>Old Testament or Tanakh: A Response to Chris Heard

>It has been several days since I last wrote a post. My work on the Self-Study is consuming most of my available time. This week the Board of Trustees will vote on the Self-Study Report. This week is also the end of the Spring Quarter, finals weeks, and graduation. As Faculty Marshall, I have so many things going on at the same time that I have been unable to post to the blog.

Spare time will be at a premium as I come to the end of the academic year. I hope to have papers read, exams graded, and the last draft of the Self-Study Report finished by the end of June. At that time, I hope to return to posting to the blog every day.

On May 25, I wrote a post “Old Testament or Hebrew Bible.” Richie, at An Ecclesiastical Mutt, responded with a post titled “The Power of Words: Old Testament vs. Hebrew Bible vs. Tanakh.” In his post Richie recognizes that the context dictates what term to use. As a pastor, he uses Old Testament to communicate to his audience.

Christopher Heard at Higgaion responded with a post, “Neither ‘Old Testament’ nor ‘Hebrew Bible.’” Chris said that the only way to clarify the use of the term “Old Testament” is by the use of an adjective to identify which Old Testament is meant, such as Protestant Old Testament, Catholic Old Testament, etc.

Chris prefer the use of “Tanakh.” The word “Tanakh” is an acronym for Torah, Nevi’im, and Kethuvim, the three divisions of the Jewish Bible. Although many people are not familiar with the word “Tanakh,” Chris believes people need to be taught the meaning of the term and he is “a tireless advocate for the term.”

I have no problem with Chris’ use of the word “Tanakh.” To be honest, I believe that “Tanakh” is much better than “Hebrew Bible,” since the Jewish Bible also contains texts in Aramaic. In addition, the use of “Tanakh” clearly indicates that we are talking about the traditional books used in Judaism. I have nothing against the use of the word “Tanakh” to describe the Scriptures of Judaism.

One thing that Chris discussed but never resolved in his post is this: if the Scriptures of Judaism are to be called “Tanakh,” what should we call the Scriptures of the church? If we continue to use New Testament, then we have to presuppose the existence of an Old Testament.

The term “Second Testament” for the Scriptures of the church is not acceptable. The term “Greek Scriptures” is even worse. Maybe we could call them “Christian Scriptures,” but the “Hebrew Bible” or “Tanakh” is also Christian Scriptures.

When Christians avoid the use of the term “Old Testament,” they abandon two thousand years of Christian tradition and practice. To use the term “Hebrew Bible” or “Tanakh” for the first part of the Christian Bible, is to leave the second part nameless.

Any other name for the second section of the Christian Bible robs the church of its tradition and removes the theological implications of the words of Christ and the prophecy of Jeremiah.

Until a better name is found for the New Testament, I will be content in using Old Testament and New Testament for the two sections of the Christian Bible.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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5 Responses to >Old Testament or Tanakh: A Response to Chris Heard

  1. >Claude,I left this comment on Chris’ post and thought you might be interested in it as well:Tanakh has its problems too. It implies a three stage canonization of the Hebrew Bible/whatever-you-want-to-call-it. Wrapped up in this is the thought that the Council of Jamnia reached agreement on this canon. However, the three stage canonization process and the Council of Jamnia might not be historically accurate. See Karel van der Toorn, Scribal Culture (Harvard Press, 2007): 234-35.


  2. rheimbro says:

    >Hi Claude,Thanks for posting some further thoughts.I do have a question. We have focused mainly on the realm of scholarly essays and such, but it seems the article by McNulty was writing from the perspective of a journalist. So the question for him looks to be more centered around how you refer to a scripture that is used by three major faith traditions. Do you have any thoughts for how this should be approached in the public discourse?


  3. Doug Chaplin says:

    >I’m one of those who prefers First Testament, and am unpersuaded of the arguments agaist it. I’ve found this debate interesting, and responded in more detail to you and Chris Heard over here.


  4. fencekicker says:

    >Dr. Mariottini,The main problem I see with the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” is the implication that the latter has replaced the former. Indeed there are some Christians who feel the reading of “Old Testament” is a waste of time as Jesus supposedly has done away with those books. However, without the foundation of the Scriptures that Jesus and his disciples used, we can have absolutely no understanding or use for what they and the other earliest Christians said and wrote. I think it is very important that we do not read the Tanakh through “the glasses of the New Testament.” Rather, if we are to wear any glasses at all, we should read the New Testament through the glasses of the Tanakh. Also, calling the Christian writings the “New Testament” implies the fullfillment of the prophecy in Jeremiah 31:31-34 where Yahweh says he will make a “new covenant… not like the covenant I made with their fathers.” Some will use this to support the claims that the New replaces the Old. However as we continue to read we can see “this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days… I will put My law (Torah) within them and on their heart I will write it.” According to the prophecy, the Torah is upheld, not destroyed or replaced. It is essentially the exact same covenant. The only difference between the covenant with their fathers and the new covenant is the condition of our hearts. I personally prefer other terms rather than the Old Testament or the New Testament, but I recognize that many people won’t know what I’m talking about if I always avoided those terms. However, I think most people would easily learn alternate terms if those terms were regularly employed by those who teach and lead them.


  5. >Dear Fencekicker,I appreciate hearing from you again. I have been so busy with my work at the seminary that I never answered your previous comment to a post I wrote on the priesthood. For that, I apologize.Those who believe that the Old Testament has become obsolete do not understand God’s intention for his people. The Jewish Scriptures are the basis for the proper understanding of Jesus’ life and ministry. The term “New Testament” or “New Covenant” is based on Jesus’ words in Luke 22:20. It is also based on the fact that, according to Paul, God has made us “ministers of a new covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:6). Even the book of Hebrew speaks of Jesus as “the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 9:15; 12:24). So, it is more than just Jeremiah.In academic circles, the use of Hebrew Bible and Tanakh is very popular and even I use both terms. However, those who live in Christian circles have a problem with terminology. The church has adopted the terms Old Testament and New Testament for its sacred books and it is doubtful that it will change its terminology after using it for two thousand years.Thank you for your comments. It is nice hearing from you again.Claude Mariottini


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