Questions & Answers: Biblical Themes
Should a Christian read the Old Testament?
The Old Testament is a name given to the 39 books of the Holy Bible that preceede the New Testament. They are the Hebrew or Jewish Scriptures – the Holy Book of the people of Isreal that were written genrally in Hebrew, the language of Ancient Isreal. In Judaism, the Old Testament was divided into three basic groups, The Law, the Prophets and the Writings. Later on about 300 years or so before Christ , they were translated into Greek, for the Greek speaking Jews living around Egypt, called the Septuagint. This is the version used in our Churches. It had dealt with the history, literautre and song of the People of God at the time of the Patriarchs, Moses, King David and the Prophets, before Christ..
The Books of the Bible were complied and /or redacted by different authors over a long period of time. Not long after the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, all the books of the Bible were finally collected into an official Canon. It included these 39 books which came to be known as the Old Testament, along with the 27 books of the New Testament. Authoritative figures like St Athanasius the Great included all 39 books of the Old Testament in their offical lists and this became the norm in all the Churches. (18 extra books called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanon were also inculded, but we need not worry about these at the moment) They were therefore recognised together as the inspired Word of God and formed a major part of the Holy Scriptures in the Christan Church.
Much of the New Testament presuposes the history and religion of the Old Testament and without it, the New Testament is largely incomprehensible. Jesus oftern quoted from the Old Testmant, along with St Paul, St Peter, St John the Evangelist and other New Testament authors. A great deal of our theology, wisdom and morals concerning the nature of God, Man and Creation are based on the Old Testament. According to the Fathers of the Church the Old Testament, interprented wholistically, prefigures or points ahead to the events of the New. This is clearly seen for example in the Services of Holy Week in the Orhtodox Church were many Old Testament passages from the Books of Jonah, Genesis, and the Propehts are read that prophesied or spoke about what would happen to Jesus, long before He walked the earth.
Much of our Liturgical texts and prayers are taken from the Old Testament espeically the Psalms. Many readings from the Old Testment are heard on the Eve of Great Feast Days in the Service of Vespers, that help us undertsand the meaning of the Feast.In the the light of this, it is thus benefical if not essential for Christians to read the Old Testament as a means of comprehending the nature of God’s dealings with human beings and in understanding His purpose for our salvation.
For the first-timer, the Bible in general can be quite bewildering. It is important to note that the Bible is unlike any other book in that it is made up of a library of separate books that have been compiled by different authours over many centuries. So reading it cover to covermay not be very helpful at first. It is highly advisiable that a person attends a Bible study group in their local Parish, conducted by a compitent peson who knows the Bible well and can answer questions and offer guidance.. Attending Church and the services also helps us hear the Word of God in the context of worship. It is also advisibale to aquire a good Study Bible – which is basically the Holy Bible with Study Notes, that helps intoruduce each book of the Bible in context. While there is an Orthodox Study Bible availaible for the New Testmant, there is as yet not one available for the Old Testament. It is also important to get a good translation – preferably the Revised Standard Version, or the New King James Version. A very good modern translation is the Revised Standard Version.
IS THE CHURCH BASED ON THE BIBLE?
This answer this question, we need to first understand what the Bible is. The Bible is a foundation for the Christian Church, yet it is this very foundation that often becomes a reason for Christians to disagree even on some of the fundamental of Christian doctrines. Rather than see the bible as something as separate from the Church, it should be seen together with the Church – inseparably tied with it. This question is irrelevant, because it presupposes that the Bible can somehow be seen as relevant outside the Church; If it is truly the Church, founded by Christ and built on the Holy Tradition that has been handed down by him to his Apostles, and from them to their successors to the present day, then it is by definition based upon the Bible. Likewise, if the Bible is seen as Holy Scripture containing within it a record of the history of God’s interaction with His creation, and a book that has come out of the Church in its development and its response to a loving God, then the Bible is the ‘Book of His Church’! This question only becomes a problem when we erroneously see the Bible as separate things standing apart and against each other. The bible is ultimately only understood and interpreted by God, and it is by His grace, through the Holy Tradition that He has given to His Church, that we too can understand it and interpret it.
WHAT TRANSLATION OF THE BIBLE SHOULD I USE?
There are literally hundreds of translations of the bible into English and many more in other languages. We do not have the original texts as written down by the authors of the Old Testament, or by the Holy writers of the New Testament. By the very act of distributing the Bible, people have developed translations. It has only been in the last few hundred years that printed text has been available. Prior to this, copies were made by hand; laboriously copying each letter and word from the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. Some translations are better than others; some have glaring errors and sometimes deliberate changes have been made that reflect the bias of the translator. It is the nature of language that it is often difficult, and sometimes impossible, to capture the precise meaning of a word, phrase, or idea written down in one language and then to relate it perfectly into another language. Whilst we should not use paraphrases for bible study (these have deliberately changed the text in order to make it more readable in a particular language or easier to understand), most translations in English are useful and helpful to the Christian. Our Church uses a particular Greek text of the Bible but for individual study and devotion use a popular English translation. If in doubt, see your Parish priest who can guide you in finding a translation that is good and useful to you.