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SIDIC Periodical XXI - 1988/3
Problems of Tipology: Reading the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures (Pages 12 - 17)

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The "Old" and the " New" Covenant (1)- How to relate the two Testaments
Carmine Di Sante


The dialogue between Christians and Jews began officially with the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate and has been further encouraged by other important documents brought out by the Holy See'.(2) There is one question which is extremely delicate from a theological and pastoral point of view for this dialogue — that of the relationship between the so-called Old and New Covenants. The Notes for a correct presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catechesis and Preaching, published on 24 June 1985 by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism devotes a whole chapter of eleven paragraphs to this problem. Among other things it again suggests (No. 2) typological reading as a way of interpreting the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments. It is significant that strong reactions and some perplexity have been aroused in most Jews and among some Christians by the very fact of this suggestion. These reactions were foreseen by the authors of the text who remark with a certain clarity of vision; °typology makes many people uneasy" and "this is perhaps indicative of a problem not yet resolved".

A difficult relationship:
It is certainly a difficult and delicate task to relate the Old and New Testament to each other; difficult for historical reasons, since the Church has behind her almost two thousand years of anti-Semitic prejudice; delicate, primarily for ideological reasons, because the two canons, above and beyond a line of profound unity, are always the expression and definition of a difference. This, like all differences, demands respect and courage in order to recognise and accept the other but also leads inevitably to confrontation and polemic. Difference of opinion leads inexorably to a form of conflict which is not of itself negative but is, on the contrary. a source of richness. It is thanks to contrast and the exchange of experiences and ideas that the truth makes a path for itself and systems and symbols are diversified and refined. A conflict situation is negative when it tends to mystify the questioner and above all, when it moves from the level of ideas to that of persons. The perversity of Christian anti-judaism does not lie in the fact that Christians have claimed to be different in the face of Judaism, but by the fact that in claiming such a difference they have caricatured and distorted Jewish concepts and, more seriously, have transformed the confrontation and polemic surrounding the ideas into a symbolic as well as a physical rejection of the Jewish heritage and of the Jewish people themselves.
In the climate of dialogue which is developing today, it is necessary to rethink the theology of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, without any anti-Jewish prejudice and with respect for the specific nature of Christianity. Historically, three models can be identified, three ways in which the Christian community has lived its relationship to the Old Testament. In these pages which are more theoretical and hermeneutical, I would like to present the broad outlines in order to draw from them a fourth model. When I speak of models. I refer to mental patterns and hermeneutic grids which, even if they are derived from an observation of history, are not identified with the facts of history from which they are differentiated and which they always transcend. It is also a question of Christian tradition taken as a whole, abstracting from particular aspects of periods. I will not be asking how St. Paul understands the relationship with the Old Testament Scriptures, nor what the Fathers of the Church have to say on the subject, or any particular author, or a specific period of history, but rather I will outline certain "ideal" representations which, because they underly the Christian tradition, reappear with a certain persistence.


According to this model, the question of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments is resolved by the rejection of one of the two poles: the former is rejected by Christians, the latter by Jews.
In the Christian world the model rejecting the Old Testament has a specific name, that of the heretic Marcion (85-160 C.E.). He was a theologian who had probably come under gnostic influences, especially in what concerns the existence of a dual divinity, one of goodness and mercy, the other of anger and ma/ice. According to Marcion (whose thought has come down to us thanks to the writings of the Fathers, e.g. Tertullian, author of five books Adversus Marcionem), the Old Testament is the expression of an evil god and a world, equally evil, made by his hands. On the other hand the New Testament is the revelation of a good God to whom one can on the contrary trust oneself. Taking this principle as his point of departure, Marcion proposed not only eliminating the writings of the Old Testament from liturgical and ecclesiastic texts, but also "purifying" certain passages in the New Testament which depended too much on the Old Testament for their content and language. The passage used as a battle cry was the passage from Luke beginning: "No-one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it upon an old garment ..." (Lk. 5:36-39). He saw the New Testament prefigured in the images of the new garment and the new wine and the Old Testament reflected in the old garment and the old skins. Into this distinction he read an insurmountable opposition. The "new" of the Christian Scriptures cancelled out the "old" of the Jewish Scriptures.
Even though Marcion's theory was condemned and officially rejected, it left a profound impression and a number of its affirmations penetrated both the Christian unconscious and its language, catechetical as well as theological. There are numerous examples. Apart from catechesis and spirituality, Marcion's stereotypes also invaded the domain of theology, both dogmatic and exegetical. In his book Jesus et Israel, the Jewish historian Jules Isaac gathered a detailed and impressive harvest of "Marcionisms" culled from theological works written in recent decades.(3) The most frequently found themes are those of the "old garment" and the "old skins", essential to Marcion's theory: "one does not pour the generous wine of the gospel into the old skins of Judaism". Such stereotyped judgments on the Old Testament by famous academics are still more surprising if they are set over against what Nietzsche thought of this great cultural text: "In the Jewish Old Testament, the book of divine Justice, are to be met people, facts, discourses in such a grandiose style that Greek and Indian literature have nothing to set beside them ... Interest in the Old Testament is a touchstone to distinguish what is great from what is mean."(4)


Nevertheless it is not the Marcionite model of rejection that is the most common in the Church (even though it was condemned it remains underground and like all underground movements is still influential), but that of allegorisation. This method of interpretation came to birth and was perfected in the School of Alexandria by theologians like Clement and, above all. Origen. According to this way the Old Testament is accepted in its entirety but Christians must read it as allegory. All that is said in it on the levels of geography, history, institutions or culture is given another meaning (allegory = allegoreuein which means aliud dicere, to say other). This "other" reality of which the material realities of the Old Testament speak and to which they refer, is the "spiritual" reality, higher and more noble than "material" reality. Thus, if the Old Testament speaks of "the land", this is not a place of abundant harvests, but the image of the heavenly realm where God will fill his children with a different kind of good. If in addition the land is said to be "promised" this is also withdrawn from the space-time continuum and placed outside the confines of history.
The allegorical model also comprises what today is more commonly called "typology". It is true that the latter, unlike the former, stresses the positive and incipient value of Old Testament realities. In actual fact to say that the Old Testament already contains in seed all that the New Testament contains in plenitude is not the same as saying that it is a "shadow" of the New. But notwithstanding this important difference, the basic logic remains the same: the Old Testament is limited and partial in respect to the New. Thus it matters little for our purpose whether this relationship is at the level of shadow or of incipient fulfilment. The limitations of the allegorical/typological model can be reduced to three:
Firstly, the same process of rejection operates as in the dualistic model, though in a more subtle way. It is more subtle because the Old Testament is rejected by emptying it from within so that it is deprived of its own intentionality which is replaced by another. It is as if a word, stripped of its original meaning, comes to be used to signify something else. Its outward form remains the same but the inner substance is modified. Allegory results in an identical impoverishment where the Old Testament is concerned by taking the letter of the historico-geographical form but depriving it of its original meaning.

Secondly the allegorical model is too conditioned by greco-hellenistic dualism. It matters little here whether this is the negative platonic kind or the more nuanced and positive participational variety. Today one recognises, perhaps more than formerly, the limits of this "precomprehensive" philosophyin spite of its great persuasive and diffusive power. The process of disentangling the Christian faith from the hellenistic mode in which it is culturally embedded and by which it is interpreted remains an unavoidable duty'.(5)

Finally, the allegorical model, by spiritualizing the historico-concrete realities, runs the risk of emptying the Christian faith of its historical dimension, enclosing it within a privileged universe and leaving earthly realities to their own devices. "This is the remote origin of a type of spirituality still extant, which has permitted Christians to live with the most inhuman political realities, such as Nazism. The Lutheran doctrine of the two powers set the pattern, to a certain extent, for the resignation of believers in the face of history dominated by the law of violence.”(6)


This is a still undeveloped model which is used in an attempt to avoid the risks inherent in the two former models. It can make use of the Old Testament selectively, giving pride of place to those passages which are herd to be more universally valid or more readily interpreted christologically, leaving aside the more complex and problematic ones or those that seem irrelevant for contemporary questions. The practice of omitting from prayer certain imprecations to be found in the Psalms which is current since the liturgical reform after Vatican II, conforms to this criterion. According to it the Old Testament is considered as an anthology from which the most suitable passages may be selected.
Even in this model there remains the risk of a loss of meaning and impoverishment. In fact selectivity is in itself a form of rejection, if not total (as in Marcionism) or from within (as in allegorisation) at least of a partial nature. Such a risk exists primarily with regard to certain readings as for example the Advent retadings from the Prophets. A long Christian tradition, embedded in the general unconscious, considers these to be a description "ante litteram" of what Jesus would say and do.(7) It is undoubtedly correct to apply a prophetic text to Christ, but on condition that such an exercise does not empty the text of its first and fundamental meaning, which was not to foresee in advance the birth and life of Jesus the Messiah, but to announce with certainty the advent of a just world, according to the plan of God. If the Christian community refers certain prophetic passages to Christ it is because it sees in him the principle by which the realisation of this just world will be achieved. Today after the giant strides made in biblical studies, respect for the intentionality of the text must constitute for all a fundamental point of no :return. Every reflection theologically based on the relationship between the two testaments cannot do other than make this principle its starting point.


Throughout the Old Testament texts there is to be found a precise vision of reality, reality as covenant. The New Testament inserts Jesus of Nazareth into this vision of reality and understands him in this context. He lived by it and for it until death. Insofar as it is a "vision of reality" the Old Testament shows itself to be like a "structure" and therefore of permanent value, beyond rejection, spiritualisation and utilisation as a mere tool. The principal lines of this structure will be presented in order to demonstrate the consequences for the relationship between the two Testaments.

The Affirmation of the World as Benediction:
In the Old Testament the world is conceived of as fundamentally positive, springing happy and shining from the hands of God. The basic texts for this concept are the two accounts of creation. In the first (Genesis 1) after every act of creation the author comments "God saw that it was good" doll. In the vision of God, a vision which is creative, not lust constitutive, the world is all good at a threefold level: because it responds to the needs of humanity (functional); because it is beautiful and fulfilled in itself (aesthetic) and above all because it is willed by God as the concrete sign of his loving kindness.

In the second, edenic account (Genesis 2) the same affirmations are to be found: the world in which God has placed the human race is a world self-evidently at harmony with itself (the symbol of nudity before the advent of sin), with woman (-flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone"), with nature ("A garden in Eden") and with God ("God walking in the garden" Gen. 3:8). These symbols are not childish pictures or the products of wishful thinking but an affirmation of the ontological goodness of the world expressed in narrative form. They do not say how the world is in tact, nor how humanity might like it to be in imagination but how it came forth from the hands of God, thus how it was conceived by the divine will. Therefore they affirm the world as the habitation of Meaning, where it is possible to live fully, where existence and essence, the real and the ideal, are reconciled with each other.

The Principle of Covenant
But this world resplendent with meaning, is not offered to the human race naturally; rather it is entrusted to their obedient freedom. The world remains objectively good if accepted and lived according to the plan of the creator. If not, the place of benediction is transformed into a place of malediction and paradise becomes hell. Deuteronomy 30:15-20, one of the most frequently used texts of the Old Testament and one of the most paradoxical, thus establishes the principle which binds together inseparably on one side obedience and benediction and on the other disobedience and death:
"See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil (v. 15). I command. You this day then you shall live and multiply (v. 16) But if your heart turns away and you will not hear (v. 17) I declare to you this day that you shall perish18) I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live (v. 19)".

These verses interpret in the form of law and principle what is expressed in the garb of narrative in the creation myth and the fall. Verses 15, 16, 19 render explicit the logic of Genesis 2. Paradise remains what it is thanks to "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil"; that is to say within the limits of an obedience which is accepted. On the contrary v. 17 makes explicit Genesis 3 where the transformation of paradise into hen is the immediate consequence of Adam's disobedience.

To affirm that the goodness of the world depends on human responsibility is to say that it is not a given fact (necessarily or accidentally) nor an illusory dream (born of Utopia) but an objective possibility, the translation of which into reality depends upon personal liberty. This is the profound significance of the category of covenant, in the light of which Israel re-interpreted and constructed as history and according to which God associated it with his creative plan, guaranteeing in exchange an abundance of the fruits of the earth. The Book of Exodus is the text par excellence in which this argument is developed in narrative form. Over and above the three principal moments (Egypt. Sinai, Promised Land) around which the Book is judiciously organised, it shows the rigorous structure, bilateral and conditional, of the covenant: 1) God calls Israel to the obedience of the Torah (revelation on Sinai); 2) If Israel will be obedient to the Law of God, the People will enter the land; if not, they will not enter it and will lose it.

This means to say that the covenant is more than just one incident within creation; it is the very condition of creation, according to rabbinical teaching which considers humanity to be as necessary to the right functioning of the world as God himself:
"Judaism teaches that as humanity has need of God, so God has need of humanity for the realisation of his plan ... according to the rabbis God created the world in germ, leaving the continuity of the creative process to humanity. God has need of humanity as copartner in the construction of his kingdom on earth"(8).

But this affirmation of principle, that the goodness of the world depends on subjective goodness, came to be presented in the Old Testament texts, as continually and implacably refuted. This is to say that subjective goodness never existed and the world in fact is precipitated into negation by the disobedience of Adam. Loosing his will from the will of God he -recognised that he was naked". that is that he had lost innocence and had historically, become the principle of evil.
The vision of Israel in the face of evil is thus condensed into three fundamental affirmations: 1) the ontological goodness of the world; 2) personal responsibility as a necessary condition for the unfolding of such goodness; 3) recognition of the fact that there does not exist a radically good subject capable of living according to the creator's plan.

Jesus and the Covenant Structure:
What does the New Testament do in the face of this vision of reality? It assumes it integrally, saying that one man, Jesus of Nazareth, who lived according to the covenant principle and who in that way reactivated in history the goodness of the world according to the creator's plan, became for this reason the obedient Adam, the Messiah, the "new" Adam; new because he did what the other had failed to do.
If the New Testament assumes integrally the vision of reality as it is found in the Old Testament, one cannot speak, at this level, of either rejection (first model), spiritualisation (second), or utilisation as a tool (third), but of a real continuity. Its specificity must therefore be sought elsewhere, not in the modification of the vision, giving it a new dimension or perfecting it, but in living it, in incarnating it. According to the rich Pauline expression, Jesus is "Yes" to the Old Testament, he is the one who said "Yes" to the will of the Father, to the vision of reality expressed in the Old Testament texts (2 Cor. 1:20). Through his "Yes" the whole of humanity can now do the same: "That is why we utter the 'Amen' through him, to the glory of God" (v. 20).

Strictly speaking therefore, the New Testament neither adds to nor modifies the Old Testament but incarnates it. When speaking of "incarnation" however, one must understand that this is not a simple juxtaposition with the assumed reality but through that assumption a better understanding of it is acheved. In fact if on one hand to say "yes" to love means simply to "receive" it (it would be absurd to speak of rejecting or surpassing it), on the other hand it is only in receiving it that its intrinsic truth is understood. Thus there is established an essential reciprocity between the Old Testament and the New, each enlightening and being enlightened by the other. The New Testament. living according to the logic of the Old Testament covenant, also contributes to its redefinition, rediscovering its radical meaning over and beyond the inevitable cultural conditioning. As is well known the Word of God always comes to us "in the words" of human beings. This also holds good for the vision of reality embedded in the Old Testament texts; it comes to us in specific modes which, while transmitting it, cannot help but impose limitations on it. From this point of view the New Testament plays a hermeneutic role vis-a-vis the Old which neither empties it of meaning nor interprets it literally, but seeks the permanent meaning within it. This principle is valid not only for the Old Testament in respect of the New. but for the New Testament itself with regard to other great human texts, religious or not, and indeed for any texts which are compared with others. Between the Old Testament, New Testament and other great cultural texts, there exists an almost infinite interplay of opening-up and reciprocal illumination which, a priori, it is impossible either to define or to limit. By way of example, one thinks of how scientific discoveries have contributed to a new understanding of the creation stories in Genesis; how social emancipation has led to a rethinking of the practice of slavery; how today, tragic events such as Auschwitz and Hiroshima have led to a reinterpretation of those structures of violence within which the biblical notion of Shalom has been handed down.(9)


The correct relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament can be summarised in two principal affirmations:
1) The Old Testament provides a sense of meaning or a vision of reality, according to which everything stands or falls on personal responsibility of the individual called upon to will the same good as God wills. In the New Testament Jesus is the radically good subject who has lived by this meaning and according to it. By doing this he has opened up the same possibility to all history. At this level the Old Testament is neither rejected nor emptied of meaning but only "lived", "incarnated". Jesus does not go beyond the Old Testament; he makes it his own by actualising it.

2) In so far as the Old Testament, as provider of a sense of meaning is embodied in a series of texts, it is subject, as is all textual material, to historical-cultural conditioning which, while mediating this meaning (and it cannot fail to do so), at the same time limits it (and likewise it cannot fail to do so). At this level the Old Testament presents a more complicated and variegated situation, (the same may be said of the New Testament at the level of concrete objectivity), in which some things are surpassed, others integrated, other relativised. But it must remain clear that the meaning of the Old Testament is not in question, only the historical-cultural details which clothe that meaning and which by clothing it also serve to conceal it.

From this point of view one may speak of a critical role played by the New Testament in respect to the Old which is not rejected in toto (Marcion) nor accepted in its entirety (fundamentalism) but interpreted in depth (hermeneutics). Thereby certain texts are given their true dimensions (e.g. the laws on purity), others are given back their indisputable priority (e.g. love of neighbour) and yet others are relativised (in the etymological sense of "put in relationship to"), like the norms laid down for the observance of the Sabbath (10).

However a critical attitude towards a particular text does not mean rejection or criticism of the meaning behind it, quite the opposite: It is to free it from the historical and cultural limitations in which it is enmeshed, so that it can shine forth in splendour. This means that the Old Testament not only has a "permanent" value (as the Notes of 1985 affirm), it not only contains a heritage of meaning which is at the disposition of all generations, but it has the potential to be an ever living and ever new reality according to the way different cultures come into contact with it.

In Jeremiah 23:29 the prophet compares the word of God to a fire and to a hammer that splits rocks: "Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces?". The Rabbinic tradition loves to connect these two images and to speak of the word of God like a hammer that, beating on the rock that is the history of humanity, produces here, every time, sparks. These sparks are the diverse interpretations of the Torah, as many as there are human generations."

Old Testament and New Testament (custodians of Meaning like all great religious texts) are the sparks of the one Word of God. always surpassing and transcending the necessary but fragile human words which embody it.

Carmine Di Sante is a theologian and liturgist, author of a number of works (notably La Preghiera di Israele, Marietti; it will soon be published in English by Paulist Press. N.Y. and L'Eucaristia Terra di Renedizione, edizione Dehoniane Bologna).
He is a member of the SIDIC team.
This article has been translated from the Italian. It will appear in Rassegna di Teologia later this year.
1. The terms "old" and "new" in this context are so deeply embedded in the Christian tradition that it is difficult to find alternatives. Nevertheless they are problematic and can lead to grave misinterpretations. Readers are referred to SIDIC Vol. XIX No. 2 1986 pp. 29-31 (editor's note).
2. See H. Groner, ed. Stepping Stones to Further Jewish-Christian Relations, Landon/New York. Stimulus Books. 1977 and More Stepping Stones to Jewish Christian Relations, 1985.
3. Jules Isaac: Jesus et Israel, Paris, Albin Michel, 1948 (english transaltion: Jesus and Israel, New York, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 19711.
4. Nietzsche. Par dela le bien et le mai, 1111. 52; cf. ib. 25.
5. Cf. Armido Rizzi: Dio in cerca dell ‘uomo. Rifare la spintualità, ed. Paoline. Milano 1983, pp. 24-31. 32-51.
6. Ernesto Balducci: "The Bible and the Transition from a War Culture to a Peace Culture", Stoic, Vol. XXI. No. 1, 1988. P. 7.
7. J. Pawlikowski: "Preserving the Integrity of Judaism in Advent Preaching" SIDIC, Vol. XIX, No. 2, 1986, 38/39.
8. W.B. Silverman, in S. Greenberg, ed. A Modern Treasury of Jewish Thoughts, Th. Yoseloff. New York, 1968, p. 74.
9. Cf. E. Balducci, op. cit., p 8.
10. Cf. G. SegaIla. "L'uso dell'Antico Testamento nel Nuevo. possibile base per una nuova teologia biblica". in Rivista Biblica, XXXII (1984) p. 161.174 (especially pp. 171-173).


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