The Early Church
Henning Graf Reventlow
The Use of the Old in the New Testament
The study and use of the Bible in the church begins with the church itself. Jesus of Nazareth quoted the Bible and taught his disciples how to behave according to a radicalized Mosaic law (Matt. 5: 21–48 ). His proclamation of the kingdom of God actualizes a basic issue in the Old Testament: God as king of Israel his people, residing on Mt Zion. To begin with the seems to have identified his mission with the task of the messenger who has to bring good news to the oppressed (Isa. 61: 1f.; cf. Luke 4: 18f.; Matt. 11: 5 ), but more and more he might have regarded himself as the vicarious sufferer (cf. Mark 10: 45 with Dan. 7: 13; Isa. 43: 3f.; 53: 10–12 ) for the sins of the ‘many’. During the last supper he speaks about his blood as the ‘blood of the covenant’ (Mark 14: 24 ; parallels) alluding to Exod. 24: 8 , where the blood of the offerings is dashed by Moses on the people for atonement. His quotation of Psalm 22: 2 on the cross (Mark 15: 34/ Matt. 27: 46 , still preserved in the original Aramaic) indicates the same self-understanding. After his death and resurrection he is said to have opened the minds of his disciples to comprehend the scriptures (Luke 24: 45 ): from now on the scriptures (‘the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms’) are to be interpreted as ‘written about me’ (Luke 24: 44 ).
The first Christians regarded the death and resurrection of Jesus as events that happened ‘according to the Scriptures’: a formulation occurring twice in what seems to be one of the earliest Christian confessions as quoted by Paul (1 Cor. 15: 3–5 ). The Jewish-Christian Bible (later called the Old Testament) was taken as a book of prophecy (Rom. 1: 2 ) preannouncing the gospel of Jesus as the Christ. This Greek translation of the Hebrew title Messiah was soon used like a personal name. Paul in his letters quotes the Old Testament about 90 times using it as a basis for his theology in a rather peculiar way. In the Gospel of Matthew, the repeated catchword ‘fulfil’ (Matt. 1: 22f.; 2: 15,17f, 23; 4: 14–16 ; etc.) shows that the evangelist sees the whole story of Jesus the Christ as already implied in the words of Old Testament texts. Another model for the relationship between the two convenants is typology. It appears in the letter to the Hebrews, where the basic idea is the parallelism between the institutions of the time of the fathers and now in the ‘last days’ (Heb. 1, 2 f.). The parallelism means increase. In all his offices Jesus is superior: As the son he is more than the angels (Heb. 1–2 ), he is more than Moses ( 3: 1–6 ), more than the Jewish high priest ( 4: 14–5: 10 ), in the order of Melchizedek (7; cf. Gen. 14: 7–20 ), but mediator in a heavenly sanctuary of a better covenant (8f.). His sacrifice is valid once for all ( 10: 1–18 ).
The revelation to John is the only apocalyptic book included in the New Testament. It consists of a wealth of pictures illustrating the expectation that the end is close, in which after a period of severe persecution of the believers (by the emperor Domitian) Jesus Christ will return to his everlasting rule. Nearly all of them are taken from the Old Testament, which is quite familiar to the visionary, who lives in the last decade of the first century.