by Lien-yueh Wei
From the Hebrew Bible to the Christian Old Testament
Christians regarded the Hebrew Bible as the word of God and the Christian scriptures which spoke of the Savior on every page. All events of Christ’s work are to be understood as the fulfillment of what was written in the Hebrew Bible. This Christian’s viewpoint regarding the Hebrew Bible was learning from Christ and apostles. Whenever Christ and apostles quoted the Hebrew Bible, they regarded it as the word of God. The Christians also considered the Hebrew Bible as the preparation for the new covenant between God and humans. When the new covenant had been made, the covenant before the new one became the old one. Hence, Christians call the Hebrew Bible “Old Testament.”
Three means of interpretation
Christians developed three different interpretations of the Hebrew Bible: the rejection of Rabbinic interpretation of the ritual law, the use of foreshadowing to refer the text to Jesus and His work, and the divine being Christ had himself been operative in the entire history.
(1) The ritual law
Christians did not accept the Rabbinic interpretation of the ritual law which regulated the individual and community relation to God. They offered different explanations for this decision. For example, Paul asserted that the ritual law was temporary and intended to prepare for the coming of Christ. The ritual law was used by God to manifest sin, and thereby to bring humanity to the awareness of the need for forgiveness and redemption. The Christians also tended to retain the moral law. They subordinated the observance of the ritual law to the moral law and particularly service of neighbor.
(2) The foreshadowing interpretation
Christians read the Hebrew Bible as looking forward to Jesus and his work. They identified Jesus as the Messiah, Savior or Deliverer whom God had promised to his people. The Hebrew Bible was divine predictions or promises of what God would do through Jesus. Subsequent events in the life of Jesus and the church showed that they were fulfilled and thus established continuing between the Old and New Testaments. For example, they interpreted Psalm 22 and the Servant Songs of Isaiah as the passion narratives. Moreover, Christians also used allegorical interpretation of the Hebrew Bible to make other types of connections to Jesus.
(3) Christ in the entire history of Israel
Christians thought that Christ had actually been operative in the entire history of Israel and of the world. Christ is presented as a secondary divine being who had been an agent in the creation of the world and involved in many events recording in the Hebrew Bible. For instance, Christ ejected Adam and Eve from the Garden and met with Abraham at the Mamre.
Other Alternative interpretations
(1) Interpretation of Gnosticism
There were two dominants forms of Gnosticism: Manicheeism (,the original form of Gnosticism) and Valentinian Gnosticism (,the mature form of Gnosticism).
Manichees believed two opposing cosmic forces, good and evil. The disorder of human society recorded in the Hebrew Bible is the result of the force of evil. Asceticism and celibacy could lead to salvation.
(b) Valentinian Gnostics
Valentinian Gnostics rejected a literal interpretation in favor of an allegorical one. They believed two gods existed, the intellectual god and the emotional god. The creation of the material world was a failure in the divine realm. The emotional god controls the unstable earthly realm. They identified this god as the Lord of Israel, or God of the Old Testament. The intellectual god of the spiritual realm sent Jesus as a secret agent for salvation. The salvation is offered through knowledge and is received only through the teaching of Gnostics.
(2) Interpretation of Marcionism
Marcion and his followers rejected the Old Testament and Israel’s religion. They rejected the idea that one god could be responsible for both the strict, legalistic system found in Hebrew scriptures and the grace and love found in the New Testament writings. Thus, they believed that there are two gods, the God of Wrath and the God of Love. Besides, Jesus had fully rejected the religion of Israel and the approach to God which is contained in the Hebrew Scriptures. For this reason, Jesus had subsequently appeared to Paul and commissioned him to preach the true gospel. Marcion judged that the disciples of Jesus had either misunderstood or distorted his message to make in continuous with the religion of Israel. So he sought to canonize an alternative set of Scriptures which excluded the Hebrew Bible.
Berlin, Adele & Brettler, Marc Zvi, The Jewish Study Bible, (NY: Oxford University Express, 2004)
Frick, Frank S., A Journey through the Hebrew Scriptures, (CA: Thomson Learning, 2003).