The Literature and History of the New Testament (1915) [Lesson 5]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

The Jewish Background of Christianity: II. The Judaism of the Dispersion

(pp.26-30)

A) About the author of the chapter:

John Gresham Machen “studied at Johns Hopkins University, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the universities at Marburg and Göttingen. In 1906 he joined the faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary …

He left Princeton in 1929, after the school was reorganized and adopted a more accepting attitude toward liberal Protestantism, and he helped found Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.” [1]

[1] https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Gresham-Machen

B) Chapter Summary:

“Any Jew who really had a message could be heard. He needed only to go in and sit down. Acts 13:14. Paul and Barnabas had no difficulty in making their fitness known. “Brethren,” said the rulers of the synagogue, “if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.” Acts 13:15. They had a word of exhortation indeed. “Jesus is the Messiah for whom you are waiting. He has died for your sins. He has risen from the dead, and is now alive to save you.”1

“The native Jews, it is true, soon came out in opposition. The reasons for their opposition are not far to seek. Jealousy was an important factor. Christianity was evidently too radical a thing to be simply a sect of Judaism. If allowed to continue, it would destroy the prerogatives of Israel. It could not be controlled. Its success was too great. On that next Sabbath in Pisidian Antioch, “almost the whole city was gathered together to hear the word of God.” The Jewish mission had never had a success like that. “When the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy.” Christianity had taken away the heritage of Israel.”2

“One service which the dispersion rendered to Christianity has been illustrated by the scene at Pisidian Antioch. That service was the providing of an audience. Another service was the assurance of legal protection. This may be illustrated by another incident in The Acts—the appeal to Gallio. Acts 18:12-17. There the opposition of the Jews appears in all its bitterness. No doubt that opposition was a serious hindrance to the work of the Church. Just because Christianity was regarded as a Jewish sect, the Christians were subject to persecution by the Jewish authorities. But persecutions by the Jews, annoying though they were, were far less serious than opposition on the part of the Roman authorities. And the latter was, at first, conspicuously absent. Gallio’s decision is a fair example of the general attitude of the Roman magistrates. Christianity, as a Jewish sect, was allowed to go its way. Judaism, despite itself, afforded the Church legal protection.”3

1. The Causes and Extent of the Disperstion

“Deportations of Jews to foreign countries took place at various times. The most famous of those deportations was carried out by Nebuchadnezzar after his conquest of Judah, about 600 B. C. Many of Nebuchadnezzar’s captives did not join in the return under the Persian monarchy, but remained permanently in the east and formed the nucleus of the large Jewish population of Mesopotamia. When Pompey conquered Palestine in the first century before Christ, he carried many Jews as slaves to Rome. Afterwards they were liberated, and formed a large Jewish colony at the capital of the empire. These are merely examples. Part of the dispersion was due to forcible exile.”4

“Harnack calculates that at the time of the death of Augustus there were from four million to four and a half million Jews in the Roman Empire, including about seven hundred thousand in Palestine, and that, if that estimate be correct, then the Jews formed perhaps some seven per cent of the total population. Of course, Harnack is himself the first to admit that such calculations are exceedingly uncertain. But so much at least is clear—the Jews in the first century were surprisingly numerous.”5

2. The Septuagint Translation and the Language of the New Testament

“The name “Septuagint,” derived from the Latin word for “seventy,” has been applied to the Alexandrian translation of the Old Testament in reference to an ancient story about its origin. According to this story, the translation was made by seventy-two men summoned from Jerusalem by Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, in order to add the Jewish law to the royal library at Alexandria. The story is certainly not true in details, and is probably not even correct in representing the translation as destined primarily for the royal library. More probably the translation was intended for the Greek-speaking Jews of Egypt.”6

“The Septuagint is a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek world language of the period, and into the popular, spoken form of that language, not into the literary form. The translation differs widely in character in the different books, for many different translators had a part in it. Some of the books are translated with such slavish literalness as to be almost unintelligible to a Greek. Everywhere, indeed, the influence of the Hebrew original makes itself felt to some degree. Hebrew idioms are often copied in the translation instead of being remolded according to the peculiarities of the Greek language.”7

“The Septuagint exerted an important influence upon the language of the New Testament. The Septuagint was the Greek Bible of the New Testament writers, and the influence of a Bible upon language is very strong. A good example is afforded by the influence of the King James Version upon the whole development of modern English. It is not surprising, therefore, that as the Septuagint was influenced by Hebrew, so the language of the New Testament also displays a Semitic coloring. That coloring was induced partly by the Septuagint, but it was also induced in other ways. Part of the New Testament, for example the words of Jesus, goes back ultimately to an Aramaic original. All the New Testament writers except one were Jews, and had spoken Aramaic as well as Greek. No wonder, then, that their Greek was influenced by the Semitic languages. This Semitic influence upon the language of the New Testament is not so great as was formerly supposed, but it cannot be ignored. The New Testament is written in the natural, non-literary form of the Greek world language. That is the main thing to be said. But upon this base is superposed an appreciable influence of Hebrew and Aramaic.”8

 

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