Monday, 25 August 2008

On handling continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testament

I argued in my literal/spiritual sense of scripture thread that the literal sense must be preserved from being subsumed in a construal of its "spiritual" referent. In the same way, the the integrity of the two testaments must be preserved in their joint witness to their one theological reality. As Childs says,

“The Old Testament bears its true witness as the Old which remains distinct from the New. It is promise not fulfilment. Yet its voice continues to sound and it has not been stilled by the fulfilment of the promise” (Biblical Theology, 77)
This fact should warn Biblical theologians against the extremes of overemphasising either continuity or discontinuity between the two testaments. On the one hand, the New Testament is neither the culmination of a unified traditio-historical trajectory nor a midrashic extension of the Hebrew Scriptures. On the other hand, the designation of the Old Testament as “old” is not a reference to its failure and rejection. The canonical relationship is far more complex, in which the Old is understood by its relation to the New, but the New is incomprehensible apart from the Old. The Christian canon asserts the continuing integrity of the Old Testament witness, so that it must be heard on its own terms. Yet the New Testament too tells its own story in which something totally new enters the picture. The complexity of the issue is seen in the fact that this totally new witness is borne in terms of the old, and thereby transforms the Old Testament. In reflecting on the whole Christian Bible with its two very different voices, it must be borne in mind that there is no one overarching hermeneutical theory by which to resolve the tension. The continuing challenge of Biblical theology

“is to engage in the continual activity of theological reflection which studies the canonical text in detailed exegesis, and seeks to do justice to the witness of both testaments in the light of its subject matter who is Jesus Christ" (Childs, Bilbical Theology, 78).

This is the last post in my thread on the two-testamental nature of Christian scripture, a subset of my overall look at traditional Christian exegesis. My next thread will deal with the issue of divine and human authorship of Scripture.

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