Thursday, January 17, 2019

OT Theology of God 1 (canon)

The Old Testament Canon
The starting point for an Old Testament theology of God is the fact that God is the God of Israel. That is to say, the Old Testament does not approach God as an abstract philosophical or theological concept. The Old Testament itself does not exist as a collection of musings from philosophers. The Old Testament exists as the Scriptures of a people--indeed of two peoples.

The Jewish Scriptures
The first people for whom the Old Testament exists as Scriptures are those who practice Judaism as a religion distinct from Christianity. For such individuals, these are the Jewish Scriptures rather than the "Old" Testament. For practicing Jews who do not believe Jesus to be the Messiah, the Jewish Scriptures are not an "old" testament but the testament, the covenant.

The canon of Judaism is the canon of most Protestants today. A canon was a measuring rod, and in this case a biblical "canon" is a collection of books considered to be a measuring rod for a religious group. Both Christians and Jews consider the books of the Jewish Scriptures to be such a measuring rod.

This canon had not yet reached its definitive shape at the time of the New Testament. Its first two parts were established by then, but not the third. The first section of the Jewish Scriptures is the Law (Torah), the Pentateuch--Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In both Jewish and Christian Bibles of all sorts, these are the first books of the Bible.

The second section of the Jewish Bible is the Prophets (Nevi'im). This section includes not only what Christians think of as historical books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) but also what we actually consider to be the prophetic writings of the Old Testament (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve "minor" prophets). The Jewish canon is thus conceptualized by a different grouping of the books.

The limits of the third section of the Jewish Bible was not yet finalized at the time of Christ, the Writings (Kethuvim). Disagreements between Catholics and Protestants over the contents of the Old Testament may in fact relate in part to the fluidity of this collection in New Testament times. Luke 24:44 alludes to this section when it speaks of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, since the Psalms are first in this section.

At the time of Christ, various Jewish groups also disagreed on the contents of this section. Samaritans of course limited their canon to the Pentateuch, and they had their own version even of it. Some Essenes likely considered some of the books in the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) to be Scriptures. These included books that were known even previous to the discovery of the DSS, such as 1 Enoch and the book of Jubilees. These two books are part of the canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church even to this day.

The books of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican Old Testament canon include several books that are not in the Bible of most Protestants. These include books like 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and Tobit. As part of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, these relatively late books had more lasting influence in Greek-speaking Jewish circles than in Aramaic-speaking ones. Since the early church quickly became more of a Greek-speaking than Aramatic-speaking movement, it is no surprise that Christians in the earliest centuries tended to consider these writings as Scripture of a sort. [1]

The Christian Old Testament
The same books...

[1] Jerome in around the year AD400 considered them "deuterocanonical." That is to say, he considered them a secondary part of the canon, not quite as significant as the other books but significant enough to be considered part of the canon.

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