Sometime during the Middle Ages, the collection of 66 books that we generally refer to as the Bible was named biblia sacra (holy books). When the King James Version was compiled in 1611, the publishers named it The Holy Bible. Since then there have been hundreds of different titles for the Book of books.
Publishers have been very creative in naming the Book. Broadly speaking, an English Bible is named by translation (e.g. NIV, ESV, NKJV), type (e.g. Matthew Henry Study Bible, Gospel Transformation Bible), audience (e.g. Baby’s First Bible, The Action Bible), or event (e.g. Family Devotional Bible, Preaching Bible). A possible fifth category of names for the Book could be those that are unusual (e.g. Waterproof Bible, Klingon Bible).
Why does the Book have so many different names? Maybe because its compilation includes so many different genres of literature. Maybe because it’s a book that’s unlike any other book. Or maybe because, with so many different people involved in its publication, there are a variety of opinions as to what the title should be.
The essence of a book is often the main factor that informs the naming of a book. Many English translations of the Book use the word Bible in the title because it comes from the Greek word biblos (βίβλος) meaning book. Biblos is used about 10 times in the New Testament. The first writer to refer to the Old and New Testaments together as the Bible was Chrysostom in 223 AD when he called the two testaments ta biblia (the books).
A good title for a book usually provides a hint about the story. When the publishers of the KJV used the word holy in the title they obviously wanted to communicate to potential readers that the story is sacred, sanctified and hallowed. Another meaning for holy is “set apart.” The KJV title, therefore, indicates that the Book is unlike any other book because the author is God (who is set apart from us).
Book titles frequently include keywords describing the most important thing, person or idea in the book. If I were naming the Book, I wouldn’t use the word holy or study in the title (two of the most commonly used words) because the fact that the Book is holy and should be studied aren’t the most important things about it. The most important thing about the Book is that, from beginning to end, it’s all about a person – Jesus Christ. For this reason, my favourite title for the Book, of all existing titles, is The Jesus Bible.
What’s your favourite title for the Book? The title you choose says something about who you are. If your favourite title is the Justice Bible, I suspect you’re passionate about setting things right. If it’s The Message, you probably value God’s Word in an easily understood format. Or if it’s The Sportsman’s Bible, you’re more than likely an outdoor enthusiast who likes fishing or hunting.
George Eliot said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” While the title of the Book is important, what’s more important is that we don’t prejudge the worth or value of the Book by its name. When all is said and done, what really counts is engaging with the Book. For unlike any other book, when you open the Book, regardless of its title, it wants you to engage with it so that it can engage with you!
© Scripture Union Canada 2020