The Old and New Testaments (A)

This blog continues the series dealing with the Bible and scriptural issues.  It began with the 1st blog:  Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasury.  The immediately preceding blog is Interpreting Scriptures.

We must keep clear in our thinking that whenever in the New Testament it refers to the Scriptures, it is always referring to the Old Testament, which is the only Scriptures which the original disciples of Jesus would have recognized.  One of the main questions the Apostolic Church wrestled with was to what extent did Gentiles converts to Christianity have to embrace all of the scriptural commands of the Old Testament: was it necessary to become a Jew in order to be a Christian?

What the first Christians became convinced of was that the entire Old Testament gave witness to Jesus being the Christ, the Son of God.

“Saint Augustine once observed that ‘the New Testament lies hidden in the Old, the Old Testament lies open in the New.”  (Wolfgang Roth in EARLY INTERPRETATION OF THE SCRIPTURES OF ISRAEL, p 77)

The purpose of the Old Testament was not to give laws to the people of God that would then separate them from all other people on earth.  The Old Testament Scriptures bore witness to the Messiah and were supposed to help the Jews be a light to the nations – to help them recognize the Messiah when He came.  The entire purpose of the Old Testament including all of the Laws of the Torah was to help the people of God recognize what God was doing on earth – how was he revealing His plan of salvation to the world?

  “It is not just specific prophetic passages that point toward Christ; it is the fundamental fabric of the Old Testament scripture.”  (Paul Tarazi, THE NEW TESTAMENT INTRODUCTION: JOHANNINE WRITINGS, p 138)

This thinking required the people of God to read the Scriptures in a particular way – as revealing and pointing to the Christ.   The Torah was not about laws to be followed, but how to recognize the Christ.  Christ confronted his fellow Jews and rabbis about how they read (=understand or interpret) the Scriptures.

“’If you had known what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,” you would not have condemned the guiltless’ (Matt 12:7).  Evidently they do not know, and have not read.  More clearly in the Greek than in the English… the true meaning of Scripture is revealed not by the act of reading alone, but by reading and understanding what, by implication, is plainly there to be understood.  … the interpretation in question depends at least  as much on the authority of the interpreter, who by means of this formula imposes a reading that is implied to be self-evident.”   (Stanley Porter, HEARING THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE NEW, p 64)

According to Jesus Christ and in turn His disciples, the unlocking of the mystery of the Scriptures required the proper key.  Christ is the key: He is the One to whom the Scriptures point, and He is the One who gives the full meaning to the Scriptures.

“Throughout Acts, the Scripture of the Law and the Prophets, correctly understood and interpreted, was taken to be the word of God; yet it would be more accurate to say that Scripture was to be understood and interpreted on the basis of the word of God, which was in turn verified by the Scripture:  ‘They received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so’ (Acts 17:11) … The verb that went with ‘the word of God’ in the book of Acts was not ‘write,’ but ‘speak’ or ‘preach’ or ‘proclaim’ or ‘announce’ or ‘teach’ (4:31; 6:2; 11:19;13:5; 14:3,25; 15:35-36; 18:11).”  (Jaroslav Pelikan, ACTS, P 112-113)

As the first chapter of the Gospel According to John testifies, the word of God is not a book, but a person namely Jesus Christ.   It is Christ who reveals the meaning of the Scriptures, but also embodies and incarnates the fullness of the truth of the Scriptures.  The scrolls of the Torah were given honor, but they were not to be confused with the Word of God.  Christ is the Word incarnate giving entirely new meaning to what the Word is and how we experience it.

Next:  The Old and New Testaments (B)