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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Why Is the Bible So Special?

Don Stewart :: What Special Terms Does the Bible Use to Describe Itself?

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What Special Terms Does the Bible Use to Describe Itself?

Why the Bible Is So Special – Question 3

One of the ways in which Scripture claims to be God’s Word is in the number of special terms it uses in describing itself. They include the following:

The Scripture (Scriptures) or the Writings

The New Testament applied the term “the writings” to the books of the Old Testament. The term “Scripture” comes from the Greek word graphe meaning, “a writing,” or “that which is written.” The noun form of the word occurs about fifty times in the New Testament, and it is used mostly of the collection of sacred writings?the Old Testament.

The Greek Word Graphe [Scripture] Is Used in the Singular and the Plural When Referring to the Old Testament

Both the singular and the plural form of graphe are used to describe the sacred writings. In Matthew’s gospel, the plural form of graphe is used.

We find this term used when Jesus confronted those who rejected His claim to be the promised Messiah. In doing so, He quoted the Scripture:

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures.” ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.’ (Matthew 21:42 ESV)

The parallel passage in Mark has the singular form of this Greek word. Jesus said:

Have you not even read this Scripture: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” (Mark 12:10 NKJV)

Therefore, both the singular, as well as the plural, form of graphe are used to refer to the written Word of God.

The Word Translated “Scripture” Can Refer to One Specific Passage

The word “Scripture” is sometimes used of a specific passage in the sacred writings. After Jesus had read a passage from the scroll of Isaiah, He put the scroll down. He then made a comment that astonished those who were in attendance. Luke writes:

Then he [Jesus] began to tell them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read.” (Luke 4:21 NET)

In this case, the term “Scripture” refers to one specific passage in the sacred writings.

The Word “Scripture” Is Also Used of the Words of Jesus

The term “Scripture” is even used of specific New Testament portions. In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul directly quoted the words of Christ that are recorded in Luke 10:7 and called the words “Scripture.”

For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18 NASB)

The New Living Translation puts it this way:

For the Scripture says, “Do not keep an ox from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” (1 Timothy 5:18 NLT)

The phrase, “the laborer is worthy of his wages,” or “those who work deserve their pay,” is something that Luke recorded Jesus saying to His disciples. Jesus said:

And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. (Luke 10:7 NKJV)

This is the earliest instance of Jesus’ words being specifically cited as Scripture. This citation is from the New Testament itself.

Paul’s Writings Are Called “Scripture”

In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter specifically refers to Paul’s writings as Scripture. He wrote the following to the believers:

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15-16 ESV)

The words “other Scriptures,” or “other parts of Scripture” would refer to the Old Testament, as well as that portion of the New Testament that had been written at that time. The writings of Paul were of the same authority as these other sacred writings.

The Phrase “It Is Written” Is Used to Refer to Holy Scripture

The verb form of the Greek word graphe is used about ninety times. It is often found in a form meaning, “It is written.” For example, we read the following in Matthew’s gospel:

Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” (Matthew 4:10 NASB)

Therefore, we find the word translated as “Scripture,” or “Scriptures,” used in a number of different ways to designate the holy writings.

The Holy Scriptures (the Holy Writings)

Twice we find the Old Testament called the “holy Scriptures,” the “holy writings,” or the “sacred writings.” When Paul wrote to Timothy, he reminded him how the sacred Scripture had been a part of his life since the beginning. He said:

And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:15 ESV)

In this instance, Paul used the Greek word gramma to refer to the Scriptures.

Paul also used the word gramma when he wrote to the church at Rome. He introduced the letter in the following manner:

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures. (Romans 1:1-2 NASB)

The consistent testimony is that the Scriptures are holy and sacred writings. This has the idea that these writings are set apart for a special purpose.

The Word of God

“The Word of God” is a title that is used in both Testaments to speak of the sacred writings. This expression emphasizes the nature of the Bible as the revelation of God to humanity in written form. In Matthew, this expression is used specifically of the Law of Moses. Jesus rebuked the religious leaders for their dishonoring of the “Word of God.” The Bible says:

And He [Jesus] answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER,’ and, ‘HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH.’” “But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Matthew 15:3-6 NASB)

In Mark 7:13, the phrase, “the Word of God” is also used of Moses’ command regarding the honoring of a person’s father and mother. Jesus said:

Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like this. (Mark 7:13 NET)

In John 10:35 Jesus used the phrase “the Word of God” to refer to the entire Old Testament. He said:

If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? (John 10:35-36 NKJV)

Finally, in Hebrews 4:12, the phrase “Word of God” is used of all Scripture. In this context, it seems to refer to both testaments:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NASB)

Thus, the sacred writings are considered to be the very Word of God.

The Word of the Lord

In various portions of the Bible, God’s Word is referred to as the “Word of the Lord.” Peter, quoting the prophet Isaiah, wrote the following:

For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” (1 Peter 1:24-25 NIV)

The word translated “Lord” refers to the divine name for God—Yahweh or Jehovah. Thus, the Scriptures are the Word of Yahweh or Jehovah Himself.

A Dependable Book (Book of Truth)

In Daniel, we find the written Word called a “dependable book” or a “book of truth.” An angelic messenger approached Daniel and said the following:

However, I will first tell you what is written in a dependable book. (Daniel 10:21 NET)

Some translations see the words “dependable book” as a title, “The Book of Truth.” The New International Version translates this verse in this manner:

But first I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. (Daniel 10:21 NIV)

The New King James Version also sees it as a title, but translates it as “The Scripture of Truth.” It reads as follows:

But I will tell you what is noted in the Scripture of Truth. (Daniel 10:21 NKJV)

The New Revised Standard Version has a similar translation to these three English versions, but does not capitalize the words as a title:

But I am to tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth. (Daniel 10:21 NRSV)

The English Standard Version translates it in a similar way as the New Revised Standard Version. It says the following:

But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth. (Daniel 10:21 ESV)

The point is that the testimony of Scripture is entirely trustworthy. The ultimate author of the Bible, God, cannot lie. Therefore, His Word is entirely dependable.

The Sacred Books (the Sacred Scrolls)

Daniel the prophet used the term, “the sacred books,” or the “sacred scrolls,” to refer to the holy writings. He wrote the following:

In the first year of his reign I, Daniel, came to understand from the sacred books that, according to the word of the LORD disclosed to the prophet Jeremiah, the years for the fulfilling of the reproach of Jerusalem were seventy in number. (Daniel 9:2 NET)

The Apostle Paul also used the term “scrolls” to refer to the sacred writings. He wrote the following to Timothy:

When you come, bring with you the cloak I left in Troas with Carpas and the scrolls, especially the parchment ones. (2 Timothy 4:13 NET)

While Paul may have been referring to the Old Testament, it is possible that his own writings were meant. Indeed, in his earliest writing (1 Thessalonians) he claimed that his message was not his own words, but actually the word of God:

We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:13 NRSV)

However, one must be careful in assuming that any reference in the Bible to a book or books must, of necessity, refer to the sacred Scripture. Depending upon the context, the Greek word translated “book,” or “scroll,” can also refer to a book of magic. We find an example of this in the Book of Acts:

And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. (Acts 19:19 ESV)

Therefore, the Scripture uses the terms “book” and “books” in a number of different ways ? including sacred books.

The Law

A term used in the New Testament for the Old Testament Scripture is “the Law.” The expression often refers to the entire Old Testament, while at other times it is speaking the Law of Moses?the first five books of the Bible. In John 12:34, for example, we find it referring to the entire Old Testament. It says:

The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” (John 12:34 NRSV)

There is nothing in the Law of Moses, the first five books of Scripture, which says the Christ will live forever. In this context, “the Law” is used of the entire Old Testament. The following verses teach that Christ will live forever:

The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4 NASB)

Isaiah the prophet predicted a number of things that would be true about the coming Messiah, or Christ. He wrote:

His dominion will be vast and he will bring immeasurable prosperity. He will rule on David’s throne and over David’s kingdom, establishing it and strengthening it by promoting justice and fairness, from this time forward and forevermore. The LORD’s intense devotion to his people will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:7 NET)

The Lord predicted that the Messiah, David’s greater Son, would live forever. We read the following words of the Lord in the writings of the prophet Ezekiel:

They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children’s children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever. (Ezekiel 37:25 NRSV)

Therefore, the term “Law” can have a narrow meaning; the Law of Moses, or a much wider meaning - the entire Old Testament.

The Law and the Prophets

Another New Testament expression used for the entire Old Testament is the “Law and the Prophets.” It looks at the Old Testament from the standpoint of how it was divided at that time. The Apostle Paul used this expression when wrote to the church at Rome:

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets. (Romans 3:21 NRSV)

This was a common designation for the Old Testament.

Moses and the Prophets

The Old Testament is also called “Moses and the prophets.” In the story that Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus, both of them had died. In the narrative, we find Abraham speaking to the rich man in the next world:

Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” (Luke 16:29 NRSV)

Here, Moses is another term for “the Law.”

The Law, the Prophets and the Psalms

Jesus spoke of a threefold division of the Old Testament—the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. In Luke’s gospel, we read:

Then he [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44 NRSV)

In this context, the term “psalms” may refer to the wisdom books of the Old Testament. This would include the Book of Psalms, the Book of Proverbs and the Book of Job. However, there is no clear evidence that these books were divided this way at this time in history. Therefore, this reference of Jesus may be only referring to the Book of Psalms.

The Oracles of God (Living Oracles)

Another term for the holy writings is the Greek word logion. This is a diminutive form of the Greek word logos and means “an oracle, divine response or utterance.” It is used of the sacred writings in Romans 3:2 and Acts 7:38. Paul wrote:

What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God. (Romans 3:1-2 NKJV)

In the Book of Acts, the martyr Stephen referred to these words as “living oracles.” In speaking to a hostile crowd, he said:

This is the man who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors, and he received living oracles to give to you. (Acts 7:38 NET)

The Word of God is living; it has the power to change lives.

The Covenant (Testament)

The word “covenant,” or “testament,” is also used for the sacred Scripture. The Greek word diatheke, translated “testament,” means, “covenant, contract or will.” It is used to distinguish between the Old and New Covenants—the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Apostle Paul wrote about the Jews reading the old covenant:

But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:14 ESV)

The first coming of Jesus Christ explains the meaning of the Old Covenant as well as explaining its promises.

The Use of the Terms “Book” and “The Books” after Biblical Times

After the New Testament era, the terms “book” and “books” began to be used to refer to the collection of sacred writings—the Old and New Testament. The change came about as believers viewed the two testaments as one unified utterance of God. Today, the most popular term to describe God’s Word is the term “Bible.” This emphasizes that the Scripture is ultimately one Book.

To sum up, there are a number of terms that the Bible uses to describe itself. It is clear from these terms that this “Book” should be regarded as God’s Holy Word.

Summary – Question 3
What Special Terms Does the Bible Use to Describe Itself?

Twelve biblical expressions—Scripture, the Holy Scripture, the Word of God, the Word of the Lord, the Book of Truth, the sacred Books, the Law, the Law and the Prophets, the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, Moses and the Prophets, the Oracles of God and Covenant—are the designations used for the collection of writings that were considered sacred by the writers of the Bible. This demonstrates the attitude that was taken toward these books—they are the Word of God.

Both testaments claim to record the words and deeds of God. The New Testament uses terms such as “Scripture,” “Oracles” and “Testament” when referring to the Old Testament. Each of these terms show that the writings were considered to be sacred or divinely inspired. It is therefore the claim of the Bible that it is the revealed Word of God.

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Why Are the Two Divisions of the Bible Called the Old and New Testament? Next Section →
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