At first glance, the New Testament can seem wildly different from the Old Testament—but is it? Jesus saw himself as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures and the climax of the story that began thousands of years before his birth. In this episode, join Tim, Jon, and Carissa as they explore the unity of the New Testament and the intricate yet consistent storyline of the Bible.
The Bible isn’t one scroll—it’s a collection of scrolls. But we encounter it as one volume bound between two covers, which constricts our imaginations. So did Paul think he was writing a text that would end up in the Bible? He didn’t have that category. Did Paul think that he was offering divine guidance commissioned by Jesus to early church communities? If he knew somebody was reading [his writing] alongside Genesis in the Sunday gathering, Paul would feel great about that.
In part one (00:00-10:40), Tim, Jon, and Carissa continue a conversation on the paradigm through which we view the Bible. It’s the paradigm the Bible itself presents as central, that the Bible is one unified story that leads to Jesus.
In our last episode, the team discussed what it means for the Bible to be unified literature and zeroed in on the unity of the Hebrew Bible. In this episode, they turn their attention to the unity within the New Testament.
The process to compile the writings of the Hebrew Bible spanned more than 1,000 years, but the New Testament was written in its entirety in about 50 years by the first generation of Jesus movement leaders. Jesus saw himself as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, and so the New Testament writings about him continue the unity of the story that began thousands of years prior.
In part two (10:40-23:30), Tim, Jon, and Carissa discuss the foundational narrative of the New Testament. Just as the Hebrew Bible traces a foundational storyline from the creation of the cosmos to Israel’s exile in Babylon, the Gospels and book of Acts form a foundational story for the New Testament.
Unlike the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament tells its foundation story four times over in the Gospel accounts, leaving readers with the impression that no single perspective could ever do justice to or exhaust the story of Jesus’ life. Each of the Gospels closes with a commission to Jesus’ followers to continue his ministry to the world. The book of Acts picks up those calls to action with the work of the early Church to carry the message of Jesus beyond the boundaries of Israel. After the foundational narrative of the Gospels and Acts, the rest of the New Testament is a collection of letters and an apocalypse at the end (Revelation).
Unique to the New Testament is the decentralized nature of its writing process. It was written collaboratively by people of numerous socioeconomic positions living all over the ancient world. God’s Spirit was the central player who brought unity to all parts.
In part three (23:30-34:50), the team explores the major literary elements that bring unity to the New Testament collection, the most obvious of which is the centrality of Jesus in each book.
Every book in the New Testament describes either the events of Jesus’ life and death or the implications of his life and death for his followers.
Another key unifier of the New Testament is that each of the authors writes about Jesus from a distinctly Jewish standpoint, using symbols and themes prevalent throughout the Hebrew Bible. Following Jesus’ ascension, heretical offshoots of the early Jesus movement emerged that attempted to disassociate Jesus from his Jewish heritage and from the Hebrew Scriptures. The Gospel of Thomas (which is not a true Gospel account and is connected to ancient Gnosticism) and The DaVinci Code are notable examples of this.
In part four (34:50-End), Jon asks the question, “When Paul wrote his New Testament letters, did he think he was finishing the canon? Was he intentionally writing in a way that would maintain unity with the literature of the TaNaK?”
1 Thessalonians 2:13
For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.
Paul writes with an awareness that he had been commissioned by Jesus to preach the good news that had come from the God of Israel, in keeping with the Jewish Scriptures. In 2 Peter 3:14-16, Peter also describes his own writings and the writings of Paul as Scripture.
Of course, Paul and Peter would have had no idea they were producing writings that would become our modern Bible because books (codices) weren’t used during their lifetime. But they did know they were writing on behalf of God himself, offering divine guidance to Jesus’ followers.
In the last episode, Tim shared an illustration he adapted from Julius Steinberg and Timothy Stone in their book, The Shape of the Writings. They compare the Hebrew Bible to a grove of aspen trees. They are from the same root ball, genetically identical and interconnected on a deep level, but they sprout in various places and at different sizes and rates. If we extend this illustration to the New Testament, we can think of the New Testament like a collection of potted trees that were all planted by the founders, inspired by one master gardener who taught them everything they knew. As the trees grew, they were grouped together.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz, Dan Gummel, and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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