Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Who Named The Books of The Bible?

Biblegems #53

Who decided what the names of the books in the Bible would be and how did they come up with them? I know the Bible is God breathed and Holy Spirit Inspired, but did God actually name the books as well or did the writers of each book name it due to the main plot and/or character?

The answer to this is almost as varied as the Bible itself. There are, of course, 66 books in the Bible, and each of these fall into broad categories, such as History, Poetry, Biography, Prophecy, Wisdom Literature and Letters. To some extent, these categories help establish the title of a particular book.

For example, letters by their very design to not typically have a title. So Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth or Rome quickly became known by their destination, i.e., Corinthians and Romans. Likewise, personal letters to Timothy or Titus, which were also shared with the churches these men pastored, became known by the names of their recipients.

Some N.T. letters, however, were written with the intent that they be read by several churches in a region, rather than one specific church or person. These became commonly known by the name of their author: 1 & 2 Peter, James, 1,2,3 John, etc.

Other books, especially of the Old Testament, derive their title from the opening word or words of the book. Again, these were not originally “titled” as books are today. “Genesis,” for instance, comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for “beginning” in the first verse. But it was not always known by that name. Ancient Jews used to refer to the first book of the Bible as “The Book of the Creation of the World.”

The prophetic books of the Old Testament are commonly recognized by their authors: Isaiah, Daniel, Amos, etc. Other books, such as “Judges” of the Old Testament and “The Acts of the Apostles” in the New Testament received their names as popular descriptions of what they were about.

“Revelation,” also sometimes referred to as ”The Apocalypse,” gets it name from the opening line, “The revelation of Jesus Christ…,” or in Greek, Apokalupsis. 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Samuel were originally one book in the Hebrew and were entitled “Samuel” by the Massorites, based on 1 Samuel 28:2 and following.

The Massorites were Jewish scholars who replaced the Scribes we are familiar with in the New Testament. Their task was to accurately reproduce the Scriptures, preserving them for future generations. Our English Bibles take their form from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the LXX), which divided Kings and Samuel.

The list goes on, but these examples show how most Bible book names are not actually part of Scripture itself, but are commonly recognized terms for distinguishing one Bible book from another. Like chapter and verse numbers, which were added to Scripture as a study aid, Bible book titles are not themselves inspired, but they are very helpful.

1 comment:

  1. You answer the question HOW they were named, but you don't say who assigned the books their names. I think the questioner desires to know what person or person actually decided that Acts would be called The Acts of the Apostles and so on. I think the questioner assumes that (all) the titles are NOT God-breathed- that is my assumption as well. In the case of Acts, I read that Irenaeus was the first person on record to refer to Luke's second book as The Acts. Was there a committee of people who canonized the Scripture who decided, based on reading the text AND church tradition, to give the books their names? Why did more recent translators do away with the use of Saint Luke in deference to "The Gospel of Luke" or "The Gospel According to Luke"?