Thursday, February 22, 2024

Hebrew Bible reading. . .

Only recently I have heard it not once but a dozen times.  The Old Testament reference was spoken of as a reading from the Hebrew Bible.  Curious?  Were the New Testament readings from the Greek Bible?  What is the source of this distinction and what is its meaning? 

Hebrew terms such as miqra (“scripture”) or kitve haqqodesh (“sacred texts”) are common words for the Bible (what Christians ordinarily call the Old Testament). Its tripartite division into the Torah (Law), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings) eventually produced the term Tanakh. The division into “Old Testament” and “New Testament” for Christians was not immediate but emerged over time.  The Greek term diathéke (testamentum in Latin) was used in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) to translate the term berit, covenant.

The first use of “Old Testament” (or “Old Covenant”) referring to the Hebrew Bible occurs in a letter (c.170) of Melito, the bishop of Sardes, a town in Asia Minor.  Eusebius of Caesarea refers to that letter in his History of the Church.  Therein is a list of the books of the Old Testament which corresponds in large measure to the ordinary list found later in the works of Origen of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Athanasius.  These include: the five books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, the four books of Kings (Samuel and Kings), the books of Chronicles, the Psalms of David, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, the book of the 12 Minor Prophets, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Ezra.  Nehemiah was counted along with Ezra as a single book.  The book of Esther was not routinely included in the lists of biblical books until the fourth century, such as those anamed by by Athanasius and Gregory of Nazianzus. Melito’s list, like other Christian lists from the early period of Christian history excludes the apocryphal or deuterocanonical books.  The term “New Testament” first occurs in the writings of Clement of Alexandria and Origen, around the end of the second century.  Though some believe the term can be traced back to 140 through the works of Marcion of Sinope, his works do not survive except through reference in Tertullian.  Around the end of the second century, the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” shifted from terms referencing two covenants to designating to the collections of Scriptures.

The term Old Testament did not seem to be controversial until the late 20th century when some thought it should be dropped in favor of a less "pejorative" term like “First Testament.”  It did not catch on.  So are we to think that the reference by a Christian (even Lutheran) to the Hebrew Bible or Scriptures is also fearful of offense.  Or could it be a means of distancing themselves from the things in the Old Testament that they do not like?  In any case, we seem to love inventing ways to disagree.  Even something as simple as the term Old Testament can be distorted into some sort of offense or problem.

1 comment:

Carl Vehse said...

"Only recently I have heard it not once but a dozen times. The Old Testament reference was spoken of as a reading from the Hebrew Bible."

From LCMS (or other) Lutherans or frpm those in other church bodies?