Christianity 201

August 13, 2011

The Unity of Scripture (2)

This is the second half of Alex Motyer’s attempt to offer understanding of how the two major sections of our Bibles fit together, which we began yesterday.  He says,

The division of the Bible into two books… is not really helpful towards a proper understanding. Once a “whole” as been “fractured” it is not always a simple thing to restore the lost wholeness.  But centuries of tradition, along with our own education from childhood have drilled into our minds a two-testament, instead of a holistic model for the Bible.

Here is the second model, but first, we have to stop at Wikipedia and explain Marcionism:

Marcionism was an Early Christian dualist belief system that originated in the teachings of Marcion of Sinope at Rome around the year 144;[1] see also Christianity in the 2nd century.

Marcion believed Jesus Christ was the savior sent by God and Paul of Tarsus was his chief apostle, but he rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel (YHWH Elohim). Marcionists believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament. This belief was in some ways similar to Gnostic Christian theology; notably, both are dualistic.

Marcionism, similar to Gnosticism, depicted the Hebrew God of the Old Testament as a tyrant or demiurge (see also God as the Devil). Marcion was labeled as gnostic by Eusebius.  Marcion’s canon consisted of eleven books: A gospel consisting of ten chapters from the Gospel of Luke edited by Marcion (the current canonical Gospel of Luke has 24 chapters); and ten of Paul’s epistles. All other epistles and gospels of the 27 book New Testament canon were rejected

Now on to that model:

A TWO-ACT PLAY

John Bright wrestled deeply with ways to understand the place of the Old Testament in the Christian pulpit.  He was determined to resist the concealed Marcionism of much what he called the “liberal” handling of the Old Testament for, as he understood it, “no part of the Bible is without authority” and the Old Testament must be used “as part of normative Scripture ” from which “the church must never part.”

In illustrating of this view of the unity which connects the two Testaments, he offered the analogy of a two-act play, pointing out that

  • without either act the play is incomplete;
  • that each act has something individual to say; and
  • neither act can stand without the other.

The fact that he proposed only two acts is a byproduct of the dominance of the ‘two testament’ model, and it is not altogether satisfactory to make the interval curtain fall between Malachi and Matthew.  None the less, the concept is useful and profound.

As Act One unfolds, tensions begin to appear, for example, in the sacrificial system.  There are sins which it does not explicitly cover and for which, since the Lord is a forgiving God, repentance must avail (i.e. David in Psalm 51); there is the basic inadequacy, discerned by Isaiah, that in the ultimate only a Person can substitute for people (Is. 53).  The Act One awaits the finalé in Act Two. Yet the testimony of Act One is irreplaceably valid, that by the will of God the substitution of the innocent for the guilty is the divine principle for dealing with sin. Act Two sweeps in on the flood-tide of Act One: Here is the human perfection of a willing Substitute; without the realities of Act One even the terminology used in Act Two would be incomprehensible.  But yet Act Two has something distinctive to say: That when the ultimate substitution was made, it was God himself who came and stood in our place.

~Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ by Alex Motyer (Kregel, 1996) p. 20

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