Foundational Texts – an Excerpt from Sacred Tradition in the New Testament

The following is an excerpt from Stanley Porter’s Sacred Tradition in the New Testament.

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The importance of understanding the OT background to the NT should not be underestimated. Even though, as we saw in the previous chapter, numerous difficulties still confront the scholar who addresses such issues, this does not mean that the topic is not worth pursuing. To the contrary: there are many important reasons for discussing how the OT is used in the NT. The reasons for the importance of the OT merit mention here, even if only briefly.

Cover ArtOne of the major reasons for the study of the use of the OT in the NT is that the OT constituted the foundational set of texts for the NT writers and, along with them, the first Christian believers. While it is easy to understand that the OT was important to Jews, whether they became followers of Christ or not, one must not lose sight of the importance of the OT for gentile believers as well. This importance is seen in the fact that the OT formed the basis of belief for those who first evangelized the gentiles, as well as its having an important role in defining many early Christian beliefs, which gentile Christianity adopted and developed.

One of the best examples of such a relationship is found in Paul’s writings. Paul directly quotes the OT over eighty times (scholars differ on the estimate, as noted in the previous chapter), with over fifty of these quotations occurring in the book of Romans, a letter written to a church Paul had never visited and to an audience probably composed mostly of gentiles.

Some recent scholarship has wished to see the background of the Letter to the Romans as conflict over Jewish issues, such as obedience to the Torah (Rom. 13:1–7).3 I disagree with this assertion and believe that scholars who have emphasized the Jewish background to Romans have overinterpreted the evidence. Even though Paul directly cites the OT more in Romans than in any of his other letters, his use of the OT is more for his own purposes than it is for his readers.

What I mean is that, for Paul, the OT constituted the basic framework of his thought, since he was a Jew trained in Pharisaic exegesis. As interpreters, we have probably placed too much emphasis on trying to understand Paul’s citations from the standpoint of his audience, rather than closely examining how Paul is thinking through Scripture and using it to develop his arguments.

©2016 by Stanley E. Porter. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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