Reading the Old Testament with the Ancient Church: Exploring the Formation of Early Christian Thought. By Ronald E. Heine
Article first published online: 27 NOV 2008
© The author 2009. Journal compilation © Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered 2009
The Heythrop Journal
Volume 50, Issue 1, pages 122–123, January 2009
How to Cite
Meconi, D. V. (2009), Reading the Old Testament with the Ancient Church: Exploring the Formation of Early Christian Thought. By Ronald E. Heine. The Heythrop Journal, 50: 122–123. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2265.2009.00438_4.x
- Issue published online: 27 NOV 2008
- Article first published online: 27 NOV 2008
Pp. 204 , Baker Academic , 2007 , £10.00/$19.00
Lately there have been more and more monographs exploring the use of the Hebrew scriptures in the theology, the preaching, and the pastoral care of the early Christian church. Works ranging from the more straightforward The Old Testament in Early Christianity (Wipf and Stock, 2003) by E. Earle Ellis to the more subtle, such as Jason Byassee's recent Praise Seeking Understanding: Reading the Psalms with Augustine (Eerdmans, 2007) have set out to show the Jewish influences on both the canonical as well as the ecclesial formation of early Christian thought and practice. Professor of Bible and Christian ministry at Northwest College in Eugene, Oregon, Heine likewise shows how the Hebrew Scriptures came to be canonized and utilized by the earliest Christians.
In his introductory chapter he traces (what he erroneously terms the ‘rediscovery’ of) the various attitudes toward the Old Testament at the time of the Protestant Reformation: Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin are all introduced. From there he turns to the Enlightenment and Romantic periods, covering the English Deists, Locke, Kant, and Schleiermacher, before treating the Moderns – namely, von Harnack, Barth, and Bultmann. The reason for opening with such a survey is to show the various approaches Christians through the ages have manifested toward the Old Testament, but one wonders what scholarly justification can be given for beginning with Luther and ending with Bultmann, purposefully excluding any Catholic or Orthodox lights from such a landscape.
Chapter 1 looks at the earliest development of the Christian canon and here Heine is less polemical, offering a helpful albeit limited survey of the Apostolic Fathers and Justin Martyr (certainly Tatian and Tertullian's idiosyncrasies deserve a place here). More illuminating is his elucidation of the various versions of the Old Testament used by the Fathers: the Septuagint, the Old Latin, the Peshitta, and the Targumim.
Chapter 2 treats the early Church's incorporation of the Jewish scriptures, especially as opposed to the Jews' original understanding of their own texts, as opposed to the Gnostics' dismissal of major sections of the story of creation and Israel's own narrative, and the Marcionite wholesale dismissal. Chapter 3 telescopes this more overarching approach into the story of the Exodus itself. This is quite helpful, as we come to see how the pivotal story of Israel is appropriated and translated by Christians in various ways (most of the attention is on the examples of Origen and Gregory of Nyssa) to explain Christ as the new Lamb of God, the salvific import of the desert, and of course baptism.
Chapter 4 is an application of Jerome's famous line in his letter to Paulinus, that the prophet Isaiah has composed more of ‘a gospel than a prophecy’ and King David ‘resounds Christ from his lyre’ (ep. 53.8), as Heine turns his attention to how the Fathers understood how the Old Testament points to the enfleshed Messiah. Chapter 5 looks at the use of the Psalter and how these hymns became the prayers of the earliest Christian communities; here Heine focuses on Origen, Jerome, and Augustine. Chapter 6 concludes this work by raising the issue of continuing what the Fathers began, and ‘living the text’ is a call for the modern reader to imitate the saints and not only know (and memorize) Scripture but to let it shape and form one's vocabulary, one's thinking, and one's actions.
Heine's overview of the Old Testament's use in the early Church is a thematic trace of pivotal topics. He cannot cover everything but he does see how Christianity, while breaking into history as something radically new, relied on the Old Testament to provide ‘the framework in which [Jesus Christ's] birth, ministry, passion, resurrection, and exaltation were viewed … The Old Testament was [the first Christians'] prayer book as well as their primer in the faith’ (p. 193). Some may find Heine's summarizing approach as well as his unapologetic embrace of Christianity as a living and faithful guide off-putting; but for the exact same reasons, others may find this volume rather refreshing. It would, however, prove most useful with those beginning to seek a fuller vision of the organic nature of Christian development.