The Two Testaments As Covenant Documents -- By: Gregory Goswell

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 62:4 (Dec 2019)
Article: The Two Testaments As Covenant Documents
Author: Gregory Goswell

The Two Testaments As Covenant Documents

Gregory Goswell*

* Gregory Goswell is Academic Dean, Lecturer in OT, and Postgraduate Coordinator at Christ College, 1 Clarence Street, Burwood, NSW 2134, Australia. He can be contacted at [email protected]

Abstract: The terminology of Old Testament/New Testament expresses a distinctly Christian confession about the nature of Scripture. Though not strictly biblical, the use of Old Testament/New Testament to label and describe the two major parts of the Christian Bible is a valid extension of modes of expression found in the Bible itself, notably in the writings of Jeremiah and Paul. The use of “testament” (= covenant) promotes a covenantal reading of both testaments as part of a joint history of God’s dealings with his people. The adjective “old” does not need to be viewed as implying that the Old Testament is passé and has been replaced by the New Testament. The labelling of the other part as “new” does not promote a downgrading of previous divine revelation. In fact, the traditional titles indicate that each testament needs the other for a coordinated reading of Scripture as testimony to the saving purposes of God that culminate in the person and work of Jesus Christ. An important caveat, however, is that this does not mean that covenant categories can be used to express all that needs to be said in outlining the dynamics of God’s ways with humanity in the Old Testament and New Testament.

Key words: covenant, testament, canon, Hebrew Bible

Names are never without significance, and I seek to explore the possible import of the names commonly attached to the two major sections of the Bible, namely OT and NT. My thesis is that use of the term “OT” as a name for first part of the Bible is value-laden and an overtly Christian way of designating the Scriptures inherited from Israel. The adjective “old” is used in correlation with “new,” for there would be no Old Testament without a New Testament to correspond to it (and vice versa). Such language embodies Christian convictions about the Christian’s relationship to the Scriptures of Israel (and now also of the church) and promotes a covenantal reading of both testaments that together record the history of God’s dealings with his people. For that reason, though open to misunderstanding and abuse (see below), this way of speaking is not to be lightly discarded or replaced without due consideration of the hermeneutical convictions it embodies and expresses.

By way of contrast, from a Jewish perspective, the Scriptures we share with them are not the OT, for Jewish readers have no NT. Rather, they are Tanak (תנ״ך), an acronym for the

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