The Qumran Community and New Testament Backgrounds -- By: Homer A. Kent, Jr.

Journal: Grace Journal
Volume: GJ 03:2 (Spring 1962)
Article: The Qumran Community and New Testament Backgrounds
Author: Homer A. Kent, Jr.


The Qumran Community and New Testament Backgrounds

Homer A. Kent, Jr.

Professor of New Testament
Grace Theological Seminary

Ever since the discovery by a Bedouin shepherd in 1947 of some ancient leather scrolls hidden away in a cave in the Judean Desert, laymen as well as scholars around the world have had their interest captivated by the Dead Sea Scrolls. Inasmuch as the original finds included portions of the Old Testament in manuscripts 1000 years older than most others currently possessed, much of the initial interest was centered upon the scrolls as witnesses to the Old Testament text.

However, it soon became evident that these documents were part of a library, one that was connected with the nearby ruins of Qumran. Archaeological studies, including excavation of Khirbet Qumran in 1951, soon revealed the existence of an ancient religious community with facilities such as dormitories, a common dining hall, cisterns, and a scriptorium, for conducting its distinctive way of life in this isolated spot. Coins found in the ruins helped to date the occupancy. The conclusion reached by scholars was that the community was established around 100 B.C., abandoned, and then reinhabited by the some group until A.D. 68. Later a Roman garrison was apparently stationed there, and still later the revolutionists of the Second Revolt may have used the ruins as a dwelling.

Now it is obvious that we are dealing with a Jewish religious group contemporary with the New Testament scene. Hence it is legitimate to search carefully into these records to enrich our understanding of the Palestinian environment of Jesus, the Apostles, and the Christian faith. Perhaps we shall be able to find explanations for some of the thoughts which are reflected in the New Testament without adequate Old Testament background. We may discover that many of the ideas which we have habitually been attributing to Hellenism or incipient Gnosticism were really quite at home in Jewish thought.

But if we do discover such parallels, we must beware of the serious error of explaining all parallels as “influences.” For example, the fact that immersion was practiced as a purificatory rite in the Qumran Community does not prove that John the Baptist was a member of the order, nor that he borrowed this rite from them. Rather we must be content to observe that many of the ideas found at Qumran must have been widespread in Jewish circles in the first century. Our New Testament writers, therefore, were dealing with many concepts and terms which were well known and understood.

I wish to discuss five areas of relevance between the Qumran materials and the New Testament records, although there are many, many more that could be considered.

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