The internal unity of the Church's Bible, which comprises the Old and New Testaments, was a central theme in the theology of the Church Fathers. That it was far from being a theoretical problem only is evident from dipping, so to speak, into the spiritual journey of one of the greatest teachers of Christendom, Saint Augustine of Hippo. In 373, the 19 year old Augustine already had his first decisive experience of conversion. His reading of one of the works of Cicero — Hortensius, since lost — brought about a profound transformation which he himself described later on as follows: “Towards you, O Lord, it directed my prayers... I began to pick myself up to return to you... How ardent I was, O my God, to let go of the earthly and take wing back to you” (Conf. III, 4, 81). For the young African who, as a child, had received the salt that made him a catechumen, it was clear that conversion to God entailed attachment to Christ; apart from Christ, he could not truly find God. So he went from
The great promise of the Manicheans proved illusory, but the problem remained unresolved for all that. Augustine was unable to convert to the Christianity of the Catholic Church until he had learned, through Ambrose, an interpretation of the Old Testament that made transparent the relationship of Israel's Bible to Christ and thus revealed that Wisdom for which he searched. What was overcome was not only the exterior obstacle of an unsatisfactory literary form of the Old Latin Bible, but above all the interior obstacle of a book that was no longer just a document of the religious history of a particular people, with all its strayings and mistakes. It revealed instead a Wisdom addressed to all and came from God. Through the transparency of
But is all this true? Is it also demonstrable and tenable still today? From the viewpoint of historical-critical exegesis, it seems — at first glance, in any case — that exactly the opposite is true. It was in 1920 that the well-known liberal theologian Adolf Harnack formulated the following thesis: “The rejection of the Old Testament in the second century [an allusion to Marcion] was an error which the great Church was right in resisting; holding on to it in the 16th century was a disaster from which the Reformation has not yet been able to extricate itself; but to maintain it since the 19th century in Protestantism as a canonical document equal in value to the New Testament, that is the result of religious and ecclesial paralysis”.2
Is Harnack right? At first glance several things seem to point in that direction. The exegetical method of Ambrose did indeed open the way to the Church for Augustine, and in its basic orientation — allowing, of course, for a considerable measure of variance in the details — became the foundation of Augustine's faith in the biblical word of God, consisting of two parts, and nevertheless composing a unity. But it is still possible to make the following objection: Ambrose had learned this exegesis from the
In whatever way one judges the detailed exegesis of Origen and Ambrose, its deepest basis was neither Hellenistic allegory, nor Philo nor rabbinic methods. Strictly speaking, — leaving aside the details of interpretation — its basis was the New Testament itself. Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be the true heir to the Old Testament — “the Scriptures” — and to offer a true interpretation, which, admittedly, was not that of the schools, but came from the authority of the Author himself: “He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mk 1:22). The Emmaus narrative also expresses this claim: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures” (Lk 24:27). The New Testament authors sought to ground this claim into details, in particular Matthew, but Paul as well, by using rabbinic methods of interpretation to show that the scribal interpretation led to Christ as the key to the “Scriptures”. For the authors and founders of the New Testament, the Old Testament was simply “the Scriptures”: it was only later that the developing Church gradually formed a New Testament canon which was also Sacred Scripture, but in the sense that it still presupposed Israel's Bible to be such, the Bible read by the apostles and their disciples, and now called the Old Testament, which provided the interpretative key.
From this viewpoint, the Fathers of the Church created nothing new when they gave a Christological interpretation to the Old Testament; they only developed and systematised what they themselves had already discovered in the New Testament. This fundamental synthesis for the Christian faith would become problematic when historical consciousness developed rules of interpretation that made Patristic exegesis appear non-historical and so objectively indefensible. In the context of humanism, with its new-found historical awareness, but especially in the context of his doctrine of justification, Luther invented a new formula relating the two parts of the Christian Bible, one no longer based on the internal harmony of the Old and New Testaments, but on their essential dialectic linkage within an existential history of salvation, the antithesis between Law and Gospel. Bultmann modernised this approach when he said that the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ by foundering. More radical is the proposition of Harnack mentioned above; as far as I can see, it was not generally accepted, but it was completely logical for an exegesis for which texts from the past could have no meaning other than that intended by the authors in their historical context. That the biblical authors in the centuries before Christ, writing in the Old Testament, intended to refer in advance to Christ and New Testament faith, looks to the modern historical consciousness as highly unlikely.
As a result, the triumph of historical-critical exegesis seemed to sound the death-knell for the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament initiated by the New Testament itself. It is not a question here of historical details, as we have seen, it is the very foundations of Christianity that are being questioned. It is understandable then that nobody has since embraced Harnack's position and made the definitive break with the Old Testament that Marcion prematurely wished to accomplish. What would have remained, our New Testament, would itself be devoid of meaning. The Document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission introduced by this Preface declares: “Without the Old Testament, the New Testament would be an unintelligible book, a plant deprived of its roots and destined to dry up and wither” (no. 84).
From this perspective, one can appreciate the enormous task the Pontifical Biblical Commission set for itself in deciding to tackle the theme of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. If the impasse presented by Harnack is to be overcome, the very concept of an interpretation of historical texts must be broadened and deepened enough to be tenable in today's liberal climate, and capable of application, especially to Biblical texts received in faith as the Word of God. Important contributions have been made in this direction over recent decades. The Pontifical Biblical Commission made its own contribution in the Document published in 1993 on “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church”. The recognition of the multidimensional nature of human language, not staying fixed to a particular moment in history, but having a hold on the future, is an aid that permits a greater understanding of how the Word of God can avail of the human word to confer on a history in progress a meaning that surpasses the present moment and yet brings out, precisely in this way, the unity of the whole. Beginning from that Document, and mindful of methodology, the Biblical Commission examined the relationship between the many great thematic threads of both Testaments, and was able to conclude that the Christian hermeneutic of the Old Testament, admittedly very different from that of Judaism, “corresponds nevertheless to a potentiality of meaning effectively present in the texts” (no. 64). This is a conclusion, which seems to me to be of great importance for the pursuit of dialogue, but above all, for grounding the Christian faith.
In its work, the Biblical Commission could not ignore the contemporary context, where the shock of the Shoah has put the whole question under a new light. Two main problems are posed: Can Christians, after all that has happened, still claim in good conscience to be the legitimate heirs of
The question of how Jews are presented in the New Testament is dealt with in the second part of the Document; the “anti-Jewish” texts there are methodically analysed for an understanding of them. Here, I want only to underline an aspect which seems to me to be particularly important. The Document shows that the reproofs addressed to Jews in the New Testament are neither more frequent nor more virulent than the accusations against
To the members of the Biblical Commission, I wish to express gratitude and appreciation for their work. From their discussions, patiently pursued over several years, this Document has emerged which, I am convinced, can offer a precious aid to the study of one of the central questions of the Christian faith, as well as to the search so important for a new understanding between Christians and Jews.
1. Modern times have made Christians more aware of the close fraternal bonds that unite them to the Jewish people. During the second world war (1939-1945), tragic events, or more precisely, abominable crimes subjected the Jewish people to a terrible ordeal that threatened their very existence throughout most of
The question which is asked is the following: What relations does the Christian Bible establish between Christians and the Jewish people? The general answer is clear: between Christians and Jews, the Christian Bible establishes many close relations. Firstly, because the Christian Bible is composed, for the greater part, of the “Holy Scriptures” (Rm 1:2) of the Jewish people, which Christians call the “Old Testament”; secondly, because the Christian Bible is also comprised of a collection of writings which, while expressing faith in Christ Jesus, puts them in close relationship with the Jewish Sacred Scriptures. This second collection, as we know, is called the “New Testament”, an expression correlative to “Old Testament”.
That an intimate relationship exists between them is undeniable. A closer examination, however, reveals that this is not a straightforward relationship, but a very complex one that ranges from perfect accord on some points to one of great tension on others. A careful study is therefore necessary. The Biblical Commission has devoted the past few years to this study. The results, which make no claim of being exhaustive, are presented here in three chapters. The first chapter lays the foundations by demonstrating that the New Testament recognises the authority of the Old Testament as divine revelation and that the New Testament cannot be properly understood apart from the Old Testament and the Jewish tradition which transmits it. The second chapter then examines analytically how the writings of the New Testament appropriate the rich content of the Old Testament by developing its basic themes in the light of Jesus Christ. Finally, the third chapter reviews the various attitudes which the New Testament writings express regarding the Jews, following, in this respect, the example of the Old Testament itself.
In this way the Biblical Commission hopes to advance the dialogue between Christians and Jews with clarity and in a spirit of mutual esteem and affection.
THE SACRED SCRIPTURES
OF THE JEWISH
PEOPLE ARE A FUNDAMENTAL
PART OF THE CHRISTIAN BIBLE
2. It is above all by virtue of its historical origin that the Christian community discovers its links with the Jewish people. Indeed, the person in whom it puts its faith, Jesus of Nazareth, is himself a son of this people. So too are the Twelve whom he chose “to be with him and to be sent out to proclaim the message” (Mk 3:14). In the beginning, the apostolic preaching was addressed only to the Jews and proselytes, pagans associated with the Jewish community (cf. Ac 2:11). Christianity, then, came to birth in the bosom of first century Judaism. Although it gradually detached itself from Judaism, the Church could never forget its Jewish roots, something clearly attested in the New Testament; it even recognised a certain priority for Jews, for the Gospel is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rm 1:16).
A perennial manifestation of this link to their beginnings is the acceptance by Christians of the Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people as the Word of God addressed to themselves as well. Indeed, the Church has accepted as inspired by God all the writings contained in the Hebrew Bible as well as those in the Greek Bible. The title “Old Testament” given to this collection of writings is an expression coined by the apostle Paul to designate the writings attributed to Moses (cf. 2 Co 3:14-15). Its scope has been extended, since the end of the second century, to include other Jewish writings in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. The title “New Testament” takes its origin from a message in the Book of Jeremiah which announced a “new covenant” (Jr 31:31), the expression is translated in the Greek of the Septuagint as “new dispensation”, “new testament” (kain diathk). The message announced that God intended to establish a new covenant. The Christian faith sees this promise fulfilled in the mystery of Christ Jesus with the institution of the Eucharist (cf. 1 Co 11:25; Heb 9:15). Consequently, that collection of writings which expresses the Church's faith in all its novelty is called the “New Testament”. The title itself points towards a relationship with the “Old Testament”.
3. The New Testament writings were never presented as something entirely new. On the contrary, they attest their rootedness in the long religious experience of the people of
Beginning from the less explicit, which nevertheless is revealing, we notice that the same language is used. The Greek of the New Testament is closely dependent on the Greek of the Septuagint, in grammatical turns of phrase which were influenced by the Hebrew, or in the vocabulary, of a religious nature in particular. Without a knowledge of Septuagint Greek, it is impossible to ascertain the exact meaning of many important New Testament terms.5
This linguistic relationship extends to numerous expressions borrowed by the New Testament from the Jewish Scriptures, giving rise to frequent reminiscences and implicit quotations, that is, entire phrases found in the New Testament without any indication of origin. These reminiscences are numerous, but their identification often gives rise to discussion. To take an obvious example: although the Book of Revelation contains no explicit quotations from the Jewish Bible, it is a whole tissue of reminiscences and allusions. The text is so steeped in the Old Testament that it is difficult to distinguish what is an allusion to it and what is not.
What is true of the Book of Revelation is true also — although to a lesser degree — of the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters.6 The difference is that in these writings we find, in addition, many explicit quotations, that is, introduced as such.7 In this way they clearly indicate the more important borrowings, recognising thereby the authority of the Jewish Bible as divine revelation.
4. This recognition of authority takes different forms depending on the case. Frequently, in a revelatory context the simple verb legei, “it says”, is found, without any expressed subject,8 as in later rabbinic writings, but the context shows that a subject conferring great authority on the text is to be understood: Scripture, the Lord or Christ.9 At other times the subject is expressed: it is “Scripture”, “the Law”, or “Moses” or “David”, with the added note that he was inspired, “the Holy Spirit” or “the prophet”, frequently “Isaiah”, sometimes “Jeremiah”, but it is also “the Holy Spirit” or “the Lord” as the prophets used to say.10 Twice, Matthew has a complex formula indicating both the divine speaker and the human spokesperson: “what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet...” (Mt 1:22; 2:15). At other times the mention of the Lord remains implicit, suggested only by the preposition dia “through”, referring to the human spokesperson. In these texts of Matthew, the verb “to say” in the present tense results in presenting the quotations from the Jewish Bible as living words possessing perennial authority.
Instead of the verb “to say”, the term frequently used to introduce quotations is the verb “to write” in the Greek perfect tense, expressing the permanent effect of a past action: gegraptai, “it has been written” or simply “it is written”. This gegraptai carries considerable weight. Jesus successfully counters the tempter in the first temptation by simply saying: “It is written: Man does not live by bread alone...” (Mt 4:4; Lk 4:4), adding palin “on the contrary”, the second time (Mt 4:7) and gar, “for”, the third time (Mt 4:10). This “for” makes explicit the weight of argument attributed to the Old Testament text, something already implicit in the first two. It can also happen that a biblical text is not definitive and must give way to a new dispensation; in that case, the New Testament uses the Greek aorist tense, placing it in the past. Such is the case with the Law of Moses regarding divorce: “Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote (egrapsen) this commandment for you” (Mk 10:5; cf. also Lk 20:28).
5. Frequently, the New Testament uses texts of the Jewish Bible for the sake of argument, both with the verb “to say” and the verb “to write”. Sometimes we find the expression: “For it says...”,11 more often: “For it is written...12 The formulae “for it is written”, “because it is written”, “according to what is written” are very frequent in the New Testament; in the Letter to the Romans alone there are 17 instances.
In his doctrinal arguments, the apostle Paul constantly relies on his people's Scriptures. He makes a clear distinction between scriptural argumentation and “human” reasoning. To the arguments from Scripture he attributes an incontestable value.13 For him the Jewish Scriptures have an equally enduring value for guiding the spiritual lives of Christians: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope”.14
The New Testament recognises the definitive value of arguments based on the Jewish Scriptures. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus declares that “Scripture cannot be annulled” (Jn 10:35). Its value derives from the fact that it is the “word of God” (ibid.). This conviction is frequently evident. Two texts are particularly significant for this subject, since they speak of divine inspiration. In the Second Letter to Timothy, after mentioning the “Sacred Scriptures” (2 Tm 3:15), we find this affirmation: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Tm 3:16-17). Specifically referring to the prophetic oracles contained in the Old Testament, the Second Letter of Peter declares: “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pt 1:20-21). These two texts not only affirm the authority of the Jewish Scriptures; they reveal the basis for this authority as divine inspiration.
6. A twofold conviction is apparent in other texts: on the one hand, what is written in the Jewish Scriptures must of necessity be fulfilled because it reveals the plan of God which cannot fail to be accomplished; on the other hand, the life, death and resurrection of Christ are fully in accord with the Scriptures.
The clearest expression of this is found in the words addressed by the risen Christ to his disciples, in the Gospel of Luke: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must (dei) be fulfilled” (Lk 24:44). This assertion shows the basis of the necessity (dei, “must”) for the paschal mystery of Jesus, affirmed in numerous passages in the Gospels: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering...and after three days rise again”;15 “But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled which say it must happen this way?” (Mt 26:54); “This Scripture must be fulfilled in me” (Lk 22:37).
Because what is written in the Old Testament “must” be fulfilled, the events take place “so that” it is fulfilled. This is what Matthew often expresses in the infancy narrative, later on in Jesus' public life16 and for the whole passion (Mt 26:56). Mark has a parallel to the last mentioned passage in a powerfully elliptic phrase: “But let the Scriptures be fulfilled” (Mk 14:49). Luke does not use this expression but John has recourse to it almost as often as Matthew does.17 The Gospels' insistence on the purpose of these events “so that the Scriptures be fulfilled”18 attributes the utmost importance to the Jewish Scriptures. It is clearly understood that these events would be meaningless if they did not correspond to what the Scriptures say. It would not be a question there of the realisation of God's plan.
7. Other texts affirm that the whole mystery of Christ is in conformity with the Jewish Scriptures. The early Christian preaching is summarised in the kerygmatic formula recounted by Paul: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared...” (1 Co 15:3-5). He adds: “Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach and this is what you believed” (1 Co 15:11). The Christian faith, then, is not based solely on events, but on the conformity of these events to the revelation contained in the Jewish Scriptures. On his journey towards the passion, Jesus says: “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him” (Mt 26:24; Mk 14:21). After his resurrection, Jesus himself “interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures”.19 In his discourse to the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia, Paul recalls these events by saying that “the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognise him [Jesus] or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled these words by condemning him” (Ac 13:27). The New Testament shows by these declarations that it is indissolubly linked to the Jewish Scriptures.
Some disputed points that need to be kept in mind may be mentioned here. In the Gospel of Matthew, a saying of Jesus claims perfect continuity between the faith of Christians and the Tôr~h: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil” (Mt 5:17). This theological affirmation is characteristic of Matthew and his community. It is in tension with other sayings of the Lord which relativises the Sabbath obvervance (Mt 12:8,12) and ritual purity (Mt 15:11).
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus appropriates a saying of Isaiah (Lk 4:17-21; Is 61:1-2) to define his mission as he begins his ministry. The ending of the Gospel expands this perspective when it speaks of fulfilling “all that is written” about Jesus (Lk 24:44).
On that point, it is essential, according to Jesus, to “hear Moses and the prophets”, the ending of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:29-31) drives home the point: without a docile listening, even the greatest prodigies are of no avail.
The Fourth Gospel expresses a similar perspective: Jesus attributes to the writings of Moses an authority comparable to his own words, when he says to opponents: “If you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?” (Jn 5:47). In a Gospel where Jesus affirms that his words “are spirit and life” (Jn 6:63), such an assertion gives primary importance to the Tôr~h.
In the Acts of the Apostles, the kerygmatic discourses of the Church leaders — Peter, Paul and Barnabas, James — place the events of the Passion, Resurrection, Pentecost and the missionary outreach of the Church in perfect continuity with the Jewish Scriptures.20
8. Although it never explicitly affirms the authority of the Jewish Scriptures, the Letter to the Hebrews clearly shows that it recognises this authority by repeatedly quoting texts to ground its teaching and exhortations. It contains numerous affirmations of conformity to prophetic revelation, but also affirmations of conformity that include aspects of non-conformity as well. This was already the case in the Pauline Letters. In the Letters to Galatians and Romans, the apostle argues from the Law to prove that faith in Christ has put an end to the Law's regime. He shows that the Law as revelation predicted its own end as an institution necessary for salvation.21 The most important text on this subject is Rm 3:21 where the apostle affirms that the manifestation of the justice of God in the justification offered by faith in Christ is brought about “apart from the Law”, but is nevertheless “attested by the Law and the Prophets”. In a similar way, the Letter to the Hebrews shows that the mystery of Christ fulfils the prophecies and what was prefigured in the Jewish Scriptures, but, at the same time, affirms non-conformity to the ancient institutions: the glorified Christ is at one and the same time in conformity with the words of Ps 109 (110):1,4, and in non-conformity with the levitical priesthood (cf. Heb 7:11,28).
The basic affirmation remains the same. The writings of the New Testament acknowledge that the Jewish Scriptures have a permanent value as divine revelation. They have a positive outlook towards them and regard them as the foundation on which they themselves rest. Consequently, the Church has always held that the Jewish Scriptures form an integral part of the Christian Bible.
9. In many religions there exists a tension between Scripture and Tradition. This is true of Oriental Religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) and Islam. The written texts can never express the Tradition in an exhaustive manner. They have to be completed by additions and interpretations which are eventually written down but are subject to certain limitations. This phenomenon can be seen in Christianity as well as in Judaism, with developments that are partly similar and partly different. A common trait is that both share a significant part of the same canon of Scripture.
Tradition gives birth to Scripture. The origin of Old Testament texts and the history of the formation of the canon have been the subject of important works in the last few years. A certain consensus has been reached according to which by the end of the first century of our era, the long process of the formation of the Hebrew Bible was practically completed. This canon comprised the Tôr~h, the Prophets and the greater part of the “Writings”. To determine the origin of the individual books is often a difficult task. In many cases, one must settle for hypotheses. These are, for the most part, based on results furnished