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Durham University

Department of Theology and Religion

Profiles

Publication details for Professor Walter Moberly

Moberly, R.W.L. (2016). The Old Testament in Christianity. In The Cambridge Companion to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Chapman, Stephen & Sweeney, Marvin Cambridge Cambridge University Press. 388-406.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Some issues in life are not capable of final resolution. Questions such as ‘What is the good life?’ and ‘How can we get good government?’ and ‘Whom can I trust?’ are not amenable to definitive answers in the same way as many mathematical and scientific questions. Rather, such fundamental questions of living recur afresh in every age. Part of the thesis of this chapter is that the role of the Old Testament in Christianity is, in essence, such an irresolvable issue. Christians ancient and modern have not found unanimity or finality in understanding and using the Old Testament – and this may be a sign not of failure but rather of the intrinsic variety of the challenges that the Old Testament poses for Christian faith. A collection of religious literature that is pre-Christian in origin, written over centuries and initially compiled by Jews (as Israel's Scriptures), and only subsequently appropriated by Christians (as the Old Testament), inherently poses intriguing, albeit enriching, questions to Christians.

Lack of definitive resolution therefore should in no way call into question the importance of wrestling with understanding the Old Testament within Christian faith. A. H. J. Gunneweg, for example, wrote

It would be no exaggeration to understand the hermeneutical problem of the Old Testament as the problem of Christian theology, and not just one problem among others…. If the interpretation of holy scripture is an essential task for theology, and if the Bible is the basis of Christian life, the foundation of the church and the medium of revelation, then it is of fundamental importance for the theologian to ask whether and why the collection of Israelite and Jewish writings to which the Christian church has given the name Old Testament are part – indeed the most substantial part – of the canon of scripture and what their relevance is. This question affects the extent and also qualitatively the substance of what may be regarded as Christian.

Thus, engagement in debates about the understanding and appropriation of the Old Testament – debates which in practice probably take place more in contexts of worship and everyday life than in formal academic contexts – is itself part of what constitutes Christian faith.