I begin teaching a class tomorrow, under the umbrella of our local community college – there are usually 40 to 50 non-Orthodox who attend these weekly classes. But my subject is “Christ and the God of the Old Testament.” From many conversations over the years I hear more confusion about the Old Testament from Christians many of whom have opted for some quiet form of Marcionism. That is, many simply dismiss the Old Testament as inferior to the New, or that the revelation contained in it is enfeebled, or worse yet, that the God depicted in the Old Testament is somehow different than the God revealed in Jesus Christ. “I don’t believe in the Old Testament God,” is the way it is sometimes boldly stated.
There is nothing at all new about this situation. The early Christian community faced the same challenge (after all, Marcion was not a New Testament professor at Tubingen). But the Church has frequently failed to teach to Scriptures as understood and interpreted by Tradition. I’m not sure where to place blame (or if it’s even important). But the fact is that the Old Testament remains a closed book for most Christians.
This is a great tragedy since when the New Testament says “Scripture” it means what we mean by “Old Testament.” All that Christ did and accomplished was “in accordance with the Scriptures.” This is part of the proclamation of the primitive Church – indeed it is embedded in our Creed.
However, in order to understand what the early Church meant by this phrase, we have to start with the New Testament rather than the Old. We have to learn to read the Old through the New, for Christ said, “These are they which testify of me” (Jn. 5:39). This is among the most radical of Jesus’ claims. His statement is that the entirety of the Old Testament is in fact a witness of Himself – it is about Him. Thus we hear in Luke’s gospel that while he spoke with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he [Christ] interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk. 24:27).
At some point Christians ceased to look at Scripture in the way that Scripture looks at Scripture and yielded it up captive to various historical theories (literalism and historical criticism are simply two sides of the same historical coin). With Scriptures captivity to history, its truth is captive as well and the book remains closed and our hearts are blind.
Fr. John Behr has probably written as well on this in recent years as anyone. I have made reference to his work earlier and continue to commend it.
But if we are to understand the Scriptures we must begin with the One whose life is “in accordance” with them. Otherwise we remain lost and blind.