What did Paul refer to when he wrote about the “Holy Scriptures?” Paul used the word “Scripture” 15 times in his letters, and Luke used the word in reference to Paul’s ministry four times in the Book of Acts. So, what “scriptures” did they mean?
Paul referred to the Scriptures twice in his letters as “holy” – Romans 1:2 and 2 Timothy 3:15. What does that mean when placed before the word “Scriptures?” Let’s see what God has for us today.
Paul and Luke used the Greek word graphe for “Scriptures,” which means “writing.” Paul gives us a clue in Romans 1 that the writings he was referring to were the “holy” writings of God’s prophets who spoke of the “gospel of God.” The Greek word for holy is hagios and means “separated to.” It comes from hazo, which means “to venerate.” The Greeks used the word hagios for things that were sacred because they were purposely separated to the service of the gods.
The Romans, both Greeks and Jews, would have understood Paul to be referring to the Hebrew Scriptures that had been set apart by God for sacred use and contained the words of His prophets. He made that clear throughout his letter by references to the Jewish Law:
“Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law …” Romans 2:17-18
“What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.” Romans 3:1-2
It’s important to remember when reading the New Testament that it did not exist when Paul wrote the Christians in Rome. The inspired writings of the New Testament were finished by the end of the 1st century AD, but the 27 Writings that make up the New Testament were not finalized and codified until later. So, when we read the word “Scripture” in the New Testament it always refers to the Old Testament Writings.
The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) was originally written in Hebrew, but the Torah (Teachings – often referring to the writings of Moses) was translated into Greek during the 3rd century BC because most Jews living outside Israel spoke Greek instead of Hebrew. That happened during the centuries following the great diaspora (scattering) of the Jewish people from Judea in the 6th century BC. More Books of the Tanakh were translated into Greek and added to the Septuagint during the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, so most of the people Paul ministered to during his travels would have used the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible). That may have included the Jews who lived in Rome, though some may have had access to a Hebrew Bible.
The Apostle relied heavily on the Scriptures as he made the case for Christ in the mid-1st century AD. Convincing Jews and Greeks that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah and Savior of the world was of utmost importance to Paul and he relied on the Scriptures to prove God’s point. In fact, Paul (Saul) began preaching that message immediately after he was saved.
“Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, ‘Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?’ But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” Acts 9:20-22
Paul continued to preach Christ from the Scriptures as his ministry expanded (e.g. Acts 13:16-41; 17:1-4). No other writer of the New Testament quoted the Old Testament more than Paul. The letter to the Romans is a good example.
“For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,’ as it is written.” Romans 2:24
“Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.” Romans 3:4
“As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.” Romans 3:10-11
“For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Romans 4:3
“As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Romans 8:36
“As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” Romans 9:13
“For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Romans 9:17
“As it is written: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” Romans 9:33
“For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” Romans 10:11
“And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” Romans 10:15
“God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, ‘Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life?” Romans 11:2-3
“Just as it is written: ‘God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see And ears that they should not hear, To this very day.” Romans 11:8
“And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” Romans 11:26-27
“Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” Romans 12:19
“For it is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” Romans 14:11
“For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” Romans 15:3
So, what did Paul believe about the purpose of the Scriptures?
“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Romans 15:4
Hope. That’s what Paul preached. Eternal Hope in Christ. The Scriptures spoke powerfully about the hope of Christ and it was Paul’s mission in life to make sure that the world heard – and hear it did.
“And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation, but as it is written: ‘To whom He was not announced, they shall see; And those who have not heard shall understand.” Romans 15:20-21
[Read more about the history and reliability of the Bible in our special series, “Can I Trust The Bible?”]
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”