OT and the apostles


The New Testament is full of references to the OT. Jesus is often referring to passages from the OT. My question is how much of the OT was available and used by the Jerusalem community during the time of Christ. I mean, which books were part of the OT at that time?
Did the OT consist of all the books we have now? Any answer would be greatly appreciated.


Yes, the Old Testament existed as a written document at the time of Christ. Only, it was not known as the Old Testament because the New Testament had not yet come into existance. Christ and His Apostles as observant Jews read and studied the Torah ( the Five Books of Moses), just as observant Jews do to this day.


They didn’t carry around OT Bibles or have a whole collection of the OT on hand, but most of the time they would have read them in individual books on scrolls and papyrus. The Greek Septuagint was used and quoted from by the NT authors a lot. Also all the discoveries of the Dead Sea scrolls reveal a great deal of what the contemporaries of the Apostles read. And all the ancient manuscripts are evidence that our Bible today has been accurately preserved.


My question has to do with access rather than preservation.

Which parts of what we now call the OT were available to the apostles during the time of Christ. Can we assume that the text were available at the temple only or did people not directly connected with the temple have access?


The OT was certainly available at the temple and local synagogues. Certain passages were read every Sabbath (Saturday) in accordance with the Jewish liturgical year, much similar to our Mass readings.


Passages from Scripture were apparently read and commented upon in the synagogues. Now that being said, since scrolls tended to be expensive, not every synagogue would have had a copy of every individual book (remember that the idea of putting all the literature deemed to be authoritative and/or sacred was still centuries away). At best, they might have only likely had copies of the more popular works, say Isaiah or the Psalms. (Fun fact: the Psalms, Deuteronomy, and Isaiah are the three most attested biblical books among the Dead Sea Scrolls - incidentally, Isaiah and the Psalms are also two of the most-quoted and alluded OT books in the NT.) Sometimes they probably might not have even had formal copies at all but a collection of excerpts from different books known as a florilegium.


Great post! :thumbsup:


Thank you Patrick,

This is the path I have been pursuing. Somewhere in some writing of Pope Benedict I came upon a causal comment about which part of the OT would have been available to Jesus. It was just that, a small comment, and it made me wonder.


The question you didn’t ask was whether the Septuagint is available today?

Yes, there are english translations such as this


This is a book which is high on my wish list (after I do my income tax). Somewhere, in the last few days, I came across a comment that in your standard Catholic Bible, a quotation from the OT may not actually match the OT verse to which it refers. That’s because the NT is based on the Septuagint, whereas the Catholic Bible publishers seem to want to provide the Jewish Masoretic version, except for the deuterocanonical books, which the Masortic text does not have. This is much more confusing a topic than I thought it was, when I stumbled on to it.

A couple of the gospels may have been written in Aramaic (sp.?) but were passed on in Greek translation, which complicates things, further. Some Greek (and hence modern English) translations are suspect for this reason, that the vocabulary used was not available in Aramaic. Hence, some loss of certainty exists even about the accuracy of the Greek translation, and, hence (again) about what the originals (which now are lost) actually said.

So, as someone noted earlier, your question is a bit of a trick question. As the NT wasn’t written all at once, but only years afterward, and then the texts canonized into the NT for hundreds of years, it’s really hard to say which texts they had and when they had them.

In his book “Tradition and the Church”, Msgr George Agius said (c.1928) that the gospel was spreading far and wide without a written NT. He makes the startling assertion that the Church didn’t even need a NT but which we got anyway, as a divine gift. So, he underscores that uncertainty about what the apostles themselves had and when they had it.


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