Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Bible - God Speaks and a People Listen and Answer ( Part 3 )

Christians read the Old Testament because in it we find important relationships of continuity and/or context, and of newness/rupture between it and the New Testament.

· Jesus was a Jew, son of Jewish parents, member of a people and part of their customs; knowledgeable of the Scriptures and the Law of his time, attended the synagogue, etc.

· The first Christians, members of the first Christian communities, and authors of the texts of the New Testament were Jewish men and women --very recently converted to “Christianity”. This explains why in the “New Testament” there still appear texts with the “Old Testament” mentality. As an example, we read passages in the New Testament speaking of commandments (in plural), when Jesus spoke of one: love; or when they speak of sins, (also in plural) when Jesus takes sin away, in singular, as a structural situation in the life of a person, which makes him/her commit “sins”, in plural, etc.

  • · Even more, Christians confess God --One in Three Persons-- but, besides that, we attribute to him all the characteristics of God as revealed and confessed by the people of Israel in the Old Testament: Creator, Liberator, Holy, Merciful, Just Judge, King, Pilgrim, Our God, Unique, etc.
  • · But it is also true that Jesus and his ministry (acts and words) supposes newness, and therefore a rupture with “the traditions of the ancestors”: “Before it was said . . . but now I tell you . . .”
  • The “norm, normative, not normalized” for our faith as Christians is Christ and his Gospel; but the new cannot be discovered unless the old is known. We will not discover the “new” --which Jesus brings and his “rupture” with the past-- unless we first know the “order of things” in the Old Testament.

In this “hermeneutical” interest for knowing God better through his written revelation consigned in the Bible, it is also important to know that the Scriptures were known in Israel around the year 1000 B.C. At that time King David made “Scribes” come from Alexandria in Egypt, to put in writing, and in the files, the reach and prosperity of his kingdom.

If this is so, then we must understand that the Biblical writings were always preceded by oral traditions, with all their eventualities and shadings. Also, they were not written, nor did they appear in the chronological order in which we have them “organized” in our Bibles today. Finally, the biblical texts should be read --and lived-- with the same spirit as they were written: from the point of view of faith.

Because, the same way that a love poem is well understood and interpreted by those who have or have had the experience of being in love, the biblical texts are also “love poems” (constructed with historical data and confessions of faith) of men and women of a country --and of the first Christian communities-- who placed “all their confidence in God”. They are well understood, well read, well interpreted and well lived by those who, --as the first people who lived them-- today have the experience of the same faith in the God who communicates though the Bible.

This brings the need to be of the disposition to listen, to dialog, and to accept. With the sight placed in the situation of the person or community that reads the Word; allowing it to interpret, illuminate, and bring God to a deep reality of existence; and so making the Word of God the word of salvation. (MC I – p. 53).

Another aspect, which needs to be kept in mind, for an intelligent reading of the Bible, is the “unity” of the Bible. Christ is the center of all the Bible, so that the Old Testament is prophesy and promise, while the New Testament is the presentation and the explanation of that accomplished event.

On the other hand, we must keep in mind that the truth, which the Bible teaches, is a religious truth not a scientific truth. What the Bible wants to teach us is the great sense and truth of our lives: our salvation in Christ and by Christ. (MC I –p. 52)

The Bible is the history of salvation, but a history in which men are the protagonist with their virtues and miseries, their violence and their evil ways. In that history, and starting with Christ, God manifests his fidelity, his mercy, his purpose to save man in spite of all the sin and evil in the world. This specific point aims the moral teachings of the Bible. (MC I – p. 52).

In all texts, and in a special way in Jesus’ teachings and parables, it is important to know and to keep in mind --besides the religious and historical context-- who are the addressees of the text: their tendencies, their pretensions, and their religious attitudes with Jesus and with the rest of the believers.

The best example for the understanding of this hermeneutic key is, possibly, the reference made in the Gospel according to Luke, in the first two verses of chapter 15. There, Jesus synthesizes and describes very clearly the different attitudes of the two groups always present in the auditorium during his ministry (their acts and their words); to whom he permanently appeals with his teachings.

· All the publicans and sinners would come to Jesus to listen to his teachings, and to receive his forgiveness, his mercy and his healing, and

· The Pharisees and Scribes would gossip, criticize, and would place him to the test (for his compassion with others)

Then, the Bible message gets validity and great importance, in the measure that today –the same as yesterday-- there are men and women with a religious attitude similar to the Scribes and Pharisees (the attitude of the oldest son); or similar to the attitude of publicans and sinners (the attitude of the youngest son) as described in Luke 15.11-31.

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