Reading the Hebrew Scriptures in the First Century: Christian Interpretations in Their Jewish Context

George W. E. Nickelsburg

Article Type: Article

Publication Date: 7/1/1983

Issue: The Old Testament and the New (Vol. 3, No 3, Summer, 1983)

It is a commonplace among Christians that the authors of the New Testament understood and interpreted the ancient Scriptures of Israel primarily in the categories of promise and fulfillment. Most of us have been brought up with this viewpoint and schooled in it, and we emphasize it in our teaching and preaching and in the liturgy, especially during Advent, Christmas, and Lent. The ministry of John the Baptist, the birth of Jesus, and the events of the passion are perceived as the fulfillment of the messianic oracles of the prophets.I shall survey some types of New Testament interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, noting how these interpretations stand in continuity and discontinuity with contemporary Jewish interpretations. My discussion will begin with methods and texts that bear on the fundamental Christian assertion that “the time is fulfilled” and will then treat three other types of texts and interpretations. In each section, I shall discuss Jewish methods of interpretation and then turn to relevant material in the New Testament. Of interest are the ways in which early Christian interpreters drew on their Jewish heritage and the ways in which they modified it. This modification, as we shall see, is almost always related to the church’s understanding of the person and activity of Jesus.

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