As we continue our series on the study of the Bible, I have to say these next three, the three that will conclude our series, are a little more difficult than the ones that have come before. I have wrestled with how to make them simpler and more straight forward, but I suspect that they will be a bit of a stretch for some of you simply because they are not only subjects about which Christians disagree, and sometimes quite strenuously disagree, but they are subjects that in the nature of the case are difficult. Indeed, I think this is the reason why believers disagree about these things: the subjects themselves are difficult and complicated. I am speaking of the unity of the Bible tonight, the canonicity of the Bible – how do we know what books belong in Holy Scripture – and finally the text of the Bible, how should we determine which reading to follow among the various readings that we have in the manuscripts of the Hebrew and Greek Bible.
We have so far considered 1) the nature of the Bible as the Word of God written; 2) its authority as the Word of the living God, no matter that it was written by men; 3) it inerrancy or infallibility as the Word of the God who cannot lie; and 4) the reason why we believe it to be the Word of God. Now we come to another feature of the Bible that is also of immense practical importance. But here we enter more controversial ground. Up to this point we have come to conclusions that most all Christians through the ages have accepted as true and right and necessary and with which the church in her formal deliverances has expressed agreement. Now, however, we come to an attribute of the Bible that is not so widely confessed. I am speaking of the unity of the Bible. Our Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of one of the divine attributes of Holy Scripture being “the consent of all its parts.” A book that was written over the course of a millennium and a half – think about how far back that is, we are back into the 500s of our own era, a millennium and a half or more ago – by many different authors nevertheless has but one viewpoint. It agrees from beginning to end about everything. Think of the Bible as a tapestry with Genesis in one corner. When the weaving is complete and we have reached Revelation in the opposite corner, we step back to find a gorgeous pattern in perfect proportion, every shape, every color in its place. One beautiful tapestry of truth. It is, given the circumstances of its origin, and its nature as a collection of books about different subjects written in different genres, a miracle of the first order!
It is very interesting and, nowadays a point of great political importance, that the Koran is not like this. There is in the Muslim interpretation of the Koran the practice of what is called “abrogation,” in which certain verses are superseded or cancelled by later or other revelations in the same book. You have read in your newspapers the debate among Muslims themselves about some of the commands in the Koran to employ violence against infidels and debates among various schools of Muslim jurists as to whether one statement or the other has been abrogated. The celebrated “verse of the sword” (9:5) – “Slay the polytheists wherever you find them” – is said by some jurists to have cancelled no less than one hundred twenty four other verses that enjoin tolerance and patience. There are two statements in the Koran itself that teach this practice of abrogation. One reads (2:105): “If we abrogate or cause any verse to be forgotten we will replace it by a better one or one similar.” [A. Guillaume, Islam, 187] There are, as you know, reformers in the Muslim world who are urging the abrogation of the Koran’s teaching about the inferiority of women, the unity of religion and the state, and so on. Time will tell what comes of this.
In Mormonism later revelations, some received in our lifetime, have been appealed to as a means of freeing the religion from the stigma of views enshrined in its authoritative writings, such as the inferiority of blacks and the practice of polygamy.
Now, some of you may well be thinking that there are such abrogations in the Bible as well. We don’t any longer practice animal sacrifice or the distinction between clean and unclean foods, but, in fact, as the Bible makes emphatically clear those are adjustments of form only, the principle, the purpose, the meaning of those distinctions, remains exactly the same and continues to have the same force it always had. The law of the parapet around the roof was simply a timely application of the sixth commandment that enjoins us to take care of the life of our neighbor in a time when people lived on the roofs of their houses. We don’t have such a law today in a place and a time of pitched shingle roofs, but the obligation enshrined in that commandment is precisely the same and is laid upon us all. It was not mere propaganda when Jesus asserted that not one jot or tittle of the law will pass away until all is fulfilled. The Bible is one and there is nothing that has to be removed from it, nothing cancelled, nothing taken back, nothing reinterpreted. Its message is the same from beginning to end.
I want to begin this evening by summarizing the evidence for this assertion and then reflect on the fact that, even in our own tradition, this evidence has not always been given its due. We are primarily talking, of course, about the relationship between what are called the Old Testament and the New Testament though those are not biblical terms for parts of the Bible. Some biblical scholars will attempt to argue that the prophets didn’t agree with Moses or that Paul didn’t agree with Peter but that scholarship is almost invariably the scholarship of unbelief, that is, of men who do not believe that the Bible is the very Word of God written. Fact is, sanctified scholarship, believing scholarship – scholarship that is just as learned and able as the other kind – has rarely been impressed by these alleged disagreements and the ordinary reader of the Bible has never detected them. Nevertheless, as you know, many evangelical Christians have been taught to think that there is a significant change from the ancient epoch described and taught in the first 39 books of the Bible and that epoch introduced by Christ and his apostles and that change is reflected in the message of the respective parts of Holy Scripture. The Old Testament, in other words, does not contain the same message as the New Testament. So let me begin by reminding you of some of the most important evidence for the unity of the Bible, the evidence that all its parts really do consent and that it really is a single book.
First there is the believer’s instinctive recognition of the abiding relevance, authority and truthfulness of the OT. Even when Christians under the influence of teaching they have received make far too much of the change of dispensations – the change that is from Malachi to Matthew – they instinctively take back with the left hand what they have given with the right.
- When they are in trouble, what do Christians do, Christians of all sorts, all stripes – they turn to the psalms and find there the words with which to cry to God. They find their own situation and their own faith beautifully and powerfully expressed there in the ancient book of Psalms. Some Christians to be sure believe that Pentecost elevated the spiritual experience and spiritual capacity of NT Christians above that known to OT believers, but if we live at least to a significant degree in a different spiritual world, the actual practice of Christians does not seem to confirm this. They find in the Psalms and throughout the Old Testament the same spiritual world in which they find themselves living today. Otherwise, why turn to use yourself some ancient believer’s prayer and the expression of some ancient believer’s faith?
- Nor do we hesitate to learn the lessons of believing life from the OT history and biography. We find the Wisdom literature granting wisdom to us in this modern world as it always has to believers. We hear the preaching of the prophets and realize they are saying nothing to us that the Apostles Paul, John and Peter do not say. In fact, Christians are very selective about what they assume has become outmoded in the first 39 books of the Bible. Typically they keep the parts they like and drop only those parts they imagine themselves to be better off without. They keep the nine commandments and lose the Sabbath so they can watch football on television on Sunday. They keep the beautiful psalms and drop the imprecatory ones, the Psalms with curses in them, even though there are such curses in the NT as well. They keep tithing because the church needs the income, but they drop ministers’ robes because that strikes them as too formal.
In other words, no matter what Christians say, they treat the Old Testament as containing the same message as the New Testament and they are as likely to turn to it for help, consolation and comfort as to any book among the last 27.
Second, the unity of the Bible is a biblical commonplace and is provided massive demonstration. I haven’t time to set this out in detail but let me suggest its broad outline.
- The Bible artlessly says, over and over again, that the way of salvation has always been the same. Because the Bible is a book about salvation, as we saw in our first study, that means that the Bible’s principal message has always been the same and that’s in fact exactly what the Bible says. What Israel heard in the wilderness was the “gospel,” says the author of the Letter to the Hebrews; what Abraham was told was the “gospel,” says Paul in Galatians 3; what Moses preached was the good news of the Lordship of Christ and his resurrection, says Paul in Romans 10. Again and again the apostles base their teaching about Christ and salvation upon statements found in the Old Testament. Paul never says to the judaizers that they were correct about the Bible’s teaching about salvation but that things have changed and they need to get with the new program. He always accuses them of not having understood their own Bible. Its message was always the same message he was preaching himself.
- The NT never argues, as it certainly would argue if this view of the relationship of the OT to the NT were correct, that somehow or another the OT is inferior or defective in some significant ways and that we now have the improved version in the NT. If that were the case, why does the NT never argue, a fortiori, that is, on the strength of some supposed change from the OT to the NT. So we never hear Paul say, “Look, if the Old Testament saints could walk with God in their inferior circumstances, with teaching and a measure of the Holy Spirit that was not fully adequate to their need, how much more should you NT saints ride on the heights of the land and feed on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The NT never says that, it never argues that way. Rather, it always assumes the identity of your situation with theirs. They did it, so you must too! They trusted the Lord; you must do the same. You have this, for example, in Hebrews: “If you want to know what it means to live by faith and how to do it, you Christians now some 30 or 40 years after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, you look at Abraham, or Moses, or David and you do what they did.”
- Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Godhead, now incarnate, now also a true man, is everywhere in the NT said to be the person of the Godhead with whom Israel had to do in the OT. Who brought Israel out of Egypt? Jesus did says Jude in v. 5; Christ cared for his people in the wilderness says Paul in 1 Cor. 10; The Lord Jesus spoke to Moses in the tabernacle and it was Jesus’ glory that shone on Moses’ face when he came away from those meetings says Paul in 2 Cor. 3; it was for Jesus Christ that Moses endured suffering we read in Heb. 11; and it was his glory that Isaiah saw when he was given his vision of God in the temple we read in John 12. It is not simply that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever; he was and is the God who revealed himself from the beginning of the Bible to its end. In other words, the Living voice speaking in Holy Scripture is the same from beginning to end, the voice of the Son of God.
- You have also the characteristically artless appeal to the law of God in the New Testament. You have everywhere the assumption that the law is still in force, even those parts of the law that we now have to address and apply to very different circumstances than applied when the law was first given through Moses. Is it still unlawful to marry one’s sister or one’s mother-in-law? Paul says it is in 1 Cor. 5; but that law is found only in the case law of Leviticus. What of the commandments to execute certain offenders? At the end of 1 Cor. 5 we find Paul citing one of those commandments as a law that must now be obeyed by the Corinthians but in the form of excommunication rather than execution. There are a number of such cases in the New Testament where the Law of Moses is explicitly said to be still binding, still in force. Applications change in new circumstances but the law is still in force. It is the will of God even in a world when the church is no longer a nation, when there is no king or priesthood or temple.
- The contrary positions are not in fact taught and the texts used to establish them do nothing of the kind. E.g. Dick Gaffin’s honest confession in Perspectives on Pentecost and Bruce Waltke’s honest confession in his class lectures on the Psalms. In each case, they admit that there is supposed to be some difference between the epochs – reflected in their respective Scriptures – they simply can’t tell what the difference is!
- Fact is, when Paul speaks about the Scripture being “God-breathed” in 2 Tim. 3:16 and so profitable for instruction, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, he was talking about what we today call the OT. He called it Scripture; it is the law of God he said to be believed and to be obeyed.
We could go on at length, but that is sufficient to establish the point that in making this claim that the Bible is one, that it has a single message from beginning to end, we are only restating the repeated and emphatic teaching of the Bible itself.
However, that is not to say that the unity of the Bible – generally confessed and taught in the Christian church through the ages – has always been as fully appreciated as it might have been or stated with the emphasis that it deserves or applied as faithfully as this doctrine might be applied.
Covenant theology and its attendant implication of the unity of the Bible was the teaching of Reformed Theology. You have it in pure simplicity in the Westminster Confession of Faith, in chapter VII, “Of God’s Covenant with Man.” In paragraph vi we read:
“There are not…two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.”
Salvation has been the same from the beginning and the message of the salvation has been the same from the beginning in other words.
But in the same document we have a statement such as this one in its chapter XX, “Of Christian Liberty, and Liberty of Conscience.” After saying that the blessings of the gospel were enjoyed by believers under the law, absolutely a true statement we read this:
“Under the New Testament, the liberty of believers is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.”
Do you believe that? None of the proof texts offered in support of that statement teaches any such thing and the “yoke” that Peter referred to in Acts 15 from which believer’s had been freed was not the law per se but the Pharisaic corruption of the law and misinterpretation of the law and additions to the law according to the traditions of men and according to a theory of justification by human merit. That we have been delivered from. But every believer in the ancient epoch was delivered from that yoke as well. We are, after all, we Christians today still very much under the ceremonial law as that law applies to our particular situation (Worship; the Sabbath Day; Baptism; Lord’s Supper; Ordination; etc.). We still are called to worship God on the Lord’s Day. We are given instruction as to how that worship is to be given. We are to keep one day holy unto God. We are to practice the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and do so in certain ways with a certain understanding of their use. We have the practice of Ordination and on and on. We, too, have ceremonial law. It is not a burden to us any more than the law was a burden to those in the ancient epoch who had true and living faith in God. No more than wings are a burden to a bird! So, I say, while the doctrine of the unity of the Bible is generally appreciated, it is not the case that this doctrine has been as consistently stated, persuasively defended, or as thoroughly integrated into the theological system as it should have been. Nor has the exegesis of particular passages of the Bible always maintained consistency on this point. There is more work to do on this subject perhaps as much as on any other in the teaching of the Bible in my view. The church I would say is not as convinced of the unity of the Bible as it ought to be.
Let me illustrate this by reference to John Calvin himself, deservedly the most influential and authoritative of all our Reformed theologians. In his Institutes (II, x, 2) Calvin teaches that the covenant that God made with Abraham and then with Moses is the same as the covenant under which we Christians live today. That is to say, the central message of the Bible has been the same from beginning to end. He rests his case on three arguments: 1) that the covenant in all its successive revelations made a promise of eternal life; 2) it was a covenant of grace; and 3) its mediator was Jesus Christ. He proves the point in each case and his argument is rock solid. It has been made only the more solid by modern study. So far, so good.
Then Calvin argues that this single covenant of grace and this single message about the covenant of grace differs in some particulars from period to period and, in particular, the form of the covenant under which we live today differs from that revealed during the life of Moses. He says it differs in five particulars. So here we face the question whether the parts of the Bible really do concur with one another. Are these particular distinctions that Calvin finds between the Old Testament and New Testament merely administrative details or something more substantial? Or, for that matter, do the distinctions he poses really exist at all? Here are Calvin’s five differences between the two parts of the Bible.
The promise of the OT, while it was a promise of eternal life, was displayed “under earthly benefits” while the Lord now in the NT leads our minds more directly to the contemplation of the future life, leaving aside “the lower mode of training that he used with the Israelites.” (II, xi, 1-3) Do you think that’s right? How would you prove it?
This idea that the OT is a simpler, more childlike form of revelation, sometimes leads Calvin into problems. For example he argues in his commentaries that the use of musical instruments in worship was suited for those “yet tender, like children” who had been trained under the law, but was no longer necessary since Christ’s coming, when religion had left behind its stage of infancy. [Comm. Pss 31:2; 81:2] Apparently, when we get to heaven we return to a second childhood, for they use instruments there too according to the book of Revelation!
Now, is this so? Is the OT more childlike and does it teach according to a “lower mode of training?” Doesn’t Hebrews 11 say that the OT saint looked right past the earthly blessings to the City of God? He knew exactly what was being promised him and exactly the promise that he was claiming by faith in God. Doesn’t Eph. 6:3 suggest that God’s eternal blessings are still foreshadowed by temporal good? Doesn’t James promise physical healing to those who call on the elders to pray for them? Didn’t Jesus make a point of promising a hundred fold return to the faithful in this world? The OT is much longer and more repetitive, I grant you, I think that is where much of the difficulty comes; but is its message really any different in this respect? If you think so, prove it. Calvin’s exegetical demonstration of this point is very unpersuasive. I am still waiting for someone to demonstrate to me from the Bible itself that there is such a distinction between the early part of Holy Scripture and the later part as Calvin here suggests: that one is more earthly minded and so more juvenile; the other more heavenly minded and so more mature and sophisticated. Fact is, the teaching of the first 39 books of the Bible is wonderfully sophisticated and repays the study of the finest minds that have ever been devoted to understanding it. If it is so juvenile, why do you and I, we sophisticates, have so much difficulty understanding it?
Calvin’s second difference in mode of administration is this: “In the absence of reality, it showed but image and shadow in place of the substance; the NT reveals the very substance. (4-6)
Now, this is no doubt true to a certain degree. Revelation is progressive and the sacrifices were types, enacted prophesies of Jesus Christ and he has actually come into the world now and given his life for our salvation and risen again and ascended to the right hand of God; but even at that it requires further nuance to state the point accurately.
- This is true of only some things revealed;
- It is only relatively true (many of us I think would use Isaiah 53 before we would use Romans 3 to explain to someone the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross.)
- It remains equally true of the NT in comparison with the consummation.
- And, revelation must not be confused with reality. God did not begin to become triune when he revealed his triunity to us at the incarnation of the Son of God! And Christians did not first trust in a Redeemer after the cross.
But Calvin’s main support for this difference in mode of administration is the book of Hebrews, and Hebrews is not really teaching that at all. The author of Hebrews, as we said when we studied that book not long ago, in speaking about what some have taken to be his view of the inferiority of the OT and its arrangements, does precisely the same thing as the OT prophets did in their day; and precisely the same thing as preachers have been doing ever since: dealing with the outward rites, the sacrifices of the OT (which he calls “weak and useless”) under the view of them entertained by his readers who were tempted to believe in them and trust in them themselves as the way of salvation. Hebrews doesn’t say that the sacrifices of the OT worship were shadows in order to explain their relationship to the new epoch; he says they are shadows to prove they can’t take away sin or make us perfect before God. But that is the same thing that the Old Testament says about those sacrifices when people are tempted to trust them for their salvation. In themselves, without faith, the sacrifices cannot make the worshipper right with God. Hebrews says nothing good or positive about the sacrifices. It doesn’t say that their significance was as enacted prophesies of the work of Christ. The author of Hebrews speaks precisely as a preacher would speak about the Lord’s Supper if people were beginning to trust their participation in the Supper for their salvation. In that sense, the Lord’s Supper is also a shadow! Bread and wine can’t get you to heaven! In fact, there is no book of the Bible that more powerfully argues the unity of the Bible than Hebrews. In that book we learn that Christ is the same from beginning to end, salvation and the gospel the same, faith the same, apostasy the same, the obligation to persevere in faith to the end of our lives the same, and the promise that God has made to his people, that same promise which Abraham and Moses grasped and believed from afar we, too, must believe because we have not received it either and will not unless we firmly hold fast to what has been promised to the end of our lives. Hebrews builds its entire argument on the identity of the spiritual world described from the beginning to the end of the Bible and the salvation proclaimed from the beginning to the end of the Bible.
Calvin’s third difference between OT and NT is that the OT is literal and the NT is spiritual; and he builds this on the three uses of the letter/spirit distinction in the letters of the Apostle Paul, two in Romans and one in 2 Cor. 3 (7-8). This is clearly a blunder and few would support him in his exegesis any longer. In Paul that distinction between the letter and the Spirit does not have to do with the chronology of the history of salvation at all, nor does it have anything to do with the difference between the OT and NT. The distinction between letter and spirit never refers to two epochs in the revelation of the covenant of grace or to two parts of the Bible. The letter is the gospel shorn of faith and turned into works; the spirit is the gospel rightly understood. The letter in Paul’s usage is unbelieving Judaism, not the true message of Moses, which everywhere Paul says is his own message and nothing other than the gospel. In Paul the letter/spirit contrast has the same meaning as the flesh/spirit contrast. One who lives according to the letter lives according to the flesh. Remember, it is never a relative contrast. The letter kills, the spirit brings life. Paul would never say part of the Bible kills but another part brings life. Calvin has to turn this into a relative contrast when it is absolute in Paul. He has to say the letter kills and the spirit gives life means only that the OT gives us a message that is less clear, a salvation that is less free than what we enjoy in the NT. But in Paul the letter/spirit contrast is absolute: the letter is death, the spirit is life.
Calvin’s fourth difference between the OT and the NT is that the OT is of bondage to fear and the NT engenders freedom.
Here again he uses texts (such as in Galatians and Hebrews) as if the distinction made in them referred to two epochs when in fact it is invariably a distinction between two spiritual states in a human life – death and life, unbelief and faith. No salvation, condemnation and salvation and justification. The problem is sharply posed by the fact that Calvin turns the absolute and very sharp contrast drawn in Galatians and Hebrews, as do many following him, into a relative contrast. E.g. he says of this difference, “our analysis distinguishes between the clarity of the gospel and the obscurer dispensation of the Word that had preceded it.” But in those texts the contrast is never between less clear and clear, or less rich and richer, or less free and more free. It is always between no salvation at all and salvation in Christ, between condemnation and justification, between death and life, between error and truth. Further, he again requires us to believe that the ceremonial law of the OT was per se a bondage, which the OT does not allow us to believe and the NT, in fact, never comes close to teaching. The law of God is never a burden in the OT or the NT unless it is misunderstood and misused.
His fifth difference is that the OT primarily has reference to one nation and the NT to all nations (11-12). Bingo! There is the difference the Bible itself draws all of its attention and all of our attention to. There is the difference that is both comprehensively, clearly, unmistakably taught in the NT and also copiously illustrated. There too is a difference you and I can see as clearly today as ever in the past. How many Jews do we have in our sanctuary this evening? Just a few. How many Gentiles? The vast majority. You Gentiles have eternal life today because of Pentecost. The new epoch began with 120 Jews gathered in a room in Jerusalem. By the time of Constantine two and one-half centuries later, it is estimated that 1 in every 10 citizens or inhabitants of the Greco-Roman world was a Christian, virtually all of them Gentiles. Christianity is now the world’s largest faith. Now that no one can ignore and the Holy Spirit did it and the NT proclaims it!
But even this expectation was everywhere in the OT, was prophesied and predicted everywhere, and from the very beginning, and even during the days of the OT, if the door was not thrown wide open, it was at least ajar. Gentiles entered the church of God by faith and circumcision – think of Rahab and Ruth – and Solomon, in his dedicatory prayer at the temple, thought enough about the Gentiles and the Gospel going to the Gentiles that he thought to ask God to hear their prayers when they prayed at the temple. The regulations set down for the Passover celebration made provision for the alien who wished to join in the celebration because he believed in Israel’s God. From the beginning the promise of the Bible was that through Abraham all nations of the world would be blessed.
Take the point. The message of the Bible didn’t change. It never changed. These efforts to find some putative distinction between the first part of the Bible and the second part of the Bible invariably fail. It’s not what the Scripture itself teaches; it is not what we are ever, anywhere, given to believe. It was always the case that the nations of the world would be blessed through Abraham. What has changed is that at a certain point – Pentecost – the promise of the Gospel, the Gospel’s power and reach among the nations began to be fulfilled in the thoroughgoing way the Bible had always predicted it would.
So, I would say, in distinguishing the OT from the NT Calvin is wrong in 3 1/2 particulars and right in 1 1/2. But in no case is the Bible itself divided. In nothing is the message of the Bible cancelled or changed as it moves forward from book to book. It is one book about one God, one Savior, one salvation, one law, one Christian life, one future. The problem is not that the doctrine of the unity of the Bible has not been taught clearly enough or held in the church. The church has always held it in some form. The church has always had a single Bible; not two. The problem is that we haven’t stated that unity as forcefully as we might have and as the Bible teaches us to state it. The Bible is more one than we know, more the same in all of its teaching, in all of the books that make it up than we realized. We really do have a single Bible that contains a single message from Genesis to Revelation. We can learn the gospel from every part of the Bible and we can learn the Christian life from every part as well. It is not for nothing that when the NT speaks of the OT it speaks of it as simply as the Word of God and when it appeals to its authority, it never qualifies, it never mitigates that authority. It is simply Holy Scripture for us to believe and obey.
This is a very large subject, I know that. There are many questions that I haven’t time to answer or address. Good men take a somewhat different view than I have taught you. I know that, though I have read those men through 30 years of ministry now and am more sure than ever that in offering you a single Bible, a unity of truth, I am offering you what the Bible itself offers you. And I further admit that I harp on this point partly because it is a matter of great personal interest to me and has been since I first embarked on the professional study of the Scripture. But it is also a matter of immense practical significance to you. It is precisely because of the importance of this perspective on the Bible, its unity, that you get so much of the Old Testament here at Faith Presbyterian Church in the preaching that you receive. I wonder if you appreciate that there very few Christians nowadays who hear as much of the OT preached as you do. Few ever get large swaths of the OT, though they may hear some Psalms and some of Genesis and Proverbs and the occasional well known text from Isaiah. You will continue to get the entire Bible; you will continue to hear it preached as if Kings has as much of real importance to teach you as 1 John does. And why? Because it is all the Word of God and it all teaches us both what we are to believe and how we are to live. We need it all; we need the message in all the different ways that we are given that same message in the Bible. So many of the questions that face the church today – regarding worship; regarding men and women; regarding children, the family, and sexuality; regarding pluralism; regarding the judgment of the Lord – will be answered differently depending upon the extent to which the first 39 books of the Bible are permitted to speak directly and authoritatively to those questions. That is not because the teaching of the NT differs from the OT on these points. It does not in fact. The teaching is the same on all those points. But the teaching of the NT, as experience demonstrates, is easier to mistake, and many do mistake it; it is easier to ignore, and many do ignore it, when the great weight of the teaching of the first 39 books of the Bible, far and away the largest part of the Bible, is not allowed to bear down on our thinking about these matters.
May I say this without your misinterpreting my remark? There is an overly feminine quality in today’s evangelical Christianity that results from entirely too little of the masculine features of OT revelation, the notes so often sounded of sin and judgment, of duty and obedience, that are sounded there in chapter after chapter through those 39 books. The soprano note is true and beautiful, but it requires the bass if the music is to be the music of heaven.
Do you have two Bibles or one? Do we have one Bible but two parts? Or, better, are only the last 27 books of the Bible really important as the rule of your faith and life? Do we have a 66 book Bible or a 27 book Bible? God has given us one book and it is his Word from beginning to end. A Christian faith and life built on only 27 books will be for that reason diminished and defective; weaker, less rich, less full. It is the glory of the Bible and one of its most remarkable characteristics that its parts really do cohere into a single unity. 66 books written over the period of 1,500 years, and all the product of a single mind and single heart, revealing a single will and a single truth. That is the Bible. I’m not sure there is a greater gift I can give you as your pastor than to place in your hands and in your heart the entire Word of God.
Think of it carefully,
Study it prayerfully,
Deep in your heart
Let its oracles dwell.
Ponder its mystery,
Slight not its history,
For none ever loved it
Too fondly or well.