Knowledge of New Testament background has undergone what amounts to a revolution since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This revolution involves both history and vocabulary. It does not call in question the basic New Testament faith in the risen Jesus as God’s Messiah and God’s Only-begotten; rather, it is one of knowledge and perspective.

Inevitably this revolution has overturned a great deal of the work done by New Testament scholars in the past hundred and fifty years. Most of this work was honest and painstaking, and much of it was perceptive, even brilliant. But it was limited by a lack of the assured controlling evidence now available in such large measure. How unfortunate it is that many of the giants of the new Testament field worked and died before the dramatic discoveries at Qumran.

One must say also, however, that some New Testament work has been capricious, based on philosophical presuppositions that ought never to have been applied to any discipline claiming to be based on historical evidence. At times such work has even been done against a background of ill-concealed anti-Semitism, on the assumption that the Old Testament and the history of Israel are not truly a “word of God” to this or any other generation.

A Jewish Environment

Only those who still resist the evidence can fail to realize that the whole background of the New Testament is thoroughly Jewish—Jewish in assumptions and in habits of thinking—and is derived from the basic concepts of the Old Testament and its faith in the active intervention of God in human history.

The known historical background of the New Testament was far from simple before the Qumran discoveries of 1947. Iranian dualism, astral determinism, the revolt of many of the “pious ...

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