Chapter 7: A Book of Biblical Proportions. 7, The End and the Beginning

The End and Beginning

The Tanakh ends with books that, in the Christian Old Testament, are positioned earlier: Ezra-Nehemiah, which provides history of the return from exile and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple; and 1 and 2 Chronicles, which recapitulate Israelite history and emphasizes the Jewish worship and temple. In this way, the Tanakh opens to the future of Jewish life and worship. The Christian Old Testament ends with Malachi and the prophecy of Elijah’s arrival prior to the Messiah. And so, moving from Old to New, we proceed immediately to Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, which connects Jesus to Hebrew history.

As I wrote in chapter 6, although the whole Bible witnesses truly to our relationship with God, we should not read the Bible with the idea that each verse carries equal weight and value. For instance, Brevard Childs writes, “certain chords were sounded by Jeremiah and Deutero-Isaiah which resonated strongly in the New Testament (new covenant, vicarious suffering, new creation, suffering servant). Conversely, other notes grew in intensity on which rabbinic Judaism sought to construct its faith (temple, cult, priesthood, law).”[1] We can appreciate the Bible more deeply when we discern these chords and understand the scripture’s overarching themes and purposes.

We should be humbled by the way the Bible witnesses to the imperfection of human efforts, including (perhaps especially) religious efforts. The Israelites, in their centuries of life with God, provide example after example of doubt, complaint, loss of faith, idolatry, wrongdoing, and judgment. Because the New Testament reflects a much shorter time period than the Old Testament (fewer than a hundred years, depending on the conjectural dating of some of the epistles, compared to 1600 years between Abraham and Nehemiah), we don’t see the same kind of patterns of sin-judgment-repentance in the New compared to the Old. But in the New Testament, the early Christian congregations also struggled with problems: divergence from sound teachings (2 Tim. 4:1-5), the threat of apostasy (Heb, 6:1-8), factions (1 Cor. 1:10-17), unchastity (1 Cor. 6:12-20, 1 Thess. 4:1-8), incest (1 Cor. 5:1-5), lawsuits (1 Cor. 6:1-7), disrespect of the Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:17-22), and others. All seven of the churches of Revelation received a scold or a warning or both. The sad history of Christian smugness and persecution toward Jews is one of the worst examples of our failure to forget that Christians are as reliant upon God’s providential care and mercy as God’s people Israel (Rom. 11:21-24).

But the daily news along verifies for us the sinfulness, pathos, and folly of human beings.  The Bible gives us more: contrasted with human sin, we see the faithfulness of God’s care and mercy, the Good News to the poor and imprisoned and oppressed, the victory of God over Satan, sin, and death, the love of God that never gives up on us. The Bible has many dark places, but it is filled with hope and grace; it is a “bright” book, beginning middle and end.

Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light (Gen. 1:3)

The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple (Ps. 119:130)

If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you (Ps. 139:11-12)

Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,

           to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke? 

         Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;

        when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 

        Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;

         your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. 

         Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am (Isa. 58:6-8).

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5)

And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever (Rev. 22:5).

As I wrote before: when we read the Bible, we’re seeking not only information but promises, but also, in important ways, an interpretation of reality on which we can base our lives.  Faith is both intellectual ascent and trust; faith is acceptance and understanding of doctrine, and also it is the way in which you enter a kingdom where you have peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and access to God (Rom. 5:2).  You don’t have to pretend with God or bargain with God (Ps. 130:3, Rom. 3:21-30). The love of God controls you (2 Cor. 5:14); you needn’t remain a slave to wrongdoing (Rom. 6:12-23), you’ve victory over death (1 Cor. 15:56-57); you’ve eternal life which begins right now and not just later (John 3:17-21); your daily interpersonal contacts are characterized by love and kindness (Luke 10:29-37), you’re motivated by compassion for the poor, lonely, and needy and strive to help them (Matt. 25:40, et al.).  A Bible explorer can learn the book’s content while also seeking and growing in the qualities required in that kingdom: prayer, worship, faith, kindness, eagerness for justice, a righteous life, committed service to those in need, and an eagerness to learn and share God’s promises.

Link to Chapter 8

[1] Childs, Biblical Theology, 176.


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