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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Writing (2)

WRITING.—The allusions to writing in the Gospels may be classified under four headings, none of which requires any elaborate discussion.

1. In one series of passages (‘Moses wrote,’ or ‘it is written’) the reference is to the OT Scriptures, whose letter was held to be authoritative on matters of faith and morals. This view of Scripture was due mainly to the influence of the earlier Rabbis, and naturally it dominated more or less the thinking of the primitive Church, whose one sacred book was the OT. But the formula ‘as it is written’ had already acquired a juristic sense, as may be seen from numerous inscriptions and papyri (Deissmann, Bible Studies, pp. 112–114, 249, 250), so that the LXX Septuagint translators were not striking out a new line in rendering Torah often by νόμος. ‘A religion of documents—considered even historically—is a religion of law.’ It is in this legal or semitechnical sense that Pilate is said to have written the charge against Jesus (John 19:19 etc.), while another metaphorical application occurs in Luke 10:20 ‘rejoice that your names are written (or enrolled) in heaven.’ The latter passage alludes to the well-known Rabbinic and apocalyptical conception of the heavenly books or registers, a figure employed to denote the indelible mercy of God and the certainty of the believer’s relation to Himself, as a citizen of the heavenly state. To have one’s name written in the heavenly archives, or inscribed on the Divine roll of citizens, was equivalent to the enjoyment of a safe and sure lot with God. On the general use of γραφή in the Gospels and Epistles, see art. Scripture, and ExpT [Note: xpT Expository Times.] xiv. [1903] 475–478.

2. Twice the phrase is used of the composition of the Gospels (Luke 1:3, John 20:30-31; John 21:24-25), the object of the undertaking in both cases being carefully explained as practical, not literary. To confirm faith, if not to awaken it, is the aim of a written Gospel. Thus an implicit divergence from the above-mentioned sense of γραφή emerges here. No writer of the Gospel claims a juristic authority for his statements. There is nothing legal or formal about their contents (cf. Moffatt, Historical New Testament2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , pp. 42 f., 258, 259, 537, 538), nor, as the very persistence of oral tradition suggests, was there any notion of setting them up as infallible tests. Faith sprang from hearing rather than from reading in those days of primitive Christianity. The rise of written records was late, and even their growing prominence did not as yet shift the centre of gravity and influence from living intercourse to scholastic or doctrinal prepossessions. The living voice, the fellowship of the Christian Church, the witness of Apostles—these prevented anything like degeneration into a book religion. The litera scripta had its place and merits. But it was produced in and for the Church. And not until it became isolated from the Church did its abuse begin. ‘For the general principles of any study you may learn by books at home; but the detail, the colour, the tone, the air, the life which makes it live in us, you must catch all these from those in whom it lives already’ (Newman). Thus the rise of written records in Christianity introduced a real problem, which is soluble only upon a proper view of the mutual relations between living intercourse, such as the Church provides, and literary standards and sources (cf. Tolstoi’s Essays, 170 f.).

3. The ordinary use of writing is twice mentioned, in connexion with domestic (Luke 1:63) and business (Luke 16:6-7) affairs. The three R’s were taught in Jewish schools, so that writing would be a fairly common accomplishment, indispensable, of course, to the higher branches of trade and culture (cf. Edersheim’s Sketches of Jewish Social Life, p. 130 f.). See art. Education.

4. Jesus Himself is only once said to have written—and that upon the dust (John 8:6; John 8:8), stooping and scrawling with His finger on the ground to conceal His embarrassment and to avoid answering the brazen questions of the woman’s accusers (cf. Ecce Homo, ch. ix.). It is idle to suppose that He wrote any sentence, or to conjecture what that sentence was, whether the sins of His interrogators or some text like Matthew 5:3 or Psalms 50:16. It is the action and nothing else that is significant. Jesus stooped to write, in short, by one of those natural gestures which a pure-minded man, seated on the ground, would employ to hide his confusion and put by a question which should never have been asked.

J. Moffatt.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Writing (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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