In my reading preparation for Old Testament study, I came across a rather ‘tiresome’ reference to political correctness! One that I must admit, had never really crossed my mind before – and for good reason, I think!
Use of the term ‘Old Testament’ it has been said, is insensitive to our Jewish friends, relegating the Jewish scriptures as being somehow inferior to the New Testament and in many instances this terminology might be replaced by the term ‘Hebrew Bible’! As was correctly pointed out by the authors in their preface to the second edition of their book, this in itself is not correct as analogous for example to the English or German Bible it is more natural to accept the ‘Hebrew Bible’ as the bible written in Hebrew! (Rogerson, et al. 1998, x-xi) So the authors have retained the use of the terminology ‘Old Testament’ until an epithet comes along which is more suitable!
My view is that there is absolutely no reason to change the soubriquet ‘Old Testament’; far from being insensitive it merely depicts a reference point in the Christian ethos. The insensitivityapplied to this term is an artificial wrapping, applied in a world obsessed with discovering insensitivity and religious disquiet in every form of human interaction.
So what is the meaning of the word testament when considered contextually?
A very loose etymological record might describe the word as having derived from the Latin vetus testamentum (Old Testament) which came from the Greek palaia diatheke (Old Testament). The transliterated term ‘diatheke’ had a dual meaning in Greek of both covenant and a testament (or will) and has been referred to as a mistranslation (Harper 2011) – of I suppose the meaning.
In my view, the word ‘Testament’ in the terms Old Testament and New Testament, refers to the term ‘Covenant’ and could easily be re-stated as ‘Old Covenant’ and ‘New Covenant’. (Dictionary.com 2011)
It is therefore difficult for me to reconcile the supposed slight on the Jewish people, whose beliefs still reside in the original covenant with God and to the Christian ethos where the New Testament refers to God’s new covenant in Christ. Thus the Old Testament in Christian terms serves as a marker between the old and the new covenant. It does not make any derogatory inference regarding the books of the original covenant; indeed the Old Testament forms an integral part of the Christian holy scripture and I would indeed be surprised to find any true Christian making or inferring any deprecatory meaning to the term ‘Old Testament’.
No, I believe that this is an invention of the modern, secular world.
- Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com. 2011. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/testament (accessed December 12, 2011).
- Harper, Douglas. Online Etymology Dictionary. 2011. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=testament&searchmode=term (accessed December 12, 2011).
- Rogerson, John, John Barton, David J.A. Clines, and Paul Joyce. Beginning Old Testament Study. 2nd. St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 1998.