Rule 9

The New Testament is the conclusion to the Old Testament story of God.

Few Christians know the Old Testament well enough to see how formative its teachings, narratives, and images are in the New Testament. The authors of the New Testament do not use footnotes, and often they do not quote the Torah, the Writings, and the Prophets but only allude to or paraphrase these scriptures. However, the authors of the writings that were later authorized for inclusion in the New Testament are thoroughly familiar with the Jewish scriptures and understand themselves and their world through these scriptures. We cannot over emphasize the importance of the scriptures in the Old Testament in the writing of the New Testament.

The words "scripture" and "scriptures" are not used in the Old Testament, which is a reordered form of the Jewish Bible. But it is clear that the first Christians believed the scriptures were fulfilled in Jesus as the Christ. (Mk. 14:49; Mt. 26:54; Lk. 4:21, 22:37; Jn. 13:18, 17:12, 19:24, 19:36; Jas. 2:23) In Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth he quoted the tradition that he 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 . . .." (1 Cor. 15:3-4) The death and resurrection of Christ would be incomprehensible, for Paul and other first and second century Christians, if these events were not "in accordance with the scriptures."

In the gospel of Mark, Jesus asks his followers, "Have you not read this scripture: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'?" (Mk. 12:10-11) This is a direct quote from Psalm 118:22-23. Also in the gospel of Mark, Jesus cries out on the cross, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachtani?" which is Aramaic for "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mk. 15:34) This is the first verse of Psalm 22. In the Jewish tradition a Psalm is known by its first phrase, and to invoke the first line of a Psalm is to invoke the entire Psalm. Psalm 22 begins with a cry of despair but ends with an affirmation of faith. Knowing this makes quite a difference in understanding the conclusion of the gospel of Mark.

The gospel of Matthew also reports that Jesus on the cross utters the first line of Psalm 22, although the author renders this in Hebrew rather than in Aramaic. In addition, the gospel of Matthew is filled with references to the fulfillment of prophecy, especially in chapters 2-4. Each reference is to a passage from one of the writing prophets of ancient Israel, whose works later were collected and became scripture for the Israelites and their ancestors, the Jews. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus begins his ministry by reading in the synagogue in Nazareth from the scroll of Isaiah (61:1-6). Then he says, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled your hearing." (Lk. 4:17-21)

In the gospel of John, Jesus teaches: "As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" (Jn. 7:38) This simple statement is packed with allusions to scripture. At the festival Jesus was attending in Jerusalem, water was being carried from the Pool of Siloam to the temple as a reminder of the water from the rock in the desert (Num. 20:2-13) and as a symbol of hope for the coming of the Messiah (Is. 12:3) The gospel presents Jesus as the true water of life, who transforms the symbol into reality. (Is. 44:3, 55:1)

These are only a few examples. Paul, writing before the gospels exist, argues constantly from the Jewish scriptures. The gospels present Jesus as teaching from these same scriptures. Two-thirds of the verses in the Revelation to John refer to the Old Testament. The kingdom of God, the Spirit of God, God as King, hope in Christ (the Messiah), the day of the Lord at the end of time, the coming of the Son of man — all these images in the New Testament come from Jewish scripture.

The author of the gospel of Mark told the story of Jesus for a largely Gentile Christian community, but he and Jesus in his story turn to Jewish scripture for authority and insight into the will of God. The authors of Matthew and Luke rewrote the gospel of Mark for different church audiences and, therefore, emphasized different passages from scripture. The gospel of Matthew presents Jesus as a teacher of the Law of Moses and as the fulfillment of prophecy. The gospel of Luke puts the words of Isaiah on the lips of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, and has Jesus on the cross say in Greek, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." (Lk. 23:46) To the Gentile who does not know Jewish scripture or either Aramaic or Hebrew, these words clearly reveal Jesus' faith in God. To the reader familiar with Jewish scripture, Jesus is not only facing death with faith but is also quoting Psalm 31:5.

The authors and editors of the New Testament did not, of course, simply quote the Septuagint. They interpreted scripture, applied scripture to the circumstances of the church, and argued for particular understandings not always shared by all those who read the same scripture. Paul turns to Genesis 15:6 and argued that Abraham's "faith in the LORD," rather than Jewish law, is saving. The letter attributed to James states a contrary interpretation of scripture, as does the gospel according to Matthew. The letters attributed to John argue against a group of Christians that has left the church to teach a different understanding of scripture.

But there was no argument about scripture that was not about Jewish scripture. Until the Christian Bible was scripture, the scripture of the church was the scripture of the Jews. © Robert Traer 2016