The Bible in the Church: A Radical View
Return to Index
The Working-Hypotheses of a Radical
The Central Message of the New Testament
The Problem Facing the New Testament Writers
The Scriptures as Our Normative Witness
Jesus is the Focus of History
Scripture and Experience as Validating Each Other
The Word of God
The Authority of the Old Testament Writings for Jesus and the Early Christians
The Use of the Bible in the Church
(1) Training for the ordained ministry
(2) Public worship
[This was written at The United Theological College, Bangalore, India, at the request of the editor and published in The Bangalore Theological Forum, Vol. VI, No. 1 (1974), pp. 1-28.]
What is the nature of the Scriptures, what should be their function and authority for Christians, and how are they to be used in the life and ministry of the Church? Two articles dealing with these subjects appeared in this journal in 1972, one written from a conservative evangelical position by the Reverend Bruce J. Nicholls1 and the other written from a conservative-critical position by the Reverend Dr Muriel M. Carder2. There is at least a third major position which is held by an increasing number of deeply Christian biblical scholars which we may call the radical stance. It is the purpose of this essay to indicate how at least one radical scholar would answer these same questions.
The Working-Hypotheses of a Radical
are varieties of radicals, let us begin by defining the position of this
radical. Inasmuch as my field is New Testament studies, let us examine
wherein my radicalism lies with regard to my approach to New Testament writings.
When it comes to questions of authorship, for example, my working hypothesis is that of the letters which bear Paul's name only Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians and probably Philemon are from Paul and all the rest are from disciples of Paul (or even later in the case of the Pastoral epistles)3. Please notice that I have called this a 'working hypothesis'; I have not called it an assured fact or even a fixed presupposition. It is a 'working model' that I have reached over the last twenty years on the basis of my own work and that of others on the writers' apparently conscious choice of literary structure, significant vocabulary and theological models as well as on the basis of the unconscious habitual stylistic traits of an author. The data concerning these latter characteristics can be handled by statistical methods, and they can be assessed by standard probability testing procedures. These traits of authors of Greek prose include such things as the author's average sentence length and distribution of sentences of various lengths, the type and distribution of words with which he ends clauses, and even the frequency and distribution of his use of such conjunctions as kai, meaning 'and', and de, meaning 'and' or 'but'. Each of these habitual elements is like a detail of a fingerprint, so that when they all point in the same direction, they help to establish the probability that two writings are, or are not, by the same author4. Thus we are confronted by two sets of elements, namely, those which a writer could consciously control and also those unconscious habits of style which are his own literary fingerprint. When both of these appear to change, then it seems to me to be a better hypothesis to assume a change of authorship than to conclude, as is often done, that content and style were largely controlled by a scribe or that Paul grossly changed his approach.
The advantage of assuming a variety of authors for the remainder of the so-called Pauline letters is that each letter is then allowed to be its own interpreter without having to be stretched or shrunk to fit the Procrustean bed of a hypothetical unitary scheme of Pauline geographical movement, chronology, and supposedly developing theology5. On this basis the tremendous theological unity and coherence of Paul's own position in Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians and Galatians as I perceive it, is allowed the full weight of its grandeur. Furthermore, by taking the other letters (Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians) as being by disciples of Paul, I can rejoice that his urgent, out-going, evangelical message of the renewed humanity and freedom in Christ was indeed caught, understood, and extended in different apologetic situations in the next generation. This to me is a far more encouraging thought than the idea that the Pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus), with their Hellenistic bourgeois morality and loss of missionary thrust6, were the closest that anyone (apart from the Evangelists) came to Paul's vision until we reach that second-century writing, the Epistle to Diognetus.
When we come to the gospels, I feel that I must be radically free to question the historicity of every single detail of every narrative and saying as it is represented by any one of the four gospels in order to search for its meaning as used by the evangelist and its community. As a result of my own studies I have become perforce one of that exotic breed called redaction critics. Basically this means that my working hypothesis is that each writing (apart from such probably composite letters as 2 Corinthians) is to be taken as an intended unity, and that it is to be used as its own interpreter as far as possible. Hence as a redaction critic I do not see my quest as a New Testament scholar to be a search for the historical Jesus but rather a search for what witness each writer on his own terms is bearing in the whole of his writing to God's work in Jesus and its significance for the life and work of the Church in the writer's generation and situation. That is, I seek, and I believe that I find, theology (and in the deepest sense, pastoral theology), not historicity, in the gospels. It is a theology expressed through a controlled vocabulary, intentionally parallel narratives, verbal cross-references, use of Old Testament typology, overall literary structures and other devices. I find in the gospels a concern not with the historical (historisch) Jesus but with the historic (geschichtlich) Jesus, that is, a concern with the unique and yet continuing significance of Jesus for their respective churches in their day.
As if this were not radical enough, let me also say that for me the Scriptures are not themselves the Word of God, and, following my friend and former doctoral supervisor, Professor R. P. C. Hanson7, I believe it is misleading to use the adjective "inspired" when speaking either of the writers or their writings if it is intended thereby to confer a numinous quality that of itself sets the writings apart. I believe that the uniqueness and authority of the Scriptures lie elsewhere, and to that we shall now turn.
The Central Message of the New Testament
begin by trying to define the central message of the New Testament and the task
facing the New Testament writers. Using the above radical approaches to
their writings, my studies have led me to believe that the New Testament writers
(Paul, the Evangelists, etc.) are not so much concerned to develop theology,
christology, anthropology and the like, as they are to maintain a basic
position in these areas in a shifting situation. To do this they employ a
variety of sources, a variety of models, and varying vocabularies, or even the
same vocabulary in a different way, in order to present the one gospel in a
normative shape to different audiences and situations. Their proclamation
is that a new quality of life for the individual and the community has become a
possibility already inaugurated as a result of what God is confessed as having
done in Jesus of Nazareth.
If we attempt to delineate this life-quality on the basis of the main thrust of the New Testament writers, we may define it as freedom in total dependence. The earliest Christians knew a potential for freedom from all that hindered their loving and serving their neighbour without thought of themselves. They knew this freedom as a result of totally depending upon God for all things so that they no longer needed to protect themselves from others or to justify themselves before others or even themselves. They were now free to be "fools for Christ". The basis of this freedom lay, they believed, in the abiding love of God for them supremely made known in the life and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. It was this that had freed them from themselves and their need to be self-seeking and defensive. It was this that had broken down the barriers between themselves and all other men. It was this that had assured them of the direct, freely-given and abiding love of God that would sustain them in all situations. This life-style was a freely-given gift that could only be entered into as it was lived - and the living of it was both grace and demand, both a present reality and yet having a future consummation. If the focus of this freedom was to be seen in Jesus of Nazareth, then its locus, where it was to be found, was within the fellowship of the Church, the people of God, those who acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel8.
The pattern of this very life to which they were called, they believed, was to be seen in a first century Palestinian Jew named Jesus of Nazareth who suffered under Pontius Pilate. In him was to be seen a man among men in whom this life had been lived to the hilt and not found wanting. Him they confessed to be true Man, the man in whom they even now becoming human by, they believed, a power not their own, by the very present power of God himself, his Holy Spirit. And in Jesus they saw The Man, the ultimate goal of the humanity to which they were called.
This freedom in total dependence as the depiction of the proper human state we may sum up as diachristic, theocentric anthropology, that is, a man totally centred on God through Christ.
The Problem Facing the New Testament Writers
This was the life-style that had been caught from Jesus of Nazareth, and I, for all my scepticism about what precisely Jesus said or did, am ever increasingly convinced as a critical scholar, by the deep unity of the main New Testament writers which I find, that the origin of this unity lay in the impact of the person of Jesus of Nazareth as the one who had taught and lived this life. The problem facing the writers of the New Testament was how to inform others who had never seen Jesus of exactly what this life-style was. How were they to give it a normative shape? How were they to keep Gnostic-type pressures, antinomianism, Jewish-Christian rigourism, the influence of astrology and the mystery religions, the pessimism of apocalypticism, and the like from distorting the style of life in Christ that the first generation had known into something quite different? How was this to be coped with as the Church moved from a normalizing Jewish ethos toward the maelstrom of Hellenistic syncretism (or in our own day and place, we might say, towards the all-embracing syncretism of Hinduism)?
The Use of the Old Testament by the New Testament Writers
Probably the biggest single element in their answer to this problem lay in the
use of the Old Testament by the early Christian writers. When we ask why
they used the Old Testament so much, three ready answers spring to mind.
(1) Jesus and the earliest Christians were all Jews so deeply imbued with the Scriptures of the Old Testament (especially the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms) that they did it almost automatically, simply because they were Jews, "the people of the Book".
(2) The earliest Christians needed to show to the other Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, and they could only do this convincingly on the basis of Scripture.
(3) They needed a Scriptural basis for justifying Jesus as a suffering Messiah.
To these three reasons we would add a fourth one which in effect encompasses the other three. In the present writer's opinion, following that of J. L. McKenzie, S. J., it is this fourth reason that is ultimately the most important one of all, and it is the one that still has abiding significance for all Christians everywhere today.
(4) There was a need then, and there is a need now, to stabilize the presentation of Jesus and the life in Christ to which we are called, and this could only be done adequately by presenting Jesus as the Messiah of Israel even to the Gentiles. In J. L. McKenzie's words, "The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is none other than the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob". Fr. McKenzie has made this point very forcefully in the following passage (italics added)9.
One might dispute, if one wished to be precise to the extreme, whether Jesus was the Messiah of Israel. All the evidence indicates that he himself was at least extremely reserved in his own use of the term; and the Messianism of the Old Testament is so transformed in the New Testament that Jesus can hardly be said to correspond exactly to any messianic conception of the Old Testament. But the evidence is also convincing that Jesus and the primitive Church believed that Israel would have no other Messiah, no other fulfilment. In his coming Israel had its final and decisive encounter with God. The conviction of the New Testament is that the history of Israel, which is the history of its encounter with God, should have brought Israel to the point of recognition. It is the history of Israel that isolates Jesus Christ from any figures in the ancient and modern world who might wear enough of his features to confuse those who seek vaguely for what he brings. It is the history of Israel that sets Jesus apart from all culture heroes, king-saviors, cosmic men, and mythological bearers of life; or, in more modern terms, from political saviors, economic prophets, scientific sages, military heroes, psychotherapist bearers of life. It is remarkable, it is even sharply surprising, when one reflects that only as the Savior of Israel can Jesus be recognized as none of these other things. If this be mythology, make the most of it!
Fr. McKenzie's last remark is addressed to Rudolf Bultmann. It might well
be taken to heart by any present day would-be Marcionites or any others
who think that the Church can afford to dispense with the Old Testament in
public reading, preaching, teaching and meditation10.
The Old Testament then is our normative, historic and historical witness to Israel's encounter with Yahweh, the One whom Jesus (Mark 14.36) and his disciples (Rom. 8.15; Gal. 4.6) addressed in total dependence as, "Abba, Father". The Old Testament is our witness to the faithful God who shows mercy and dispenses justice, and calls and brings man to true wisdom, power and well-being (Jer. 9.23-24; cf. 1 Cor. 1.26) as epitomized in the words of the Prophet Micah (6.8): "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" This is part of the ancient reading from Micah for the feast of Passover. the Jews of Palestine (and at least some of the Samaritans as well) expected the Messiah to come at Passover, so it should come as no surprise that this is the passage that is picked up in the definition of the deep things of Torah in Matt. 23.23: justice, mercy and faith. These are the bases and content of true wisdom, power and well-being, respectively, and the New Testament witness is that they are fulfilled in Jesus as the true man by the strength that God supplies.
The Scriptures as Our Normative Witness
we have seen, the Old Testament is necessary for defining the norms, then the
New Testament writings are necessary as the witness to how these norms have been
brought to fulfilment in Jesus and how they are to be expressed in the on-going
life, ministry and witness of the members of the Christian community.
We conclude, therefore, that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are our indispensable historical witness to the historic significance of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah of Israel, whom we confess as our living Lord now. We also conclude that they are needed as the normative basis for defining the life-quality that we confess has become a living possibility for us today in and through what God has done once and for all in Christ Jesus. Without the Scriptures we would have no adequate measuring rod by which to test the spirits to see if they be of God. It is the Jesus who cleansed the temple to make room for the Gentiles, the Jesus whose every argument with the Jewish authorities according to Mark was over the boundaries of the community, who calls into question every church that remains silent or passive in the face of social injustice. It is the Jesus who absorbs the onslaught of his enemies in the cross, the Jesus who taught his disciples to love their enemies, the Jesus who taught his disciples to carry the hated Roman soldier's pack for two miles instead of the required one, it is this Jesus who calls into question those who would readily resort to violence as an adequate means of moving toward a just society. We must "remember Jesus", and it is the Scriptures alone which form an adequate basis for that remembering and which keep reminding us that ministry, sacraments, creeds and Church, are only means to the Christ-life and not ends in themselves. It is the Scriptures that remind us that these things are to issue in the out-going Christ-life, that they are not the sum total of the Christ-life themselves. It is the Jesus of the Scriptures who reminds us that the members of the Church are to be servants of all men; they are not to be triumphalists either individually or collectively over against the rest of society.
We have defined the nature of the Scriptures to be that of a unique and indispensable historical witness, and their function as being that of forming our normative guide to the Christ-life, both Jesus' and ours. What we now need to examine more closely is the authority of Scripture. Are all the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments equally authoritative for the Christian who accepts the basic approach of the present writer? The answer, as we shall see, is no, they are not, but none are without value. First we shall present our own arguments and then we shall show that these are consonant with the way that Jesus and the early Christians viewed the Old Testament and that these are in harmony with the way that the Christians viewed and used the New Testament writings themselves.
Jesus is the Focus of History
central conviction of the writers, editors and redactors of the Old and New
Testaments is that God acts in history, in and through people and events.
The Scriptures do not speak of God as he is but of God in dynamic relation to
men and his creation; they speak of a God who calls men to true humanness
by calling and bringing them into a loving relationship in which they are placed
as his vice-regents over a geocentrically conceived creation. They do not
speak of man as he is, but of men in their relation to God and to each
other. They do not speak of the creation as a self-existent entity, but of
the creation in relation to God and to men.
It is in keeping with this that I believe that "history", the interplay of people and events, is what matters, is, to use a modern phrase, "where the action is"; it is history in this sense, that is, in the interrelatedness of God, man and the world in our historical lives, that true value lies. The basic biblical concept of truth is not concerned with something that is abstract or absolute, but it is rather concerned with that which is manifest and moral. It is not truth in the Platonic sense but rather it is that which is done and is intended to be done openly, visibly and without dissembling. It is in this sense that God is called a "God of truth" ('emeth, Deut. 32.4), who swears in his truth ('emunah, Ps. 89.49), who shows his kindness and truth ('emeth, 2 Sam. 2.6), and who calls men to walk in his truth ('emeth, 1 Kings 2.4)11. It is in keeping with this understanding that the Johannine literature speaks of "doing the truth" (alétheia, John 3.21; 1 John 1.6; 3.18). It is on the basis of this doing of the truth that I then look to the Scriptures as historical, evidential witness to what life is about, life seen at its deepest as concerned with the meaning of the historical process in which I am involved here and now.
If I accept the New Testament witnesses on the whole, then I accept that what they witness to, and what I am called to witness to in my personal history, is the quality of life proclaimed and lived in Jesus of Nazareth as being the apex and the normative culmination of the entire biblical witness.
As Norman Pittenger makes clear in Christology Reconsidered12, in order to define and understand a person and his significance, one needs to know what made him the way he was (his past and antecedents). his person in the midst of his contemporaries as seen in his words and actions (his "present"), so to speak), and his impact on his contemporaries and those who come after (his "future", as it were). In accordance with this, using once again Pittenger's helpful words. "locus" and "focus", I focus on Jesus of Nazareth. taking as the locus of witness to him the whole of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the work, worship and witness of the Church over the past twenty centuries.
But as a person concerned with history:
1. I take as central and normative the New Testament writings.
2. Because the New Testament writings cannot be understood apart from the Old Testament, I also
include the Old Testament as part of the necessary foundation for "hearing" the New
Testament witnesses in order that I may recognize the Jesus to whom they bear witness and
the God whom he addresses as Father.
3. This then inevitably also requires historical background for the New Testament, which would
include the intertestamental writings such as the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, the works of
Philo and Josephus, the rabbinic literature, the Qumran materials, data on Hellenistic culture
and religions, etc.
4. It also requires that attention be paid to subsequent developments that have their roots in the
first century, such as the Gnostic writings of the second century and the so-called Apostolic
To this we may add that because the Gospels were intended to be the normative form of the Jesus-tradition for the Christian communities for which they were initially written (a conclusion I reach on historico-critical grounds), I accord them in some sense the highest normative position of all, even though as sheer historical evidence, Paul's letters antedate them. This is in keeping with my central concern with what is historic and significant (geschichtlich) about Jesus, not with what is merely historical or factual (historisch).
Scripture and Experience as Validating Each Other
add a word here about what I see to be the right and proper interrelatedness and
mutual validating of experience and the scriptural witness. I view my
knowledge of history, my own experience in life and the fruits of modern
reflection on experience (e.g., sociology and psychology) as validating the
biblical witness, so that this witness is then felt to have "reasonable
authority" for a "reasonable man". For example, the
American psychologist, Eric Fromm, after a great deal of empirical
investigation, came to the conclusion that human beings only learn how to love
by being loved. Nearly nineteen hundred years ago that same insight was
expressed by the author of 1 John: "We love because he first loved us"
(4.19). This congruence of present day insight with the biblical witness
increases my confidence in both, that is, it increases the value that I find in
and give to each of them.
But perhaps we should back up at least one stage further in order to understand this process. (1) I have been reared and nurtured in a western form of the Judaeo-Christian ethos. (2) I therefore almost inescapably interpret my experience in terms of that ethos. (3) I then find the same interpretation of life in the Scriptures, and (4) I therefore conclude that the basic scriptural witness is "true". (5) On the basis of this apparent corroboration, I then look at my further experience in terms of the insights and outlooks that I gain from the Scriptures. If this seems like a somewhat circular process, it is only because it is. Ultimately, it is because I find life in Christ, the Jesus-shaped life, to be a life that is truly joyous and worthwhile for me, that I ascribe to the Scriptures value, authority and a normalizing function in my life and that of the Christian community.
For the one who comes to the Christian faith from outside the Judaeo-Christian tradition, it is initially the witness of the Scriptures and/or the life-quality of Christians he has come to know that is attractive. But is is only when he enters into the life in Christ that their witness becomes his own experience and hence authentically "true" for him. From then on, if he stays in Christ, his path becomes the five-fold one that I have described. However, it is not in my experience a closed circle, and I trust it will not be so for him. It is rather like a helix or coiled spring. One never returns simply to where one was, but to a deeper, higher and wider apprehension of the Scriptures and of one's own experience and that of others as well.
The Word of God
have indicated earlier, I do not take the Scrip5tures themselves to be the Word
of God, but rather they are the witness of men to what they believed to be the
Word of God to them in their generation and in their historical situation.
What I mean by the Word of God is that which meets me in my own situation as life-judging and life-giving, that which meets me as a call to response and grace for that response. This may come to me more often through reading and meditating upon the Scriptures than through any other medium, but it also comes to me daily through other people and events, through reading novels, newspapers or even scholarly articles on biblical subjects. The Word of God is not bound.
Thus when we take the Scriptures as normative, as furnishing us with a standard and measure, a model for our response, then we use them as our guide for our faith and vision in a world which itself also presents us with God's Word in terms of his activity, his demand, his grace and his promises in the people and events around us. It is the Scriptures that deepen and nurture our ability to hear and see, and to take heart so that we make our own response in our own time and place, but the reading and hearing of the Scriptures themselves is only one occasion among many in which the living Word of God meets us with grace, demand, judgement and promise.
However, if we speak of the Scriptures as being the Word of God, we have moved from the Scriptures as a normative guide for perceiving and responding to the Word of God as meeting us in diverse people and situations, each calling for a unique response from us. We have moved instead at least toward a position in which it is only in the reading, the hearing, and the recalling of the Scriptures themselves that we are met by the Word of God. The Scriptures have been given thereby a "triumphalist" status that appears to deny that the Spirit of God blows where he wills. If a prophet of the Exile could see that God was using Cyrus as his anointed one (Isa. 44.28-45.6), if Jesus according to Mark could welcome the activity of the exorcist who was not a disciple but who used Jesus' name (Mark 9.38-40), then we too had better be willing to see if the Word of God's judgement and justice is not to be found in our midst on the lips and in the actions of perhaps a Communist trade union official.
That the Scriptures often meet us with the Word of God for us in our situation is undoubtedly the experience of Christians through the centuries, but that the Scriptures invariably sound in our ears as God's Word to us is a position that can only be maintained by picking and choosing certain portions. For example, how much of Exodus 27 to Numbers 7 speaks to Christians of the present day? When, in the midst of lakhs and even crores of jobless and destitute people in a democracy that is struggling for justice for its people, we read of the lavish adornment of Solomon's temple which was built by forced labour, how can we possibly take this as license, much less as command, for rich adorning of our church buildings in this year of grace? How can we possibly pray with the psalmist that God will dash the heads of our enemies' children against the stones (Ps. 137.9; cf. also Isa. 13.16)? Are we not instead led to penitence because we have found ourselves praying something very like this, so that it is in the very rejection of the words of this scripture that we are led to the Word of God?
The Authority of the Old Testament Writings for Jesus and the Early Christians
Jesus' day among the Jews the central core of Scripture was the Torah, Genesis
through Deuteronomy, and around it at a somewhat lesser level of authority were
the Prophets (Former and Latter, that is, the historical books and the writing
prophets). The third part of the Old Testament. the Writings (which
includes the Psalms) was as yet quite fluid, and it was not defined and limited
by the Jews until the end of the first century A.D. Thus we find, for
example, that the Epistle of Jude quotes in verses 14-15 from the book of Enoch
and draws on the Assumption of Moses in verse 9, works which were later
rejected. Hence it is not surprising that when the author of 2 Peter,
writing in the middle of the second century, re-wrote much of the material from
Jude, he did not use any of the matter that depended upon those writings that
were no longer given any recognition.
Now, as we have indicated, the central part of the Scriptures for the Jews was the Torah. In his article on "The Use of the Bible by Conservative Evangelicals", Mr Nicholls has written, "Because [ Jesus] believed that the Scriptures were the word of His Father, never once do we find Him putting His own authority against that of the Old Testament"13. However, we certainly do find that the evangelists testify that he set aside a part of the Torah as not being the will of God, namely, the provision for divorce, which in Matthew and Mark Jesus ascribes to Moses and not to God (Mark 10.2-12; Matt. 19.3-12; Luke 16.18). Most scholars believe that the exceptive clause in Matt. 19.9, in which Jesus is said to allow divorce in the case of unchastity, is an addition made by Matthew or his community as a relaxing of Jesus' judgement. However, it can be argued, as the present writer has heard Professor A. R. C. Leaney suggest in a seminar, that Matthew is doing no more than making explicit an exception that would have been taken for granted by Jesus and other first-century Jews. In either case, we are left with (a) Jesus modifying the force of the Scripture, and (b) the Church either modifying the force of Jesus' words or feeling free to expand them in order to make their meaning clear.
Our next example of Jesus' abrogation of a portion of the Torah occurs in Matt. 5.38, where we read: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth'". This is a citing of a passage found in Exod. 21.24; Lev. 24.20 and Deut. 19.21. In Matthew's presentation Jesus does not ascribe this to God, and he goes on to set it aside in the following verses which begin with the words, "but I say unto you" (5.39).
We may note that in Matthew, unlike in Mark, Jesus is presented as ascribing all moral precepts to God. This may be seen by comparing Matt. 15.4 to Mark 7.10, and Matt. 22.31 to Mark 12.26; in Mark these verses contain references to Moses, but in Matthew they are replaced by references to God. Furthermore, in Matthew the only things ascribed by Jesus to Moses (as though thus to dismiss them) are ceremonial rules (Matt. 8.4, reproducing Mark 1.44) and the permission concerning divorce (Matt. 19.8; compare Mark 10.3, 5 which speak of Moses commanding it). We may conclude that Jesus appears to have discriminated, according to the gospel witness, between different parts of even the Torah itself.
When we turn to Paul, we find that he presents the Law as having been given not by God but by angels through a mediator (i.e., Moses) in Gal. 3.19, and he proclaims that we are no longer under the Law (Gal. 3.23-24).
In fact, it would appear that the early Christians were faced with a dilemma. They needed the Old Testament to undergird and to stabilize their witness to, and understanding of, the Christ-life, both as seen in Jesus and as being the pattern of the Christian life. At the same time, they knew themselves to be no longer bound by all its legislation. But they also needed a standard of behaviour that was normative and basically binding, and which they could use as a continuing basis for catechizing Gentile converts. As R. M. Grant has shown14, they found their answer by doing a good piece of typically Jewish exegesis. The only part of the Torah that was still binding was the part that the scriptures said that God gave directly, namely, the Ten Commandments, for did not God write those himself? This position left them free to use the remainder of the Old Testament as they saw fit. Just as the Christians' use of the Septuagint (the most popular Greek version of the Scriptures) caused the Jews to reject it by the end of the first century A.D., so it would appear that it was the Christians' use of the Decalogue15 which caused the Jews to drop it from the Sabbath liturgy in the second century, whereas it had been part of that liturgy in Jesus' day.
Those who know anything about the emergence of the Canon of the new Testament will be aware of how many of the writings were not readily and universally accepted, some of them for a very long time. Early on the Fourth Gospel was suspect in some quarters because of the use made of it by the Gnostics, and the list of works whose right to a place in the Church's accepted writings was disputed includes Hebrews, James, Jude, II Peter, II and III John, and Revelation. To the present day Revelation is not accepted by the Syrian Orthodox Church. Most people know that the great reformer and biblical exegete, Martin Luther, considered James to be "a right strawy epistle" when compared to Romans, but it is not widely remembered that he also disparaged three further works in the New Testament. He considered that Hebrews and James were contrary to Paul and the Evangelists, and in his judgement Jude and Revelation missed the point of the gospel. Hence, in his 1552 translation of the New Testament he placed these four at the end and he even refused to list them in the table of contents16.
Thus, when Christians of today do not find all parts of the Scriptures equally authoritative for our day, they may take heart that they are in the company of Jesus, Paul and the other early Christians, and Martin Luther. When one goes to law one prepares a brief and calls witnesses. Not all the evidence and not all the witnesses will equally stand up under scrutiny, but if one has a good case, there will be enough good evidence and reliable witnesses to make a case. So it is with the Scriptures: the case is sound enough for our faith and the evidence is weighty, but not all of it is of equal value or equally reliable. According to the New Testament, this was Jesus' judgement, it was Paul's judgement, and it can, with fidelity to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, be our judgement as well17.
As has often been said, Christian faith is caught, not taught. As Paul himself specifies, the righteousness of God is revealed by faith to and for faith (Rom. 1.17). It is only as we listen to the biblical writers as being faithful witnesses to God's hand in their lives as individuals and as a community that we, in faith, can make their witness our own. The books of the Bible are written by men (and women - see Deborah's song in Judges 5) witnessing to God's work in their lives. They write with all the limitations and fallibilities of their humanity, with all the limitations of their own situation and culture, but yet time and again they confess the total sufficiency of God as the Lord of history and of their lives. In this we recognize them to be faithful and true, and so their faith touches ours to kindle and rekindle it in the blazing fire of the love of God in Christ Jesus from whom nothing can separate us (Rom. 8.37-39). The Church, guided, I firmly believe, by the Holy Spirit, has settled on these writings as being a sufficient witness, and it is a witness by which we are continually called to reformation, renewal, commitment and service by a strength not our own. As John Bligh has pointed out in his commentary on Galatians18, the people of Galatia had to believe in Paul before they could believe in the gospel which he preached. It is because he lived the gospel as a faithful witness with the whole of his being that they were enabled to hear and receive and enter into the gospel that he preached. For all the vagaries and waywardness of the Israelites, the Jews, and the disciples of Jesus, yet their continual returning to the Lord is proof to our faith of their faithfulness. And so we listen ever anew to the witness that they would bear to us, and by the grace of God we make it our own in our own day in our own situation with all its unique opportunities and demands for our faithful response now.
The Use of the Bible in the Church
begin by saying that I heartily endorse all that Dr Carder has said concerning
suggestions for our own study and use of the Bible and her suggestions for its
use in our ministry19.
Because of her deep and long knowledge of the Indian situation, it would be
inappropriate and presumptuous of me to repeat here what she has set forth so
well. But because as a radical scholar my position is not precisely the
same as hers, there are a number of points at which I would make additional
suggestions or go beyond what she has said. These I shall now offer for
your prayerful consideration.
A number of the points that I would suggest are perhaps for the present more appropriate for Europe and North America that they are for India. Not only has radical scholarship had a much greater impact in academic circles there up to the present, but also the fruits of it are widely used in schools (especially in the United Kingdom), colleges and universities. Furthermore, for example, in Britain its findings and viewpoints are readily available to an almost universally literate public in the form of popular and inexpensive paperbacks produced by such publishers as Fontana, Penguin, Hodder and Stoughton, SCM Press, S.P.C.K. and Oxford University Press. Neither the universal literacy nor the level of availability has yet to appertain to the Indian situation, but perhaps the suggestions that follow may be taken in the sense that to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
The purpose of all these suggestions is to maintain the spiritual and intellectual integrity of all who are called upon to read or hear the Scriptures, and to maintain this integrity in such a way that, as far as possible, all people may be helped and none may be hindered in their own pilgrimage of mind and spirit in Christ. Christ will always have his "little ones" who are simple in faith, and he will also have his restless ones whose faith will only be deepened by walking in the way of honest doubt. We must hold them together in Christ's fellowship and try to avoid causing anyone of them to stumble unnecessarily.
(1) Training for the ordained ministry
What is the function of the professionally-trained ordained minister? He (or she) is set apart to be a normative enabler. That is, following Paul's understanding of the ministry as so ably set forth by Professor A. T. Hanson in The Pioneer Ministry (SCM Press, London, 1961), he is to set a normative pattern in his ministry and life for others to follow and from which they may take heart. And he is to stand alongside them where they are in their own life and understanding to help them see the relevance of the Christian lore in their own situation so that they may be enabled to make their own response. He is not so much to do things for others as he is to enable them to do them for themselves that they may thereby grow up into the maturity that they are called to in Christ. This means that he must become free to approach them in terms of their own needs, their own understanding and their own theological models, rather than in terms of his own needs, his own understanding and his own models. For example, if they believe that their goal is heaven, and that it is a place, then he should not simply seek to weaken or destroy it, but rather he should basically seek to deepen and to broaden the quality of their concept.
In order that he may do this, he himself, in my view, needs to be enabled to see how various theological models are used within the biblical witness to say the same thing in changing situations. He must be helped to understand, for example, the mythological models that lie behind the later Priestly creation narrative of Gen. 1 and the earlier Yahwist creation narrative of Gen. 2. He must be helped to understand why these writers chose these particular models from their surrounding culture, how and why they transformed them, and what it is that they wished to convey through them. It is this deeper message conveyed through the medium of the models that is the heart of the matter. It is only thus that he will be enabled to recognize how these models are picked up and used or transformed by the New Testament writers. It is only as he himself is freed to seek and to use various kinds of models to convey the same convictions and insights that he will be able to communicate effectively the biblical witness to diverse people with a variety of outlooks.
This means that during his training he must be supported by a depth of Christian fellowship and concern that will hold him so that he may dare to die to his single inherited set of models and be raised to a deeper life in Christ where he can bear the cost of being all things to all men for their sakes, and on their terms, not his. This calls for the maximum depth of critical scholarship that he can absorb within the setting of a caring, sharing and accepting Christian community in which all are seekers and learners, staff and students alike.
He needs to learn to see the diverse Old Testament and New Testament models in their continuity (and discontinuity) with those of Irenaeus, Origen, Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Anselm, Abelard, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Ritschl, Schleiermacher, Temple, Tillich, Pittenger, Chenchiah, Appasamy, and M. M. Thomas, to name but a few. He must learn to see them all in their historical and cultural settings, with their underlying concerns, their advantages and limitations. And then he must be ready to go and do likewise, theologizing as an equally good and faithful servant, a scribe of the Kingdom who brings out of his one treasury both things old and things new, learning from the past in order that he may not be doomed simply to repeat it.
This means that within the limitations of a three or even four year curriculum the theological student needs the opportunity to exegete the scriptures in depth, so as to see and understand the witness of a scriptural writer on his own terms. Since the student cannot possibly do this adequately for all sixty-six books of the Canon, he will be better served by exegeting representative genre, and where possible, writings in their entirety so as to grasp the whole theological unity and message of a writer, or, in the case of Genesis, the outlooks and concerns of the various redactors and how these bear on the progressive reshaping of the traditions. Thus, for example, exegeting the whole of Mark will be more satisfying and less confusing than doing snippets from Mark, Q, M and L (the so-called four sources of the Synoptic Gospels). Only in this way, in my estimation and experience, will the student become truly equipped and free within himself to continue the exciting exegesis of the remaining books as part of his regular study during his ministry.
(2) Public worship
(a) Reforming our worship: If the Scriptures are to be our norm, then we should use our knowledge of them to reform public worship. For example, we claim to preach a gospel of faith and grace, but how often do our prayers, our hymns and our liturgies speak of "the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ"? If in the New Testament Jesus is spoken of as being "worthy", axios (e.g., Rev. 5.9), it is as one who has persevered under testing, not as one who has merit. In Mark's gospel Jesus is said to object to being called "good", agathos, "for there is no one that is good except one: God" (Mark 10.18). The concept of Jesus as having merit is basically a Western, Latin, legalistic concept from which even the Protestant Reformers did not escape. In the gospels Jesus is the man of faith, not of merit, and it is only such that he can be the man in and through whom we are becoming men and women of faith, not merit. There is no good reason why we in the twentieth century should continue to perpetuate this non-biblical aberration concerning merit in our preaching, our teaching, or our forms of public worship. It is in keeping with this attempt to achieve a more biblical balance that one new liturgy after another speaks of our being "kept in life eternal" as a present reality which is yet to be consummated rather than in the forms inherited from the Western Middle Ages and the Reformation which speak purely futuristically that God may "bring you to life everlasting". Changes such as these will help to provide the optimal setting in which the Good News and the life unbounded which comes as the free gift of God through Christ can be heard more readily when the Scriptures themselves are read and expounded.
(b) The reading of the Scriptures in public worship: In accordance with all that we have said above, it is obvious why the present writer does not find it helpful to have readings introduced by such phrases as, "Hear the Word of God as it is written in" such-and-such a book. Obviously, then, the concluding of such a reading with some such formulas as, "This is the Word of the Lord", or "May God add his blessing to this reading of his Holy Word", is equally objectionable. For those traditions where this type of formula is customary one might instead say, "May we hear God's Word to us in the reading of this portion of Scripture".
Dr Carder has pointed out that she would not expect any trained person to introduce Hebrews as "the Epistle of Paul, the Apostle, to the Hebrews"!20 Even in my seminary days in the U.S. in the 1950's any student who introduced a reading from Ephesians as "the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians" was clearly told by the faculty member in charge that he had erred. On the premises that I have laid out at the beginning of this essay I would of course be happiest if Paul's name were associated only with Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians and Philemon, and this is the practice that I personally follow. As I tried to explain earlier, this is not intended to be mere pedantry, but rather it is intended to allow each of the other letters to be heard in its own right. We shall say more about this when we come to preaching.
What kind of lessons are to be read? From what I have said, I of course would prefer to have whole books read in course week by week. On the Sabbath in the synagogue in Jesus' day the whole of the Pentateuch was covered over a three year period, with a shorter second lesson being read from the Former and Latter Prophets, plus a psalm. In fact, at one stage the whole of the one hundred and fifty psalms appear to have been spread over the three years. In our case as Christians, the books which cry out to be read in course are especially the Gospels, and the new American Roman Catholic usage for the Eucharist sets readings from one gospel for each year. As we have indicated, the Old Testament lies behind the New Testament, and it appears that the gospels and a number of other New Testament writings were so structured as to echo the sequence of the synagogue lectionary.21 Thus we need to read and expound the Old Testament as well as the New. We need to preach on it in its own right, and we also need to show how passages are being picked up and used in the New Testament as well.
Now this poses the problem of how we fix our public readings. We only become familiar with the Scriptures by repeated contact with them. If many Christians do read them daily (and I hope they will real daily consecutive portions from a book of each of the Testaments), yet there are many more who do not. Therefore the Scriptures must be read to them on Sundays and often enough for them to come to know them. Thus the Sunday lessons should include the Old Testament along with the New. If we are to read the New Testament books in course, then how are we to choose the reading from the Old Testament? Perhaps we might move toward developing a lectionary lasting several years that some years might, for example, follow a gospel through with matching lessons from the Old Testament, and another year might follow at least the major portions of perhaps Genesis accompanied by lessons from the New Testament that pick up the Genesis material (e.g., Gen. 1-4 could be matched by 1 John). The epistles also need a similar treatment.
The historic eucharistic liturgies give a very prominent position to the reading of the Gospel, and this preeminence of the Gospel has often been emphasized in the eucharist by special ceremonial at this point. This prominence was given in the past because the gospels were thought to contain directly and precisely the words and deeds of Jesus. Although modern scholarship has made this position an untenable one for many educated Christians, yet I believe that this prominence and preeminence of the gospel reading should be maintained, since the gospels appear to have been intended to function as the normative form of the Jesus-tradition. Thus, although Paul's letters antedate the gospels as sheer historical evidence, they nevertheless stand second to the gospels in their ultimate significance as historic witness to Jesus and the life in Christ.
With regard to reading non-Scriptural materials in public worship, whether by Christian writers or others, I would not want them to be given the same accord in the central acts of Christian worship as the Scriptures. Since the Scriptures are our normative witness, and as we have all too little contact at depth with them, they need much more careful study and expounding, not less. Yet it may well be a good thing at least occasionally to include non-scriptural passages, even selected portions of non-Christian Scriptures of our neighbours in this pluralistic society, if only to open us up to our common humanity.
(c) The sermon: With regard to the sermon, I would plead that it follows immediately after the readings (without the interruption of the often lengthy announcements) and that it make proper and weighty use of all the readings. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that any readings which are not going to be taken up in the sermon (and there are times when purely topical sermons are called for) would better be omitted rather than left to the ignominy of being disregarded and hence downgraded to no more than a cultic act! In synagogues the Scriptures have never been read without exposition, and the Christian Church should settle for nothing less.
In the sermon itself (and in leading Bible study groups and the like), I would rather hear about what "the writer of Ephesians" says rather than what "Paul says in Ephesians". This need give offence to no one, but it instead leaves the question open. With regard to the gospels, there is no need to say to a congregation that "this story did not happen", for that would unnecessarily upset some people. Rather, what is needed is to expound the underlying witness and meaning of the story.22 Did Jesus say all the words attributed to him? Modern scholarship would say that this is very unlikely. A simple way of handling this is not to say merely, "Jesus said ...", but rather to say, "Mark bears witness to Jesus as saying ..." or, "In the Gospel according to John Jesus is presented as saying ...". I have used this type of approach in England in what were basically working-class parishes, and I have been approached afterwards by young people who were studying the Scriptures in school who thanked me warmly for it. Among at least our more sophisticated urban congregations in India there are probably many who would welcome the openness and honesty of such an approach.
Above all, let us use the Scriptures faithfully and honestly, putting all our God-given talents to the task, so that we and all those with whom and for whom we work may know "the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ " (2 Cor. 4.6b, NEB).
1 Bruce J. Nicholls, "The Use of the Bible by Conservative Evangelicals", B.T.F., IV/2 (July-Dec., 1972), pp. 3-16. (Back)
2 Muriel M. Carder, "The Use of the Bible in the Church's Ministry: The Conservative-Critical (Mediating) Position", B.T.F., IV/2 (July-Dec., 1972), pp. 17-49. (Back)
3 P. N. Harrison, in The Problem of the Pastorals (Oxford University Press, 1921) and further in Paulines and Pastorals (Villiers Publications, London, 1964), has massively demonstrated (1) that the style and vocabulary of the Pastorals are distinct from those of Paul, and (2) that these writings closely match the style and vocabulary that are current in the early second century A.D. as these are to be found, for example, in the Apostolic Fathers and the Apologists.
In taking only five letters as being by Paul;, my position is more radical than that presented by my friend and former teacher, Professor R. H. Fuller, in his book of 1966, A Critical Introduction to the New Testament (Duckworth, London, 1966), pp. 15-56, where 1 Thessalonians and Philippians are included among the undisputed letters of Paul. I hasten to add that in 1966 I would have agreed with him. Fuller's 1966 position is itself a change from that which he held in 1960. In The Book of the Acts of God (revised from the American edition of 1957; Duckworth, London, 1960; Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1965), p. 320, his judgement is that 2 Thessalonians, Colossians and Ephesians are all by Paul. By 1966 he had become undecided about the first two and definite about Ephesians as not being by Paul. (Back)
4 There is an ever-growing literature on the analysis of stylistic habits of authors of Greek prose. Among the articles and books that have been published, the following are a few of the significant ones: W. C. Wake, "Sentence Length Distributions of Greek Authors", Journal of the Royal Society (London, Series A, Part 3, 1957, Vol. 120, pp. 331-346; M. Levinson, A. Q. Morton and W. C. Wake, "Some Statistical Features of the Pauline Epistles", Journal of the Royal Philosophical Society (London), July 1966; A. Q. Morton and J. McLeman, Paul, The Man and the Myth (Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1966); S. Michaelson and A. Q. Morton, "Last Words: A Test of Authorship for Greek Writers", New Testament Studies, 18/2 (Jan. 1972, pp. 192-208. (Back)
5 See R. H. Fuller's difficulties (Critical Introduction, p. 63) in trying to place Colossians satisfactorily within such a Pauline scheme. Its apparent links with Philemon, which fits best in the Ephesian captivity, argues for its origin at Ephesus, but its developed theology argues for placing it at Rome if it is to be taken as being by Paul, since its developed thought would place it after the writing of Romans. (Back)
6 See Ferdinand Hahn, Mission in the New Testament (SBT 47; SCM Press, London, 1965), p. 140. (Back)
7 R. P. C. Hanson, "The Inspiration of Holy Scripture", which appeared in the Anglican Theological Review (April, 1961). This was expanded and further radicalized in his inaugural lecture as the Lightfoot Professor of Divinity delivered on 12 March, 1963, The Bible as a Norm of Faith (published by the University of Durham, England, 1963). (Back)
8 Similar views may be seen in the works of such radical New Testament scholars as Ernst Käsemann, Jesus Means Freedom: A Polemical Survey of the New Testament (SCM Press, London, 1969; translated by Frank Clarke from Der Ruf der Freiheit, 3rd ed. [J. C. B. Mohr, Tübingen, 1968]) and Willi Marxen, The New Testament as the Church's Book (Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1972). See also Dorothee Sölle, Christ the Representative: An Essay in Theology after the Death of God (SCM Press, London, 1967), and especially Norman W. Pittenger, Christology Reconsidered (SCM Press, London, 1970). (Back)
9 J. L. McKenzie, S.J., "The Significance of the Old Testament for Christian Faith in Roman Catholicism", in The Old Testament and Christian Faith, ed. by B. W. Anderson (SCM Press, London, 1963), pp. 108 f. (Back)
10 When this present essay was delivered at a post-graduate seminar at U.T.C., Bangalore, in February, 1974, my colleague, Dr Gerhard Wehmeier pointed out that the concept of "Messiah" is not necessarily the best choice of a primary model by which Jesus is to be related to the OT. I could not agree more, for the major presentation that I detect at the base of the NT witness is that Jesus is the normative man, expressed in terms of the model of the God-intended Adam. This is a far more universal category than Messiah, but yet it requires in my estimation the OT to undergird our understanding of its presentation in the OT. It is the link with Israel and the scriptures of the OT that is vital, and the more explicitly these links are made, the less likely it is that the Jesus-picture will be ultimately distorted. Along with such links as the presenting of Jesus as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham, I would also include that of Jesus as the Christ.
In Matthew's presentation the gospel begins by echoing "The book of the generations of Adam" (Gen. 5.1, LXX), for which Matthew substitutes: "The book of the generations of Jesus, Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham" (Matt. 1.1). In Matthew it is as the Christ that Jesus brings justice to completion, as the Son of David he shows forth mercy, and as the Son of Abraham he is the man of faith, thus effectively fulfilling the definition of God's requirements of man as found in Micah 6.8 (cf. Matt. 23.23).
The primary gifts of the Spirit enumerated in 1 Cor. 13.13 correspond to Matthew's triad as follows: faith to faith, hope to justice (which is concerned with how things turn out, the future), and love to mercy. Another corresponding set of three elements defining man's proper dependence on God are tobe found in Luke 2.52: Jesus grew in wisdom, stature (using a word that Philo and Josephus employ in the sense of "age of strength"), and in favour with God and men. In John 16.8-11 the terms are believing, righteousness and judgement, with regard to which "the world", that is, men apart from God, are convicted. All of these appear to be based on reflection on the nature of wisdom, power and well-being (1 Cor. 1.26; Jer. 9.23-24) in conjunction with Gen. 1.26-28, the notion of man as created to be God's image, his likeness. Among OT passages which appear to reflect this concern for wisdom, power and well-being (or riches) as being basically God's gifts, not men's creation, we may cite 1 Kings 3.10-14 and 2 Chron. 1.10-12, both of which tell of God's endowing Solomon with these gifts. Ezek. 28.2-10 takes up the same three motifs against the prince of Tyre, and this is immediately followed in the next section, vv.111-19, by explicit references to the Adamic model in the garden of Eden. [2004: For a full presentation of this, see Wisdom, Power and Well-being on this site.] (Back)
11 On "truth" in the Old Testament see J. Murphy-O'Connor, O.P., "Truth: Paul and Qumran", in Paul and Qumran ed. by J. Murphy-O'Connor (Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1968, especially pp. 182-183. The article originally appeared in Revue Biblique 72 (1965), pp. 29-76. (Back)
12 See note 8 above. (Back)
13 Nicholls, art.cit., p. 4. (Back)
14 R. M. Grant, "The Deaclogue in Early Christianity", Harvard Theological Revue, XL (1947), pp. 1-17. (Back)
15 The importance given to the Decalogue may be noted in 1 Corinthians. This letter is chiastic overall (that is, elements A, B, C, ... N, are repeated in reverse order: N' ... C', B', A', with the most important point being at the centre: N, N'). The central section of the letter, 1 Cor 6.1-10.33, appears to be structured chiastically on the Decalogue, with the Christian , two-element form of the First Commandment ("One God, ... one Lord ...") at the very heart of the letter in 8.6. For those readers who may like to examine this for themselves, the following cursory outline is given: I. (one God): 8.6a; 8.6b; II. (no idols): 8.1-5; 8.7-10; III. (name of Lord): 7.25-29; 8.11-13; IV. (Sabbath, holy, work): 7.14-24; 9.1-27); V. (father and mother): 7.1-14; 10.1; VI. (no murder): 6.19-20; 10.5; VII. (no adultery): 6.9-18; 10.6-22; VIII. (no stealing): 6.8b-ll; 10.23-24; IX. (no false witness): 6.8a; 10.25-30; X. (no coveting): 6.1; 10.31-33. It is worth noting that when he echoes the Fourth Commandment Paul does not mention the word "Sabbath", but rather he picks up the word "holy" in 7.14-24 and the word "work" in 9.1-27. (Back)
16 See John E. Benson, "The History of the Historical-Critical Method in the Church: A Survey", Dialog, Vol. 12 (Spring, 1973), p. 97. (Back)
17 As we have seen above, in Matt. 5.38-39 Jesus is presented as expressly setting aside a passage found in Exod. 21.24, Lev. 24.20 and Deut. 19.21. Thus Mr Nicholls has fallen short in his understanding of Matthew's presentation of Jesus when he writes as follows (art.cit., p. 4):
|In the Sermon on the Mount he contrasts 'You have heard that it was said' with 'But I say to you'. Jesus is not correcting the Scripture as such, as is very clear from His statement, 'I have not come to abolish them but fulfil them ... till heaven and earth pass, not an iota, not a dot will pass from the law until all is accomplished' (Matthew 5:17, 18). Rather, He is rejecting the Judaistic interpretations of the law, and those who through their traditions added to or subtracted from the law.|
We would make several comments on this. (1) Matt. 5.17 explicitly refers to "the Law and the Prophets", which means the Pentateuch and the Former and Latter Prophets;; the Writings, the third division of the Hebrew Old Testament, were not "canonized" until the end of the first century A.D., although the Psalms appear to have had a special status (cf. Luke 24.44, which adds the Psalms to the Law and the Prophets as witnesses to Jesus). Thus the plain words of Matt. 5.17 or Luke 22.33 do not, on any reading, give authority to the whole of our canonical Old Testament. (2) The key to Matt. 5.17-18 lies in the words "fulfil" and "until all things be accomplished". In Jesus all the Law and the Prophets are "fulfilled" and "accomplished", that is, they are fully embodied in deed so that Jesus alone is the whole of the Torah (the Law and the Prophets) in both word (his teaching, which "completes" the Torah, cf. 7.28; 11.1; 13.53; 19.1; 26.1) and deed (which in Matthew is the passion through the entombment). For "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall never pass away" (Matt. 24.35, reproducing Mark 13.3), so that Jesus' words are the abiding Torah that supersedes the Torah-as-written. This Matthaean presentation matches that of Paul in the Corinthian letters who speaks of himself as "not being lawless before God but en-lawed of Christ" (μὴ ὦν ἄνομος Θεοῦ ἀλλ᾿ ἔννομος Χριστοῦ, 1 Cor. 9.21) and of the Corinthian Christians as being "an epistle of Christ ... written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tables of stone but on tables that are hearts of flesh (2 Cor. 3.3; vv. 4-11 make it clear that the reference is to the Decalogue). See the present writer's two articles, "The Son of God as the Torah Incarnate in Matthew", Studia Evangelica IV (Akademie Verlag, Berlin, 1968, pp. 38-46, and "Mark 1:1-15, Matthew 1:1-4:16, Luke 1:1-4:30; John 1:1-51: The Gospel Prologues and Their Function", Studia Evangelica VI (Akademie Verlag, Berlin, 1973), especially pp. 185-188. [2004: Both of these can be found on the present site.] (Back)
18 John Bligh, Galatians: A Discussion of St Paul's Epistle (St Paul Publications, London, 1969), p. 512. (Back)
19 M. Carder, art.cit., pp. 37-49. (Back)
20 M. Carder, art.cit., p. 42. (Back)
21 For an undeniable demonstration of this with regard to Mark, see C. T. Ruddick, Jr., "Behold I Send My Messenger", Journal of Biblical Literature, 88/4 (December, 1969), pp. 381-417. [2004: For my extension and further corroboration of Ruddick's work, see on this site Mark and the Triennial Lectionary.] (Back)
22 An excellent aid for this task is Reginald H. Fuller's llittle book, Interpreting the Miracles (SCM Press, London, 1963). (Back)
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