Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought

Intertestamental Period

We spoke yesterday about the preparation of Christianity in Hellenistic philosophy. Today we come first to the Hellenistic period of the Jewish religion. Of course, the Old Testament is the soil on which Christianity grew, but there is a long period between the end of the Old Testament and the appearance of the Christ. This period developed in Judaism ideas and attitudes which deeply influenced the Apostolic Age, i. e, Jesus, the apostles, and the writers of the New Testament, etc.

The first is the development of the idea of God in this period between the Testaments, (the inter-testamental period, as it is usually called.) It is a development towards a radical transcendence: God becomes more and more transcendent, and for this very reason He becomes more and more universal. But a God who is absolutely transcendent and absolutely universal has lost many of the concrete traits which the God of a nation has. Therefore names are introduced which try to preserve some of the concreteness of the divinity, names like “the heaven”: therefore we often find in the New Testament not “the kingdom of God” but “the kingdom of heaven”; or “the height,” coming down from the height.. . etc.; or “the glory.” All these words indicate the establishment of a more concrete God. At the same time, the abstraction goes on under two influences: 1) The prohibition against using the name of God; 2) In the fight against anthropomorphisms of the past seeing God in the morph , the image, of man (anthropos) the passions of the God of the Old Testament disappear. The abstract oneness is emphasized. This made it possible for the Greek philosophers (who had introduced the same radical abstraction with respect to God), and the Jewish universalists ,with respect to God, to unite. It was especially Philo of Alexandria who carried through this union, in the idea of God.