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Old Testament in the New

by
27 June 2011

Peter Anthony reads a useful survey of what the scholars say

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Jesus and Scripture
Steve Moyise

SPCK £12.99
(978-0-281-06217-1)
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

STEVE MOYISE has produced an excellent, and much needed, intro­duction to the question of how the Gospel-writers present Jesus’s under­standing and use of the Old Testament.

This is an area of scriptural study notorious for being fiendishly complex, and frequently made unrelievedly boring by the scholars that discuss it. Moyise’s presentation of the subject is, however, neither of these things. He has produced here a very approachable undergraduate-level introduction to the subject, which is eminently readable.

The first chapters run through the four Gospels, examining the way in which they present Jesus inter­pret­ing the scriptural tradition of Israel, how the Old Testament is quoted in polemical contexts, and how the Gospel-writers themselves present the actions and words of Jesus as fulfilling the prophetic tradition. We are introduced to the usual range of explanations that seek to account for the complexities of the relationship between the Gos­pels, as well as the critical methods used in historical-Jesus research.

Moyise then proceeds, in the second half of the book, to give an outline and critique of three ap­proaches. The first is what he terms the “minimalist” school, typified by scholars such as Vermes, Crossan, and Borg, which is sceptical that any of Jesus’s quotations of scripture in the Gospels is anything other than a fabrication by the Gospel-writers. Second, he outlines the “moderate” outlook taken by Tom Wright and James Dunn, which sees the Gospels as able to give us a substantial and reliable understanding of Jesus’s interaction with the scriptures of Israel, even though this is mediated by the theological commitments of the gospel writers. Last, Moyise reviews the “maximalist” position taken by more conservative scholars who seek to defend every quotation of the Old Testament as entirely attributable to the historical Jesus.

In his short conclusion, Moyise makes it clear that his sympathies lie with the “moderate” school, but offers an incisive critique of the broader debate. Criteria held up as being the impartial key to discern­ment of authentic or inauthentic sayings are frequently not much more than attempts to defend the presuppositions of the scholars who apply them. He rightly sees much of the discussion as a proxy for broader hermeneutical questions concerning whether texts have “fixed” meaning or whether context is important in the emergence of new interpretation and meaning.

This is a very good introduction to a subject that can be dauntingly complicated. Moyise is to be con­gratulated for a useful, clear, and lucid book.

The Revd Peter Anthony is Junior Dean of St Stephen’s House, Oxford, and Junior Chaplain of Merton College, Oxford.

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