is best conveyed in another common term, “scripture,” which is found 54 times in the Bible. It is used to describe both the Old and New Testaments. When New Testament writers show us how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, they refer to Him fulfilling scripture (see Matthew 26:54, John 19:36). Following His resurrection Jesus commissions His disciples and “opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45), referring to the books of the Old Testament.

The New Testament is also described as scripture in the Bible when the apostle Peter refers to Paul’s letters, which make up much of the New Testament, as Scripture in 2 Peter 3:16

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Another common name for the Bible is to call it “truth.” Referring to the Bible as “truth” reminds readers that all that is contained in the Bible is without error in its original manuscripts, and accurate in all of its teaching. In other words, the Bible can be trusted.

Jesus, Himself, uses the word “truth” to describe the Bible. On Jesus’s last night with His disciplines before He is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prays for His disciples. Jesus asks God to protect and sanctify them in truth, declaring “your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Identifying the Bible as truth gives us confidence as we read it. We can know that God preserved the Bible for our benefit, because it is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:14).

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A Lamp

Amy Grant’s 1984 song, “Thy Word” popularized the idea of the Bible as a lamp that provides guidance and direction. The song is based on the words of Psalm 119 where the psalmist declares Scripture to be “a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105).

While we might have floodlights or industrial flashlights that fill an entire area with light, the lamps referenced in the Bible were small pieces of pottery filled with oil. These lamps were helpful to illuminate a path but they could only provide enough light to see a few steps in front of the person carrying the lamp.

In the same way, when we refer to the Bible as a lamp we affirm that the Bible provides guidance and shows us the way we should go on our spiritual journeys but often it illuminates just the next few steps on our path.

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The Sword

Perhaps in your youth group or Bible study, you participated in “sword drills.” You may have wondered about the origin of the unique phrase. In fact, referring to the Bible as a sword comes from Scripture.

In Ephesians 6:10-17, the apostle Paul describes “the armor of God.” He compares the different ways God strengthens believers to a piece of armor that a soldier might wear into battle. At the end of his list, Paul tells us to use “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Describing the Bible as a sword highlights how believers can rely on the truth found in the Bible to confront the lies and attacks of the devil.

A sword also has a blade that can slice deep. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12). This comparison between the Bible and a sword highlights how the Bible is able to expose and identify our deepest, innermost thoughts to remind us that nothing remains hidden from God. 

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The Seed

In the spring seed packets fill our local gardening store. I am always amazed at the number of tomatoes and cucumbers harvested from those tiny seeds.

Jesus tells a parable in Luke 8 about a farmer who goes out and plants seeds in his garden. Some seeds are trampled on or eaten by birds. Some seeds begin to take root but then wither because of lack of water or become chocked out by weeds. However, one seed is planted in good soil, receives plenty of water and light and produces a huge harvest. When the disciples failed to understand the parable Jesus tells them, “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11).

Jesus encouraged His disciples that as they allowed the scripture to take root in their hearts and grow, they would produce a great harvest in their lives. Even today, the time we spend reading the Bible has the potential to yield a spiritual harvest of fruit, including “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

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Nothing provides satisfaction to a hungry stomach more than a satisfying meal. In the same way, nothing satisfies a hungry soul like the promises of God found in the Bible. Just as people need nourishment for their physical bodies, we need nourishment for our souls as well. So, it is not surprising that several times in the Bible scripture is compared to food.

The author of Hebrews tells readers that they need to be taught the basic truths of God’s word, referring to the Bible as “milk” (Hebrews 5:12). A few verses later, he expresses a desire for them to move deeper in their knowledge of scripture, calling it “solid food” (5:14).

In the Psalms, David writes about the delight he gets from the laws of God. He refers to them as “sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).

In the Gospels, we see Jesus affirm the necessity of spiritual nourishment. When He is tempted in the wilderness by Satan, Jesus replies, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Jesus needed the spiritual food of scripture and encourages His followers to feast on it as well. 

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Holy Bible. Good Book. Word. Scripture. Truth. Lamp. Sword. Seed. Food.

These are some of the ways in which people refer to the Bible. Each of these titles highlights a different benefit people experience when they read and meditate on this important book.

I hope learning more about some of the names given to the Bible encourages you to open your Bible (it’s pretty likely you own one!) and allow it to help you on your spiritual journey.

Lisa M. Samra
Born and raised in Texas, Lisa graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas and earned a Master of Biblical Studies degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. Lisa now lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Jim, and their four children. She is a regular contributor to Our Daily Bread, and her work has also appeared in a variety of publications and online sites. Lisa loves to travel and often finds inspiration from experiencing the beauty of diverse cultures, places and people. Lisa enjoys good coffee, running and reading, just not all at the same time. 

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