Qumran and the New Testament (Luke 6)

The Dead Sea Scrolls (found at Qumran) are the texts of a Jewish religious community now called the Qumran community. Numerous scholars have pointed out that there are similarities between the beliefs and practices of the Qumran community and those of New Testament Christians. Some have gone so far as to view Christianity as an offshoot of the Qumran community. There is no doubt that the Dead Sea Scrolls provide a unique window into the world of early Judaism and that their value for understanding the New Testament is great, but it is possible to exaggerate the similarities and overlook the differences between the Qumran community and the early Christian.

To be sure, we can find significant examples of how the Qumran community parallels to the New Testament church:

  • The Qumran community saw itself as the remnant of Israel that had entered into a new covenant with God in the end times.
  • The community relied on revelations given to the “Teacher of Righteousness”, who had been persecuted by the Jerusalem authorities for his unorthodox beliefs.
  • Community members made a sustained effort to read the Old Testament Scriptures in light of the realities of the “last days” that had now come upon Israel.

But these similarities should not be allowed to mask some crucial differences:

  • Unlike the Qumran community, the early Christians did not withdraw into the desert. Instead, they remained within the Jewish communities in the Holy Land and in the Diaspora (from “dispersion”).
  • Even more radical was the willingness of the early Christians to bring the Good News to the Gentiles, an idea completely absent from Qumran.
  • The Qumran community abandoned the Jewish mainstream largely because of perceived defects in their calendar and in their interpretation of purity laws. The early Christians, meanwhile, made it clear that such matters should not be allowed to become sources of division (cf. Matthew 7:19, Colossians 2:20-23).
  • Finally, while the instruction of the Teacher of Righteousness remained foundational for the Qumran community, this concept pales beside the Christian belief that Jesus has risen from the dead and sits exalted to reign at the right hand of God.

In sum, the Dead Sea Scrolls give us information on the kinds of issues of concern to Jews during the New Testament era: the identity of God’s people, questions of ritual and purity and the search for a fresh word of revelation in troubled times. But the community that emerged from Jesus’ teaching was radically different from that of the Qumran. In many ways Qumran depicts for us “the road not taken” by the early Christians.

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