Last weekend, my daughter asked where the word Bible came from. I had an idea but wasn’t 100% sure I was right so looked it up–and indeed found my impression was correct.

Bible is a rather ancient word, meaning “the Bible or any large book” back in the medieval days. I know that in many romance languages, the word for book still has bibl- in it somewhere, so this was no surprise to me. It comes most directly to English from Latin, via French, but the Latin word is actually straight from the Greek. Biblion is any ordinary scroll or book. They called the Holy Bible, ta biblio to hagia at first, though the term for the Christian scriptures had been shorted to ta biblio in Greek as early as 223!

The Greek is thought to perhaps have come from Byblos, a Phoenician port from which Egyptian papyrus was exported to Greece.

So for many hundreds of years, the English form Bible meant only the Holy Scriptures; it was then expanded again figuratively to mean “any authoritative work” around 1800.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email