The Old Testament as Scripture

The Old Testament has never been unproblematic as the Scriptures of the Church, because it represents the literature of Israel before Christ, and remains the holy book of Judaism. There have been many movements in the Church frankly hostile to retaining the Old Testament. Marcion in the ancient Church represented this tendency; in the nineteenth century it was espoused by Adolf von Harnack; and in the twentieth, Rudolf Bultmann's position comes close to regarding the Old Testament as superannuated -useful at best as a record of how inadequate life is without Christ. But in the twentieth century there were also movements strongly affirming the place of the Old Testament in the Christian scheme of things.

This can be seen in the two greatest Theologies of the Old Testament, written respectively before and after World War II, those of Walter Eichrodt and Gerhard von Rad.

The Biblical Theology Movement, mentioned above, was also influential in the English-speaking world in rehabilitating the Old Testament. It often argued that the New Testament itself could only be understood if read with "Hebrew" categories of thought in mind. The figures of George Ernest Wright in the USA (see Wright 1952) and Alan Richardson in Britain (see Richardson 1950) were important in this Movement. Thus a considerable rearguard action was fought against any desire to remove the Old Testament from effective Christian Scripture. The tendency of church lectionaries (especially the Revised Common Lectionary) to include more Old Testament readings is also a factor here.

Nevertheless the 19 70s and 1980s saw a renewed feeling among some scholars that the Old Testament was being sold short: that it had turned into the object of an essentially antiquarian investigation, with a huge concentration on historical, archeologi-cal, and linguistic matters, and little emphasis on its place in the Church. This is the background of Brevard Childs's "canonical approach," described above. Childs argued that, beyond historical criticism - which had its proper place - Christians need to regain a sense of being addressed by the Old Testament as their Scriptures. This implied reading the text as a coherent whole in its present form.

Childs's work has revolutionized the questions people are willing to ask about the Old Testament in an academic context. It no longer seems odd for a scholar to ask what God is saying to the Church through this or that Old Testament passage, where earlier generations of critics might have been more likely to see this as a "devotional" question outside the proper sphere of academic study. People speak of the need to "reclaim" the Old Testament for the Church from the grip of purely academic study. Much support for Childs has come from his own Reformed tradition. It often goes hand in hand with an attachment to Barthian theology, for Barth always maintained that biblical interpretation was properly to be done within the Church, not hived off into an area of "academic" specialization. Childs has been severely criticized, most notably by James Barr, for threatening to undo the centuries of patient critical work on the text (cf. Barr 1983, 1999). But his proposals have struck a chord with many in the churches.

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