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Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The New Testament Greek word: βιβλος

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/b/b-i-b-l-o-sfin.html

βιβλος

Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary

βιβλος

The noun βιβλος (biblos) means paper and came to denote anything from newspapers, which have existed since the Persian diaspora, to scrolls and finally codices.

Our word "paper" comes from "papyrus." A similar development resulted in our word "library," which originated in the Latin word liber, meaning the inner bark of a tree. This word is spelled identical to the Latin word for freedom and this is certainly not an accident. In the New Testament too, the link between the Word of God and freedom is obvious and entirely deliberate (John 1:1, Galatians 5:5).

Strictly speaking, our noun βιβλος (biblos) referred to the inner bark of the papyrus plant, from which paper was made. Paper was initially rather course and cloth-like, and was primarily used to wrap valuables in. Only when techniques were refined, paper became smooth enough to serve as a surface to write on, which means that at some point paper graduated from being disposable wrapping material to precious data storage material.

Both the stories of Moses who was found among the reeds of the Nile, and the Israelites who crossed the Sea of Reeds obviously meditate on the strained relationship between wisdom and the popular book market. In modern times this same relationship has become depicted as the orphan girl among Tiffany's diamonds (most notably in Breakfast at Tiffany's and Annie; the name Tiffany comes from "theophany").

Where our noun βιβλος (biblos) comes from is not wholly clear, but an often cited explanation is that it was named after the town of Gebal, in Lebanon, where the Egyptians exported their paper to in order to access the vast Phoenician market. That's not unthinkable since our word "parchment," likewise, comes from the name Pergamum, a city in Mysia.

The city Gebal indeed became known as Byblos but it's not clear whether some perhaps foreign word βιβλος (biblos) was first attached to papyrus and then stuck to the epicenter of the paper trade, or that the G of the name Gebal was somehow turned into a B, and the result extended with the common Greek suffix for places. Either way, in Hebrew the name גבל (Gebal) became בבל (Bebal), which was of course a splendid gag since בבל (Bebal) was indistinguishable from בבל (Babel).

Our word "Bible" stems from the noun βιβλος (biblos), and the Bible as we know it indeed came from Babylon: the Old Testament was compiled into its present form during the Babylonian exile and the New Testament got going when Persian Jews became the Pharisaic sect and some of them knew about the birth of the Christ long before most others, and came to Judea to find him still wrapped.

Our noun occurs 10 times in the New Testament (see full concordance), and its relation to its derivatives is explained by the usage of the word "paper" in English: When we say we read something in the paper(s), it could have been any which one, and we're actually referring to some specific topic that's going around. But when we quote a specific article, or hold a paper in our hands, it's a physical thing that we might roll up to whack a fly with.

Of course there is quite some overlap, but the first category (reading something in "the papers") would be largely covered by our noun βιβλος (biblos). The second category (physical paper with writing on it) is largely covered by the derivatives. Note also that the Greek makes no distinction between a centuries old "paper" of Isaiah and the recent edition of the Daily Bugle, a legal document, a fresh masterpiece or the latest publications of the local satirist.

The following two nouns are diminutives of βιβλος (biblos):

  • The noun βιβλιδαριον (biblidarion) would mean booklet or "little paper." The suffix of this particular word is not unusual but the word βιβλιδαριον (biblidarion) is. In the whole of Greek literature, its only four occurrences are in Revelation 10:2-10 (see full concordance). Many have guessed at the meaning of this chapter, and here at Abarim Publications we surmise that the "opened" biblidarion is contrasted by the still unfinished "mystery of God" mentioned in 10:7, and that the biblidarion wasn't so much small in size but rather in quality: it's a tabloid. It represents the popular book market we mentioned earlier, and with that the mountains of literary (and theological) fodder within which the stature of the Word safely matures (Luke 2:52). The tenth chapter of the Book of Revelation appears to tell the same story as we referred to above: that of the orphan girl safely maturing among the diamonds of Tiffany's.
  • The noun βιβλιον (biblion) is the common word for one physical paper (i.e. anything from a thank-you note to a scroll or codex). This word is technically a diminutive but this form serves to identify an individual from a general principle: a physical newspaper from the conceptual "papers." Note that in Roman imperial times, daily life was strewn with papers and paperwork, which mostly went to waste. The little that was preserved was copiously copied and circulated, and only a minute portion of that was ultimately bundled and deliberately preserved. Our word occurs 33 times; see full concordance.