Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Old Testament

1. The Old Testament in the primitive Church.-By the opening of the Christian era the limits of the OT Canon had been practically fixed, and a high doctrine of its inspiration developed within the Jewish Church. The real Author of the books embraced within the Canon was God Himself; and, charged as they were with His Spirit, they were holy as He was, and ‘defiled the hands’ of those who touched them. The OT Scriptures were thus the final norm of faith and conduct, and an appeal to their authority was decisive (see article Scripture). The early generation of Christians inherited this tradition. As children of the household of Israel, they grew up in the atmosphere of the OT revelation; and, even when they passed to the fuller life in Christ, they carried with them their reverence for the ancient Scriptures. No need for a distinctively Christian literature was yet felt. The books of the OT were the ‘oracles of God,’ which enshrined the Divine rule of life, not for the Fathers only, but for those also who had been called and redeemed in Christ. Being read mainly in the Greek or Aramaic versions, and interpreted, with the freedom characteristic of the age, as a collection of independent ‘prophecies’ or predictions of things to come, they were easily made to cover the great facts associated with Christ’s teaching, personality, and work. In this light they were regarded also as a sufficient guide to Christian conduct.

The clearest reflexion of this simple attitude towards the OT is found in the apostolic preaching in Acts. The theme of all the utterances found there is the salvation won through Christ’s death and resurrection. But the burden of proof rests on the authority of the Scriptures, as represented by the Septuagint . Christ Himself is the Prophet whose coming was heralded by Moses (Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37), and His death is the ‘fulfilling’ of ‘the things which God foreshewed by the mouth of all the prophets’ (Acts 3:18). To Him the mysterious prophecy of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 is directly applied (Acts 8:32 f.). His resurrection, likewise, is that which was ‘foreseen’ by David in his protest against God’s ‘Holy One’ seeing corruption (Acts 2:25 ff.), and points forward to the final restoration of all things ‘whereof God spake by the mouth of his holy prophets which have been since the world began’ (Acts 3:21). The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost is equally the fulfilment of Joes’s glorious vision of the latter days (Acts 2:16 ff.), while the persecution that followed the first triumphs of the gospel marks the rage of kings and nations against the Lord and His Anointed, as foretold ‘by the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of our father David thy servant’ (Acts 4:25 f.). Even the tragedy of Judas’ end is the immediate working out of the curse denounced in Psalms 69:25 against the enemies of the righteous (Acts 1:20).

2. The Old Testament and the conflict for spiritual freedom.-So long as the preaching of the gospel was confined to Jews, the new wine was easily kept within the old bottles. But a conflict was inevitable when the wine began to ferment, and the freedom of the faith to assert itself against Jewish limitations. This conflict is already foreshadowed in St. Stephen’s preaching; but it became acute only with the conversion and world-wide ministry of St. Paul.

The Apostle to the Gentiles was a Pharisee ‘of the straitest sect,’ brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, and thus imbued not merely with a deep reverence and love for the Scriptures, but also with the Rabbinic method of expounding them, in entire independence of their historical setting and significance, as a store-house of separate ‘oracles,’ the manifold sense of which (literal, allegorical, rational, and mystical) was to be deduced by the interpreter’s own insight, logical acumen, or fancy, according to the rules laid down by representative Rabbis. His love for the ‘sacred writings’ St. Paul naturally brought with him into the service of Christ. His sermons and Epistles are steeped in the language of the OT, and proof-texts are abundantly used to point the edge of an argument, or to emphasize his counsels for Christian life (see article Quotations). Like his Jewish teachers, the Apostle continued to read the Scriptures as a body of independent ‘words,’ each charged with a life and force of its own. He is usually indifferent to the exact exegesis of his texts, following the Septuagint even when its rendering is faulty, though occasionally he does appear to cite from the original Hebrew. In other directions he claims a wide freedom in his reproduction and application of texts. Nor has he shaken himself quite clear of Rabbinic subtleties. Thus the narrowing of Abraham’s ‘seed’ to Christ (Galatians 3:16) is a thoroughly characteristic example of the verbal exegesis of the Rabbis. The allegory of Sarah and Hagar, the freewoman and the handmaid (Galatians 4:21 ff.), and the extracting of a hidden personal principle from the humane law of the unmuzzled ox (1 Corinthians 9:9 f., 1 Timothy 5:18), illustrate the ‘manifold sense’ read into the letter of Scripture; while the bold way in which he transfers to Gentile Christians the promises made to Israel (Romans 9:8 ff.), and finds in the Deuteronomist’s great thought of the nearness of the Law suggestions of Christ’s descent to earth and His rising from the dead (Romans 10:6 ff.), or in the ‘strange tongues’ of Isaiah 28:11 ff. a forecast of Christian ‘tongues’ (1 Corinthians 14:21), betrays the unrestrained liberty of interpretation exercised by the Jewish exegete. It is remarkable, however, that the Apostle is so little influenced by Rabbinic methods. Apart from these few survivals from a dead past, which touch only the periphery of his thought, there is nothing in his Epistles that reminds us of the arbitrary and highly extravagant exegetical results of his Jewish contemporaries. So deeply has he entered into the spirit of his Master that his whole treatment of the OT is marked by a sanity and sobriety of mind, enriched with a breadth, sympathy, and penetrating insight surpassed only by Christ.

In his preaching to the Jews St. Paul follows the practice of the earlier apostles, though with a new fullness and range. ‘He reasoned with them from the scriptures, opening and alleging, that it behoved the Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead’ (Acts 17:2 f.; cf. Acts 28:23 ff.). Thus in his speech at Antioch he sets forth Jesus as the Saviour of David’s seed brought unto Israel ‘according to the promise,’ whose condemnation and death at the hands of the people and rulers of Jerusalem were the fulfilment of the words of the prophets ‘which are read every sabbath,’ and His resurrection the bringing to pass of ‘the holy and sure blessings of David,’ as promised in Psalms 2, 8 (Acts 13:23 ff.). In his Epistles, too, he cites OT texts as direct predictions of the gospel. The new faith of which he was called to be an Apostle is ‘the gospel of God, which he promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures’ (Romans 1:1 f.; cf. Romans 3:21). Christ both died and rose again ‘according to the scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3 f.), while proof-texts are adduced for the promise of the Spirit (Galatians 3:14), the destruction of human wisdom through the foolishness of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:19), the universal range of the preaching of salvation (Romans 10:18), the vital principle of righteousness by faith (Romans 1:17, Romans 3:21, Galatians 3:11), the fatal unbelief of the Jews (Romans 10:16 ff.) and the calling of the Gentiles (Romans 9:25 ff., Romans 10:19 f., Romans 15:9 ff.), the final salvation of Israel (Romans 11:26 f.), Christ’s victory over all His enemies (1 Corinthians 15:24 ff.), and the swallowing up of death and sin in the immortality won through Him (1 Corinthians 15:54 f.).

So far, then, the OT is treated as a Jewish book, pointing to the fulfilment of the ‘promise’ in Christ. But the extension of the gospel to the Gentiles, which was an essential part of this promise (cf. above), of necessity involved a change in the Apostle’s attitude to the Scriptures. As a Jewish book, the OT made no direct appeal to other nations. They had their own modes of thought and expression, and the most cultivated of them possessed a literature of surpassing beauty and power. On occasion the Apostle might approach their conscience by this path (cf. especially his speech to the Athenians); but his mind was so saturated with OT ideas, and the book itself was so manifestly the Word of God which made men ‘wise unto salvation’ (2 Timothy 3:15), that he could not withhold it from any nation. Irrespective, then, of the Jewish origin and cast of the whole, he deliberately transformed it into a Christian book, in which Christ was openly identified with the God of the Jews (cf. Romans 10:13 f., Romans 11:26 f., Ephesians 4:8; Ephesians 5:14, etc.), and the history of Israel was read typically (τυπικῶς, ‘by way of pattern’ or ‘figure’), as a series of illustrative moral examples, ‘written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come’ (1 Corinthians 10:11). Thus the promise to Abraham is extended to all who walk in the steps of his faith, whether in circumcision or in uncircumcision (Romans 4:12), while ‘it was not written for his sake alone, that it (his faith) was reckoned unto him (for righteousness), but for our sake also, unto whom it shall be reckoned, who believe on him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification’ (Romans 4:23 ff.). The true Israel unto whom the Word was given is no more Abraham’s seed according to the flesh, but ‘the children of the promise,’ whether Jew or Gentile (Romans 9:6 ff., Galatians 3:28). Thus ‘whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope’ (Romans 15:4).

This transformation of the OT into a distinctively Christian book was the more easily effected as the conflict for freedom turned decisively around the Law. For orthodox Judaism the Law was the heart of the Scriptures, the very ‘holy of holies.’ Like the other apostles, St. Paul was a child of the Law, who excelled them all in his zeal for its honour. Even as a Christian he remained under its influence, and was ready in the interests of the gospel, if need were, to circumcise and to carry through the statutory vows for himself and his converts (cf. his procedure in Acts 16:3; Acts 18:18; Acts 21:23 ff.). But to impose the Law on Gentile Christians as a necessary condition of their salvation would inevitably reduce Christianity to a mere Jewish sect. The Apostle knew, moreover, from personal experience, as well as from observation of life, that there was no saving power in the Law. As coming from the holy God, the Law was holy, and its commandment ‘righteous and good.’ But so weak and sinful was human flesh that the very constraint of the Law not only awoke the consciousness of sin, but roused an inward opposition, and thus actually provoked sin. Hence the paradox of moral life, that the ‘law of sin’ in man’s members ‘worked death through that which is itself good-that through the commandment sin might become exceedingly sinful.’ And the only real virtue of the Law was to drive men in despair to Christ (Romans 7:7 ff.).

On this profound psychological analysis the Apostle based his new reading of OT history. For him the Law was no longer the heart and spirit of the older revelation, but a mere parenthesis or side-issue. Sin was a great fact which directly entered the world (εἰσῆλθεν) in Adam. To circumvent its fatal effects, grace likewise entered (Romans 5:12 ff.). The Law came in sideways (παρεισῆλθεν), and therefore in a subordinate and non-essential capacity (Romans 5:20). Its purpose was not to save men, but to hold them in ward or prison until the true faith should be revealed (Galatians 3:23). At best, it was but the slave-boy (παιδαγωγός), who kept them under a certain moral restraint until Christ came (εἰς Χριστόν, i.e. ‘up to the time of Christ’), when they might be ‘justified by faith’ (Galatians 3:24). Thus the gospel had its spiritual affinities, not with the Law, but with that faith of Abraham which was the beginning of the promise (Galatians 3:15 ff.). In a real sense, indeed, the gospel was already inherent in the covenant between God and Abraham, confirmed 430 years before the giving of the Law, and remaining valid in spite of its interposition. If it be rightly read, therefore, the OT is a revelation of the same grace as is made manifest in Christ. Only the Jews have obscured its true character by the fatal emphasis they have placed on the Law. The veil with which Moses covered his face when he spoke to the people is a symbol of that still darker veil lying heavily upon the heart of Israel ‘at the reading of the old covenant,’ which will never be removed until they turn to Christ. In Him the veil has been ‘done away.’ And all who have found liberty through Him, ‘with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror [Revised Version margin] the glory of the Lord,’ are able to trace that glory shining through the ancient Scriptures, and are likewise ‘transformed into the same image from glory to glory’ (2 Corinthians 3:12 ff.).

3. The Old Testament as the foreshadowing of the gospel.-In the Epistle to the Hebrews the problem is attacked from a different point of view. The underlying assumptions are, no doubt, the same. The OT is treated throughout as the very Word of God, and quotations are introduced with the formula, ‘he saith’ (λέγει), used of God Himself (Hebrews 1:5 ff; Hebrews 5:5 f.), or the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 3:7 ff., Hebrews 10:15 ff.), or God speaking through the Spirit (Hebrews 4:3 ff., Hebrews 8:8 ff.), or even the Messiah (Hebrews 2:12 f., Hebrews 10:5 ff.), irrespective of their human authorship. But the widest freedom of interpretation is claimed. The author cites invariably from the Septuagint , being evidently ignorant of the original Hebrew. He is quite unfettered, too, by the historical application of texts. Thus not merely are Messianic Psalms like Psalms 2 and Psalms 110 referred directly to Christ (Hebrews 1:5; Hebrews 1:13 f.), but the highly dubious אֱלֹהִים, ‘O God,’ of Psalms 45:6 and the ‘son of man’ in Psalms 8:4 are both identified with Him (Hebrews 1:8 f., Hebrews 2:6 ff.), while even Isaiah’s description of himself and his children as ‘signs and portents in Israel’ (Isaiah 8:18) is cited as a proof of Jesus’ oneness with His people and His participation in the same flesh and blood as theirs, ‘that through death he might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage’ (Hebrews 2:13 ff.). But, as a Jew of the school of Alexandria, he is much more influenced by the allegorical spirit than St. Paul. To him, indeed, the OT is a system of signs and symbols, foreshadowings and anticipations of something better, which is to be found only in Christ and the ‘new covenant’ of grace.

The opening paragraph lays down the famous contrast between the multiform and fragmentary character of the older revelation and the fullness of the light that came through Christ. ‘God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers through the prophets in many parts and in many modes, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in a Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds, who being the effulgence (ἀπαύγασμα) of his glory, and the very impress of his essence (χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ), and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high’ (Hebrews 1:1 ff.). The history of revelation is here set forth under the categories of Platonic idealism. As this world is but a dim and flickering shadow of the eternal realities, thrown upon the screen of the passing present, the OT is a broken and changing expression of God’s mind, given through many different media, and sharing the imperfection bound up in all of them, while the revelation in Christ is the full ‘shining forth’ of the Divine glory through the perfect image or embodiment of the eternal Majesty. The real value of the OT Scriptures, therefore, is to point forward to the Light, and then to pass away as the shadow before the sunshine.

The author applies the same categories to the Law, by which, however, he means not the moral command that pressed so hard on the conscience of St. Paul, but the system of Levitical ordinances, as carried through in the service of the Temple. This also was a ‘copy and shadow (ὑπόδειγμα καὶ σκιά) of the heavenly things,’ an earthly adumbration of the worship carried through in the eternal temple above (Hebrews 8:5). As such, every part of the ritual had its significance (cf. esp. Hebrews 9:1 ff.). But the Law itself was quite powerless to save. ‘It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins’ (Hebrews 10:4). It was equally impossible that high priests subject to the infirmities and mortality of human nature should by their daily and yearly sacrifices, offered continually and without change, ‘make perfect them that draw near’ (Hebrews 7:23 ff., Hebrews 9:9 ff., Hebrews 10:1 f.). In these sacrifices remembrance was made of sins, and the worshipper’s thoughts were thereby directed towards the perfect Sacrifice yet to be offered (Hebrews 10:3). The ‘very image’ (αὐτὴ ἡ εἰκών), the clear, full expression of the ‘good things’ of which the Law was but a dim, uncertain ‘shadow,’ was found only in Christ, by the offering of whose body sin was expiated once for all, and a ‘new and living way’ opened through the veil, ‘that is to say, his flesh,’ into the holy place where God is (Hebrews 10:5 ff.). The Aaronic priesthood was thus as imperfect a channel of the mediation of grace as the prophets had been of the revelation of God’s mind. Both were but foreshadowings of the ‘new covenant’ (Hebrews 8:7 ff.), ‘a parable for the time now present’ (Hebrews 9:9). The truest OT type of Christ was Melchizedek, coming, as He did, from the heavenly sphere, ‘without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life,’ to bear immediate witness to the Divine (Hebrews 7:1 ff.).

4. Practical use of the Old Testament.-Christian interest in the OT is by no means exhausted by such discussions as to its relation to the gospel. The main test of its ‘inspiration’ is rather the practical one of helpfulness ‘for teaching, for judgment, for correction, for discipline in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16 f.). Thus St. Paul not merely checks his own fiery outburst against the high priest by calling to mind the injunction not to speak evil of a ruler (Acts 23:5), but cites the Decalogue and other moral precepts of the OT as still binding upon his readers (cf. Romans 12:19 f., 1 Corinthians 9:9, 2 Corinthians 6:17 f., 2 Corinthians 9:9, Ephesians 6:2, 1 Timothy 5:18, 2 Timothy 2:19), and with equal freedom adduces OT heroes as examples or warnings (e.g. Adam in Romans 5:12 f.; Eve in 2 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Timothy 2:14; Abraham in Romans 4:1 ff., Galatians 3:6 ff.; Moses and the children of Israel in 1 Corinthians 10:1 ff.). The fate of the rebellious Israelites is likewise held forth as a warning to Christian believers in Hebrews 3:12 ff.; but the noblest instance of this practical use of the OT in the Epistle is found in the great roll-call of faith (ch. 11). In the remaining books the speculative interest has almost vanished, and the OT is cited mainly for its ethical value. Of the six quotations in James, five are unmistakably ethical; and even the text from Genesis 15:6, which St. Paul made the basis of his doctrine of justification by faith, is adduced as a proof of justification by works (as the necessary fruit of faith). In the same way the Apostle refers to Rahab, Job, and Elijah as notable examples of works, patience, and prayer respectively (James 2:25, James 5:11; James 5:17 f.). Even in 1 Peter, where the primitive conception of the OT as a body of predictions fulfilled in Christ finds clear expression (Hebrews 1:10 f., Hebrews 2:6 ff.), the actual use of the Scriptures is predominantly practical (cf. 1 Peter 1:16, Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 3:10 ff., Hebrews 5:5). The few suggestions of the OT traceable in 2 Peter (e.g. 2 Peter 2:5 ff, 2 Peter 2:15 f, 2 Peter 2:22) and 1 John (1 John 3:12) are of the same character; while the numerous reminiscences in Revelation, if not distinctively ethical, are yet concrete and imaginative, the clothing of the writer’s own dreams in the majestic symbolism of the OT poets and prophets (see article Quotations).

Literature.-A. Tholuck, Das AT [Note: T Altes Testament.] im NT6, Gotha, 1868; L. Diestel, Gesch. des AT [Note: T Altes Testament.] in der christl. Kirche, Jena, 1868, p. 6 ff.; B. Jowett, St. Paul’s Epp. to Thess., Gal. and Rom., vol. i.: ‘Essays and Dissertations,’ London, 1894; C. Clemen, Der Gebrauch des AT [Note: T Altes Testament.] in den neutest. Schriften, Gütersloh, 1895; G. H. Gilbert, Interpretation of the Bible, New York, 1908; A. Harnack, Degmengeschichte3, Freiburg, 1898, i. 41 ff.; H. St. J. Thackeray, The Relation of St. Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought, London, 1900; the New Testament Theologies of B. Weiss (Eng. translation , Edinburgh, 1882-83), W. Beyschlag (Eng. translation , do., 1895), H. J. Holtzmann (2Tübingen, 1911), etc.; Sanday-Headlam, International Critical Commentary , ‘Romans,’5 Edinburgh, 1902; B. F. Westcott, Hebrews, London, 1889, p. 469 ff.; A. B. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Edinburgh, 1899.

A. R. Gordon.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Old Testament'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/o/old-testament.html. 1906-1918.

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