How Jews and Christians read the Bible

18. November 2021 18:00

The Revd Professor John Barton, D.Phil., D.Litt. (Oxford), Dr.theol. h.c. (Bonn), FBA

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It is often said that Jews and Christians share the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), even though they differ over the status of the New Testament. In fact they read the Hebrew Bible itself in such different ways that it is almost as though they were two different sets of books. With such a large and heterogeneous work as the Bible, the reader needs some kind of overarching principle or structure to make it comprehensible. Jews have found this in the concept of torah—guidance for living. Christians have seen the Old Testament as telling a story, which is completed in the New Testament—a story of human disaster followed by divine rescue. Catholics and Protestants have both embraced this way of reading the Bible, though in the past Catholics often treated the Old Testament allegorically for these purposes, which Protestants generally resisted. Traditional Jewish and traditional Christian ways of reading the Bible are really incompatible, though there have been various attempts to bring them closer together. The stakes are high, as bound up in the question of Bible-reading is the wider question of how Christians should relate to Judaism and Jews to Christianity.

The Revd Professor John Barton, D.Phil., D.Litt. (Oxford), Dr.theol. h.c. (Bonn), FBA
Born 17 June 1948
Keble College, Oxford, BA in Theology 1969, D.Phil. 1974. – Junior Research Fellow, Merton College, Oxford 1973-4.
University Lecturer in Theology (Old Testament), University of Oxford, 1974-89 – Reader in Biblical Studies, University of Oxford, 1989-91 – Oriel & Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, Universiy of Oxford, 1991-2014
Senior Research Fellow, Campion Hall, Oxford, 2014-
Ordained in Church of England 1973.
Books include Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical Study (1984), Ethics in Ancient Israel (2014), A History of the Bible: The Book and its Faiths (2019), Die Geschichte der Bibel, Klett-Cotta 2020.

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