The word γραφή ("scripture, writing") is used to refer to a variety of written documents - I'd like to understand the similarity or difference in meaning across 4 passages.

It can refer to:

The Tanakh

And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. (Luke 4:21)

He has just quoted from the Tanakh (specifically Isaiah 61:1-2), and refers to it as scripture.

The Gospel of Luke

For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. (1 Timothy 5:18)

The first portion of this passage references the Old Testament as well (Deut. 25:4), but the last clause quotes Luke 10:7; the most straightforward reading of this passage suggests that both clauses are referred to as scripture (see also this post).

Other writings?

And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. (Acts 18:24)

Many read "scripture" here as a reference to the Jewish scriptures--and I agree that's an entirely possible interpretation. That would also make vs 25 a little redundant though, so perhaps it's possible that vs. 24 is simply telling us Apollos is well-read, or, in addition to being a great speaker, he is also a gifted writer.

And from 2 Peter 3:

15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;

16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

Whether Peter is referring to Paul's epistles as good writings in a general sense or as holy writ on par with the Tanakh is a subject that has been much debated.


To be sure, in other places the word γραφή certainly had a broader meaning in contemporary Greek (e.g. see here)


Do forms of the word γραφή mean the same thing in each of these 4 Biblical passages?

What hermeneutical principles should be applied to understand when γραφή refers only to the Tanakh vs more recent holy writ vs "writings" in general?

I read this question and am asking something a little bit different. The related question asks about a single meaning/usage of γραφή across the entirety of the NT. I'm open to multiple usages and I'd like to understand whether the word carries various meanings or just one, in the 4 passages I've cited.

  • 1
    Just in general, in Greek you can take a verb of the form ---ω and turn it into a noun by making it ---η. "Write" is γραφω, so γραφη is literally exactly like English "writing." But that isn't really an answer to your question, because it has more specific context-dependent meanings such as painting, catalog, or indictment: logeion.uchicago.edu/%CE%B3%CF%81%CE%B1%CF%86%CE%AE
    – user39728
    Mar 23, 2021 at 2:56
  • 3
    This question is actually a topic question asking for a treatise on the use of a word throughout scripture. I think it would better (and more on-topic) to ask about a specific occurrence.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 23, 2021 at 6:14
  • Thanks for the feedback; I have edited the question to provide greater focus. I'm looking at a compare/contrast of the usage of the word in 4 places. Certainly other passages could be referenced as well, but this seemed a fair array of settings to compare. Mar 23, 2021 at 16:19

1 Answer 1


The best summary for the meaning of γραφή is given by BDAG which I summarize here. It gives two basic meanings and some sub-meanings as follows:

  1. a brief piece of writing - this meaning not used in the NT
  2. sacred scripture, (a) an individual Scripture passage, eg, Mark 12:10, 15:28, Luke 4:21, John 13:18, 19:24, 36, Acts 1:16, 8:35, Rom 11:2, 2 Tim 3:16, James 2:8, 23.
  3. (b) scripture in its entirety, [as plural] designates collectively all the parts of Scripture, eg, Matt 21:42, 22;29, 26:54, Mark 12;24, 14:49, Luke 24:27, 32, 45, John 5:39, Acts 17:2, 11, 18:24, 28, Rom 15:2, 2 Peter 3:16, etc.
  4. (b) [as singular] as a designation for Scripture as a whole, Acts 8:32, John 7:38, 42, 20:9, Rom 4:3, 9:17, 10:11, Gal 4;30, 1 Tim 5:18, 2 Peter 1:20, etc.

"Scripture" in all the NT always refers to the OT with the possible exception of 2 Peter 3:16 were we read:

He [Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

There has been much debate as whether Peter effectively calls Paul's writing "Scripture" in this passage, If the answer is "yes" then it would be the first such reference in Christian writings.

Thus, with the above possible exception, γραφή means the OT as a whole unless a particular passage is quoted.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.