The Unity of Scripture

From Patrick Reardon’s excellent book ‘Christ in the Psalms’ there is this reflection:

In short, the principle of canonical unity — even if we limit our attention just to the Hebrew Bible, or even a section within that Bible — is difficult to discern simply by an examination of the canon taken by itself.  The canon, even the the Old Testament canon, does not adequately explain its own unity.

Among the sundry attempts to address this inquiry I believe the most reasonable is that which searches for the unity of the biblical canon, not in some common trait within its disparate literary components, but in some prior and non-literary principle — namely the objective historical continuity of the chosen people of God. That is to say, the canonical unity of the Hebrew Scriptures is not found in the Scriptures, but in the quid continuum called “Israel”.

What I have in mind to affirm here was expressed succinctly several years ago by Remi Braque: “The unity of the Bible does not reside in the text itself, but in the experience of the people of Israel.  That experience constitutes the common background upon which and in the light of which the texts have continuously been read and reread” (‘The Wisdom of the World‘, p. 44).  Even in the Old Testament, in other words, ecclesiology — the people of God -= is the basis and principle of canonicity.  The congregation precedes the canon.

If this point is granted, what may we say with regard to our original question: the incorporation of the apostolic writings into the same canon ancient Hebrew Scriptures? A form of the same argument, I believe, is warranted in this case too. That is to say, the inclusion of the apostolic writings into the Bible is justified — indeed, it is required — by the historical continuity joining ancient Israel and the Christian Church. The governing principle of the Bible’s table of contents is that single quid continuum which is Israel-and-the-Church.

The historical continuity of Israel and the Church — as a single people of God down through the ages — was described by St. Paul in organic terms.  For him, there was just one Israel, a single quid continuum, where certain branches (the Israelite remnant – Romans 11:2-5) are native to the stock, while others have been engrafted, so that both are fed from the same root (11:17).  Paul did not that the Christian Church “branched off” from Israel. On the contrary, it was “branched in”!

There is one Bible, then, because it cam forth from the one ekklesia, that of the Old Testament and the New. With respect to the Holy Scriptures, it is a matter of historical fact — and should be promoted as a theological principle — the ecclesiology precedes canonicity.  Church comes first, then Scriptures.

And what joins the Church to ancient Israel? Only Christ. Why, after all, should we be interested in those ancient Hebrew writings? What connection do they have with us?   And I answer, those ancient books have no special connection with us except on account of Christ. Christ alone is our link to those writings.

That is to say, we don’t begin with the Old Testament; we begin with Christ. Christ is not only the Mediator between God and man; He is also the Mediator between the Old Testament and the Church.

As Christians, we only go to the Old Testament because it pertains to Jesus..  Otherwise the Old Testament is, for us non-Jews, just another ancient book. We accept it as our Bible only because it is Jesus’ Bible. In truth and strictly speaking, after all, it is only Christ that makes the Old Testament theologically pertinent to us.  Without Christ, the Old Testament is not really our history. We have no continuity with it — it is not part of our memory — except through Christ. But that is more than enough!

The Christ proclaimed in the Gospel brings the Old Testament with Him in the proclamation.  Indeed, the barest preaching of the Gospel includes the Old Testament, in the sense that what Jesus accomplished for our redemption was “according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  The Christ we proclaim is proclaimed as the fulfillment of the Scriptures. It is in these swaddling clothes that the Messiah is adorned.

Our Spirit-prompted acceptance of the Gospel, then, the saving gift of our faith by which we are joined to Christ, also joins us, through Christ, to the ancient faith of the Hebrews who awaited His coming.

Through Christ, their history becomes our history; we are engrafted into the Bible’s ongoing chronology. The Hebrew Scriptures become our own family narrative.  The history of the Bible and the history of the Church form a single story, of which our lives — and our worship — are an integral part.

 

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