Timothy J. McNulty, the public editor of the Chicago Tribune, wrote an article in which he discusses the issue of how to call the first section of the Bible. The following is an excerpt of his article:
The message was polite but firm: Please stop referring to the "Old Testament."
"Some, maybe many, Jews take offense at use of the term 'Old Testament,' " complained reader Dick Nugent. "We don't have a new testament, so our book is not an old testament."
The historical context is obvious, but the reader is correct, newspapers do not commonly take one religion's terminology to describe the works of another religion.
Better to say the "Hebrew Bible," Nugent suggested helpfully. To be even more specific, the newspaper could use the term "Tanak," an acronym for the five books of the Torah, the teaching of the prophets known as neviim, and the ketuvim, the other sacred writings.
Getting rid of the term Old Testament would stir some controversy and, more to the point, it may be confusing to many readers. The Tribune's stylebook, a guide for consistency and fairness, is silent on the term Hebrew Bible, but language is dynamic and change is a constant at newspapers. More on this later
Language maven William Safire tried to deal with the Old Testament issue several years ago and, after consulting with experts, he found those who suggested "First Testament" or "Early Scriptures" as alternatives. Some dismissed the term Hebrew Bible because originally part of it was in Aramaic; others thought it meant that the text could only be read in Hebrew. There was also a problem in that Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism don't agree on which books are included, and in which order.
Safire ended up declaring himself a traditionalist and that his personal preference remained Old Testament.
In the conclusion of his article, McNulty declares his preference for Old Testament because of “its clarity.”
Personally, I prefer using Old Testament for theological reasons.
How do you feel about this issue? Let me know.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Tag: Bible, Hebrew Bible, Old Testament, Tanak