Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Consuming the Word Chapter 3: The New Testament in the New Testament
Getting the terms right from the beginning is essential. The word "testament" which comes from the Latin is diatheke in Greek and is most often translated into English as "covenant." (The older Douay-Rheims is helpful here in that it translated the Latin novum testamentum as "new testament" and not "new covenant" in the institution narratives. See page 20 in Hahn's book for more on this.) Diatheke is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word for "covenant" which is berith. In the Old Testament, "New Testament" or berith chadasha appears only once, and that is in the famous passage found in Jeremiah 31:31. The covenants that God made with his people in the Old Testament form the basic identity of the children of Israel. These covenants were "normally marked by a solemn ritual oath, sealed with a blood sacrifice and. often, with a shared meal (18)." So, when Jeremiah prophesies a new covenant, he notes that it will indeed be new, but it won't be completely different or divorced from the pattern of the earlier covenants.
As stated earlier, "new covenant" is found six times in the Christian scriptures. Yet, the only place that Jesus mentions the "new covenant" is during the Last Supper. He doesn't use the term to denote a book, but rather a sacred bond initiated through a sacred meal (21). The beginning of his passion, which will inaugurate the "New Covenant," begins with a sacred passover meal with the apostles. "Thus, in Jesus's only use of the term, we find that 'New Testament' refers not to a text, but to a rite and to the new order brought about by means of that rite (22)." Even when the term "new testament/covenant" is found in the New Testament Letters is appears most often in relation to discussions on liturgy and priestly service (22). Therefore, according to Hahn, it is clear that "when the phrase 'new testament/covenant' appears in the document now known as the New Testament, it appears consistently amid the discussion of sacrificial liturgy and priestly office (23)."
Hahn concludes this section by pointing out that the only way a person could make the connection that the crucifixion of Jesus was a sacrifice, instead of simply a public execution, was the offering Jesus made during the Last Supper (24-25). The Last Supper explains the what and the why of the Good Friday death of Jesus.