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What is Scripture?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jan 23, 2024
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Scripture is a noun used to refer to writing with religious significance, or to excerpts from a holy text. Many people use it specifically to refer to the Christian Bible, although most other religions have their own unique scriptures. Religious texts are an important part of religious practice in many religions, as they set out the history and precepts of a religion. Many religious followers keep copies of scripture for inspiration and religious direction, and some theologians specialize in scripture so that they can discuss and debate points of religious belief.

The word is derived from the Latin scriptus, “to write.” Many scriptures represent some of the oldest written texts in their respective cultures, suggesting the importance that religion has held in human life for thousands of years. One of the oldest scriptures in the world is believed to be the Rigveda, one of the major texts in the Hindu religion. By convention, the title of religious writing is usually capitalized, out of respect.

The author of scripture may vary; in many cases, it represents a collaborative effort by a group of holy individuals or religious authorities. In some cases, scripture is said to come directly from a deity, while in other instances the scripture may be written by or about an important religious figure. In Buddhism, for example, many holy writings document the teachings of the Buddha, along with his life. Scripture may on occasion contain conflicting or confusing information, because of the group authors and because beliefs may evolve over time.

Different people treat scripture in different ways. For instance, Muslims regard their holy book, the Qu'ran, as sacred. Abuse of the Qu'ran is considered abuse of Islam, and devout Muslims always treat their Qu'rans with respect. In some religions, access to religious writings is controlled, with only close initiates being allowed to see some religious texts, while in other religions, holy scripture is abundantly distributed. Christians, for example, often share copies of the Bible or biblical selections with others in the hopes of educating them about Christianity. This, however, is unlike an earlier period in Christianity, when the Bible was only available in Latin and accessed by a limited number of people. Many religions have realized the value of translating their sacred texts so that people all over the world can read them.

Many religious followers memorize specific passages from scripture. These passages are often deemed especially important, or they may carry useful object lessons for religious followers. Memorizing scripture is also an expression of devotion, and it ensures that scriptural knowledge will be passed down even when texts are not readily available. The recitation of passages from scripture may also be part of religious practice in some beliefs.

LanguageHumanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a LanguageHumanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By FitzMaurice — On Feb 17, 2011

Most religions do not take scriptures lightly, but use them as guides for all of life and governance. Morality in cultures and concern for one's fellow man, are a direct result of writings and teachings of religions based on written scripture. Without scriptures, societies would crumble. Humanity has always relied upon its mythological teachings, which form the ethos and zeitgeist of any people group.

By Renegade — On Feb 14, 2011

Jesus in the scriptures is often referred to as the "word," by which the heavens and the earth were founded. God's plan is often represented as a scroll, and scriptures are said to be a part of his scroll. His plan for humanity culminated in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, and this is truly the centerpiece and cornerstone of all of scripture and of all human history.

By arod2b42 — On Feb 11, 2011


I think we have proof that the Bible was not followed by oral tradition. Many of the books of the New Testament, and all of the Old Testament, were already put into writing in the first place, because many of the New Testament books were originally letters. We also have written scrolls dating from as far back as 100 AD or earlier, which are almost exactly like our modern New Testament.

By anon24829 — On Jan 19, 2009

It can be stated that the Latin Bible was very much used only by the priests of Catholic Church of Christendom. Early Christianity followed the Scripture in Oral Tradition which was later put into writings, and canonized. Greeks had their translation of Bible as LXX = Septuagint and the Church under Christendom had Latin Translation which is called Vulgate. But at the same time the eastern Churches had their Syriac version which must be noted.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being...

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