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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Scripture (2)

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SCRIPTURE.—The scope of this article does not permit the discussion in it of the employment of Scripture, or of the estimate put upon Scripture, by either our Lord or the Evangelists. It is strictly limited to the use of the term ‘Scripture’ in the NT, particularly in the Gospels: and to the immediate implications of that use.

1. The use of this term in the NT was an inheritance, not an invention. The idea of a ‘canon’ of ‘Sacred Scriptures’ (and with the idea the thing) was handed down to Christianity from Judaism. The Jews possessed a body of writings, consisting of ‘Law, Prophets, and (other) Scriptures (Kethûbhîm),’ though they were often called, for brevity’s sake, merely ‘the Law and the Prophets’ or simply ‘the Law.’ These ‘Sacred Scriptures,’ or this ‘Scripture’ (הכתיב) as it was frequently called, or these ‘Books,’ or simply this ‘Book’ (הספר), they looked upon as originating in Divine inspiration, and as therefore possessed everywhere of Divine authority. Whatever stood written in these Scriptures was a word of God, and was therefore referred to indifferently as something which ‘Scripture says’ (אמר קרא, or אמר הבתיב, or כתיב קּרא), or ‘the All-Merciful says’ (אמר רחמנא), or even simply ‘He says’ (וכן הוא אומר or merely ואומר); that God is the Speaker in the Scriptural word being too fully understood to require explicit expression. Every precept or dogma was supposed to be grounded in Scriptural teaching, and possessed authority only as buttressed by a Scripture passage, introduced commonly by one or the other of the formulas ‘for it is said’ (שׁנאמר) or ‘as it is written’ (רכתיב or כדכתיב), though, of course, a great variety of more or less frequently occurring formulas of adduction are found. Greek-speaking Jews naturally tended merely to reproduce in their new language the designations and forms of adduction of their sacred books current among their people. This process was no doubt facilitated by the existence among the Greeks of a pregnant legislative use of γράφω, γραφή, γράμμα, by which these terms were freighted with an implication of authority. But it is very easy to make too much of this. In Josephus, and even more plainly in the LXX Septuagint , the influence of the Greek usage may be traced; but in a writer like Philo, Jewish habits of thought appear to be absolutely determinative. The fact of importance is that there was nothing left for Christianity to invent here. It merely took over in their entirety the established usages of the Synagogue, and the NT evinces itself in this matter at least a thoroughly Jewish book. The several terms it employs are made use of, to be sure, with some sensitiveness to their inherent implications as Greek words, and the Greek legislative use of some of them gave them, no doubt, peculiar fitness for the service asked of them. But the application made of them by the NT writers had its roots set in Jewish thought, and from it they derive a fuller and deeper meaning than the most pregnant classical usage could impart to them.

2. To the NT writers, as to other Jews, the sacred books of what was now called by them ‘the old covenant’ (2 Corinthians 3:14), described according to their contents as ‘the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms’ (Luke 24:44), or more briefly as ‘the Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 7:12, Luke 16:16; cf. Acts 28:23, Luke 16:29; Luke 16:31), or merely as ‘the Law’ (John 10:34, 1 Corinthians 14:21), or even, perhaps, ‘the Prophets’ (Matthew 2:23; Matthew 11:13; Matthew 26:56, Luke 1:70; Luke 18:31; Luke 24:25; Luke 24:27, Acts 3:24; Acts 13:27, Romans 1:2; Romans 16:26), were, when thought of according to their nature, a body of ‘sacred scriptures’ (Romans 1:2, 2 Timothy 3:16), or, with the omission of the unnecessary, because well-understood adjective, simply by way of eminence, ‘the Scriptures,’ ‘Scripture.’ For employment in this designation either of the substantives γραφή or γράμμα offered itself, although, of course, each brought with it its own suggestions arising from the implication of the form and the general usage of the word. The more usual of the two in this application, in Philo and Josephus, is γράμμα, or more exactly γράμματα; for, although it is sometimes so employed in the singular (but apparently only late, e.g. Callimachus, Epigr. xxiv. 4, and the Church Fathers, passim), it is in the plural that this form more properly denotes that congeries of alphabetical signs which constitutes a book. In the NT, on the other hand, this form is rare. The complete phrase ἱερὰ γράμματα, found also both in Josephus and in Philo, occurs in 2 Timothy 3:15 as the current title of the sacred books, freighted with all its implications as such. Elsewhere in the NT, however, γράμματα is scarcely used as a designation of Scripture (cf. John 5:47; John 7:15). Practically, therefore, γραφή, in its varied uses, remains the sole form employed in the NT in the sense of ‘Scripture,’ ‘Scriptures.’

3. This term occurs in the NT about fifty times (Gospels 23, Acts 7, Catholic Epistles 6, Paul 14); and in every case it bears that technical sense in which it designates the Scriptures by way of eminence, the Scriptures of the OT. It is true there are a few instances in which passages adduced as γραφή are not easily identified in the OT text; but there is no reason to doubt that OT passages were intended (cf. Hühn, Die alttest. Citate, 270; and Mayor on James 4:5, Lightfoot on 1 Corinthians 2:9, Westcott on John 7:38, and Godet on Luke 11:49). We need to note in modification of the broad statement, therefore, only that it is apparent from 2 Peter 3:16 (cf. 1 Timothy 5:18) that the NT writers were well aware that the category ‘Scripture,’ in the high sense, included also the writings they were producing, as along with the books of the OT constituting the complete ‘Scripture’ or authoritative Word of God. In 20 out of the 50 instances in which γραφή occurs in the NT, it is the plural form which is used, and in all but two of these cases the article is present—αἱ γραφαί, the well-known Scriptures of the Jewish people; and the two exceptions are exceptions only in appearance, since adjectival definitions are present (γραφαὶ ἅγιαι, Romans 1:2, here first in extant literature; γραφαὶ προφητικαί, Romans 16:26). The singular form occurs some 30 times, all but four of which have the article; and here again the exceptions are only apparent, the term being definite in every case (John 19:37 ‘another Scripture’; 1 Peter 2:6, 2 Peter 1:20, 2 Timothy 3:16, used as a proper name). The distribution of the singular and plural forms is perhaps worth noting. In Acts the singular (3 times) and plural (4) occur almost equally frequently: the plural prevails in the Synoptics (Mt. plural only; Mk. two to one; Lk. three to one), and the singular in the rest of the NT (John 11-1, James 3 to 0, Peter 2 to 1, Paul 2 to 5). In the Gospels the plural form occurs exclusively in Mt., prevailingly in Mk. and Lk., and rarely in Jn., of which the singular is characteristic. No distinction seems to be traceable between the usage of the Evangelists in their own persons and that of our Lord as reported by them. Mt. and Mk. do not on their own account use the term at all; in Lk. and Jn., on the other hand, it occurs not only in reports of our Lord’s sayings and of the sayings of others, but also in the narrative itself. To our Lord is ascribed the use indifferently of the plural (Matthew 21:42; Matthew 22:44; Matthew 26:54; Matthew 26:56, Mark 12:24; Mark 14:9, John 5:39) and the singular (Mark 12:10, Luke 4:21, John 7:38; John 7:42; John 10:35; John 13:18; John 17:12).

4. The history of γραφή, γραφαί, as applied to literary documents, does not seem to have been exactly the same as that of its congener γράμμα, γράμματα. The latter appears to have been current first as the appropriate appellation of an alphabetical character, and to have grown gradually upward from that lowly employment to designate documents of less or greater extent, as ultimately made up of alphabetical characters. Although, therefore, the singular τὸ γράμμα is used of any written thing, it is apparently, when applied to ‘writings,’ most naturally employed of brief pieces like short inseriptions or proverbs, or of the shorter portions of documents such as clauses—though it is also used of those larger sections of works which are more commonly designated as ‘books.’ It is rather the plural, τὰ γράμματα, which seems to have suggested itself not only for extended treatises, but indeed for documents of all kinds. When so employed, the plural form is not to be pressed. Such a phrase as ‘Moses’ γράμματα’ (John 5:47), for example, probably ascribes to Moses only a single book—what we call the Pentateuch; and such a phrase as ἱερὰ γράμματα (2 Timothy 3:15) does not suggest to us a ‘Divine library,’ but brings the OT before us as a unitary whole. On the other hand, γραφή, in its application to literary products, seems to have sprung lightly across the intermediate steps to designate which γράμμα is most appropriately used, and to have been carried over at once from the ‘writing’ in the sense of the script to the ‘writing’ in the sense of the Scripture. Kindred with γράμμα as it is, its true synonymy in its literary application is rather with such words as βίβλος (βιβλίον) and λόγος, in common with which it most naturally designates a complete literary piece, whether ‘treatise’ or ‘book.’ Where thought of from the material point of view as so much paper, so to speak, a literary work was apt to be called a βίβλος (βιβλίον); when thought of as a rational product, thought presented in words, it was apt to be spoken of as a λόγος: intermediate between the two stood γραφή (γράμμα), which was apt to come to the lips when the ‘web of words’ itself was in mind. In a word, βίβλος (βιβλίον) was the most exact word for the ‘book,’ γραφή (γράμμα) for the ‘document’ inscribed in the ‘book,’ λόγος for the ‘treatise’ which the ‘document’ records; while as between γραφή and γράμμα, γράμμα, preserving the stronger material flavour, gravitates somewhat towards βίβλος (βιβλίον), and γραφή looks upward somewhat toward λόγος. When, in the development of the publisher’s trade, the system of making books in great rolls gave way to the ‘small-roll system,’ and long works came to be broken up into ‘books,’ each of which was inscribed in a ‘volume,’ these separate ‘books’ attached to themselves this whole series of designations, each with its appropriate implication. Smaller sections were properly called περιοχαί, τόποι, χωρία, γράμματα (the last of which is the proper term for ‘clauses’), but very seldom, if ever, in classical Greek, γραφαἱ.

5. The current senses of these several terms are, of course, more or less reflected in their NT use. But we are struck at once with the fact that γραφή occurs in the NT solely in its pregnant technical usage as a designation of the Sacred Scriptures. There seems no intrinsic reason why it should not, like γράμματα, be freely used for non-sacred ‘writings.’ In point of fact, however, throughout the NT γραφή is ever something ‘which the Holy Ghost has spoken through the mouth ‘of its human authors (Acts 1:16), and which is therefore of indefectible, because Divine, authority. It is perhaps even more remarkable that even on this high plane of technical reference it never occurs, in accordance with its most natural, and in the classics its most frequent, sense of ‘treatise,’ as a term to describe the several books of which the OT is composed. It is tempting, no doubt, to seek to give it such a sense in some of the passages where, occurring in the singular, it yet does not seem to designate the Scriptures in their entirety, and Dr. Hort appears for a moment almost inclined to yield to the temptation (on 1 Peter 2:6, note the ‘probable’). It is more tempting still to assume that behind the common use of the plural αἱ γραφαί to designate the Scriptures as a whole, there lies a previous current usage by which each book which enters into the composition of these ‘Scriptures’ was designated by the singular ἡ γραφή. But in no single passage where ἡ γραφή occurs does it seem possible to give it a reference to the ‘treatise’ to which the appeal is made; and the common employment in profane Greek of γραφαί (in the plural) for a single document, discourages the assumption that (like τὰ βιβλία) when applied to the Scriptures it has reference to their composite character. The truth seems to be that whether the plural αἱ γραφαί or the singular ἡ γραφἡ is employed, the application of the term to the OT writings by the writers of the NT is based upon the conception of these OT writings as a unitary whole, and designates this body of writings in their entirety as the one well-known authoritative documentation of the Divine word. This is the fundamental fact with respect to the use of these terms in the NT from which all the other facts of their usage flow.

6. It is true that in one unique passage, 2 Peter 3:16 (on the meaning of which see Bigg, in loc.), αἱ γραφαί does occur with a plural signification. But the units of which this plural is made up, as the grammatical construction suggests, appear to be not ‘treatises’ (Huther, Kühl), but ‘passages’ (de Wette). Peter seems to say that the unlearned and unstable of course wrested the hard sayings of Paul’s letters as they were accustomed to wrest τὰς λοιπὰς γραφάς, i.e. the other Scripture statements (cf. Eurip. Hipp. 1311; Philo, de Praem. et Paen. § 11 near end)—the implication being that no part of Scripture was safe in their hands. This is a sufficiently remarkable use of the plural, no other example of which occurs in the NT; but it is an entirely legitimate one for the NT, and in its context a perfectly natural one. In the Church Fathers the plural αἱ γραφαί is formed freely upon ἡ γραφή both in the sense of ‘book’ of Scripture and in the sense of ‘passage’ of Scripture. But in the NT, apart from the present passage, there is in no instance of the use of αἱ γραφαί the slightest hint of a series whether of ‘treatises’ or of ‘passages’ underlying it. Even a passage like Luke 24:27 forms no exception; for if γραφαί is employed in a singular sense of a single document, then πᾶσαι αἱ γραφαί remains just the whole of that document, and is the exact equivalent of πᾶσα ἡ γραφή, or (if γραφή) has acquired standing as a quasi-proper name) as πᾶσα γραφή (2 Timothy 3:16). Similarly αἱ γραφαἱ τῶν προφητῶν (Matthew 26:56), γραφαὶ προφητικαί (Romans 16:26) appear to refer not to particular passages deemed prophetic, or to the special section of the OT called ‘the Prophets,’ but to the entire OT conceived as prophetic in character (cf. 2 Peter 1:20, Acts 2:30, 2 Peter 3:16).

7. In 2 Peter 3:16, however, we have already been brought face to face with what is probably the most remarkable fact about the usage of γραφή in the NT. This is its occasional employment to refer not merely, as from its form and previous history was to be expected, to the Scripture as a whole, or even, as also would have been only a continuation of its profane usage, to the several treatises which make up that whole, but to the individual passages of Scripture. This employment finds little support from the classics, in which γράμμα rather than γραφή is the current form for the adduction of ‘clauses’ or fragmentary portions of documents (cf. e.g. Plato, Parmen. 128 A–D, Ephesians 3 [317 B]; Thucyd. v. 29; Philo, de Congr. Erud. Grat. 12, Quod Deus immut. 2). It has been customary, accordingly, to represent it as a peculiarity of NT and Patristic Greek. It seems to be found, however, though rarely, in Philo (Quis rerum div. hœr. 53, de Praem. ct Paen. 11; cf. Euripides, Hipp. 1311), and is probably an extreme outgrowth of the habit of looking upon the Scriptures as a unitary book of Divine oracles, every portion and passage of which is clothedwith the Divine authority which belongs to the whole and is therefore manifested in all its parts. When the entirety of Scripture is ‘Scripture’ to us, each passage may readily be adduced as ‘Scripture,’ because ‘Scripture’ is conceived as speaking through and in each passage. The transition is easy from saying, ‘The Scripture says, namely, in this or that passage,’ to saying, of this and that passage, severally, ‘This Scripture says,’ and ‘Another Scripture says’; and a step so inviting was sure sooner or later to be taken. The employment of ἡ γραφή in the NT to denote a particular passage of Scripture does not appear then to be a continuation of a classical usage, but a new development on Jewish or Judaeo-Christian ground from the pregnant use of γραφή for the Sacred Scriptures, every clause of which is conceived as clothed with the authority of the whole. So far from throwing in doubt the usage of γραφή pregnantly of Scripture as a whole, therefore, it rather presupposes this usage and is a result of it. So it will not surprise us to find the two usages standing side by side in the NT.

9. It is an outgrowth of this conception of the OT that it is habitually adduced for the ordinary purposes of instruction or debate by such simple formulas as ‘it is said,’ ‘it is written,’ with the implication that what is thus said or written is of Divine and final authority. Both of these usages are illustrated in a variety of forms, and with all possible high implications, not only in the NT at large, but also in the Gospels,—and not only in the comments of the Evangelists, but also in the reported sayings of our Lord. We are concerned here only with the formula, ‘It is written,’ in which the consciousness of the written form—the documentary character—of the authority appealed to finds expression. In its most common form, this formula is the simple γέγραπται, used either absolutely, or, with none of its authoritative implication thereby evacuated, with more or less clear intimation of the place where the cited words are to be found written. By its side occurs also the resolved formula γεγραμμένον ἐστίν (peculiar to Jn.; cf. Plummer on Luke 4:17), or some similar formula, with the same implications. These modes of expression have analogies in profane Greek, especially in legislative usages; but their use with reference to the Divine Scriptures, as it involves the adduction of an authority which rises immeasurably above all legislative authority, is also freighted with a significance to which the profane usage affords no key. In the Gospels, γέγραπται occurs exclusively in Mt. and Mk., and predominately in Lk., but only once in Jn.; most commonly in reports of our Lord’s sayings. In the latter part of Lk., on the other hand, the authoritative citation of the OT is accomplished by the use of the participle γεγραμμένον, while in Jn. the place of γέγραπται (8:17 only) is definitely taken by the resolved formula γεγραμμένον ἐστίν. The significance of these formulas is perhaps most manifest where they stand alone as the bare adduction of authority without indication of any kind whence the citation is derived (so γέγραπται, Matthew 4:4; Matthew 4:6-7; Matthew 4:10, [Matthew 11:10], Matthew 21:13, [Matthew 26:24], Matthew 26:31, Mark 7:6; Mark 9:12-13; Mark 11:17; Mark 14:21; Mark 14:27, Luke 4:4; Luke 4:8; Luke 4:10; Luke 7:27; Luke 19:46; Luke 20:17; Luke 22:37; γεγραμμένον ἐστίν, John 2:17; John 6:31; John 12:14, [16]). The adjunction of an indication of the place where the citation may be found does not, however, really affect the authoritativeness of its adduction. This adjunction is rare in Mt. and Mk. (Matthew 2:5, Mark 1:2 only), more frequent in Lk. (Luke 2:23; Luke 3:4; Luke 10:26; Luke 18:31; Luke 24:44; Luke 24:46) and Jn. (John 6:45; John 8:17; John 10:34; John 15:25); and by its infrequency it emphasizes the absence of all necessity for such identification. When a NT writer says, ‘It is written,’ there can arise no doubt where what he thus adduces as possessing absolute authority over the thought and consciences of men is to be found written. The simple adduction in this solemn and decisive manner of a written authority, carries with it the implication that the appeal is made to the indefectible authority of the Scriptures of God, which in all their parts and in every one of their declarations are clothed with the authority of God Himself.

Literature.—Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. et Talm. [Note: Talmud.] (ed. Pitman) xi, xii; Schöttgen, Hor. Heb. et Talm. [Note: Talmud.] 1732; Surenhusius, כפר המשנה sive βίβλος χαταλλαγῆς, 1713 (pp. 1–36); Döpke, Hermeneutik d. NT Schriften, 1829 (i. pp. 60–69); Edersheim, LT [Note: T Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [Edersheim].] i. 187, n. [Note: note.] 2; Weber, Jüd. Theol.2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] (1897) § 20; H. J. Holtzmann, NT Theol., Index; Weiss, Theol. of NT, § 74a, n. [Note: note.] 3, § 136b, n. [Note: note.] 5, § 152b, n. [Note: note.] 4; Sepp, De Leer des NT over de HS des OV, 1849; Tholuck, Ueber die Citate der AT [Note: T Altes Testament.] im NT6 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ; Turpie, The NT View of the Old, 1872; Böhl, Die alttest. Citate in NT, 1878; Toy, Quotations in NT, 1884; Dittmar, VT in Novo, i. 1899; Hühn, Die alttest. Citate im NT, 1900; Anger, Ratio qua loci VT in Evang. Mat. laudantur, 1801; E. Haupt, Die alttest. Citate in d. 4. Evangg. 1871; Clemen, Der Gebrauch d. AT [Note: T Altes Testament.] im NTund speciell in den Reden Jesu, 1891–1893, Der Gebrauch der AT [Note: T Altes Testament.] in den NT Schriften, 1895 (full literature, p. 19); Massebieau, Examen des Citations de l’Ancien Test. dans l’Evang. selon S. Matthieu, 1885; Swete, Gospel acc. to Mark, pp. lxx–lxxiv; Franke, Das AT [Note: T Altes Testament.] bei Johannes, 1885 (pp. 46–88, 225–281); Lechler, ‘Das AT [Note: T Altes Testament.] in den Reden Jesu’ (TSK [Note: SK Theol. Studien und Kritiken.] , 1854, 4); Grau, Das Selbstbewusstsein Jesu, iv. 1887; Barth, Die Hauptprobleme des Lebens Jesu, ii. 1899 [2nd ed. 1903]; Kautzsch, de VT locis in Paulo, 1809; Monnet, Les citations de S. Paul, 1874; Vollmer, Die alttest. Citate Paulus, 1895.

B. B. Warfield.


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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Scripture (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/s/scripture-2.html. 1906-1918.

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