By Charles H. Welch
Two Greek words are used in the N.T.: (1) gramma, a letter of the alphabet; and (2) epistole, a message, anything sent by a messenger. For an examination of the term "epistle" see the article bearing that name.
Gramma. We give all the occurrences in Paul's epistles.
(Note, the word occurs in Luke, John and Acts, and is not used in the epistles of Peter, James, John and Jude.)
Galatians 6:11 is dealt with in the article entitled "GALATIANS" and has a bearing upon the question of the authorship of "Hebrews", which see. 2 Corinthians 3:6,7 fall within the scope of the article already referred to entitled "THE VEIL".
"Since the Jews so clave to the letter of the law that it not only became to them a mere letter but also a hindrance to true religion, Paul calls it gramma in a disparaging sense, and contrasts it with to pneuma, that is the Divine spirit, whether operative in the Mosaic law (Rom. 2:29), or in the Gospel, by which Christians are governed" (Rom. 8:6) (Grimm-Thayer Lexicon).
We do not know a more scathing, yet illuminating judgment on the Pharisaic observance of "the letter that killeth" than that written by Dean Farrar in The Life and Work of Paul.
"We know well the kind of life which lies behind that expression. We know the minute and intense scrupulosity of Sabbath observance wasting itself in all those abhoth and toldoth-those primary and derivative rules and prohibitions, and inferčnces from rules and prohibitions, and combinations of inferences from rules and prohibitions, and cases of casuistry and conscience arising out of the infinite possible variety of circumstances to which those combinations of inference might apply -which had degraded the Sabbath from 'a delight, holy of the Lord and honourable', partly into an anxious and pitiless burden, and partly into a network of contrivances hypocritically designed, as it were, in the lowest spirit of heathenism, to cheat the Deity with the mere semblance of accurate observance. We know the carefulness about the colour of fringes, and the tying of tassels, and the lawfulness of meats and drinks.
We know the tithings, at once troublesome and ludicrous, of mint, anise, and cummin, and the serio-comic questions as to whether in tithing the seed it was obligatory also to tithe the stalk. We know the double fasts of the week, and the triple prayers of the day, and the triple visits to the Temple. We know the elaborate strainings of the water and the wine, that not even the carcase of an animalcula might defeat the energy of Levitical anxiety.
We know the constant rinsings and scourings of brazen cups and pots and tables, carried to so absurd an extreme, that on the occasion of washing the golden candelabrum of the Temple, the Sadducees remarked that their Pharisaic rivals would wash the Sun itself if they could get an opportunity.
We know the entire and laborious ablutions and bathings of the whole person, with carefully tabulated ceremonies and normal gesticulations, not for the laudable purpose of personal cleanliness, but for the nervously-strained endeavour to avoid every possible and every possible chance of contracting ceremonial uncleanness.
We know how this notion of perfect Levitical purity thrust itself with irritating recurrence into every aspect and relation of ordinary life, and led to the scornful avoidance of the very contact and shadow of fellow beings, who might after all be purer and nobler than those who would not touch them with the tassel of a garment's hem.
We know the obtrusive prayers, the ostentatious almsgivings, the broadened phylacteries, the petty ritualisms, the professorial arrogance, the reckless proselytism, the greedy avarice, the haughty assertion of pre-eminence, the ill-conceived hypocrisy, which were often hidden under this venerable assumption of superior holiness. And we know all this quite as much, or more, from the admiring records of the Talmud-which devotes one whole treatise to handwashings, and another to the proper method of killing a fowl, and another to the stalks of legumes-as from the reiterated 'woes' of Christ's denunciation."