Word Study

ἱερὰ γράμματα (“sacred writings”) and γραφὴ (“Scripture”)

ἱερὰ γράμματα (“sacred writings”) and γραφὴ (“Scripture”)

Paul made the claim that Timothy was familiar with the “sacred writings” from as early as his childhood. Since one of the commands in this passage is to remain in what Timothy had learned, which included these “sacred writings,” we certainly want to have some idea was included in these sacred writings. However, this phrase is used nowhere else in the New Testament, nor does the phrase occur in the Greek version of the Old Testament.

So to understand this phrase, we turn to two Jewish authors of the first century who wrote in Greek, Josephus and Philo. Josephus and Philo both used this phrase numerous times to refer to what we now call the Old Testament. Below are just a few of the examples of the use of this term in Josephus and Philo.

  • In referring to the book if Daniel, Josephus said that the book can be found “in the sacred writings” (Antiquities 10.210)
  • Josephus’s Antiquities covers the history of the Jewish people, and Josephus claimed that the source for his Antiquities was “the sacred writings” (Against Apion 1.54). As a priest from birth, Josephus claimed that he was able to translate from these “sacred writings” in order to write his history of the Jewish people. He contrasted this with his book on the Jewish-Roman war of the late AD 60s, which he was able to right about because he was an eye-witness (Against Apion 1.55).
  • When discussing the death of Moses, Philo claimed that Moses prophesied his death at the end of Deuteronomy. Philo then claimed that this prophesy of Moses’ death was recorded in “the sacred writings” (Moses II 290-92).
  • When discussing the need for the young to show respect to their elders, Philo seems to refer to Leviticus 19:32, which Philo says is in “the sacred writings” (Special Laws II 238).

We can cite numerous other examples from these two ancient authors, but these examples serve to demonstrate the point that “the sacred writings,” for them, refer to what we would call the Old Testament. While this exact phrase is not found in Apostolic Fathers, 1 Clement does use a phrase that is close enough to Paul’s words in 2 Timothy to deserve some consideration.

Clement referred to the “sacred Scriptures,” using the word for sacred from 2 Timothy 3:15 and the word for Scripture from 2 Timothy 3:16. Clement claimed the these sacred Scriptures were true and given by the Holy Spirit (1 Clement 45).
Clement also claimed that his readers knew well the “sacred Scriptures,” which he went on to equate with the “sayings of God” (1 Clement 53).

So when Paul mentioned Timothy being acquainted with the “sacred wirings,” he certainly at least meant that Timothy was raised with a knowledge of the Old Testament. But when Paul referred to “Scripture” in 2 Timothy 3:16, we have good reason to believe that he had in mind more than just the Old Testament. Clearly the word “Scripture” was often used to refer to the Old Testament. After reading from Isaiah 61, Jesus claimed that this “Scripture” had been fulfilled in the hearing of those in the synagogue (Luke 4:21). Before quoting from Psalm 118:22, Jesus asked the chief priests and the elders, had they never read that text “in the Scriptures” (Matthew 21:42).

Numerous examples could be piled on here to demonstrate that “Scripture” in the New Testament refers to the Old Testament. But there are indications that even as early as Paul, the concept of “Scripture” was beginning to include what we would later call the New Testament. In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul makes the claim “the Scripture says,” and then he quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4. But he followed this quote from Deuteronomy with the statement, “and the worker is worthy of his wages,” a statement that is found in Luke 10:7. Likewise, the author of 2 Clement, after stating that “another Scripture says,” quoted Jesus’ statement about coming not to call the righteous, but to calls sinners, a statement recorded in Mark 2:17 (2 Clement 2:4).

So when Paul referred to the “sacred writings” and the “Scripture” he clearly had in mind the Old Testament. But we also have good reason to believe that Paul would also have included in these phrases at least the concept of what we now call the New Testament. Clearly this is a complicated topic. Obviously the New Testament was not complete at the time of writing of 2 Timothy, since 2 Timothy is part of what we now call the Scriptures. But two points are most important for the pastor. First, the Old Testament is clearly part of what Paul meant was useful for teaching and correcting and for training the man of God in righteousness. We need not pass over the significance of this statement for the preaching and teaching ministry of the church today. But second, we also can acknowledge that the statement that “all Scripture is God-breathed” also naturally refers to the New Testament. We are not making the claim that Paul had access to all of the New Testament when he wrote 2 Timothy, but even Paul’s own words point toward the fact that new Scriptures were being inspired during his day. So looking, back, we have good reason to believe that the God-breathed Scriptures refer not just to the Old Testament, but to the New Testament as well. The whole of the canon of the Bible is useful for equipping the man of God for every good work.

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