September 21, 2020

Pete Enns: “Hey, Get Away from My Bible!“–Christian Appropriation of a Jewish Bible

Note from CM: Our friend Peter Enns gave permission to use the following piece, which was first published in January, 2009. Pete is currently on the faculty at Eastern University teaching courses in Old and New Testaments. His interests include Old Testament Theology, Biblical Theology, Wisdom Literature (esp. Ecclesiastes), the NT’s use of the OT, Second Temple literature, and the general issue of how ancient Scripture intersects with modern thought. I’m grateful that our readers will get the opportunity to hear some of his important contributions during this First Testament Month on IM.

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“Hey, Get Away from My Bible!” — Christian Appropriation of a Jewish Bible
by Peter Enns

A few days ago I received the following email from an agnostic reader of [my] website. The email is copied here in its entirety, with the permission of the sender. The question is direct, profound, and has been a nagging companion of Christianity since its beginning.

Since the Hebrew Bible (that you call OT) was written by Jews for Jews, and that obviously a large number of Jews did not follow Christianity and its appropriation of the Hebrew Bible, why should we trust a Christian interpretation of the Hebrew Bible instead of a Jewish interpretation?

I take this question with utmost seriousness, as I think all Christians should. It gets at the heart of several perennial issues in Christian theology, perhaps most importantly the NT’s use of the OT, which shows us the NT authors at work in articulating their understanding of the “connection” between the gospel and Israel’s Scripture. As I see it, this is really the heart of the matter. So, to rephrase the question, “Why should the first Christians’ claims about the OT (and how the gospel connects with it) have any merit in view of the fact that Christianity did not really take hold with Jews living at the time?” To put it yet another way, “Why should the Christian appropriation of the Hebrew Bible have any persuasive power, given that a larger number of Jews—whose Bible it was—rejected it?”

The basic answer, which I will try expand below, is this: We trust the first Christians in their interpretation of the OT, not so much because of how they interpreted it but because of the one whom they were proclaiming in their interpretation. That may not make much sense. It may even sound a bit odd, so let me try to explain.

There are many, many ways of coming at this very big issue, but let us enter the discussion where the questioner, somewhat innocently, begins: the use of the term “Old Testament.”

The term “Old Testament” has been in use since the time of the first Christians, finding its roots in Paul’s words in 2 Cor 3:6. I only raise the point to underscore how very ancient such a term is. I admit I am (over?)reacting a bit here to the parenthetical comment used by the questioner “that you call OT,” and perhaps drawing undue attention to something he did not even intend. Still, I would not want anyone to be left with the impression that the use of “Old Testament” by Christians is something trendy or worse, driven by anti-Semitism (neither of which are implied by the question). It expresses the belief that what God did by raising Jesus of Nazareth from the dead is both “new” (i.e., not anticipated in the OT) while also being vitally connected to the “old” of Israel’s story. It is that latter point that the NT authors are at great pains to demonstrate.

Having said, that, however, I also feel that the term “Old Testament” has led to a lot of misuse and, ironically, functional dismissal of the OT by Christians. It is sometimes ignored as the “Jewish” part of the Bible, where “law” predominates over the “grace” of the NT. This is a common but unfortunate misunderstanding not only of the trajectory of the NT but the OT, too. With others, it has been not so much ignored but treated superficially and flattened out to make it comply more to the manner in which some Christians understand the gospel. The history of the church is replete with examples of both.

One way some Christian scholars have tried to correct this problem is to refer to the OT as the Hebrew Bible or the First Testament. What these designations do is to remind us that what for us today is part of our Bible was, for the first Christians, theentirety of their Bible—there was no “New Testament” when the NT authors wrote (duh), and it is highly unlikely that the NT authors were thinking as they wrote “Hey, I think I’ll add some books to our Bible.” Saying Hebrew Bible/First Testament encourages Christian readers today to allow this portion of our own Bible, which makes up about 3/4 to 4/5 of our Bible, to have its way with us—this is to say, to read it and, as followers of Christ, to be challenged by it as the NT writers themselves were (especially Paul). Only after our process of reorientation is completed can we really begin to engage the ways in which the NT authors handled their Bible, to appreciate with more nuance how they “appropriated” the Hebrew Bible, as our questioner puts it.

What such a self-reflective interpretive process allows contemporary readers to appreciate more fully is the tremendous amount of theological energy that was expended by the NT authors to align, so to speak, the Bible (what they referred to sometimes as “Scripture” or “the law and the prophets” or “the law, the prophets, and the psalms,” plus some other labels) with what they saw happening around them, what they experienced in the crucified and risen Messiah.

This last remark is a very important point, and it brings us closer to the central issue before us. The force behind the “appropriation” of the Hebrew Bible on the part of the NT writers was not a matter of “watch me convince you of my better way of handling the Bible,” as if it were some academic exercise. What drove the first Christians to appropriate the Hebrew Bible as they did was not simply an attempt to set up an alternative interpretive grid to compete with Jews of the day and to see who wins.What drove the first Christians to do what they did with the OT was their experience of the crucified and risen Son of God.

The first Christians handled their Bible in a way that helped them make sense of this astounding series of events surrounding the first Easter. This is important to understand. The foundation for what they did with the OT was what happened in Palestine in the opening decades of (what we call) the 1st century. In view of the climactic and incontestable event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the first Christians were now pouring over their own Bible to understand how this new event could be understood in light of Israel’s ancient text, and, conversely, how Israel’s ancient text is now to be understood in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The question of biblical interpretation revolved around the resurrection of Christ. The complex, intricate, sometimes gripping, sometimes puzzling way in which the NT writers handled their Bible is anchored in the fundamental Christian conviction that Jesus is the gracious, amazing conclusion to Israel’s story.

It is very important to remember here that the first Christians were not blond haired Europeans, but Jews. To be sure, Gentiles made their way in soon enough (largely through the tireless missionary efforts of Paul), but the first Christians did not see themselves as beginning a new religion to be contrasted with “Judaism.” They saw themselves as being the true representatives of the climax of Israel’s story. They were, in their own minds, being faithful adherents to Israel’s drama, a drama that began many centuries earlier with Abraham and came to a head with God’s chosen Messiah, Jesus.

There is another ball we need to keep in the air as we address the question. We should not think of the Christian appropriation of the Hebrew Bible as diverting from the contemporary Jewish understanding, one that was more easily “connected” to the Bible. The Jewish handling of their own Scripture shows its own type of appropriation of the ancient texts. What do I mean by this?

The Hebrew Bible is a story that speaks of God’s purpose for his people, Israel, in being a special people to him, a people designed, so to speak, to embody what it means to be made in God’s image (think Genesis 1 here). They were to be so much God’s people that their example was to be contagious for all the nations around them, to be a “blessing” to them, as we read in Genesis 12:1-3. Long story short, the OT recounts an ongoing story of how Israel failed to embody this ideal and as a result experienced several series of downfalls, rejections, expulsions, etc.

Two of the more central evidences of God’s blessing to Israel were that they were to be in a land given to them by God, and that they were to have an unbroken line of kings (in the line of King David) rule over them. Israel’s greatest tragedy was when they were taken captive by the Babylonians around 587 BC and exiled to Babylon. When they returned about fifty years later, they had no king, no temple, and encountered various problems in taking back their land and recreating the glory days of the past.

Why is this important to the question? Hang with me.

Israel’s history after the return from Babylon in about 539 BC is well documented, not only in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., 1 and 2 Chronicles) but in other literature of the time, typically referred to as “Second Temple” literature. These texts were written after the completion of the second temple in 516, the first one having been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The second temple was destroyed in AD 70. Hence, that entire period is referred to today as the “Second Temple Period.” A lot was written during that time that helps us see what the Jews were thinking.

Mainly, we can see that they were coming to grips with what it meant to be the people of God in the absence of the ancient promises that demonstrated of God’s blessing.

Sure, they were back in the land, but the newly rebuilt temple was merely a shell of its former self. Plus, the intervening years of captivity introduced all sorts of religious and political drama. In short, their self-concept of what it means to be the people of God—a landed people ruled by a Davidic king over the other nations, not subject to them—was in considerable upheaval.

O.K., again, what does all this have to do with the question? This:

The Jews of Jesus’ day were reading their own Scripture in a way that was driven by these changing circumstances. Even though they came back to the land, they were never really free as they were before the exile. They were subject first to the Persians, then Greeks, and then Romans. They were not ruled by the Davidic king, who had a “torah under one arm and a sword in the other,” who would faithfully lead them as God’s pure people. They were in their own land, but they really weren’t—as long as they had foreign rulers telling them what to do in their own land that God had given them.

[Parenthetically, it may be a minor point, but I think the questioner is making a common error when he says that the Hebrew Bible was written “by Jews for Jews.” It was written by Israelites for Israelites. The difference between the two is significant, for Jews/Judaism is a term properly used to designate post-exilic developments in Israel’s self-understanding. In fact, the term itself owes much to Greek linguistic influence.]

Do you see the point? By the time we get to Jesus and the NT writers, Jews had already had a pretty long history of asking themselves, “In view of these dramatically changing circumstances, how do we connect to our own ancient texts?” To put the matter more pointedly, “How are we now the people of God, in view of all that has happened? Indeed, are we still the people of God? What does that even mean?”

It was the pressure of aligning Israel’s ancient past with present changing circumstances that led Second Temple Jews to do some pretty innovative “appropriation” of their own Bible, particularly since so much of the Hebrew Bible envisions a situation where Israel is the jewel of the nations, with a Davidic king ruling with righteousness and justice from Jerusalem, the center of the world, God’s city.

The first Christians were also Jews and they were engaged in another attempt at Jewish appropriation—although of a VERY different sort—since now one’s true identity as the people of God is centered not on what had been Israel’s defining markers, such as Torah, land, temple, and king, but in Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to bring all of these things, and more, to their proper focal point.

For the Jews, the result of such creative appropriation can be seen, as I mentioned above, in the Second Temple literature they produced. In fact, a struggle to appropriate the Bible in a way that addresses change has its roots within the Hebrew Bible itself, e.g., 1 and 2 Chronicles and many other places where it is clear that older traditions are being rethought at later times (a phenomenon referred to today as “inner-biblical exegesis”). This interpretive journey comes to fruition in the rabbinic literature, at least the names of which are known to most of us: the Mishnah and Talmud. The theological efforts were continued in later medieval “commentaries” on the Hebrew Bible, known as “Midrashim.”

The particulars of Jewish handling of their own Bible in view of changing circumstances is a fascinating, enriching, and challenging topic for Christians, but this is not the place to rehearse all of that. What is important here is the general point, that the failure of many Jews of the day to accept the Christian appropriation of the Hebrew Bible is not because they were sticking to the “real meaning” of the Hebrew Bible that the Christians were handling in such a wacky fashion.

A better way to think of is it is that there were two divergent groups of people who claimed to represent the true “next stage” of Israel’s history as God’s chosen people. For Jews, their answer was their continued attempts to articulate what it means to “be a Jew” in a world context that, simply put, their own Bibles left no room for—a people in diaspora, i.e., scattered, without a true homeland, without a fully implemented religious and political structure. For the other group of Jews—who only later came to include Gentiles and be called “Christians”—the final answer was found not in a more clever and competing way of handing their Bibles, but in their belief that now, in Jesus, God was giving a fresh definition to what it meant to be “the people of God.”

So, why should we today “trust” this “Christian appropriation” of the OT rather than that of the Jews of the day? Let’s rephrase the question. Why should we today trust a “Christ-centered” understanding of the Hebrew Bible rather than a “Judaism-centered” understanding.

I think this rephrasing of the issue puts the question is a much more helpful context, for to ”not trust” the “Christ-centered” understanding of the Hebrew Bible still leaves one with a choice to make: which “re-understanding,” which “appropriation” will you trust? There is no “neutral” appropriation out there waiting to be had.

The Christian answer, in brief, is:

“We handle the Bible the way we do because Jesus is raised from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection does not depend on how the first Christians handled the Bible. They handled the Bible the way they did because of Jesus’ resurrection. The Christian appropriation of the Hebrew Bible is to be trusted because Jesus is raised from the dead.”

This ancient choice is still operative today. Is Jesus raised from the dead or isn’t he? And if so, so what? These are the questions that the NT writers went to great lengths to discuss in the NT letters, especially Paul’s letters. How one answers that question will affect how one looks at any other.

I realize how counterintuitive and wholly unsatisfying an answer like this might be for some to the question raised at the outset. We might have expected a more “methodological” answer, i.e., Christian or Jewish appropriation is better because it handles the text more faithful to its original intention, or because it is more rigorous in its approach, etc., etc. The answer I am giving here, to subordinate the interpretive question of the appropriation of the Hebrew Bible to the central historical question of the resurrection of Jesus, does not seem like a terribly persuasive angle to take. After all, how could this have possibly been understood as persuasive to the 1st century Jewish audience, if they were expected to accept a Christ-centered handling of their own Bible when it was precisely the acceptance of Christ that was such a stumbling block (to use Paul’s phrase)?

These are also very important, perennial questions—in fact, there are several more that come up in contemporary debates about how to understand how the first Christians understood the “connection” between the Good News of Jesus Christ and Israel’s story. Those questions will continue to be addressed by Christian thinkers, questions the precipitating email question only begins to hint at.

Still, these continued complexities aside, the manner in which the first Christians appropriated the Hebrew Bible forces us to consider now, as then, a more basic question, which is, as Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” All other questions of Christian religious meaning, including the Christian appropriation of its own Bible, are subsumed under that fundamental question. I am as modern/Western a thinker as the next person, and I appreciate the degree of cognitive dissonance that this may produce. But, the rule of the resurrected Messiah creates all sorts of cognitive dissonance for modern people—as it did for ancient people—the interpretive question being only one of them.

This leads to a final, and perhaps even more counterintuitive, observation. The ultimate demonstration of the persuasiveness of the Christ-centered climax to Israel’s story may be much more than a matter of how Christians interpret their Bible. It may be in how those who claim to follow the risen Christ embody his resurrection in what they say, think, and do—but that is a whole other area of discussion.

So, to repeat, the question asked of me is fundamental, far-reaching, and of central importance. What I have offered here is admittedly a rough sketch of what I think are some central issues to be considered that, perhaps, provides more of a reorientation of the kinds of questions we should be asking than an answer itself. But, as I see it, that is precisely what is needed, for agnostics and Christians alike.


  1. Good answer, but why don’t Enns and liberal mainliners give the same answer to the question of whether we should we trust a Christian interpretation of the Hebrew Bible instead of a secular interpretation? When asked by the Sadducees about Moses’ teaching on marriage, Jesus didn’t sit them down to educate them about JDEP sources, he explained Moses’ teaching. If Christ rose from the dead, he is God, and his teaching on the OT is authoritative. If his teaching is plainly false, then he probably isn’t God and he didn’t rise from the dead.

    • I wasn’t aware that Enns held a “secular” view of the OT. In fact, he doesn’t. He is actually quite Christocentric.

      And you have confused Jesus with an Enlightenment foundationalist. You can’t reduce his view of Scripture to “inerrancy.”

    • If Christ rose from the dead, he is God, and his teaching on the OT is authoritative.

      I don’t see how the apodoses, especially the first one, necessarily follow from the protasis. How does being raised from the dead, whether or not the person predicted their resurrection, necessarily or automatically make that person God?

      • Well, there is this things that no other person in history has ever demonstrated the ability to overcome death. Every single person in history has been defeated by it save one. So…. I’m certainly open to other explanations of it, but for the time being it seams reasonable to ascribe that kind of supernatural ability to a deity who sits above the laws of nature.

        • It still doesn’t automatically or necessarily follow that this makes Jesus God, though it makes Him one who was raised by God (or perhaps given power by God to raise Himself).

          • I think, properly speaking, that the NT witness to the resurrection is that Jesus: “was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…” (Romans 1:1-5). The resurrection demonstrated to the apostles that Jesus was the “Son of God” ala Psalm 2 and Daniel 7, the promised Messiah and Lord and King of all. Questions about his deity should be discussed in the light of how these terms are understood.

          • In fact, I would bet that the NT most frequently describes Christ’s resurrection as God raising Jesus from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:15; Acts 2:24; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:20; etc.), rather than as Jesus raising himself owing to him being God.

          • Chaplain Mike:

            I am not saying that Jesus is not God. I am simply saying that I think the assertion that Jesus being raised from the dead means that Jesus is God says more than most – maybe all – of the NT authors say about what Jesus’ resurrection proves about him. Maybe it’s his ascension and enthronement that finally and fully show him to be God.

            There are NT-based reasons to believe that Jesus is God, but I don’t think the NT clearly asserts that his resurrection is what proves him to be God or makes him to be God. It also seems to me that the way things are phrased in the NT, “God [the Father]” and “Jesus” are mostly spoken of in ways that imply a lower Christology than “the Son of God” = “God the Son.”

            This sub-discussion, which I started, is about Christology and not about how Christians should read the Jewish Bible, so it probably belongs in another thread.

            FWIW, my friend Brian Wright has shown the textual support for the NT authors directly calling Jesus “Theos” (the first article is the original academic one; the second one is the “popular” version as published in the Christian Research Journal):


          • John 2

            18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

            19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

            20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

          • Assuming the conversation was accurately reported, isn’t the author basically admitting that the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus meant? Or worse yet, they suspected his boast of being false, then after his death struggled to come up with some plausible interpretation…?

        • Superman rose from the dead! And maybe Elvis. (Hey, there were witnesses!)

      • David Cornwell says

        They believed Jesus was the Son of God, and that God raised Him from the dead at least partly based on what He said, what they saw of His life and work, His claims about Himself and what happened on that Easter day and in the days following. But in the end it is also a matter of faith. We have their testimony and teachings, but we appropriate it for ourselves by faith. But bear in mind that this event has had more impact on the world than any other in history.

        For me, I can’t ignore their testimony and the events following. And, as stated above, this is why we are compelled to handle the scriptures the way we do.

        Not elegant, but this is what I choose to base my faith upon.

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Another factor is what Chaplain Mike once stated (in the context of pop eschatology) regarding the idea of the Bible as a “spiritual engineering manual and checklist”. When the Tenach is more accurately (to use a Manly Wade Wellman reference) the “Old, Old Stories” of God and the Jews. They show God and teach, but not in the sense of a checklist.

  3. I’ve always found it especially interesting how when agnostics and atheists get ready to do serious battle with the integrity of the Bible, it almost always focuses on the Old Testament and almost always is assumed to be a problem for Christians – I don’t think I’ve ever heard or read a hostile Bible critic aim his/her rhetoric at Judaism. Yet if most agnostic/atheist criticisms of the Bible are in fact true, then the clear implication is that the Jewish people are unique among all other people in that their history is a tissue of lies stolen from their pagan, polytheistic neighbors. Without the Tanakh there simply is no authentic Jewish history or identity, yet the problems that A/A’s have with the Scriptures are always framed as a problem for Christians.

    I wonder what the average Rabbit thinks of that?

    • Sorry, read the above as “Rabbi.” How mortifying!

    • Well, but there’s an entire branch of Judaism that doesn’t believe the Tanakh as anything other than folklore and tradition (they’re called Humanist Jews). Many Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish folk don’t believe the Tanakh stories literally, either. An inerrant Bible view is just not common because it’s not the way the Tanakh is read in Judaism. It’s not read as history or science this is how it happened but as what is the deeper meaning kind of thing. Also, Rashi, Akiva etc. were great Torah scholars and instead of being locked away in the academy, they are routinely read by normal Jewish folk thus keeping people from becoming crackpots.

      Really, it’s very hard to be a Jewish heretic. Spinoza is the only one that leaps to mind, and today, he is considered a great Jewish thinker by many Jews.

      I mean, Judaism is non-credal, but if it had a creed it would be the Schma. Pretty much if you believe in one deity and that deity is connected in some way to the Jewish people then, as long as you’re otherwise Jewish (by birth or conversion), you’re good.

  4. While I largely agree with what is written in this article, I might offer one critique. Maybe not so much a critique of something wrong as it is of something missing. Enns refers to “the tremendous amount of theological energy that was expended by the NT authors to align…the Bible…with what they saw happening around them, what they experienced in the crucified and risen Messiah.” This could leave the impression that the NT authors studied the OT in a systematic, scholarly way to draw the connections between the OT and their experience of Christ. I don’t think this is necessarily the case. Rather it is important to remember that Jesus Christ Himself enlightened the apostles concerning the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). The apostolic understanding of the OT is the product of revelation. So while the statement is trued that “we trust the first Christians in their interpretation of the OT, not so much because of how they interpreted it but because of the one whom they were proclaiming in their interpretation”, it should also be said that we trust the first Christians because of Who revealed the truth directly to them.

    • I would argue that Saint Paul most certainly expended extensive theological energy in order to understand what happened to him on the Damascus Road. His writings in Romans, Galatians, Colossians, etc., show the efforts which he expended in order to bring a theological framework to his experience of the Risen Christ. In the same way, the writings of the Apostle John show a Greek theological mindset that brings in a deep mysticism to help explain the experience of the Risen Christ. Saint Luke brings the mindset of a Greek physician who is trying to place events in an order that is somewhat verifiable (by the witnesses alive at that time) and yet also deeply theological at the same time.

      While the understanding may be that of the revelation that Christ is Risen, nevertheless, there is significant theological energy put into placing the event in an understandable framework.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      Couldn’t it be just as possible that NT writers had real, life-changing encounters with Jesus and studied the Scriptures? There is a lot of evidence to suggest that NT theology was HEAVILY based on OT Scripture (check out the book of Hebrews, for an example). I don’t believe however, that Jesus told his disciples, “Hey, I’m just going to give you the CliffNotes version, just to save you the trouble of having to pour through all of that messy Scripture stuff.” True, the apostles who wrote the epistles highlighted their experience with Jesus, but they never, ever discounted a serious, systematic study of OT Scripture.

  5. So when the Septuagintal reading supports a New Testament Christological proof text, and that reading differs from the Hebrew OT rendering, which do we go with?

    • Hmm, since both the Septuagint and the Masoretic are quoted in the New Testament, are you not setting up a false dichotomy? Further, since the Septuagint is a Jewish translation of the Tanakh (which may or may not have been the Masoretic text), might not the translators have been translating the connotation of Hebrew text rather than the simple denotation?

      Thus a text whose straight translation may not be fully Christological, may have had a connotation that leads to a Christological interpretation. One good example is the famous text about the virgin bearing birth. There is little doubt that the Hebrew text simple reads maiden. However, since culturally it was assumed that a maiden was a virgin (at the risk of being stoned), it has been cogently argued that the Septuagint (and therefore the Christian) interpretation of a virgin is the most correct translation as far as what a Jew would have understood at the time the passage was written.

      • I’m referring to things like the OT quotes in Hebrews 1. I don’t mean all NT quotes of the OT; I’m referring specifically and only to those where the author appeals for support to a LXX rendering (Old Greek might be more accurate than “Septuagint”) and that reading differs in meaning from the extant Hebrew reading of that verse(s).

        In such instances, does the NT quote/reading become the Christian’s OT reading of that verse, replacing what the Hebrew of that verse says?

        • Interesting you should bring that up. The eventual decision of the Early Church Fathers was that the Septuagint was the version of the Old Testament acceptable to them, not the Masoretic text. The Masoretic text, as such, did not exist at the time of the New Testament. The Masoretic text really only dates to the 7th to 10th century AD. The Dead Sea Scrolls show that while some Masoretic reading can be traced to BC, it also shows that in other areas there is some variation in the readings.

          Thus, the second problem you have with your thesis is that you are arguing from a 7th to 10th century Hebrew text about a BC Greek text. Thus, while it is clear that the modern New Testament differs in some of its quotes from the modern Masoretic text, it is unclear whether that would have been as true back then.

          • I can’t offhand think of some specific NT quotes of the OT for which we have Qumran readings that agree with the MT against the LXX/Old Greek reading, so it may be true that the OT quotes we have in the NT reflect not just the LXX/Old Greek reading but the Hebrew vorlage reading underlying the LXX/Old Greek as well.

          • Here is a quote from one scholar, “For instance, in his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, John Allegro tries to explain apparent miss quotes in the New Testament text by comparing them to the Dead Sea Scrolls. He uses the example of Matthew 2:6 when compared to Micah 5:2 and indicates that the language used by the New Testament authors is more consistent with that found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

            In other words, there really is quite a bit of argument still going on about variant readings in the OT and which ones were used by the NT authors.

          • It’s a very complex subject, and this book, The Use of the Septuagint in New Testament Research, by Timothy McLay (Eerdmans 2003)


            also available in print form, does a good job of explaining what’s involved.

  6. The only thing that disappoints me about the article is the author’s typical Protestant failure to point out how one can get a reasonable idea as to what was important to the Apostles and disciples by reading the writings of their disciples and spiritual descendants, the Early Church Fathers.

    • I am surprised that you don’t know that the church fell away when the last apostle died and only got back on track with Luther.

  7. Rick Gibson says

    I am an Evangelical Christian who is married to an Israeli Jew. With my wife, I have gone for many years to several conservative Jewish synagouges in Southern California. I have also had discussions with Orthodox Jews, particularly in the Chabad movement. Through this experience, I have come to see that the original question posed here is premised in a basic error, although an understandable one.

    We all tend to think that there is this thing called “Judaism” which is based directly on the Old Testament. This makes it natural to ask, as the original questioner did, by what right do Christians take the Old Testament and change its meaning for their own purposes.

    The implicit assumption here is that modern Judaism and biblical Judaism are the same religion, and that Christianity is the new deviation from the long-accepted truth. But that is not true. Modern Judaism is not the same religion as biblical Judaism.

    Those of us familiar with the Bible should already know this, if we have any familiarity with contemporary Jewish practice. From our reading of the Bible, we know what biblical Jews did. They had an elaborate system of animal sacrifice for the atonement of sin. They had the Tent of Meeting, later the Temple, which the Bible describes in tremendous detail. In addition to animal sacrifice, they laid out the Bread of The Presence, before God every day. They had cities of refuge, to which negligent killers fled. They released all debts every seven years.

    I could go on and on. The Torah describes a vast number of rules, the great majority of which no one, either Christian or Jew, even attempts to follow now. While obviously parts of the Old Testament are deeply relevant to both Christians and Jews today, neither religion tries to carry out the details of most of the old rules. Many Christians do not know this, because they have heard that Jews (particularly Orthodox Jews) are very into detailed Torah rules. That is true, but the rules followed by the Orthodox are not at all the same as the rules set forth in the Old Testament. Yes, some of the rules are the same. The Ten Commandants have not changed. The shema is still the foundational prayer. But, in all of the details which I have mentioned above, as well as many others, the religion of King David is simply no longer practiced.

    We know why Christians do not follow the detailed precepts of Biblical Judaism. Christians have the New Covenant, which completes and transforms the rules of the Old Covenant. The Old Testament remains deeply relevant to Christians, but it is now the start of a long story, not God’s last word.

    But the Old Testament is not God’s last word to modern Jews either. Modern Jews interpret scripture through the lens of Talmud, the centuries-long accumulation of commentary on the scripture. In fact, many Orthodox Jews believe that the Talmud is not commentary on scripture, written after the fact. The highly Orthodox believe that, at Mt. Sinai, God gave the Jews both the Written Law (the Torah) and the Oral Law. They believe that the Oral Law was passed down through the generations and was ultimately written down as the Talmud. They believe, in short, that Talmud has equal authority as Torah.

    There are enormous logical and historical problems with seeing Talmud as the written-down form of the Oral Law which is just as old as the Torah and was also given on Mt. Sinai. Among other things, much of Talmud consists of discussions between Rabbi X and Rabbi Y, each discussing what a passage of Torah means. The natural interpretation of such passages of Talmud, of course, is that they were written, centuries after Torah, when Rabbi X and Rabbi Y were actually alive and talking to each other. Remember, biblical Judaism had priests, not rabbis. The rabbis date only to the Second Temple period, not before. It is very hard to read such a text as having been given by God, on Mt. Sinai, with the Ten Commandments.

    But I digress. The major point, for this discussion, is that modern Judaism is NOT the same religion as blblical Judaism. Modern Judaism and Christianity are both descendants of biblical Judaism. They were actually both born at about the same time. Modern Judaism is descended from the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. Modern Judaism, as opposed to biblical Judaism, came into its own as a separate religion with the destruction of the Second Temple, about thirty years after the death of Christ. Biblical Judaism had been based upon the Temple and the land of Israel. With the destruction of the Temple, and the expulsion of the Jews from eretz Israel, the rabbis were forced to create something new, to keep Judaism alive. Some of them turned to Christ. Others created the Talmud.

    There are Jews who reject Talmud and try simply to follow Torah. The radio host Dennis Prager takes this position, as does my wife. (This is what happens when Jews live with Christians. Sola Scriptura tends to rub off on them.) Historically, there was a movement of such Jews, which was called the Karites. They died out centuries ago. Leaving aside such minority movements, as any well-educated rabbi, will freely admit, modern Judaism is based on the teachings of the rabbis. It is not the same religion as was practiced under King David and King Solomon. Christians have not hijacked the Bible. Both Christians and Jews have taken the Bible in different directions, after the old religion was destroyed.

    • I would argue that the Hebrew Bible we have is a product of the same kind of development. Jews were not “people of the Book” until the exile. They were people of the covenant, land, and temple. Their religion was a lived faith with a living tradition that was captured in some documents but by and large passed down through liturgy and pedagogy — “traditioning” as Brueggemann calls it.

      Brueggemann makes the same point you do. The Jewish people’s “traditioning” process did not end with the canon of Scripture but continued on through the Talmud and numerous other cultural situations down through the centuries.

      He also makes the point (gasp! watch out evangelicals!) that the Christian “traditioning” process also continued and that the Christianities we have today have moved far from what the original communities looked like.

      • The easy response would be to say that modern Judaism and Christianity are roughly equal in age, both having coalesced from the ashes of Second Temple Judaism. HOWEVER, in all probability, Jesus held to a Jewish view of God, and would have been bewildered / horrified by suggestions that he taught Trinitarianism and/or his own divinity.I agree with Akenson’s reading that Jesus was a Pharisee, though with apocalyptic leanings through John.

      • Rick Gibson says

        Chaplain Mike:

        One thing that I, as a Christian, find very odd about the Jewish approach is that authority over the tradition seems to inhere somehow with the community of rabbis. From my point of view, the Old Testament is God’s word, so it always puzzles me that rabbis can claim to alter it. From my perspective, it would seem that only a prophet, or someone with a reasonable claim to speak for God, could alter the Word. But that is not the Jewish perspective.

        As of the continuation of the Christian “traditioning” process, that is, of course, an obvious, although highly controversial point. The Roman Catholics discovered that Mary had always been virgin some centuries into the Christian era. My Bible seems pretty clear that Jesus had brothers and sisters, and since they were not divine, it seems that this Catholic doctrine is plainly contrary to scripture. The point here, of course, is that the Reformed Church makes a huge effort to strip away things investned which have no basis in scripture. But that does not invalidate your point. Presumably early Christians did many things that are not described in scripture, so a purely Bible-centered approach will miss them. Further, the surrounding culture has changed, not least because the early Church was a tiny minority, and, in recent centuries, it has usually been a majority.


        I think it is beyond question, as a historical fact, that modern Judaism and Christianity are roughly the same age. I have often heard your other argument from my Jewish friends. A genuine Jew, of course, is horrified by the idea that a human being could be God. Many Jews want to think well of Jesus, so they often argue that Jesus himself did not think he was God. The problem that you have with that argument is that it is explicitly contradicted many times in the Gospels, particularly the Gospel of John. One can argue, of course, that the Gospels are not accurate and that the “real” Jesus and his words are not accurately set forth in them. The problem with that argument, of course, is that, other than the Gospels and the Epistles (which are even worse, from the point of this view of this argument) are really the only detailed accounts that we have of Jesus.

        Unless you want to simply rule out parts of the Gospel that you find offensive, I think you are stuck with a Jesus who claimed that he was God. As C.S. Lewis argued so ably, the position that Jesus was a wise man, or a good teacher, will not wash. He said that he was God. He was thus a liar, he was a lunatic, or he spoke the truth

        • Just because the canonical gospels are the main (almost only) source of information about Jesus, does not make them reliable. To begin with, the fact that they testify to numerous supernatural events does not speak highly of their credibility. Unfortunately, this leaves us with little concrete information about Jesus other than that he was a Palestinian Jewish religious figure active in the late 20’s and perhaps early 30’s AD, who followed John at some point, and was put to death by the Romans. Alas, we cannot always learn what we would like to know.

          Why do people keep repeating the “liar, lunatic, or Lord” trichotomy? By now people ought to realize that these are not the only options. (Bart Ehrman, in keeping with the “L” pattern, suggests “legend.”)

  8. “The Bible, from beginning to end, tells one story. That story is how a holy God relates to a fallen, sinful, broken people. At the center of that story is Jesus.” -Michael Spencer

    While the Hebrews may not have had Jesus in mind when writing or reading the Hebrew scriptures, God certainly did when he inspired them. The Hebrews knew nothing of crucifixion when Isaiah 53 was written, but after the fact (of the Roman Empire) Christians see in that text a graphic depiction of Jesus on the cross. Christ himself was not shy about reading the scriptures and indicated they were about him. Most Jews in the first century did not accept Jesus as the Messiah – which saddened him greatly. But as a believer in Jesus as the way, the truth and the life, I’m willing to go with his interpretation without question.

    • I don’t really care if Christians interpret passages through a Christological prism, but I get weirded out when I hear them claim that the ONLY way to understand the OT is through Christological glasses. This is why I was happy with Pope Benedict when he stated that of course the OT could be interpreted and understood without Jesus. A commonsense statement but one that had not been stated before.

      • Isn’t that like saying you can understand a book without the authors commentary? Yes, this is true. But if that book points to the Authors coming, the Author who fulfills everything written in the book, how much better is it to interpret the book through the Author’s Words?

        • No, it’s saying that for generations, these stories were understood a certain way and that an entire people group can understand these stories without reference to this other people group who also claim these stories.

          Also, I reject the concepts of 1. the Almighty being the author of Scripture (it was written by humans who may have been, at times, inspired by their understanding of their deity). and of course, I reject entirely the idea of Scripture being fulfilled as I don’t read it as something that actually needs fulfilled. I do not believe that the point of prophecy is to tell the future.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            “Prophet” originally meant a mortal who speaks for a god. Who says what the god wants said.

            These days “Prophecy” has come to mean what was called “Soothsaying” or “Fortunetelling” or “Precognition” — seeing and predicting future events, whether you call it “History Written in Advance” or not.

          • “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

            “The son of David,” they replied.

            He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

            “‘The Lord said to my Lord:
            “Sit at my right hand
            until I put your enemies
            under your feet.”’

            If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”

            Matthew 22 v. 41-45

          • Cermak_rd said: “I do not believe that the point of prophecy is to tell the future.”

            Cermak, I agree with you that telling the future is not the primary point of prophecy, but that is sometimes involved, as Clark pointed out above with Isaiah 53. I came to faith through that chapter (long story), so I’m heavily invested there. But you’re right, it’s not usually the focus.

            HUG is right too, that prophecy involves a mortal speaking for (a) god and that it should have nothing to do with soothsaying or fortunetelling, which are in fact forbidden by the bible. Books along those lines are written by quacks (yes, HUG, I’m with you, I mean Hal Lindsey). But certainly the OT prophets did occasionally spill the beans about something that was to come.

            To put it on a bumper sticker, an OT professor of mine (pardon me, “first testament” prof) used to say that prophecy is not so much foretelling as it is forthtelling.

      • I wouldn’t necessarily say that reading the OT through a Christological lens is the only way to understand them, but I would say that as a Christian it is the primary and foremost way to understand them. That’s basically what happened to the early apostles. They grew up in a culture understanding Scripture in a certain way, and when Jesus came, they were forced to re-examine what they once believed. And I can how there’s a level of offensiveness in those statements, but that’s kind of what Paul was getting at when he said Christ was a stumbling block to the Jews.

        • Rick Gibson says

          Many things in the Old Testament can be read in isolation, and make sense all by themselves. Think of Proverbs, for example. A great deal of it is just common sense.

          But, if you want to actually make sense of the book, in some larger way, I believe that you really only have two interpretative choices. First, you can read it through the lens of the Gospel, as the precursor to the coming of Christ. Second, you can read it through the lens of the Talmud, as the starting point for the endless arguments of the rabbis. I am not aware of any coherent third way to read the whole Old Testament as making any kind of sense.

          And, frankly, I do not think that Talmud really works as an interpretative device for making sense of the whole Old Testament. I think that Jews inevitably end up simply throwing out a lot of their scripture as either being outmoded or simply making no sense. A good example of this is the animal sacrifice of the Old Testament. Christians do not do it, because we have the one perfect sacrifice in the Cross. We take the animal sacrifice portions of the Old Testament very seriously, and we have a very serious argument as to why they have been superseded.

          Why don’t Jews practice animal sacrifice? The official answer you will get from the rabbis is that, since they lost the Temple, they are unable to perform sacrifices any longer. That argument, however, makes no sense on at least two levels. First, the system of animal sacrifice is described in the Five Books of Moses, at a time when the Jews did not have the Temple. Animal sacrifice was originally done at the Tent of Meeting. Second, Israel ha controlled the Temple Mount since 1967. If re-building the Temple was critical to carrying out a critical religious duty, they would have re-built the Temple by now. There are, of course, many religious and political reasons why the Temple has not been re-built. My point, however, is simply that lack of the Temple is not the real reason that Jews do not do animal sacrifice any more. They do not do it, because they regard it as barbaric, as does pretty much everyone else in the modern world.

          My major point here is that the Christian view of the Bible makes sense of every book of the Bible. To us, it is all one book. It all hangs together. it all goes in one direction. Form the Jewish perspective, I do not think it is possible to read the Bible as being anywhere near that coherent. And I think this tells you something.

    • Well said. Agreed.

  9. may i suggest this website?

    Good intro videos on every book of the bible , by the university of Nottingham.