Taking the Bible Seriously by Leander E. Keck
Leander E. Keck is Winkley Professor of Biblical Theology at Yale Divinity School, and former Dean. His books include The New Interpreter's Bible (Abingdon 1994-96), Who is Jesus?, Paul and His Letters, and The Life of Jesus. Published by Association Press, 291 Broadway, New York 7, N.Y. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Chapter 2: This Kind of Bible
We should not take our kind of Scripture for granted. Even its structure shows that in contrast with Scriptures like the Book of Mormon, for instance, the Bible has a history. It is not a translation of secret writings on golden tablets as is claimed for the Mormon Scripture, nor did it fall from heaven as Islam asserts about the Koran. Seeing the kind of book the Bible is will sharpen the problems we face as we try to make sense of it.
Whoís Responsible for Such a Book?
The Bible was not written as it now stands. The Table of Contents does not reveal the order in which the literature was written, nor is it an accurate guide to the authors. Our Bible is the result of collecting and editing a long series of writings. An important key to the Bible, then, lies in the purposes for which the literature was gathered together. This, in turn, leads us to the group which made the collection and first used it. The problem is complicated by the fact that the phrase "The Holy Bible" actually refers to three collections, to three Bibles. Therefore, when we ask "What Bible?" we ask "Whose Bible?" at the same time.
The shortest collection is used by the Synagogue. It contains only the literature used by the Palestinian synagogues of the first century A.D.(It is important to remember that first-century Palestinian Judaism was by no means unanimous in its judgment about what constituted the Bible. The opinion which prevailed, largely because other groups disappeared, was that of the Pharisees. Their Bible was our Old Testament, though in different order. Their bitter rivals, the Sadducees, accepted only the Pentateuch [the first five books of the Bible, commonly called The Books of Moses] as supreme authority. Since the Sadducees were largely identified with the Temple, they disappeared with its destruction; the Pharisees -- being associated with the local centers of instruction and worship, the synagogues -- survived to become the ancestors of Judaism as we know it today. The whole problem of what was Scripture in Palestinian Judaism during the time of Jesus has been reopened through the discovery of the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls.
These documents come from a group [commonly called Essenes] which opposed both Pharisees and Sadducees. They valued the same literature as is now in our Bible and wrote commentaries on it; however, they also prized other writings many of which were not known before. The question is whether they thought as highly of this other material as they did of the biblical literature. A useful survey of what the caves have yielded is found in J. T. Milik, Ten Years of Discovery in the Wilderness of Judaea, John Strugnell, tr.-- Studies in Biblical Theology No. 28 [Naperville, Ill.: Alec R. Allenson, Inc., 1959]). When Jews speak of "The Bible" they refer to this collection which Christians call Ď`The Old Testament." Long before the time of Christ it was translated from Hebrew into Greek by the Jewish community in Egypt. This Greek version, called the Septuagint because of the story that seventy men translated it, was also expanded to include additions to some books like Daniel and to include completely new ones like the so-called Wisdom of Solomon. This expanded Synagogue Bible served as the first Scripture of the early Church. Later, this enlarged edition of the Old Testament was translated into Latin and remains part of the Roman Catholic Bible today. The Protestant Reformers, however, accepted only the earlier Palestinian Bible and separated the additions into a subsidiary collection called "The Apocrypha," meaning literally "hidden away" -- that is, withdrawn from official use. For years, Protestants printed the Apocrypha between the Old and New Testaments as "good and useful to read." It is regrettable that this practice generally stopped because these documents provide important links between the two parts of the Bible.(The Apocrypha is now available in the Revised Standard Version. It may be purchased separately or as part of the whole Christian Bible. A recent survey of its contents and a discussion of its role in Christianity is provided by Bruce Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha [New York: Oxford University Press, 1957]). Without this material, the ordinary reader thinks a gulf, the so-called "400 silent years," exists between the Testaments. Historically there was no gulf, and the years were anything but silent.
The difference between the Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible is made by the presence of the New Testament, a collection of Christian literature written during the century prior to A.D. 150. (The phrases "The Old Testament" and "The New Testament" will be discussed later in this chapter.) Today, all Christians agree on the contents of the New Testament. It was not always so. It took several centuries before the precise limits of the New Testament were agreed upon. The oldest authoritative list of books which corresponds exactly with our Table of Contents comes from A.D. 367, three centuries after the earliest parts were written. Besides, the whole process was uneven. For example, it was several hundred years before all parts of the Church accepted the Epistle to the Hebrews, and other areas of Christendom did not accept the Letter of James or the Book of Revelation for over 400 years. Besides, almost from the start some churches used writings like the Letter of Barnabas or the so-called Shepherd of Hermas on virtually the same level as the letters of Paul. Later these books were excluded from the New Testament.(Early Christian literature not included in our New Testament has fallen into two categories. One is termed "The Apostolic Fathers" and includes the writings of important bishops like Clement of Rome (A.D. 95) and Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 115) as well as anonymous documents like the Epistle of Barnabas, the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, and the Shepherd of Hermas. A recent translation of this collection is offered by Edgar Goodspeed, The Apostolic Fathers (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1950). The rest are lumped together under the title "The New Testament Apocrypha." It includes early gospels (to which must be added the recently discovered Gospel of Thomas), acts, epistles, and revelations. This body of literature never enjoyed so important a role in the early Church as the Apostolic Fathers; nonetheless, it shows the great variety of literature produced by the early Church. This diverse material is now available in the translation by M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament [ New York: Oxford University Press, rev ed., 1953]).
The point is that our Bible is a Scripture with a history. The communities of faith (the Synagogue and the Church) formed their Bibles by selecting certain documents and excluding others. Unfortunately, we can trace this Bible-making process in detail only for the New Testament and it is a far too complex process to be narrated here. But we can note the basic issues.
The Church asked two important questions of each document: (1) Does it come from the first generations of Christians, particularly from the Apostles or their associates? (2) Does it contain what the Apostles taught? These questions were directed at two problems. The first question was aimed at the fact that after A.D. 100 the churches (In this essay, the word "church" is capitalized when it refers to the entire Christian community. It remains uncapitalized when it refers primarily to a local congregation.) were using all sorts of writings. For example, by A.D. 150 the twenty-seven books now in the New Testament would represent about half of the literature that was available to the church at Rome. Moreover, this growing body of literature represented a wide spectrum of convictions. Hence, when the Church became embroiled in controversies over belief and practice, it became necessary to have a list of authorities which everyone recognized. In making such a list, the first hurdle was apostolic authorship because most stripes of opinion respected the Apostles. The second was more subtle: Does the book contain what the Apostles taught? This question was important because more and more writings were circulating under the names of important Apostles -- Peter, Paul, James, John, Thomas, and others. Since all writings circulating under the name of Paul, for example, did not agree, it was clear that some were forged in his name. Anyone who appealed to Paul for support had to know he was appealing to what was genuinely from Paul. By requiring a document to contain what the Apostles taught, therefore, the Church was not simply glorifying the Founding Fathers but exercising its responsibility to provide some sort of assurance that the Scripture contains authentic writings. By requiring that the New Testament books contain what the Apostles taught, the Church was not trying to freeze its development to the past, but was making sure that its ongoing life and thought be in line with the past. Determining what literature would become its New Testament by asking these two questions was a way of doing this, because this designated which writings from the earliest days would exert a pace-setting influence for the future.
But there is another side to the coin. The authority of this literature did not begin with the decision to admit it to the New Testament. Actually, the reverse is the more true -- that the decision of the Church confirmed the authority which these documents already had and which the churches already had recognized by using them. In other words, the churches used this literature in worship, teaching, preaching and theological probing before the Church determined what would be Scripture. To a large extent, the life of the Church had already sifted the early Christian literature and found these to be the most incisive, the most effective, the most significant. The action of the Church in selecting twenty-seven books to be the New Testament reflected the power of the literature to be relevant from one generation to the next. The debates over what documents were to be excluded did not affect the heart of the New Testament at all, but were concerned primarily with the more peripheral writings like James, II Peter, Jude, or Revelation.
This means that the community of faith stands in a two-sided relation to its Scripture. On the one hand, the literature was written by the members of the Church in the first place, transmitted by the Church which used it in the second place, and declared to be Scripture by the Church in the third place. On the other hand, the literature was used and transmitted because it manifested its ability to contribute to the life of the Church in the first place, was declared to be Scripture in recognition of this in the second place, and continues to exercise its influence (sometimes even against the Church) in the third place. In short, the Church is not sovereign over the Bible as much Catholic thought suggests; nor does the Bible stand completely outside the Church as a heaven-sent answer-book as much Protestant thought implies. The Bible is an historical book produced within and for an historical community; at the same time, it enjoys its status as Scripture because men find themselves and their Church judged and summoned by it. Making this literature Scripture was the Churchís way of saying something like the following: "Through this literature as through no other writings from our earlier brothers we continue to find ourselves addressed by God. Therefore, it shall be our Bible."
However, modern scholarship does not always support the conviction of the early Church about the authorship of New Testament books. Scholars continue to debate the authorship of many books; their arguments need not detain us, but we should observe that there is such a discussion and note its consequences. The issue is this: What shall we do with a document if scholars conclude the Church erred in its judgment about the author?
We may open the question by observing that virtually all Protestant scholars deny that Paul wrote the so-called Epistle to the Hebrews. Roman Catholic scholars, on the other hand, continue to affirm that Paul was the author because the Biblical Commission took this position. The point is important because the Epistle to the Hebrews entered the New Testament precisely because the early Church came to believe Paul wrote it. Since the book became Scripture on this basis, should the conclusion that this was wrong lead Protestants to remove it from the New Testament? To the issue involved we say three things.
First, such a step is impossible for pragmatic reasons. There is no non-Catholic body with sufficient authority to add or subtract from the Bible. Any tampering with the list of New Testament books would be rejected by all sides. For precisely the same reason it is impossible to add a fifth gospel, even if an absolutely authentic one from Peter or James, for instance, should be discovered. The practical impossibility of modifying the content of the Bible clearly underscores the fact that the Church created the Bible by determining its contents. There is no body with sufficient authority for all Christendom today, not even for Protestantism, to change the Bible.
The second thing to be said can be illustrated better by referring to the Letter of Paul to Titus, his associate. Many scholars are convinced that Paul did not write this letter, at least in its present form. Even if scholars could agree that Paul did not write it (and if they could convince the Church at large), the appropriate step would not be to remove Titus from the Bible. Rather, because the Church applied two tests, authorship and content, the decisive question is not who wrote the book but what it says. To remove Titus from the New Testament, then, one would have to show that its contents were incompatible with the Christianity of Paul or the rest of the Apostles. There is no doubt that Titus has a somewhat different concept of Christianity from that found elsewhere in the New Testament, and even from certain of the unquestioned letters of Paul. But the question is not whether there are differences among the books but whether they are of such magnitude that they are incompatible with the New Testament as a whole. This is manifestly not the case, and so Titus remains, regardless of scholarsí conclusions about the author.
There is still a third point to be noted. Even though Christians agree that the list of New Testament books should remain unchanged, each reader does, in fact, have his own preferences -- his own Scripture within Scripture, so to speak. An examination of most well-used Bibles usually reveals sections with pages virtually as crisp as they were when the volume was bound. Many Christians find books like Obadiah and Zephaniah, Revelation, Jude, II Peter, II and III John unessential to their faith and life. Therefore such books actually stand outside their functioning Scripture even though they would not want to remove them from the Bible. For other people (and denominations as well) Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation, II Peter, and Jude, are much more used than Isaiah, Romans, or Mark. This situation -- that the parts of the Bible actually relied on vary from reader to reader -- reflects the fact that the Bible functions as Scripture as it is brought to bear on the actual faith and life of the readers. The Bibleís "Scripturehood" is established not simply by the Churchís past decision about its contents but by each readerís ongoing use. This is the pragmatic test of what is actually our Scripture.
As the Church faced new problems, it continued to use the literature from its earliest members and eventually made a normative selection called the New Testament. It is one thing, however, for the Church to make the New Testament from its own literature. It is another matter when the Church appropriates someone elseís Bible altogether. This is exactly what the Church did when it made the Synagogueís Bible into the Christian Old Testament. This is the next fact about our kind of Bible that we must explore.
Why Do We Keep the Jewish Bible?
The major part of the Christian Scripture is Jewish: 39 out of 66 books. Why should the Church accept the Bible of a faith which rejects what is central to Christianity -- the conviction that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God? The Christian Bible does not appropriate a single sentence of the Hindu or Islamic Scripture; why should it accept the entire Jewish Bible?
Actually, it is ironic that we should ask this question, because all the first Christians were Jews. Their only Bible was that of the Synagogue and they expected neither a replacement nor a supplement. Had anyone suggested that they abandon their Jewish Bibles because they believed in Jesus, they would have responded with appropriate vehemence.
But the earliest Christians kept the Synagogue Bible not simply because they were conservative Jews but because they were daring Christians. That is, they dared believe that Jesus was the Christ. We commonly use the phrase "Jesus Christ" as if it were a proper name like George Smith. Actually "Christ" is simply a transliteration of the Greek Christos (Latin: Christus) which translates a Hebrew word Meshiach (Messiah). Messiah is not a name at all but a title; it can be translated "anointed." Hence it is actually more correct to say "Jesus the Christ" or "Jesus who is called the Christ." If we want to understand why the earliest Christians kept the Hebrew Bible, we must know what they meant when they said Jesus was the Christ.
We may cut to the core of this rich idea by recalling that the Messiah was one of the figures expected to inaugurate the New Order at the end of history. The Jews expected that the Messiah would lead them in fulfilling their God-given destiny of bringing truth and justice to the nations, and of enjoying sovereignty and stability themselves. Since the people were now scattered abroad and oppressed by Romans at home, the Messiah was to be a victorious general in a holy war. The hope for the future took many forms and not all of them included a Messiah. But those which did understood him to be Godís human agent empowered to free his people and rule them (and sometimes the world) in the name of God.
It was audacious for the first Christians to say Jesus was the Messiah. They asserted this primarily because they believed God raised him from the dead.(The tradition of the first Christian preaching expresses this: "God has made him both Lord and Christ" [by resurrecting him]. This shows that the earliest believers held Jesus to have been installed in his Messianic role by the resurrection. As the term "Christ" became a proper name, the term "Lord" was used to express the belief in the sovereignty of the resurrected one. The Church naturally looked on his prior earthly life as the decisive preliminary phase of his total career.
Still, there is considerable doubt whether Jesus thought of himself as the Messiah. Clearly, he understood himself as playing the decisive role in the consummation of Godís purpose; at the same time, however, he refused to detract from his mission by making his proper classification or title a primary matter for discussion. Believers are more concerned to classify Jesus than he was. For our purpose in this essay, it is important to note that even if Jesus had claimed to be the Messiah or the Son of Man or the Son of God, this would not have proved that he was. In fact, from the way his career ended most contemporaries concluded that he was an imposter. Moreover, by abandoning Jesus at the end, the disciples themselves gave mute eloquence to their disillusionment: Jesus had been wrong and those who engineered his death were basically right (see Luke 24:13-24). Only the resurrection, an act of God himself, made it clear and certain that Jesus was indeed Godís man. This conviction came only to those to whom he appeared or to those who believed the announcement that God had raised him from the dead (see Luke 24: 25-35) This belief brought three important consequences. (a) The conception of the Messiah had to be modified. Jesus clearly did not liberate his people nor did he achieve any political sovereignty. In fact, within a century the Romans crushed two revolts, destroyed Jerusalem twice, and ended political Messianism until its secularized form returned in modern Zionism. Hence, to call Jesus the Messiah was possible only if the idea were radically changed. This was done by pruning away the nationalist motif and emphasizing the transcendent and moral aspects of Jesusí Messiahship. The fact that already within twenty years of Jesusí death, Paul used "Christ" as if it were a proper name shows that the transformation was made very soon.
(b) At the same time, by insisting that Jesus was the Messiah (Christ) they asserted that Jesus fulfilled Godís intent for Israel. Saying that the Messiah had arrived in Jesus meant that in him the purpose of Israelís existence had been achieved. Consequently, it could be maintained that when Gentiles believed in Jesus as Messiah, Godís purpose for Israel had been attained, for in this way the Gentile converts were made participants in Israelís life. Thus, Israelís destiny of being a "light to the nations" was actually being fulfilled, not by the kind of Messiah that was expected but by this quite "unmessianic" Jesus.
(c) They found the clue to the meaning of Israel in the Bible, for here Israelís history was told and interpreted, This brought two developments. On the one hand, the Christians used their Bibles to show how Israelís true meaning was actualized in Jesus. In other words, they read the Synagogue Bible as a Christian book. On the other hand, the earliest Christians inferred that being a Christian meant being also a Jew. Hence at first all Gentile converts accepted the rites and customs of Judaism as well. Largely as the result of Paulís work and argument, this position was abandoned. Consequently, one could believe in Jesus without becoming a practicing Jew, for Paul argued that the Gentile became a "Jew" by virtue of his faith in Jesus. This provided inward participation in Israelís life; this was what mattered. At the same time, Paul insisted that the Gentile Christian must find the clue to his life in the Bible, for Jesus fulfilled its meaning. Consequently, neither Jewish nor Gentile Christians could repudiate the Bible of the Synagogue without rejecting this inner connection with Israel as well. Unfortunately, such a step was not long in coming.
Within a century of Paulís time, there came a strong effort to rid the Church of the Jewish Bible altogether. The movement was led by Marcion from northern Asia Minor. Marcion considered himself a disciple of Paul and is the most important figure in the story of why the Christian Scripture has an Old Testament.
When Marcion read Paulís letters, especially the one sent to the Galatians in central Asia Minor, he noticed that Paul insisted that Gentile Christians need not become practicing Jews in order to be Christians. Paul said they were free from "the Law" -- Paulís term for the forms, rites, and religion of Judaism. (By Marcionís time, however, Christianity had long been a primarily Gentile faith.) Marcion also noted that the reason Paul argued so vigorously was that Jewish Christians opposed him. Marcion then observed a third thing, that not only were the churches using the Jewish Bible but that Paulís letters sanctioned this by quoting it and arguing from it. Putting these three observations together, Marcion concluded that after Paulís death, the "Judaizers" had succeeded in reversing the message of Paul: they had related Christianity to Judaism much more closely than Paul did and had tampered with the letters of Paul to make it appear that he had advocated this.
Once he had seen the situation in these terms, Marcionís task was clear: he would be the first Reformer! He would restore Christianity to its (supposed) Pauline form. He set about editing the letters of Paul by removing the objectionable paragraphs. He went even farther; rejecting all Gospels as too Jewish except Luke, he edited this Gospel because he insisted that the distorters had made even Jesus appeal to the Jewish Bible. Thus Marcion offered the Church the first clear-cut Christian Bible in the form of an abbreviated edition of Luke and the letters of Paul. Marcion did not view this as a "New Testament" to be placed beside the Synagogue Bible; rather, Marcion intended to replace the old Bible altogether. Marcion offered the Church a completely new Bible.
Marcionís movement had alarming appeal. After moving westward through Asia Minor, he arrived in Rome where he tried to reform that church. It was in no mood to be reformed and it excommunicated him in July, A.D. 144. Marcion immediately formed his own Church and was eminently successful. The traditional Church considered the Marcionites a major threat for decades; they were not stamped out until two centuries later, when the Church had the power of the Byzantine state behind it.
Actually, there were many more issues involved than the role of the Jewish Bible. Marcionís fundamental problem was his dualistic outlook on the world. To him, manís root problem was his existence in evil matter ruled by a heartless law of tooth and fang. Marcion was just as impressed with the inexorability of nature and its laws as we are, even though he had far less scientific data to buttress his convictions. What made Marcion so firmly opposed to Judaism and its Bible was the fact that manís abysmal situation is the work of the Creator, the God described in Genesis and worshipped by the Jews. The only conceivable relation Christianity could have with this situation was rescue and rejection. Thus Marcion insisted that Jesus was sent by another God, a good God, to rescue men from the Creator so that they might reject his influence. Marcion insisted that Jesus came from a God who was completely unknown prior to the arrival of Jesus in Galilee; this is why the Jewish Bible knows nothing about him or the God who sent him. It does, however, provide ample documentation for the character of the Creator. Marcion delighted in finding passages which emphasized the Creatorís justice, wrath, or vengeance. These he contrasted with statements about Godís love and mercy drawn from the words of Jesus or Paul. Sentences like Isaiah 45:7 were especially useful: "I [God the Creator] form light and create darkness; I make weal and create woe." And to show that Jesus came to reveal an entirely different kind of God he could quote Luke 10:22: "All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father or who the Father is except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."
It is clear that Marcion not only provided a completely new Bible but offered a way of reading the old one so as to make it speak in his favor. Marcion rejected the idea that the Synagogue Bible could be read as a Christian book. What was at stake was the conception of man, the character of God, the work of Jesus, and the history of the Church.
The Churchís response was immediate and thorough. Besides expelling Marcion, it took three positive steps to counter his influence. (a) It rose to debate the theological issues. Consequently the creeds affirm that Christians believe in "God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth" and not in some unknown deity who waited in obscurity before deciding to rescue men from creation. (b) It created its own collection of Christian literature consisting not of only one Gospel but of four; this collection also contained the letters not of one apostle only but of five (Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude). Between these two parts of the collection it inserted the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and after the second part it appended the Book of Revelation. As we have noted before, the entire process took more than two centuries before complete agreement was reached, but the intent was clear from the start: the Church looked to all the apostles.
Despite the fact that the Church settled the matter in Marcionís time, we now feel compelled to open the question again and ask whether our Bible does have any genuine unity. That is, does it have a basically unified message, or is it simply held together by the decree of the Church? Today one can buy the parts of the Bible separately. Is this perhaps the most appropriate way for it to circulate?
Is It Really One Bible?
The Church kept the old Bible in its Scripture not simply because it believed Jesus was the Messiah but also because it believed it was the true Israel. In the Church, people from all sorts of religious and racial backgrounds were united by faith in Jesus and by using the Jewish Bible; here they found the clue to the meaning of his life and theirs. These Christians found the term "testament" an appropriate way to think of their relation to Israel and to Israelís God.
We know the term "testament" from its use in legal matters, especially in the phrase "last will and testament." Actually, this helps us to understand its biblical meaning. To get the real brunt of the matter, we must begin with the Hebrew equivalent, berith, which means compact, treaty, covenant. We are familiar with this term also, since it is used in Jewish circles as Bínai Bírith -- sons of the covenant. The Hebrew Bible used the word for agreements between persons or nations; it is a negotiable contract binding both parties. The same term is used for the relation of God and man, especially God and Israel. The Hebrew Bible dares to use this legal and commercial term because it has no doubt that the initiative lies with God. We may put this into legal jargon: when used for the relation between God and Israel, berith is a unilaterally initiated agreement with bilateral responsibility. (Genesis 15 tells how God and Abraham made a berith. The story reports no negotiation; God appears to make his promise and elicit Abrahamís response. The compact is consummated by cutting animals in halves which then are placed opposite each other, a ritual representing the bilateral character of the agreement. The flaming torch that passes between the halves symbolizes the divine Presence. This story, so embedded in ancient Semitic ideas, accents Godís role as the initiator, stipulator, and guarantor of the agreement. Abrahamís role is limited to accepting the terms. In Genesis 17, the later editors of the tradition have told the story again, this time making explicit what was implied in Chapter 15: God announces that he will establish this covenant, set its terms, and see to its fulfillment. In the story of Israelís escape from Egypt (Exodus 1-15) the covenant theme is even stronger. This event, coupled with the experience at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19ff.) became the most important element in Israelís understanding of herself and God.)
When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, the translators used the word diatheke because this term was used when people settled the disposition of property, just as we use the term "testament" today. Thus the translators caught the true import of the Hebrew Bibleís insistence that the people of Israel are related to God by a compact whose terms God alone had set. The whole idea of Israel as the chosen people of God is expressed in the term berith, covenant, testament. This term provided a fundamental way of saying that God had committed himself to this people, and thereby had committed them to himself and his purpose. Whether we find the covenant congenial or not, the fact is that neither the Old Testament nor the history of the Jews is intelligible without it.
The earliest Christians, being Jews, stood within this point of view. So did the Gentiles who were converted to Christianity. Two elements fostered this outlook. One was the promise of the prophet Jeremiah (sixth century B.C.) who peered beyond the destruction of his country to the day when God would grant a new covenant with his people, one which included not simply moral conduct but inward transformation as well (Jeremiah 31:34). The other was Christian worship which centered in the Lordís Supper, here believers remembered the words of Jesus, that in his death God offered men a new covenant, a new relationship (Mark 14:22-25, I Corinthians 11:23-26). To the Christian community, the expectation of Jeremiah was now fulfilled in Christianity. Thus, if what is expected in the Jewish Bible is achieved in Christianity, then the Church is the object of this hope. Moreover, whereas Judaism spoke of its covenant with God as established through Abraham and Moses, the Church spoke of its covenant made in the life-death resurrection of Jesus.
After this mode of understanding Jesus and the Church took root it was a short step to label the Jewish Bible as the Books of the Old Covenant; nor was it long before the Christian literature was called the Books of the New Covenant, or simply the New Testament.
To the Christian community, then, the Bible is composed of two testaments dealing with Godís commitments, first to Israel and then to the Church. It is of fundamental importance to remember that basically these testaments are not documents at all, as though they were analogous to the charter of the League of Nations and that of the United Nations. Originally, neither covenant was a document but a historical event. In the case of Israel, it was the migration of Abraham and the liberation of Israel; in the case of the Church, it was the life-death-resurrection of Jesus. In each case, the events are understood as occurrences in which God and the community are committed to one another.
The real unity of our Christian Bible, then, lies in the covenants between God and the community of faith, the Church. Apart from the conviction that Jesus is the focal point (the fulfillment of Godís purpose for Israel), no real unity can be seen. All that can be established is the historical continuity given by the fact that the first Christians were Jews. Had Marcion been successful in claiming that Jesus was not the fulfillment of Judaism but the means for manís escape from it, no unity would have been possible. We Gentiles who affirm that Jesus is the Christ implicitly admit that in a profound sense we share in two covenants and are members of two communities: the Church and its predecessor, Israel. In this sense, believing in Jesus makes us all sons of Abraham. This is why we have one Bible in two Testaments.
Viewed 72819 times.