Israel’s Scriptures in Early Christian Writings – Edited by Mattias Henze and David Lincicum

Israel's Scriptures in Early Christian Writings: The Use of the Old Testament in the New by Matthias Henze, David Lincicum
Published by Eerdmans on July 20, 2023
Genres: Academic, Non-Fiction, Theology
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How did New Testament authors use Israel’s Scriptures?

Use, misuse, appropriation, citation, allusion, inspiration—how do we characterize the manifold images, paraphrases, and quotations of the Jewish Scriptures that pervade the New Testament? Over the past few decades, scholars have tackled the question with a variety of methodologies. New Testament authors were part of a broader landscape of Jewish readers interpreting Scripture. Recent studies have sought to understand the various compositional techniques of the early Christians who composed the New Testament in this context and on the authors’ own terms.

In this landmark collection of essays, Matthias Henze and David Lincicum marshal an international group of renowned scholars to analyze the New Testament, text-by-text, aiming to better understand what roles Israel’s Scriptures play therein. In addition to explicating each book, the essayists also cut across texts to chart the most important central concepts, such as the messiah, covenants, and the end times. Carefully constructed reception history of both testaments rounds out the volume.

Comprehensive and foundational, Israel’s Scriptures in Early Christian Writings will serve as an essential resource for biblical scholars for years to come.

In the field of New Testament interpretation, Israel’s Scriptures in Early Christian Writings: The Use of the Old Testament in the New stands alone. Literally and figuratively. Literally because, at over 1000 pages, this is a massive tome. Figuratively, because within this massive tome is an unparalleled collection of New Testament scholarship from a myriad of authors, each of whom are experts in their field. My personal interest in the New Testament’s use of the Old comes from being a child and reading Matthew’s Gospel account of the birth of Jesus. That whole narrative is filled with callbacks to the First Testament to make the connection for the Jewish reader that this baby in a manger is indeed the son of David, the son of Abraham, God with us. Those are the connections that the New Testament makes clear. Matthew literally says “and so was fulfilled” or its equivalent over and over again. The foundation of the New Testament rests on the Old.

As I grew up and continued to explore this phenomenon, I began to see how Jesus demonstrated a mastery of the Torah in his teaching. This became important because it made the New Testament not something new, but something made new and resurrected out of the Old. I saw how Paul used the Old Testament and how the author of Hebrews masterfully connected the Old Covenant with the New. I’ve majored in religion as an undergrad. I went to seminary. I have a doctorate in ministry. I have a reasonable working knowledge of this topic. Israel’s Scriptures in Early Christian Writings took my knowledge and my ability to apply that knowledge into a pastoral and preaching setting to new levels.

Edited by Matthias Henze and David Lincicum, Israel’s Scriptures in Early Christian Writings is a comprehensive anthology that delves into the intricate and varied ways in which early Christian writers utilized the Jewish Scriptures. Comprised of forty-two essays divided into five parts, the work is ambitious in its scope, aiming to explore the cultural background that forms the backbone of understanding Jesus and his earliest followers. The authors understand that the writers of the Second Testaments aren’t just utilizing the First Testament, they are living it. The essays range between 20-50 pages in length and are each written by experts in the specific topic they’re writing on. Time and space prevent a comprehensive overview of the anthology’s authors, but the contributor list is a who’s who in Jewish-Christian biblical studies.

Israel’s Scriptures in Early Christian Writings is divided into five parts. The first part offers the context for everything to follow with seven essays exploring the nature of the Old Testament scriptures. These initial chapters lay a robust foundation for understanding the diverse perspectives on scripture during the period. The essays in this section touch on various aspects, including the definition and authority of canonical and non-canonical books, interpretive strategies in Jewish literature, and the influence of the Dead Sea Scrolls​.

The second part is a comprehensive look at the use of Israel’s Scriptures in the New Testament. Here, there are sixteen essays that cover the whole of the New Testament, Matthew to Revelation. The structure of the work is set up so that clergy or scholars looking to reference a particular part of Scripture can easily access it and find the information they need, shedding much needed light on the complex ways Jewish Scriptures were appropriated, cited, and alluded to​.

Part three takes a different perspective. It forms eight thematic topics—God, Messiah, Holy Spirit, Covenant, Law, Wisdom, Liturgy and Prayer, and Eschatology—and discusses how the New Testament builds its concepts of those topics on Old Testament teaching. These essays demonstrate the deep indebtedness of Christianity to Jewish Scripture, tracing the journey of these ideas from the prophets through early Jewish literature to the teachings of Jesus.

Part four does the reverse of part two, thought not as extensively. In four essays, it covers how the four most prominent OT books in the NT—Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Psalms, and Daniel—are used and alluded to, providing context that the NT assumes. A fifth essay details how OT figures are utilized in the New Testament—Abraham, Moses, David, Jacob, Joseph, Elijah, and so on.

Part five does something interesting and moves beyond the New Testament into early Christian writing and art, providing readers with some more historical understanding of how the Old Testament was perceived in the era of the Early Church. There are five essays in this section and they cover apocryphal Gospels and apocalypses, how early heretics (like Marcion) engaged with the OT, and the way Israel’s scriptures were portrayed in early Christian art. This final part, if I was edited with an eye for length, would be the part I would cut even though it is supremely interested. This section is probably least helpful for practical application outside of academia, but it also contained the most new information for me personally.

Overall, just wow. Israel’s Scriptures in Early Christian Writings is an exemplary piece of scholarship that is faithful to and respectful of Christianity’s genesis within Judaism and the foundational nature of the Torah to the New Testament. It is a foundational resource for biblical scholars, offering a thorough and nuanced understanding of the complex interplay between the New Testament and the Jewish Scriptures. An incredible work.