Old Testament

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The Old Testament or the Hebrew Scriptures (also called the Hebrew Bible) constitutes the first major part of the Bible according to Christianity. It is usually divided into the categories of law, history, poetry (or wisdom books) and prophecy. All of these books were written before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth who is the subject of the subsequent Christian New Testament.


Canon of the Old Testament

Main article: Biblical canon

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 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.

Historicity of the Old Testament

Main article: The Bible and history

Several professors of archeology claim that many stories in the Old Testament, including important chronicles about Abraham, Moses, Solomon, and others, were actually made up for the first time by scribes hired by King Josiah (7th century BCE) in order to rationalize monotheistic belief in Yahweh. Some archeologists have come to find that neighboring countries kept many written records, such as Egypt and Assyria, and yet have no writings about the stories of the Bible or its main characters before 650 BCE. Other archeologists have found evidence in the same documents supporting the accounts of the Bible.

Naming of the Old Testament

The term "Old Testament" is a translation of the Latin Vetus Testamentum, which translates the Greek Η Παλαια Διαθηκη, I Palea Diathiki, meaning "The Old Covenant (or Testament)". 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 (Hebrews 8:9; Jeremiah 31:32). 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.

Judaism accepts 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 a theologically neutral term as compared with "the Old Testament" which is distinctively Christian. Another Jewish term books 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.

21st 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. However, Dawn's label has not yet gained much popularity.

Christian use of the Old Testament

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The Trinity
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New Testament
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The relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament is not fully agreed upon among Christians. There is some debate among Protestant scholars over the issue of whether the New Testament applies to Jewish people, but there is very little debate over its applicability to Gentiles. Similarly, the degree to which the Old Testament and its laws applies to Christians is disputed, see antinomianism. Very few Christians, for example, follow the dietary laws within the Old Testament, whereas almost all Christians believe that the Ten Commandments are applicable, with the possible exception of the Sabbath. The question of which Old Testament laws are applicable affects debates on a variety of issues, including homosexuality and the ordination of women to the priesthood. Most Christians agree, however, that understanding the Old Testament is essential to understanding the New Testament, and that the contents of both are inspired by God.

Some historical groups such as Gnostics have gone so far as to assert that the God of the Old Testament is a different being from the God of the New Testament, often calling the Old Testament God the demiurge; of these, some like Marcion of Sinope went further to say that the Old Testament should not be retained as part of the Christian Bible. Most Christian groups believe that this view is heresy.

Today, many scholars prefer Hebrew Bible as a term that covers the commonality of the Tanakh and the Old Testament while avoiding sectarian bias, although this commonality only includes the Protestant Old Testament.

The New Testament contains many references to, and quotes from, the Old Testament, especially in relation to the fulfillment of prophecies (see Bible prophecy) concerning the promised messiah (Greek: Christ), whom Christians believe to be Jesus of Nazareth. In Christian theological views, this expectation, present fulfillment and eschatological fulfillment of the divine, eternal kingdom under the headship of Jesus of Nazareth are the thread running through both Testaments.

Supersessionists adhere to a doctrine that claims the replacement of the nation of Israel with the Christian Church since Christ. This is based upon a number of New Testament verses, one of which is Galatians 3:28, which says And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, (and) heirs according to the promise (English Standard Version). In practice, this means that while the Old Testament ceremonial and dietary laws can be dispensed with, the ethical and moral laws remain. Moreover, those who believe in Supersessionism also hold to the belief that specific Old Testament prophecies about Israel are fulfilled in both the person of Jesus of Nazareth and the church as God's people. Proponents of Dispensationalism disagree with this thesis.

Another take on the matter is proposed by Covenant Theologians, who believe that the various covenants of the Bible are supersessive, and culminate in the covenant made in the blood of Jesus of Nazareth, but who claim that Israel has always served as a type (or symbol) of the national church, and who assume a pattern of continuity between the covenants unless a discontinuity is specifically introduced by the covenant-maker (such as the discontinuity between dietary and social proscriptions).

It is useful to note that Dispensationalists, Supersessionists and Covenant Theologians may all be considered to be Evangelical Christian views.

In addition, Covenant Theology (or "Covenantalism") was the dominant Biblical understanding of scriptures since the foundations of the Christian Church, beginning with such theologians as Augustine of Hippo, up through the Protestant Reformation from the Catholic Church, with leaders such as Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin. Covenantalism is regarded as the mainstream, historic view of the Church throughout the centuries and millennia, and was the beliefs held by all the great Christian forefathers.

Dispensationalism did not appear until the 19th century, and is a relatively new way to interpret Biblical scripture. It is considered by historical theologians and Biblical scholars as heresy, and distorts the message spelled out for Christians in the New Testament.

Christian view of the Law

Traditional Christianity affirms that the laws or Torah of the Old Testament is the word of God, but 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 covenent relationship between God and his people (Hebrews 8; Jeremiah 31:31-34) and this makes the Mosaic covenant in some senses obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). A change of covenant can imply a change of law. Mark deduced from Jesus' teaching that the pentateuchal food laws no longer apply to Christians ("thus he declared all foods clean" -- Mark 7:19). 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 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" (Leviticus 19:18; compare the Golden Rule), "Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul and strength" (Deuteronomy 6:4, the Shema) as well as every commandment of the Decalogue or Ten Commandments (Exod 20:1-17) except the Sabbath commandment.

This has led to a variety of theological systems to explain which laws do and which do not apply to Christians. 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), this is not the usual viewpoint of Christians. One 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, theocratic 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.

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