Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What do we call non-Christian texts in the Bible?

What does one call the non-Christian writings which are found in the bible?  I was going to ask, “What do we call the Jewish writings in the Bible?” But that is a mistake, because most, if not all, of the first Christians were in fact Jewish.  Ergo, the New Testament writings are also Jewish writings. 
“Old Testament” is a phrase never used by the early Christians.  Paul’s phrase παλαιὰ διαθήκη (‘the old covenant,’ 2 Cor. 3:14) is not a reference to the Mosaic Law, not the Jewish canon of Scripture found in the Christian bible.  Some scholars favour the phrase “Hebrew Bible” but this is confusing because the early Christians used the Greek translation of these writings, not the Hebrew.  Furthermore, some of the writings in the collection are written in Aramaic.  Others use the phrase “Israel’s scriptures.”  But do they belong only to Israel?  Which Israel? (Gal. 6:16)  The new one or the old one? (1 Pet 2:9-10)  Are there two?  Other scholars use the phrase, “First Testament.”  But this phrase is anachronistic, as the history of Christian interpretation has never referred to their scriptures in this way.  And the New Testament is the continuing story of the First Testament, but with significant changes, climaxes and plot developments.  And some days I have a sneaky suspicion that those who champion “First” may have an inferiority complex with the notion of “Old.” 
Early Christian writers favoured the phrase, γραφὴ (‘the scriptures,’ see Lk. 4:21; Jn. 7:38, 42; 10:35; 13:18; 17:12; 19:24, 28, 36; Rom. 4:3; 9:17; 10:11; 11:2; Gal. 3:8, 22; 4:30; 1 Tim. 5:18; Jas. 2:23; 4:5; 1 Cl. 34:6; 35:7; 42:5; 2 Cl. 6:8; 14:2; Barn. 4:7, 11; 5:4; 6:12; 13:2; 16:5).  With this comes the complicated question, “what scriptures?”  Is any writing they then quote “Scripture”?  Jude cites Enoch; does that mean it is Scripture? Are we to think in terms of a functional canon, i.e., the Scriptures we actually use are our “Bible”?  What about the first Christians who used the LXX, was that their Bible?  Should those extra writings in the LXX be considered “ours”?  And by ‘ours’ I mean the Christian church universally. 
As you can see, what to call the “First/Old/Hebrew/Jewish/Israel/Testament scriptures,” is not as easy as it first appears.  While I am having fun with the above, there are some serious questions here which are in desperate need of some radical and honest thinking.