Old Testament

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Hebrew Bible or
Old Testament
for details see Biblical canon
Jewish, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox
Roman Catholic and Orthodox include but Jews and Protestants exclude:
Orthodox (Synod of Jerusalem) include:
Russian and Ethiopian Orthodox includes:
Ethiopian Orthodox Bible includes:
Syriac Peshitta Bible includes:
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The term Old Testament refers to all versions and translations of the Hebrew Bible and is the first major part of the Bible used by Christians. It is usually divided by Judaism into the categories of: law Torah, prophecy Neviim, and writings Kthuvim (history, poetry, wisdom books), as denoted by the acronym Tanakh.

The Protestant Old Testament is for the most part identical with the Jewish Tanakh. The differences between the Tanakh and the Protestant Old Testament are minor, dealing only with the arrangement and number of the books. For example, while the Tanakh considers 1 Kings and 2 Kings to be one book, the Protestant Old Testament considers them to be two books. Similarly Ezra and Nehemiah are considered to be one book by the Tanakh.

The differences between the Tanakh and other versions of the Old Testament such as the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac, Latin, Greek and other works, are greater as some include books not in the Tanakh and even in the books included, some have sections that the others do not. For a full discussion of these differences see Books of the Bible.

All of these books were written before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, whose teaching and immediate disciples' deeds and teachings are the subject of the subsequent Jewish writings of Christian New Testament. The scriptures used by Jesus, a Jew, were according to Luke 24:44-49: "the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms ... the scriptures". According to most Bible scholars, the Old Testament was composed between the 5th century BC and the 2nd century BC, though parts of it, such as parts of the Torah, and the Song of Deborah (Judges 5), probably date back much earlier.


[edit] Canon of the Old Testament

Main article: Biblical canon

Following Jerome's Veritas Hebraica, the Protestant Old Testament consists of the same books as the Tanakh, but the order and numbering of the books are different. Protestants number the Old Testament books at 39, while the Jews number the same books as 24. This is because the Jews consider Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles to form one book each, group the 12 minor prophets into one book, and also consider Ezra and Nehemiah a single book. The Roman Catholic, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox include books removed by Martin Luther, called the deuterocanonical books, which Protestants exclude as apocryphal. The basis for these books is found in the early Koine Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible. This translation was widely used by the Early Christians and is the one most often quoted (300 of 350 quotations including many of Jesus' own words) in the New Testament when it quotes the Old Testament.

See also: Books of the Bible, for a side-by-side comparison of the various canons of the Hebrew Bible.

[edit] Historicity of the Old Testament

See also: Biblical archaeology and The Bible and history

The historicity of the Old Testament has been a matter of debate, particularly since the 19th century. For some time during that era, one group of scholars claimed that most of the societies mentioned in the Bible, such as the Assyrians and Babylonians, were allegedly fictional due to a (then) lack of archaeological evidence. This view had to be abandoned when the ruins of Nineveh, Babylon, Ashur, and other cities were found, complete with extant tablets describing many of the same events mentioned in the Old Testament, such as the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib during the reign of Hezekiah.

Later on, Julius Wellhausen, using source criticism, claimed to have isolated four strands of tradition behind the Pentateuch (JEDP)(see the documentary hypothesis). The Wellhausen School assigned dates for these strands (and their later editing) from the 10th–5th centuries BCE. Because the composition of the Pentateuch according to Wellhausen was so much later than the events it described, some who accept Wellhausen's documentary hypothesis tend to regard the narratives of the Pentateuch as largely fictional, while others argue that Wellhausen's method is not valid given that so many of our surviving copies of historical documents date from a much later time period: e.g., the earliest extant copies of Julius Caesar's famous "Commentaries on the Gallic War" are medieval copies dating from the 9th century, nearly a thousand years after Caesar wrote the original.

Current debate concerning the historicity of the Old Testament can be divided into several camps. One group has been labeled "biblical minimalists" by its critics. Minimalists (e.g., Philip Davies, Thompson, Seters) see very little reliable history in any of the Old Testament. Conservative Old Testament scholars, "biblical maximalists," generally accept the historicity of most Old Testament narratives (save the accounts in Gen 1–11) on confessional grounds, and noted Egyptologists (e.g., Kenneth Kitchen) argue that such a belief is not incompatible with the external evidence. Other scholars (e.g., William Dever) are somewhere in between: they see clear signs of evidence for the monarchy and much of Israel's later history, though they doubt the Exodus and Conquest. The vast majority of scholars at American universities are somewhere between biblical minimalism and maximalism; there are still many maximalists at conservative/evangelical seminaries, while there are very few biblical minimalists at any American universities. Interestingly, both Kitchen and archaeologist Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University are probably the only scholars from the maximalist and minimalist camps who are sufficiently trained to address these questions with the necessary sophistication—both are giants in their fields—and both come to different conclusions.

Some contemporary Israeli archaeologists have now rejected much of the Deuteronomistic history of the Old Testament. Notably, Finkelstein and Neal Asher Silberman have written popular books detailing their view that many of the best-known Biblical stories are incompatible with the archaeology of the region. Conversely, in 2003 Kenneth A. Kitchen published the 662 page book On the Reliability of the Old Testament, which defended the Bible's reliability throughout. Although some archeologists have argued that many Biblical accounts should be rejected due to a lack of corroborating archaeological evidence, opponents point out that this is a return to the 19th century idea that anything not confirmed by current archaeology should be dismissed, a methodology which had once led some to question the existence of major empires such as Assyria.

[edit] Naming of the Old Testament

Tertullian, in the 2nd century, was the first to use the terms novum testamentum/new testament and vetus testamentum/old testament. For example, in Against Marcion book 3 [1], chapter 14, he wrote:

This may be understood to be the Divine Word, who is doubly edged with the two testaments of the law and the gospel

And in book 4 [2], chapter 6, he wrote:

For it is certain that the whole aim at which he has strenuously laboured even in the drawing up of his Antitheses, centres in this, that he may establish a diversity between the Old and the New Testaments, so that his own Christ may be separate from the Creator, as belonging to this rival god, and as alien from the law and the prophets.

Lactantius, in the 3rd century, in his Divine Institutes, book 4, chapter 20 [3], wrote:

But all Scripture is divided into two Testaments. That which preceded the advent and passion of Christ—that is, the law and the prophets—is called the Old; but those things which were written after His resurrection are named the New Testament. The Jews make use of the Old, we of the New: but yet they are not discordant, for the New is the fulfilling of the Old, and in both there is the same testator, even Christ, who, having suffered death for us, made us heirs of His everlasting kingdom, the people of the Jews being deprived and disinherited. As the prophet Jeremiah testifies when he speaks such things: [Jer 31:31–32] "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new testament to the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not according to the testament which I made to their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; for they continued not in my testament, and I disregarded them, saith the Lord." ... For that which He said above, that He would make a new testament to the house of Judah, shows that the old testament which was given by Moses was not perfect; but that that which was to be given by Christ would be complete.

The Vulgate translation, in the 5th century, used testamentum in 2 Corinthians 3 [4]:

(6) Who also hath made us fit ministers of the new testament, not in the letter but in the spirit. For the letter killeth: but the spirit quickeneth. (Douay-Rheims)
(14) But their senses were made dull. For, until this present day, the selfsame veil, in the reading of the old testament, remaineth not taken away (because in Christ it is made void). (Douay-Rheims)

However, the more modern NRSV translates these verses from the Koine Greek as such:

(6) Who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
(14) But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside.

The term "Old Testament" is a translation of the Latin Vetus Testamentum, which translates the Greek η Παλαια Διαθηκη, hē Palaia Diathēkē, meaning "The Old Covenant (or Testament)". Some believe Christians came to call this group of books the Old Testament because of a belief taught in the Epistle to the Hebrews and based on Jeremiah 31:31–34 that Jesus of Nazareth established a New Covenant or testament between God and mankind. This new covenant is said to be in contrast with the covenant made through Moses during the Exodus (Heb 8:9; Jer 31:32), see also Expounding of the Law#Antithesis of the Law. Books written after Jesus established this new covenant or testament are thus called the books of the new covenant/testament, or simply the New Testament. The earlier books are then called the books of the Old Testament in contrast. This is due to a level of ambiguity concerning the translation of diatheke — literally, "by the bag," a foreswearing of faithful trust — which can be read as either testament or covenant. Also, though not a commonly held view, not all Christians believe there is a contrast, first proposed by Marcion of Sinope, between the Old and New Testaments.

Most Jews accept as Scripture the same books as those found in the Protestant Old Testament, though the ordering of the books in the Jewish Bible differs from that of the Protestant English Old Testament. However, because Judaism does not accept the books of the New Testament as Scripture, they do not label their Bible "the Old Testament". For Jews the books of the Protestant Old Testament are simply "the Bible". Since the books of the Jewish Bible were written primarily in Hebrew (with some Aramaic), the Bible of Judaism is also called "the Hebrew Bible". The term "Hebrew Bible" is an attempt at a theologically neutral term as compared with "the Old Testament", which is distinctively Christian. Another Jewish term for the Jewish Bible/Old Testament is Tanakh, which is short for Torah, Nebi'im, and Ketubim, or Law, Prophets and Writings, the three major divisions of the Hebrew Bible.

Twenty-first-century Christian theologian Marva Dawn has advocated calling the Old Testament the First Testament, freeing the writings from any trace of irrelevancy associated with aging in western culture.[citation needed] However, Dawn's label has not yet gained much popularity, although teachers of religious education in the United Kingdom have been advised to avoid using "Old Testament" because of the same reasons [5].

[edit] Christian view of the Law

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Traditional Christianity affirms that the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament is the word of God, though most Christians deny that all of the laws of the Pentateuch apply directly to themselves as Christians. The New Testament indicates that Jesus Christ established a new covenant relationship between God and his people (Heb 8; Jer 31:31–34) and this new covenant speaks of the law or Torah being written upon the heart. Some have interpreted Mark's statement "thus he declared all foods clean" (Mark 7:19) to mean that Jesus taught that the pentateuchal food laws were no longer applicable to his followers, see also Antinomianism in the New Testament. The writer of Hebrews indicates that the sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood foreshadowed Jesus Christ's offering of himself as the sacrifice for sin on the Cross, and many have interpreted this to mean that once the reality of Christ has come, the shadows of the ritual laws cease to be obligatory (Heb 8:5; 9:23–26; 10:1). On the other hand, the New Testament repeats and applies to Christians a number of Old Testament laws, including "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19:18; cf. Golden Rule, Mark 12:31), "Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul and strength" (Deut 6:4-5, the Shema, Mark 12:29-30), as well as the Ten Commandments, although some Biblical scholars point out that the Commandment concerning the Sabbath was redefined by Jesus (Mark 7:20-23, 10:17-22, Romans 13:9-10, 1 Cor 7:19, Eph 6:1-3, 1 John 2:3-7, 2 John 1:6, James 2:8-11, Rev 12:17, 14:12, 22:15). Several times Paul mentioned adhering to "the Law", such as Romans 2:12-16, 3:31, 7:12, 8:7-8, Gal 5:3 and preached about Ten Commandment topics such as idolatry (1 Cor 5:11, 6:9-10, 10:7, 10:14, Gal 5:19-21, Eph 5:5, Col 3:5). Many Christians believe that the Sermon on the Mount is a form of commentary on the Ten Commandments. In the Expounding of the Law, Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it; the opposite of Marcion's version of Luke 23:2[6]: "We found this fellow perverting the nation and destroying the law and the prophets". See also Adherence to the Law and Antithesis of the Law.

While some Christians from time to time have deduced from statements about the law in the writings of the apostle Paul that Christians are under grace to the exclusion of all law (see antinomianism, hyperdispensationalism), this is not the usual viewpoint of Christians. The Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, for example, describes a conflict among the first Christians as to the necessity of following all the laws of the Torah to the letter, see Council of Jerusalem. By the 3rd century CE or so (exact dates are in dispute), the universal Christian church had adopted the view that the Ten Commandments were binding on all human beings, whereas the other laws of the Torah, having been given only after Israel's apostasy in worshipping an idol, were meant to apply to Israel alone (Didaskalia).[citation needed] An example of another common approach is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), which divides the Mosaic laws into three categories: moral, civil, and ceremonial. In the view of the Westminster divines, only the moral law such as most of the Ten Commandments directly applies to Christians today. Others limit the application of the Mosaic laws to those commands repeated in the New Testament. In the 1970s and 1980s, a movement known as Christian Reconstructionism (Theonomy) argued that the civil laws as well as the moral laws should be applied in today's society as part of establishing a modern theonomic state. Others are content to grant that none of the Mosaic laws apply as such and that the penalties attached to the laws were limited to the particular historical and theological setting of the Old Testament, and yet still seek to find moral and religious principles applicable for today in all parts of the law. The topic of Paul and the law is still frequently debated among New Testament scholars, for example, see New Perspective on Paul.

In the late 20th century, some Christian groups, such as those found in or influenced by Messianic Judaism, have suggested that God wishes for Christians to obey Torah laws. This is because they believe that all of the Old Testament commands did not have to be reaffirmed individually for them to be applicable; rather they believe that Jesus and the New Testament writers reaffirmed them as a whole (interpreting Matthew 5:17-20, 23:1-3, 23:23, 28:19-20, etc. to support their cause). This interpretation has led to a deeper examination of context and to different interpretations of New Testament passages which have been traditionally understood to invalidate parts of the Law. Because of this belief, commands such as dietary laws, seventh day Sabbath, and Biblical festival days such as Passover (Christian holiday) are observed in some way within such segments of Christianity. As with Orthodox Judaism, capital punishment and sacrifice are not practiced because there are strict Biblical conditions on how these are to be practiced, although it is supported in principle. Christians who believe in spiritual salvation by grace through faith, who also attempt to follow Torah law, do not do such works in order to achieve justification and hence salvation, but rather because they believe it is a way of more fully obeying and imitating God as He intended <ref>Lancaster and Berkowitz (see below)</ref>.

Some believe Jesus rejected four of the Ten Commandments and endorsed only Six [7], citing Mark 10:17-22 and the parallels Matthew 19:16-22 and Luke 18:18-23. See also Cafeteria Christianity.

[edit] References

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[edit] See also

[edit] Further reading

  • Rouvière, Jean-Marc. Brèves méditations sur la Création du monde Ed. L'Harmattan, Paris, 2006
  • Berkowitz, Ariel and D'vorah. Torah Rediscovered. 4th ed. Shoreshim Publishing, 2004. ISBN 0-9752914-0-8
  • Anderson, Bernhard. Understanding the Old Testament. (ISBN 0-13-948399-3 )
  • Dever, William G. Who Were the Early Israelites? William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2003. ISBN 0-8028-0975-8
  • Hill, Andrew and John Walton. A Survey of the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000. ISBN 0-310-22903-0 .
  • Lancaster, D. Thomas. Restoration. Littleton: First Fruits of Zion, 2005.
  • Silberman, Neil A., et al. The Bible Unearthed. Simon and Schuster, New York, 2003. ISBN 0-684-86913-6 (paperback) and ISBN 0-684-86912-8 (hardback)
  • Sprinkle, Joe M. Biblical Law and Its Relevance: A Christian Understanding and Ethical Application for Today of the Mosaic Regulations. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2006. ISBN 0-7618-3371-4 (clothbound) and ISBN 0-7618-3372-2 (paperback)
  • Bahnsen, Greg, et al, Five Views on Law and Gospel. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993).

[edit] External links

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Old Testament

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