January 10, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Beginning a series about the Old Testament

John F. Fink(First in a series of columns)

From time to time, we hear it said that Catholics don’t know much about the Bible. Frankly, I think that they know about as much about it as most other Americans. Unfortunately, that means that most Americans don’t know much about the Bible.

Did you ever notice on “Jeopardy!” that “The Bible” or “The Old Testament” is the last category chosen by the contestants? The people on that TV show are chosen because of their knowledge, but they realize their shortcomings when it comes to the Bible.

This is particularly true when it comes to the Old Testament. Far more Christians know the New Testament than the Old Testament—quite naturally since we are Christians, not Jews. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church has always insisted that both are important.

During the development of the Bible, one of the earliest controversies was started in the second century by Marcion, who rejected the Old Testament and refused to see any connection between it and the New Testament. However, St. Justin vehemently opposed Marcion. St. Justin’s conversion to Christianity came about because he was convinced that it was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the Old Testament: “The Old Testament is an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture. Its books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value, for the Old Covenant has never been revoked” (#121).

Also, “Christians venerate the Old Testament as the true Word of God. The Church has always vigorously opposed the idea of rejecting the Old Testament under the pretext that the New has rendered it void [Marcionism]” (#123).

And there’s this: “Christians read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as revelation reaffirmed by Our Lord himself. Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament” (#129).

Therefore, I’ve decided to write a series of columns about the Old Testament, hoping thereby to encourage you to read and understand it. It should take about a year to complete the project. I hope you will read it along with me as I summarize the books that follow those.

I definitely will go into more detail about some of the books than others. For example, I’ll cover Genesis and Exodus more thoroughly than the three books that follow those.

The Old Testament consists basically of the Jewish Scriptures, although we Catholics recognize seven books that are not in the Jewish Scriptures. The Jews didn’t include them in their canon because there were no copies in Hebrew when they decided on their canon.

The Catholic Bible has 46 books in the Old Testament. The Pentateuch, which the Jews call the Torah, consists of the first five books. The Catholic Bible follows those books with 16 historical books, seven wisdom books, and 18 prophetic books. †

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