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On the Unity of the Two Testaments

The Christian Advocate and Review 62 (1866) 244-249

   The, Faith of Christ has descended to us in the keeping of two distinct but closely connected depositories, — the New Testament and the Christian Church. In point of authority the Book is supreme; the canon or measure of the Church's belief and practice. But historically, the living Society claims precedence; the Christian /245/ Scriptures are the inspired witness of its earliest teachers and members. The Gospels and Epistles clearly presuppose the existence of Christian communities, from whose heart they issued, and to whose wants they were designed to minister; whilst in the Acts we have a manual of primitive Church history.

    A similar relationship exists between the Old Testament and what we may call the Church of Israel. Even more clearly than the Christian Scriptures the older Revelation takes the form of a progressive literature; it is the inspired utterance of long ages of Hebrew prophets and kings.

    Thus the Written Word, in both its parts, is, with regard to its human form and aspect, the offspring of the Church of God; born, indeed, free from the taint of human error and fallibility, yet truly made of her substance and partaker of her nature. Unquestionably the Scriptures rise fare above the level of the communities which gave them birth: as “the oracles of God,” proceeding from His throne, they claim an authority and possess a fulness of truth distinctly superhuman and sui generis. But they are not the less certainly the faithful representatives of the inner life as well as of the outward condition of God's people under the two great periods which are parted by the Advent of our Lord. Opening out vistas of Eternal Truth, to the end of which no human eye can reach, the Holy Volumes; are yet chiefly occupied with the foreground of truths already known and embodied in the creed or practice of the Church. Rising evermore above the clouds of human ignorance into the light of God's infinite mind, they rest, nevertheless, on the same foundation which had been laid in the hearts of the men who wrote them — they express, although with a perfection beyond the prophet's attainment, the substance of his personal faith, or at least of that which animated the godly men of his own time.

    If this be a correct view of the relationship which subsists between the Bible and the Church; i.e., if as a matter of fact it has pleased God to throw His revelation into the form of a continuous expression of His people's faith and practice, reflecting, while at the same time it strengthened and developed, their religious progress and growth: we may fairly approach the question of the coherence of the two Testaments through that of the position which the Christian Church holds with regard to the Church of Israel.

    Now there are points of kinship and resemblance between the two Churches which are too patent to be overlooked. First, the fact that our Lord Himself was “born under the law,” and officially “a minister of the circumcision;” that His Apostles, not excepting the Apostles of the Gentiles, were also of Jewish blood, and continued long after their entrance upon their now work to regard themselves /246/ as members of the Jewish Church; <note 1> that their preaching began at Jerusalem and numbered its earliest converts among the children and proselytes of Judaism. Further, the very worship and organization of the Christian Church are stamped with the lasting impression of their Jewish origin: the idea and even the form of both her Sacraments, the outline of her liturgical services, the very name of the most numerous order of her clergy, <note 2> have been – we will not say borrowed — but certainly retained or accommodated from the use of her Jewish predecessor. It may be said that such resemblances are accidental, that they amount at the most to affinity and not to consanguinity; that they are only circumstantial, not essential. This is no doubt partly true; yet it must be borne in mind that all systems are more or less materially affected by the accidents of their origin, and that the Jewish colouring of Christianity is, upon the assumption of the Divine origin of the Christian religion, a part of “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.”

    But we will shift the ground of inquiry from that which, if Divinely ordered, is yet external and temporary, into the region of things spiritual and fundamental. Whatever resemblance of outward form the Christian Church may bear to the Church which preceded the Advent, the grand question is whether their inner life is one or diverse; whether the spirit of the one is identical, or akin, or opposed to that of the other.

    Now the Apostles, who do not notice the more external connection of the two Churches (of which in fact they were not likely to be conscious, living as they did in the very age of transition), yet assert most fearlessly not merely the resemblance but the entire identity of the Church before Christ and the Church which more expressly bears His Name. The whole body of the faithful forms in their view one corporation, almost one personality. <note 3> To the Church belong, indeed, various dispensations, successive periods of life, gradual or occasional developments of size and strength: once she was a child, but now mature; certain of her branches were broken off that others might be grafted in; earlier years received not the promise, of which later times have seen the fulfilment. But such changes do not affect essential unity, which depends upon the identity of the life which underlies them all. And one life, one only, belongs to the whole body of God's elect, from the time of righteous Abel <note 4> unto the end. “The just shall live by faith.” Three times <note 5> in the Epistles our attention /247/ is drawn to this passing axiom of a Hebrew prophet, because it affords a deep insight into the secret springs of the Church's life. Standing where it does, it reveals the unity of the fundamental principle which wrought in the Churches of the Old and New Testaments. “Churches” we have called them; but if a common faith has power to knit together the successive generations of God's people, then we had more properly spoken of a single Church; the unity of an individual although a varied and protracted life.

    And now, from this standpoint of a united Church, whose vital energy is the power of a justifying faith, let us regard the two volumes which the custom of centuries has bound into one “Bible.” Is the collocation arbitrary, or does it rest upon an actual oneness of subject and aim?

    First, the Jewish origin of Christianity, and the Jewish influences at work in its earliest days, are most clearly reflected in the New Testament, and form an obvious bond of union between the writings of the Apostles and those of Moses and the Prophets. If the Hebrew language has given place in the Christian Scriptures to the Greek, yet it is Greek, not as spoken by pagan lips, but as domesticated amongst Hellenized Jews, and passed by means of the Septuagint through the purifying and Judaizing medium of the Old Testament. The clumsy device of resolving every grammatical or lexical peculiarity of the New Testament into a “Hebraism,” has been very properly abandoned by all the recent editors: but the fact remains undoubted, that a strong Hebrew or Aramean tincture is everywhere more or less discernable. It emerges <note 6> in Greek reproductions of Old Testament words and phrases: in the regular metaphorical use of certain expressions known to classical Greek only in their literal significations; and generally, in the simplicity of style, apparent even to the English reader, which prefers to add clause to clause in coordinate sentences, rather than to subordinate relative clauses to the leading thoughts. To affinities of language and style may be added the closer tie of repeated allusions to the history and teaching of the Law and the Prophets. Such references, more or less direct in their character, underlie a very large portion of the Apostolic writings; <note 7> in fact, we are sometimes at a loss to understand how so continual an interlacing of brief quotations and minute historical details drawn from Old Testament sources, could have been intelligible to the Gentile converts, who formed the great majority, even in the earliest Churches. /248/

   &nbsp So far, then, an affinity is undoubtedly to be traced between the two volumes of Scripture: but if this be all, it is a relation not more important than that which exists between the crumbling walls of a ruined temple and the now fabric raised out of their materials: a connection interesting to the antiquary, but for all practical ends inappreciably slight. Is there not a deeper unity of design, of plan, and of subject answering to the inner life of faith, which we have seen to be the fountain of the Church's oneness?

    We answer in the affirmative; and this, without postulating the common and peculiar inspiration of the two Testaments. Let us only be allowed to assume what all who bear the Christian name must be prepared to grant, – the supreme authority of Christ, and the genuineness of the Gospel records of His words. Nothing can be more manifest than that our Lord represents Himself as the central Subject of Old Testament teaching. If we believe the testimony of Jesus, Moses wrote of Him: in all the Scriptures things are to be found concerning Himself: the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms, have each and all their quota to contribute to the story of His life, and the doctrine of His cross. The Old Testament is thus one with the New, as being at its heart and core “the Word of Christ.” As one spirit of faith pervades all the ages of the Church, and gathers all her true seed into one “Israel of God,” even so One glorious Person, the Object of this common faith, binds into one consistent whole the Jewish and Christian sacred Books, by the cementing power of a Presence Which penetrates and hallows both.

    A word must suffice with regard to the objection most commonly started against the unity of the two Testaments. Our opponents say, “You may speak as you will of the one spirit of faith which breathed alike in the ancient Hebrew saints and in the Christians, to whom St. Paul wrote his Epistles; and of the corresponding unity of subjects which knits together the two sections of the Bible. But such a connection is untenable in the face of the mutual contradictions of the Law and the Gospel, of the radical difference in temper and moral tone which distinguishes Christianity from Judaism. For the present we can only reply, that the force of this objection turns upon two fallacies: first, the confusion of the systems or dispensations under which the Church has lived, with her actual life and essential character: next, the assumption that the teaching of the Law is irreconcileable with that of the Gospel. Childhood and manhood are states widely different, and demanding very distinct methods of treatment: yet the child does not lose his identity by growing up to man's estate. Nor does he unlearn in riper years the elementary lessons of his childish days. The picture-books are thrown aside, grammars and catechisms are discarded, but only because their teaching is now replaced by the wider, deeper, /249/ yet substantially identical instruction of the student's manuals. Such diversity, and such only, really distinguishes the legal system from the evangelical... And if it be further urged that St. Paul plainly recognizes a contrariety as well as a contrast between Judaism and Christianity, the answer is not far to seek: the Judaism which he condemned was the mere carcase of the former dispensation, from which the spirit had fled: the folly which he reprobated was the return of Christians who had been inclined by Gospel teaching, to the restraints and elementary lessons of childhood. The Law itself was so far from being in his eye an enemy of the Gospel, that he represents it as a most needful and useful predecessor – “our schoolmaster unto Christ.” <note 8>

    Thus it is possible to entertain the most loyal belief in the true unity both of the Bible and of the Church, while at the same time we are deeply thankful that our own lot has been cast beneath the light of a completed Revelation. We way hold fast by the oneness, while we acknowledge the progress of Scripture truth. We may be sure that “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old,” while we glory in the thought that “the Old lies open in the New.” <note 9>

Note 1: Compare, with regards to St.Paul, Acts 18,18; 21,24; 24,14.

Note 2: Priests, Presbyters, or Elders, – ”the overseers or presidents of the congregation, an office borrowed from the Synagogue.” – Alford on Acts 11,30.

Note 3: Compare Rom. 4. and 11;. Gal.3 and 4 Heb. 11., etc.

Note 4: Heb. 11, 4.

Note 5: Rom. 1,17 ; Gal. 3,2 ; Heb.10,38.

Note 6: For example, see Home & Tregelles, Introd. N.T., ch. iii., and Winer, Gram. N.T. i., pt. i., 3.

Note 7: See, for illustration of this statement, Gough's N.T. Quotations. (Walton & Kimberley, London 1855.)

Note 8: Gal. 3,24, παιδαγωγὸς … εἰς χριστόνi.e., “with a view to,” or “for Christ.” Christ was the end and drift of the Law's preparatory work.

Note 9: Augustin Quoest. in Exod.