The Enlightenment

work. According to this agenda the Old Testament was completed by, and looked forward to, the New Testament. Old Testament prophecies were principally forecasts of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, of the spread of the Gospel among the nations. Old Testament sacrifices pointed to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Psalms such as Psalm 22 also described the passion of Jesus, while the great characters of the Old Testament were models of virtuous living, to be imitated by Christians. If these characters seemed to do immoral things, such as slaughtering whole populations, having many wives, or committing adultery, there were ways of justifying such actions without, however, recommending them for imitation.

The Enlightenment swept away the various devices for excusing wicked behaviour. These had included justifying Joshua for slaughtering whole populations by saying that the Canaanites were grossly immoral and deserved to be punished, and by distinguishing between people acting in their capacity as holders of an office, and acting as private individuals. In this way, Samson and David could be upheld as a model judge and a model king respectively. The former's amours with foreign women and the latter's adultery with Bathsheba and the indirect murder of her husband Uriah, were the actions of private individuals.

Enlightenment thinkers were more inclined to believe that God commanded things because they were good than that whatever God commanded was good by definition. In effect, they put to the Old Testament the question asked by Abraham of God in Genesis 18:25: shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? If the answer was yes, then there was no way of justifying human behaviour and divine commands in the Old Testament that offended the Enlightenment's moral sensitivity. The Old Testament was not, therefore, a collection of examples of pious living worthy of imitation by Christians; it contained stories of Israelites who lived in barbaric times when human life was valued cheaply, and when belief in God was sufficiently primitive for people to believe that he could legitimately command immoral acts.

This new emphasis upon the Old Testament as the product of a small Semitic people living in the ancient world snapped its link with the New Testament and with the various dogmatic theological agendas that had used both Testaments as an arsenal of infallible proof texts to support Catholic or (various) Protestant doctrines. It would not have been surprising if the Old Testament had ceased to be used as a theological resource among Christians; it is a testimony to its varied and enduring content that new ways were found, and continue to be found, for its theological use.

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