16 Nov 2022

The Presupposition of the New Testament (The “Soul” of New Testament Christianity is Jewish)

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Jewish Backgrounds


a thing tacitly assumed beforehand at the beginning of a line of argument or course of action.”

Years ago I wrote a blog series called Text & Context. In that series I examined what E. D. Hirsch called “authorial givens.” Givens are things the author of a particular writing presumes (presupposes) that the readers already know before a conversation even begins. That is the readers (or hearers) bring certain assumed information to the text as they encounter it without which communication simply does not occur. A typical “newspaper” or online article reveals just how much an author presumes on the readers.

A federal appeals panel today upheld an order barring foreclosure on a Missouri farm, saying the U.S. Agriculture Secretary John R. Block has reneged on his responsibilities to some debt ridden farmers. The appeals panel directed the USDA to create a system of processing loan deferments and of publicizing them as it said Congress had intended. The panel said that it is the responsibility of the agricultural secretary to carry out this intent ‘not as a private banker, but as a public broker.”

There are a “ton” of presumptions on the part of the author that he/she simply takes for granted that the reader will “fill in the blanks.”

What is a foreclosure?
Where is Missouri?
What is the USDA?
What does this have to do with farming, etc.

The author does not explain any of these. Rather it is presumed the reader understands the significance of each of these ideas that the article actually turns on. See my article Text & Context, 2: Authorial Givens.

A presupposition is something that is assumed at the beginning and is simply necessary for understanding what is being said. In the example above the reader brings to the text an assumed knowledge of the USDA, banking, Congress (some basic understanding of the US Government, etc. In fact if the reader does not bring this knowledge to this newspaper article then it might as well be written in Cuneiform because it simply would make no sense whatsoever.

The New Testament, from Matthew to Revelation, makes the same presupposition upon its readers as that newspaper article did above.

The Presupposition of the New Testament is a Hebraic Worldview


a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint.

Growing up in North Alabama the “Old Testament” did not shape my faith, practice, worship, or walk with God in any discernible way. I first attended the University of North Alabama but after being baptized, I went to a Bible college in the late 80s and early 90s, and I still did not learn the utter importance of the “OT” for being a Christian.

When I first began to appreciate the front 76% of Scripture (that is right, seventy-six percent of the Bible is the so called Old Testament. In other words, 3.1 out of every 4 words is “Old Testament.”), I was interested in showing that there is no such thing as legalism in the first testament (and there is none). Yet I still did not understand the depth of how the “OT” is foundational to biblical to the faith of the so called New Testament.

I think many today still struggle with this. If, for example, we write of the importance of the OT to us, numerous unique responses are typically made (all of these have actually been said to me just a couple days ago).

  • Which part?
  • Are you going to stone people?
  • You going to keep the Sabbath?
  • You going to offer sacrifice!?”

Or, and this is the real issue for some, “are you going to use instruments?”

These kinds of responses are deeply rooted in fundamental misunderstanding, caricature, and even special pleading. For example, these same critics do not cut off his hands (Mt 5.30); do not pull out their eye ball (Mt 5.29); they do not wear veils (1 Cor 11.7); nor lift up hands in prayer (1 Tim 2.8); nor anoint the sick (James 5.14-15); while they both forbid speaking in tongues (contrary to 1 Cor 14.29) and fail to enroll the widows (1 Tim 5.3-16), though each of these are expressly stated in the so called New Testament, not the “Old.”

Yet they are worried about which “OT” command is “binding.” So the question could be answered with the question, “well which ‘new’ covenant commands do you set aside with ease?'”

But those responses fundamentally misunderstand the entire issue. Biblical faith, in either Testament, is not and cannot be reduced to some do’s and don’ts … commands to be performed or not.

The Hebrew Bible provides the grammar for our faith. It provides the structure of thought. The New Testament is not the Bible, nor a Bible itself. The NT is a small body of literature that is filled with presuppositions which have no meaning apart from the “Old Testament.” The basic presupposition of Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, Peter, James and John is the Hebrew Bible. This is a fact on every page of the New Testament. To put it another way, the New Testament was written within the Hebraic worldview. (We thank N. T. Wright for discussing the huge importance of worldview in properly reading the New Testament especially in his epic book The New Testament and the People of God).

Those presuppositions are easily filled with alien thought forms, incorrect “grammar” and pagan thought patterns when divorced from their context. It is the Hebrew Bible that provides the container and categories from everything from “redemption” to “salvation” to “messiah” to “spiritual” etc all of which are radically redefined when taken away from their Hebraic roots.

I did not understand this growing up. I was deeply immersed in a semi-gnostic, neo-platonic, environment blissfully unaware. But the Hebrew Bible in the epic words of G. Ernst Wright, is “the church’s bulwark against paganism.” Without the worldview of the Hebrew Bible, the “church” turns the Gospel into Platonic and Gnostic dreams, all of which looks and sounds so wonderful to modern people because it is a private “spiritual experience.”

Example Please

I just used the word spiritual in the previous paragraph. “Spiritual” is the perfect test case of what we are stressing. For most Americans, believers or non-believers, the word “spiritual” conjures up ideas of piety, an inner experience, religious, non-material, the opposite of physical, and even the mystical. So when Paul speaks of spiritual blessings or a spiritual body (as in 1 Cor 15) Americans think of religious blessings or inner blessings or non-material, non-physical blessings, and absolutely think of non-material/non-physical bodies (whatever those are). Jesus’s resurrected body was composed of the same, very material, Jewish flesh and bones that were born to his mother Mary (Luke 24.39-40).

Yet, not one of those ideas is associated with the use of spiritual by Paul. Those ideas are Greek, especially Platonic, ideas that have permeated the Western intellectual tradition especially since the Enlightenment. Those notions are not found in Paul the Jew (see the discussion of the word in Gordon Fee’s massive study, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, pp. 28-32). Paul never uses the word spiritual as something that is over and against and opposite of matter (the “stuff” of creation). Spiritual is not the antithesis of materiality in the New Testament. It is in Platonism but it is not in the Hebrew Bible. Spiritual word is an adjective rooted in Hebraic worldview and simply means a property belonging to the Spirit or from the Spirit.

Paul’s presupposition is the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible but it is a presupposition that is redefined via paganism. Then we have a whole conception of spirituality that is completely foreign to anything in Scripture.

When the Hebrew Bible does not form the grammar of our faith and the structure for expressing it, we end up exactly with the Gnostics on the meaning of redemption and resurrection.

This is not just important for the word spiritual but redemption. Redemption in the Bible is of what God created. God created matter. God redeems matter. To put is bluntly, redemption is of stuff!

Resurrection is of the material human body set free from the power of sin and death (material human body of Jesus is the model of resurrection). Gnostics denied the first and therefore rejected the second. Redemption is merely of our “spiritual” nature (=non-material soul) therefore “resurrection” is simply the experience of eternal “spiritual/non-material” existence in heaven. But the NT does not teach this nor did anyone in the early church except for – you guessed it – the Gnostics.

Alexander Campbell understood the point of this post with clarity. He wrote in 1826, “We would also remind readers that an intimate acquaintance with the Septuagint Greek of the Old Testament, is of essential importance in translating the New Testament. The seventy Hebrews who translated their own scriptures into the Greek language, gave to that translation the idiom of their vernacular tongue. Their translation, if I may so speak is a sort of Hebrew Greek. The BODY [sic] is Greek but the SOUL [sic] is Hebrew; and, in effect, it comes to this … we have no Greek by which to understand the apostolic writings, but the Greek of the Jewish and Christian prophets.” (my italics).

The NT is written in Greek but it has the “soul” of Hebrew. The NT writers inhabit the worldview of the so called “Old Testament.” They think, they speak, they write, they instruct out of that Hebraic worldview. The heartbeat of the New Testament is so “Old Testament” in its character and teaching that Christopher J. H. Wright even called the NT “the world’s first Old Testament theology.”

The book to master in order to properly read the New Testament is the so called Old Testament. It is the one essential work for any New Testament interpretation. The New Testament writings mean what they mean in relation to the Hebrew Bible. The first century church was Jewish to the core. Not just in its ethnic make up (though that is also the case) but in its theological/doctrinal thought. The community that produced the writings we call today the New Testament was Jewish followers of Jesus of Nazareth. They were as Jewish as the Essenes out at Qumran (producers of the Dead Sea Scrolls). This is why the Old Testament is not merely illustrative but absolutely essential to understanding Christian faith … because the “soul of Christianity is Jewish.”

A fantastic, and illuminating, work for any student to wrestle with is Marvin R. Wilson’s Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith which explores the Jewish worldview of Christianity beautifully. A good introduction to a Christian worldview as a whole is Brian Walsh and J. Richard Middleton’s The Transforming Vision.

Begin reading and studying the Hebrew Scriptures daily so we hear and understand Jesus our Messiah and the apostles more faithfully.

Of Related Interest

Soul: Moses vs Plato: The Biblical Worldview

Spiritual Bodies: Cultural History and Bible Reading

Abba Father: Walking with Jesus’s Father in the ‘Old Testament’

5 Responses to “The Presupposition of the New Testament (The “Soul” of New Testament Christianity is Jewish)”

  1. Robert Says:

    Add to NTW – on Worldview – both books by Middleton and Walsh, especially “The Transforming Vision”

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      Hey Robert, so glad to have you reading and replying. I am grateful. You are quite right about Transforming Vision and Truth is Stranger than It Used to Be. Great reads. I did not include Transforming Vision because it is not specifically on the Hebraic foundations to it. But it does have a great discussion of dualism and related bad ideas that infest American versions of Christian faith. So I have emended my text and included it. I appreciate the suggestion.

  2. JT Says:


    Long post here – SORRY!

    Been “out of pocket” for awhile and I’m catching up. IMHO, the subject of your post here is probably underrated in importance by most who may have read it. Just a gut feeling.

    Being immersed in CoC teachings now for 60 years its difficult to “throw off” some things, that is, to unlearn certain things. It is possible, however, but I’d add that arriving at a more accurate understanding of “NT” scripture (in terms of unlearning and re-learning) is NOT possible unless one purposely decides to thoroughly dig into the Hebrew Bible. It is not possible. And, one may have to confront cognitive dissonance in the process. Unlearning is hard work.

    BTW, this post caused me to go back to your “Text & Context, 2: Authorial Givens.” (Is there a “Text & Context, 1??) So, my comments here take into account my fresh reading of it too.

    You discussed “spiritual” to make relevant points. I am reminded that Paul (in the “NT” ) said the Law is “spiritual”. Hmmm….All my life I was taught the law was “legalism”. The Law was “abolished”. And many more teachings that I’ve discovered in recent years which are plain old false.

    Here’s a personal story – please indulge me.
    Many years ago I found myself necessarily required to research the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) with respect to the Individual Income Tax. During that very difficult process is when I became aware that I was not such a “good” reader as I had thought. Many, many words there do not mean the same thing as they do in regular society. During the research I had to deal with cognitive dissonance. I had to (at least temporarily) consciously set aside my preconceived beliefs about things. Otherwise, I would have run the risk of conducting an unethical research project! I had to learn about cotext and context. Presuppositions about certain things can merely lead to false premises (without even being aware of it of course). Standing upon a wrong premise at the beginning surely leads to incorrect answers at the conclusion. Then, there was the discovery that the IRC is merely an extraction and reorganization of the taxing statutes contained within the very voluminous Statutes At Large, the actual statutes of Congress. Then there’s the Regulations! Then there’s also the Constitution (Fundamental Law) and Case Law (judicial decisions). And more!

    I’m pretty sure 99% of our population has no idea what the law says about who the subject of the tax is, or what makes one liable for filing an income tax return and paying the tax. Or what “income” is and “who” has income. No one wants to read all of the information to determine for themselves those answers precisely. Everyone is happy to just comply. Yet, everyone is quite sure they know the law, after all, “everyone knows you must pay taxes”! In other words, most everyone is convinced, having conducted little or no research, that everyone is liable and everyone has income therefore everyone must comply.

    Somewhere around 2009 I began a serious study of the Bible, along with the writings of scholars, examination of original texts, etc., and discovered ONCE AGAIN, as I began addressing long-noticed, seeming conflicts within Scripture, which included decades of hearing what preachers had told me, THAT I WASN’T AS GOOD A READER AS I HAD THOUGHT.

    One cannot properly understand the back of the Book without developing an understanding of the front of the Book – as you so eloquently have written about!

    But I often daydream about what the church would “look like” should we all avail ourselves of some of the things you write about! it’s a passion. Thanks BV.


    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      JT, I hope all is well for you in your “being out of pocket.” Thank you for your great comment. Presuppositions (& assumptions) are inevitable. The real issue comes when we are unaware of them or pretend they do not exist. Another problem is when we do not let information reshape our presuppositions.

      The tax code is actually a good illustration because language takes on unique meanings in specific contexts that must be recognized or it could end up costing us a good deal of money. The “legal” framework and history of tax law determines the meaning of the tax code. In the NT the Hebraic framework and history of Israel determines the meaning of most everything in the apostolic writings.

      There is a whole series called Text & Context from 2007. Here is the first one


      And I occasionally address presuppositions & assumptions just to show how wrong we can be without examining our assumptions. So here is one from 2016 called “Assumptions: What We Simply Assume often Hides the Truth.” https://stonedcampbelldisciple.com/2016/03/06/assumptions-what-we-simply-assume-often-hides-the-truth/

  3. JT Says:

    BV, in your reply, you included:

    “In the NT the Hebraic framework and history of Israel determines the meaning of most everything in the apostolic writings.”

    I say, “Bingo!”

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