July 10, 2006
OT, NT, and QT
— Martin E. Marty
I don't know whether this is making a mountain out of a mountain or only a bigger molehill out of a little molehill: It's a tiny item in a brisk and enjoyable local column, one that trades on a syndrome evidenced in our daily readings having to do with "the God of the Old Testament" versus "the God of the New Testament" — or in this case, with what Jesus asserts that the Old Testament does not. Here it is in entirety, from Zay N. Smith's QT column in the Chicago Sun-Times (July 5):
Headline: "What Would Jesus Pay?" Story: "News Headline: Faith-based groups join effort to increase the minimum wage, citing obligation to help the least among us." QT comment: "How many times does Karl Rove have to tell them? Old Testament, Old Testament, Old Testament. Get this New Testament out of here." If I am reading this right, some exegesis is in place. Here goes:
QT assumes that a) "faith-based groups" are all conservative evangelicals, but there are others; b) it is out of character for evangelicals, especially those in the Christian Right, to support an increase in the minimum wage, but many moderate evangelicals are changing; c) we'll know that the reference to "the least of these" is from Jesus, the New Testament, Matthew 25:35 - 40; and d) Karl Rove, usually a supporter of faith-based groups, would not like to hear words of Jesus connected with debates over an increase in the minimum wage. So far, so good.
Assumption e) is the problem. In that reading, concern for the least — the hungry, thirsty, falsely imprisoned, those lacking clothes and friends — is only a New-Testament-based concern, so the New Testament has to be gotten out of the public policy debate. Again, if I read it right — and reading it as I do here is what prompts this comment — QT sees "the Old Testament, Old Testament, Old Testament" as a text that allows for no concern for "the least of these."
Assumptions of this sort go back in early Christianity to the heretic Marcion and the Marcionites, who posed a wrong God of the Old Testament versus a right God associated with Jesus in the New Testament. Marcion even jettisoned the Old Testament, the only scripture Jesus knew, along with passages in New Testament texts that reflected the Old. It's one of the more favored heresies — if I may use that word — in our culture. Jews, stuck with the God from which Marcion wanted to get Christians unstuck, have most at stake here. Christians have second most, since they are also stuck, believing in the God of the Old Testament and God's concerns there revealed. Third, everyone else who cares about "the least" has something at risk, too, because the prophets and other Old Testament (= Hebrew Scriptures) writings offer hundreds and hundreds of commands, demands, appeals, prompts, and promises connected with caring for the least. (Try Isaiah 58 for starters.) And the more citizens that respond to more texts that show more concern for more "outs," the better off we'll be in a culture that claims devotion to those Scriptures.
So, Karl, QT might better say, Read also the Old Testament, Old Testament, Old Testament — and along with it the New — but read both with more empathic and humane interest in mind.
For Further Reading:
For a short summary of "Biblical Basics on Justice" in the Old and New Testaments, please visit Bread for the World at: http://www.bread.org/get-involved/at-church/biblical-basics-on-justice.html.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.