Cardinal Vanhoye's reply to Rabbi Cohen at the Synod: "On the Jews and Scripture"

VERY, VERY well worth reading is the entire speech by Cardinal Albert Vanhoye at the Synod of Bishops in reply to the address of Rabbi Cohen. His speech is a summary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s great 2001 work “The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible”. That document is very large and takes some getting through, so the summary from the Cardinal is very welcome. Above all, we welcome the following comments on the vexed issue of whether it is right or not to call the first half of the Christian bible “the Old Testament”:

The Jewish people’s Scriptures are received in the Christian Bible under the name Old Testament. The Document immediately points out that “By “Old Testament” the Christian Church has no wish to suggest that the Jewish Scriptures are outdated or surpassed. On the contrary, it has always affirmed that the Old Testament and the New Testament are inseparable. Their first relationship is precisely that. At the beginning of the second century, when Marcion wished to discard the Old Testament, he met with vehement resistance from the post-apostolic Church.”

“The title “Old Testament” […] is an expression coined by the apostle Paul to designate the writings attributed to Moses” (cf. 2 Co 3:14-15). There Paul speaks about “reading the Old Testament” and then “when we read Moses”. The meaning of the expression was given, since the end of the 2nd Century, to apply it also to the other Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people found in the Christian Bible. “Today in certain circles there is a tendency to use “First Testament” to avoid any negative connotation attached to “Old Testament.” But “Old Testament” is a biblical and traditional expression which of itself does not have a negative connotation: the Church fully recognizes the importance of the Old Testament” as the Word of God. As for the expression “First Testament”, it can be found in Latin as “prius testamentum” or “primum” in the translation of the Letter to the Hebrews (9:15; “primum” in 9:18), but then this is not the Scriptures. This is the Covenant concluded on the Sinai, and of this “first Covenant” it can be said that God made it “old,” when he announced the “news” and it was since then bound to disappear (Heb 8:13).

Therefore, in the New Testament, the expression “Primum Testamentum” has a negative connotation and “Old Testament” does not.

The polemic text of the Letter to the Hebrews is, generally speaking, consciously or unconsciously, ignored in the soothing declarations on the permanent validity of the first Covenant. The Document does not quote this text, but takes it into account, because it refrains from asserting the permanent validity of the Sinai Covenant. It mentions the permanent validity of the “covenant-promise of God”, which is not a bilateral pact such as the Sinai Covenant, often broken by the Israelites. It is “all merciful” and “cannot be annulled” (No. 41). It “is definitive and cannot be abolished”. In this sense, according to the New Testament, “Israel continues to be in a covenant relationship with God” (No. 42).

All good stuff. Read the whole lot, since there is a whole lot more about the proper relationship between the Jews and Christians in here.

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