Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Divine Qualities of Scripture (2): Redemptive History and Intertextuality

Continuing with Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books © 2012, on the subject of the Divine Qualities of Scripture:

“The issue for early Christians was not only whether the New Testament books agreed with the Old Testament books on any given doctrine (as important as that was), but whether the New Testament books actually completed the story begun by the Old Testament. As Wright notes, ‘The Jews of the period did not simply think of the biblical traditions atomistically, but were able to conceive of the story as a whole, and to be regularly looking for its proper conclusion.’ What made the New Testament books compelling was that the overall story of Israel, begun in the Old Testament, had reached its rightful conclusion in them…. As Wright observes … it is in the Jesus of the New Testament books that ‘Israel’s history has reached its climax’” (149).

Thus, the Christocentric nature of the New Testament books was another one of its “divine qualities”. “The WCF observes this very reality when it declares that the divinity of Scripture is evident by ‘the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation’ (1.5)”. Not only the New Testament books had this Christocentricity in its “core message”. The Old Testament as well (Luke 24:44) was also Christocentric.

Because the Old and New Testaments form one overall book, we would expect to see evidence of this not only in a unified story but also in a unified structure. Thus, part of the internal evidence for the authenticity of the New Testament canon is demonstrated through the way these twenty-seven books fit together as the structural completion of the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament (150).

1. Covenant Structure
Both  Old and New Testament documents reflect the overall structure of extrabiblical treaties in the ancient world” (150). Thus, the Gospels “parallel the historical narratives of the Pentateuch”, and there are “similarities between the Prophets and the Epistles” (151). “The parallels are particularly acute when the Gospels are compared to the book of Exodus. Each includes”:

1. the inauguration of the covenant through a core salvific event
2. a disproportionate amount of space devoted to the salvific event itself
3. a combination of both narrative and didactic portions
4. a focus on the life and death of the covenant mediator
5. a giving of the law/teachings of the covenant and/or covenant mediator.

“These connections are amplified by the impressive amount of Moses-Jesus typology throughout the Gospel accounts” (151). In a similar way, just as the prophets function as a commentary on the Torah, the New Testament letters function as a theological commentary on the Gospels.

2. Canonical Structure
There is a “threefold division” in the Hebrew Old Testament: The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings”, and there is a similar structure among the New Testament works. For example:

David Trobisch has demonstrated that the New Testament in the early church was divided into four clear subsections—Gospels, Praxapostolos (Acts and Catholic Epistles), Pauline Epistles, and Revelation—as can be seen from the uniform witness of the manuscript collections themselves” (155).

Thus, the manuscript evidence – of which Kruger is a leading scholar – how the books were actually structured together in the earliest manuscripts – shows very clear and unmistakable evidence of the emerging canon, about which books of the New Testament were understood to be part of the same units.

In addition, there is additional intertextuality in that the threefold nature of the Old Testament and the fourfold nature of the New combine to form seven sections. “Given the biblical usage of the number seven as representative of completeness or wholeness, a sevenfold canonical structure would speak to the overall unity of the biblical canon and provides further reason to think that the New Testament canon we possess is the proper conclusion to the original books of the Old Testament” (155).

Genesis and Revelation, similarly, form a set of parallel book-ends to this complete unity – beginning with a seven days of creation, governing man’s seven-day workweek, and concluding with the emphasis on the number seven in Revelation – seven sections, seven churches, seven angels, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, seven plagues, etc. “Thus, in effect, the first and last books of the canon form an inclusion of sevens” (155). Kruger discusses more of the similarities over the next several pages.

Finally, there is an incredible amount of intertextuality –“ cross-references among books” – and even in “contested” works such as Second Peter, which is thought to be an “outlier” in Canon discussions:

Second Peter 1:4 would naturally connect the reader to John 21:18 as Peter predicts his death.

Second Peter 1:16 would lead the reader to the accounts of the transfiguration in the Synoptic Gospels.

Second Peter 3:15-16 is an obvious reference to the letters of Paul.

And the extensive overlap between 2 Peter and Jude functions as a cross-reference between these two books.

“We could add further “intra-canonical” links—such as how the book of Acts functions as an introduction of sorts to the rest of the New Testament authors-but space prohibits us from going any further” (157).  

“Divine Qualities”: Conclusion
“Central to the self-authenticating model of [the New Testament] canon is the conviction that canonical books are recognized not only by their historical authenticity (apostolic origins) or their ecclesiastical acceptance (corporate reception), but fundamentally by the nature of their content (divine qualities). If these books are constituted by the work of the Holy Spirit, then Christians, who are filled with the Holy Spirit, should be able to recognize that fact” (158).

Again, for the critics, this is not to say that “the books God inspired would sort of ‘jump out at’ the attentive reader”. But in a very real way, because of these “divine qualities”, the New Testament canon may be said, in a very real way, to quietly speak for itself. 

No comments:

Post a Comment