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The Word of God Is Living and ActiveHebrews 4:12.

.The Bible's Intrinsic Unity
.by Benedict XVI

“The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6)

39. In the passage from letter to spirit, we also learn, within the Church’s great tradition, to see the unity of all Scripture, grounded in the unity of God’s word, which challenges our life and constantly calls us to conversion.[128] Here the words of Hugh of Saint Victor remain a sure guide: “All divine Scripture is one book, and this one book is Christ, speaks of Christ and finds its fulfilment in Christ”.[129] Viewed in purely historical or literary terms, of course, the Bible is not a single book, but a collection of literary texts composed over the course of a thousand years or more, and its individual books are not easily seen to possess an interior unity; instead, we see clear inconsistencies between them. This was already the case with the Bible of Israel, which we Christians call the Old Testament. It is all the more so when, as Christians, we relate the New Testament and its writings as a kind of hermeneutical key to Israel’s Bible, thus interpreting the latter as a path to Christ. The New Testament generally does not employ the term “Scripture” (cf. Rom 4:3; 1 Pet 2:6), but rather “the Scriptures” (cf. Mt 21:43; Jn 5:39; Rom 1:2; 2 Pet 3:16), which nonetheless are seen in their entirety as the one word of God addressed to us.[130] This makes it clear that the person of Christ gives unity to all the “Scriptures” in relation to the one “Word”. In this way we can understand the words of Number 12 of the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, which point to the internal unity of the entire Bible as a decisive criterion for a correct hermeneutic of faith.

The relationship between the Old and the New Testaments

40. Against this backdrop of the unity of the Scriptures in Christ, theologians and pastors alike need to be conscious of the relationship between Old and the New Testaments. First of all, it is evident that the New Testament itself acknowledges the Old Testament as the word of God and thus accepts the authority of the sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people.[131] It implicitly acknowledges them by using the same language and by frequently referring to passages from these Scriptures. It explicitly acknowledges them by citing many parts of them as a basis for argument. In the New Testament, an argument based on texts from the Old Testament thus has a definitive quality, superior to that of mere human argumentation. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus states that “Scripture cannot be rejected” (Jn 10:35) and Saint Paul specifically makes clear that the Old Testament revelation remains valid for us Christians (cf. Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 10:11).[132] We also affirm that “Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew and the Holy Land is the motherland of the Church”:[133] the roots of Christianity are found in the Old Testament, and Christianity continually draws nourishment from these roots. Consequently, sound Christian doctrine has always resisted all new forms of Marcionism, which tend, in different ways, to set the Old Testament in opposition to the New.[134]

Moreover, the New Testament itself claims to be consistent with the Old and proclaims that in the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Christ the sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people have found their perfect fulfilment. It must be observed, however, that the concept of the fulfilment of the Scriptures is a complex one, since it has three dimensions: a basic aspect of continuity with the Old Testament revelation, an aspect of discontinuity and an aspect of fulfilment and transcendence. The mystery of Christ stands in continuity of intent with the sacrificial cult of the Old Testament, but it came to pass in a very different way, corresponding to a number of prophetic statements and thus reaching a perfection never previously obtained. The Old Testament is itself replete with tensions between its institutional and its prophetic aspects. The paschal mystery of Christ is in complete conformity – albeit in a way that could not have been anticipated – with the prophecies and the foreshadowings of the Scriptures; yet it presents clear aspects of discontinuity with regard to the institutions of the Old Testament.

41. These considerations show the unique importance of the Old Testament for Christians, while at the same time bringing out the newness of Christological interpretation. From apostolic times and in her living Tradition, the Church has stressed the unity of God’s plan in the two Testaments through the use of typology; this procedure is in no way arbitrary, but is intrinsic to the events related in the sacred text and thus involves the whole of Scripture. Typology “discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son”.[135] Christians, then, read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. While typological interpretation manifests the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament from the standpoint of the New, we must not forget that the Old Testament retains its own inherent value as revelation, as our Lord himself reaffirmed (cf. Mk 12:29-31). Consequently, “the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament (cf. 1 Cor 5:6-8; 1 Cor 10:1-11)”.[136] For this reason the Synod Fathers stated that “the Jewish understanding of the Bible can prove helpful to Christians for their own understanding and study of the Scriptures”.[137]

“The New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old is made manifest in the New”,[138] as Saint Augustine perceptively noted. It is important, therefore, that in both pastoral and academic settings the close relationship between the two Testaments be clearly brought out, in keeping with the dictum of Saint Gregory the Great that “what the Old Testament promised, the New Testament made visible; what the former announces in a hidden way, the latter openly proclaims as present. Therefore the Old Testament is a prophecy of the New Testament; and the best commentary on the Old Testament is the New Testament”.[139]

The “dark” passages of the Bible

42. In discussing the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments, the Synod also considered those passages in the Bible which, due to the violence and immorality they occasionally contain, prove obscure and difficult. Here it must be remembered first and foremost that biblical revelation is deeply rooted in history. God’s plan is manifested progressively and it is accomplished slowly, in successive stages and despite human resistance. God chose a people and patiently worked to guide and educate them. Revelation is suited to the cultural and moral level of distant times and thus describes facts and customs, such as cheating and trickery, and acts of violence and massacre, without explicitly denouncing the immorality of such things. This can be explained by the historical context, yet it can cause the modern reader to be taken aback, especially if he or she fails to take account of the many “dark” deeds carried out down the centuries, and also in our own day. In the Old Testament, the preaching of the prophets vigorously challenged every kind of injustice and violence, whether collective or individual, and thus became God’s way of training his people in preparation for the Gospel. So it would be a mistake to neglect those passages of Scripture that strike us as problematic. Rather, we should be aware that the correct interpretation of these passages requires a degree of expertise, acquired through a training that interprets the texts in their historical-literary context and within the Christian perspective which has as its ultimate hermeneutical key “the Gospel and the new commandment of Jesus Christ brought about in the paschal mystery”.[140] I encourage scholars and pastors to help all the faithful to approach these passages through an interpretation which enables their meaning to emerge in the light of the mystery of Christ.

Christians, Jews and the sacred Scriptures

43. Having considered the close relationship between the New Testament and the Old, we now naturally turn to the special bond which that relationship has engendered between Christians and Jews, a bond that must never be overlooked. Pope John Paul II, speaking to Jews, called them “our ‘beloved brothers’ in the faith of Abraham, our Patriarch”.[141] To acknowledge this fact is in no way to disregard the instances of discontinuity which the New Testament asserts with regard to the institutions of the Old Testament, much less the fulfilment of the Scriptures in the mystery of Jesus Christ, acknowledged as Messiah and Son of God. All the same, this profound and radical difference by no means implies mutual hostility. The example of Saint Paul (cf. Rom 9-11) shows on the contrary that “an attitude of respect, esteem and love for the Jewish people is the only truly Christian attitude in the present situation, which is a mysterious part of God’s wholly positive plan”.[142] Indeed, Saint Paul says of the Jews that: “as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers, for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable!” (Rom 11:28-29).

Saint Paul also uses the lovely image of the olive tree to describe the very close relationship between Christians and Jews: the Church of the Gentiles is like a wild olive shoot, grafted onto the good olive tree that is the people of the Covenant (cf. Rom 11:17-24). In other words, we draw our nourishment from the same spiritual roots. We encounter one another as brothers and sisters who at certain moments in their history have had a tense relationship, but are now firmly committed to building bridges of lasting friendship.[143] As Pope John Paul II said on another occasion: “We have much in common. Together we can do much for peace, justice and for a more fraternal and more humane world”.[144]

I wish to state once more how much the Church values her dialogue with the Jews. Wherever it seems appropriate, it would be good to create opportunities for encounter and exchange in public as well as in private, and thus to promote growth in reciprocal knowledge, in mutual esteem and cooperation, also in the study of the sacred Scriptures.

[This excerpt is from Verbum Domini (The Word of the Lord), an Apostolic Exhortation written by Pope Benedict XVI, © Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana.A full online copy is available on the Vatican website.]
[128] Cf. Propositio 29.
[129]De Arca Noe, 2, 8: PL 176, 642C-D.
[130] Cf. Benedict XVI, Address to Representatives of the World of Culture at the “Collège des Bernardins” in Paris (12 September 2008): AAS 100 (2008), 725.
[131] Cf. Propositio 10; Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible (24 May 2001): Enchiridion Vaticanum 20, Nos. 748-755.
[132] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 121-122.
[133]Propositio 52.
[134] Cf. Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible (24 May 2001), 19: Enchiridion Vaticanum 20, Nos. 799-801; Origen, Homily on Numbers 9, 4: SC 415, 238-242.
[135]Catechism of the Catholic Church, 128.
[136] Ibid., 129.
[137]Propositio 52.
[138]Quaestiones in Heptateuchum, 2, 73: PL 34, 623.
[139]Homiliae in Ezechielem I, VI, 15: PL 76, 836B.
[140]Propositio 29.
[141] John paul II, Message to the Chief Rabbi of Rome (22 May 2004): Insegnamenti XXVII, 1 (2004), p. 655.
[142] Cf. Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible (24 May 2001), 87: Enchiridion Vaticanum 20, No. 1150.
[143] Cf. Benedict XVI, Farewell Discourse at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv (15 May 2009): Insegnamenti, V, 1 (2009), 847-849.
[144] John Paul II, Address to the Chief Rabbis of Israel (23 March 2000): Insegnamenti XXIII, 1 (2000), 434.

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