What are the Scriptures?
I was celebrating my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary yesterday. While I was speaking with someone, this thought came up in the conversation. I had already written this, but just not posted it. I pray that today, as you read the Words of God, that you will dig a bit deeper. We cannot be afraid of the fact that the Bible was written by Jewish people, who lived Jewish lives, and followed the Torah. And when the Torah is celebrated and understood in the right context, it is beautiful.
Romans 15:4 New International Version (NIV) 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
Romans 15:4 English Standard Version (ESV) 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
The two verses above are the same verse from two different translations. Both of the verses above use the word, “Scriptures” in them. When I saw this verse posted on Facebook the other day, I stopped to think about when Paul wrote these words. I realized that there might be a common day misunderstanding about what the word, “Scripture” means.
When Paul was writing to the Roman followers of The Way (those who believed that Jesus was the Messiah), the only “words” they had were the books of the “Old Testament.” The words that were “written in the past,” or “written in former days” are the words that were given to Moses and the prophets. These early communities of faith lived by the words of what we know as the “Old Testament.”
Therefore, when Paul was referring to the “endurance taught in the Scriptures,” it should be very clear that he was speaking of the teachings in the “Old Testament.” I keep putting this in quotes, because I do not like to refer to it as such. I prefer to use the word Torah (which is technically the first five books of the Bible) or the word Covenant. It can also be called the Tanakh. This refers to all the books in what we commonly call the “Old Testament,” which is the Torah, Prophets, Writings. I like these words because it does not place the word “old” in the title and make it sound as if these books are obsolete.
There is nothing obsolete about these books. Jesus referred to them often and quoted them throughout His teachings. Paul did as well. These teachings were the only ones these communities had to read. If they were that important for the early communities of faith, they should be just as important for us today.
It is time for us to understand the roots of our faith and read the book of Romans through the lens that recognizes Paul was Jewish. He was writing to Jewish communities (and included the Gentiles that chose to join those fellowships). This insight and knowledge would cause us to realize that “Scriptures” means Tanakh. A translation that helps us gain this insight is called the Complete Jewish Bible. If we read the same verse in this version it says,
Romans 15:4 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) 4 For everything written in the past was written to teach us, so that with the encouragement of the Tanakh we might patiently hold on to our hope.
I believe that the translations I quoted at the beginning of this note cause us to think of “Scriptures” as what we read in the “New Testament.” Our minds have been bent to think that these were “written in the past,” so that must be what Paul is speaking of. However, when we stop and realize that when Paul wrote what he did, none of the “New Testament” had been formed yet. We must realize that the words that “bring us hope” have to be from the Tanakh.
By stating all of this, am I trying to conclude that the “New Testament” is not for us today? No… I truly believe we must also hold to what is taught in this New Covenant (Jesus did bring a new understanding and fulfillment to the Words God gave Moses, the Prophets and Writers). However, we cannot say that the words of the “old” are done away with. We cannot push those teachings aside. We must embrace them with all sincerity and realize they bring as much Truth as the words Jesus spoke. According to this teaching of Paul, these are the Words that bring us HOPE!
It is time we realize that the whole Book we call the Word of God works together. The “New” does not replace the “Old.” It is one continuous book from beginning to end. Paul did not get rid of the teachings of the Tanakh. He strongly encouraged everyone to follow the Words God gave Moses. It is time we understand that the Words given in the Tanakh hold as much HOPE as the Words Jesus spoke. I like to think they are secret gems hidden from many, but to those who seek, they will find. I pray you too will seek out the HOPE in everything “written in the past.”