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The Christian Appropriation of the “Old Testament”

Christians in the first few centuries had varied attitudes to the Jewish Scriptures. Some Jewish Christian sects such as the Ebionites or the Nazaraeans combined belief in Jesus as the promised Messiah with observance of the Law of Moses. Non-Jewish Christ followers also continued to be attracted to Jewish customs, festivals, and synagogues even in the period of Christian ascendancy in the Roman Empire, which sparked the bitter denunciations in the anti-Jewish homilies of the fourth century theologian John Chrysostom. On the other side of the coin, the Christian followers of Marcion completely rejected the Jewish Scriptures as a testament to a rival God, not the loving heavenly Father of Jesus revealed in the Gospel and letters of Paul.

Between these two extremes, emergent Christian orthodoxy re-affirmed that Jesus’ heavenly Father was the Creator God of Genesis and that the Hebrew prophets predicted the coming of Jesus, yet the Christians had to justify why the majority of Jews did not accept the latter claim. Thus, while Christians were trying to carve out a distinctive identity for themselves and their own roots in the biblical story, it also problematically fueled anti-Jewish interpretations. Some Christians claimed that the rejection of the Jews as accursed and their replacement with the Christians as the new covenant people of God was part of the divine plan all along, while others accused Jewish translators of tampering with the biblical witness as Christians defended the Greek translation in the Septuagint that they used in the churches. In light of the history of Christian anti-Judaism and modern racial anti-Semitism, there has been some re-thinking about this tragic legacy and increasing interfaith dialogue.

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