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. 


Michael-John Phillip said...

These are very interesting questions. Would 'Hebrew Bible' not refer to the people group more than the language used?

Also, the discussion about what forms part of 'scripture' is certainly interesting with the Enoch quote and other possible allusions in the NT to the deuterocanon. How then do we read 2 Timothy 3:16? Which scripture is Paul referring to?

James D said...

I quite like "Tanakh", even though it has a way of attracting blank looks.

As for the canonical boundaries, we're really dealing with three groups of writings that are outside the modern Jewish scriptures:
1) variant traditions (often additions): LXX 1 Esdras, Esther, Job, Proverbs, Jeremiah-Baruch-EpJer, Daniel; DSS Samuel; Old Latin Psalms 13(12) and 14(13), and so on
2) the other books generally received in European Christianity, East and West, except in some Protestant traditions (1&2 Maccabees, Tobit (which itself has two principal recensions...), Judith, Wisdom, Sirach)
2½) 3 Maccabees, Psalm 151, and the Book of Odes/Prayer of Manasseh (and Doxa en Hypsistois), whichever way that one cuts — these fall somewhere between groups 2 and 3
3) the "lest they perish entirely" appendix category: we're used to 2 Esdras and 4 Maccabees appearing here; I would suggest that Enoch, Jubilees, and the other books only generally considered canonical in Ethiopia belong here in Western Bibles.

Sean said...

Michael: We need to be careful in thinking that just because a book is cited, that that makes it canonical. Paul cites pagan philosophers (cf. 1 Cor 15:33), that does not make them part of the canon. In 2 Tim 3:16, it is clear Paul is talking about the collection we're talking about ("Tanakh", First/Old Testament). But I think theologically that works for me, because 2 Peter and 2 Tim both refer to the work of God in inspiring writings, and I believe that the early CHristians discerned in the writings of the New Testament, the breath of God. And doctrine of Scripture is part of a doctrine of God. So I have no problem with the New Testament writings as they were chosen because they were representative of Jesus and the first Christians and what they taught and believe, and that God confirmed/affirmed these writings by uniting them into a canon.

Does that make sense?

Sean said...

James you legend! "Tanakh", is a good choice. But what writings were considered part of that collection? Any from outside the current canon?

I'm paying far more attention to texts that seems to have functioned canonically (4 Macc, LXX, etc) as these writings obviously had an affect on the early Christians.

Thanks for that delineation of the differenct collections, that's helpful.

Sean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sean said...

Michael: You may find these helpful,

F. F. Bruce, the formation of the NT canon:

Lee Martin McDonald:

Michael-John Phillip said...

Just finished reading both, and found McDonald's essay especially insightful.

His question on whether or not we should apply modern study to the ancient criteria for canonization was very interesting. And if we do, are we to remove books that don't measure up to ancient criteria like Hebrews or 2 Peter?

Also his late dating of the finalization of the OT would no doubt make it difficult to define what NT writers considered Scripture.