3. Developments and trajectories
To move further than our cautious first steps beyond the Bible (in Directions not Rules) we may take the idea of ‘directions’ further. It relates to a cluster of metaphors for reading the Bible faithfully while needing to go beyond the Bible.
I Howard Marshall ((
Iconic Evangelical scholar of the New Testament who published a
series of lectures that in some ways looked back on his career, but
even more looked towards the future: I. Howard Marshall, Kevin J.
Vanhoozer, and Stanley E. Porter. Beyond the Bible: Moving from
Scripture to Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004. ))
proposed that we notice the ‘developments’ in Scripture. (( Ibid.
Marshall noted a
number of features of biblical teaching:
- There is
development, there is some diversity of teaching on (a number
of/all?) important issues and within this diversity we can discern
greater ‘maturity’ in some texts than others.
biblical teaching is always contextual (Marshall’s word is
‘occasional’) there must be questions which go beyond the
available scriptural teaching.
- Revelation is
not found so much in small fragments of the Bible as in the whole.
Some texts may be staging posts to something greater.
- There is
continuity. Not least we must affirm that the God of the Old
Testament is the God of the New Testament.
developments are principled, changed circumstances e.g. old
covenant to new, the liminal period soon after Jesus to the more
established early church.
development after the closing of the canon is inevitable. But they
must show continuity with Scripture and fit with the ‘mind of
Christ’. E.g. the gospel may relativise some teachings that
were for specific occasions.
- “In this
way we affirm the ongoing supreme authority of Scripture, but we
recognize that Scripture needs interpretation and fresh application,
both in our doctrine and in our practice.” (( Ibid. 78-79
number 7 is quoted, the others summarised. Much better than this
brief approximate summary would be to read his third lecture, ibid.
Marshall gives the
example of christology, 1 Cor 12:3 affirms the statement ‘Jesus
is lord’ as a test of orthodoxy. Such a test neatly
distinguishes followers of Jesus from others. Except that as time
passes the church’s understanding of Christology develops in
response to new errors, and in 1 John 4:2-3 the statement is rather
‘Jesus Christ has come in the flesh’
because the error of docetism (( The belief
that Jesus was God merely appearing to be human. )) is troubling the
churches and so a new test statement is needed. In
this case we have decided to retain both, because the ‘development’
is not a refining but rather a response to an additional need. And,
of course, as new errors presented the church added and refined its
christological touchstones further, until in 451 the Fourth
Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon arrived at the more complex and sharp
definition still in use today.
Marshall’s presentation of ‘development’ that goes beyond
Scripture, but is founded in Scripture and coherent with the ‘mind
of Christ,’ strikes me as being quite similar to the language of
‘trajectory’ which also points to continuity and change. Marshall
recognises that talk of ‘development’ is in danger of implying
that what is newer is necessarily better, and makes a point of
denying this. Trajectory language also courts this danger, but to
compensate it strengthens the continuity and shared direction and
aims of new and old.
The mind of Christ, Gentiles and the law
One of the clear and interesting ways in which the Bible exhibits such development or trajectories concerns the covenant law of four of the first five books of the Bible. The law with its over 600 commands was central to Jewish identity. As Gentiles began to confess their faith in Jesus, and to receive the Holy Spirit and baptism, the question of law became acute. With powerful guidance from God (Acts 10-11), there was heated debate (Gal 2:11-21) in which James’ traditionalist Scriptural position was strongly attacked by Paul, not on Scriptural but theological grounds. He bases his argument on the claim that demanding Gentiles conform to the biblical laws is ‘not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel’. (Gal 2:14) As a result a meeting of the most vociferous parties in Jerusalem (Acts 15) reached a conclusion that did not demand circumcision of Gentiles. Since circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham. (Gen 17:11) the minimal requirements that are laid on Gentile believers cohere with the ‘covenant with Noah’ (Gen 9:1-17) where the only requirement is dietary, not to eat blood. (cf. Gen 9:3-6 with Acts 15:20 which adds requirements to abstain ‘from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled’. (Act 15:20) (( Even this curtailed list may not have lasted long, in 1 Cor 8 Paul seems to be saying that food offered to idols was a matter of personal conviction and care for others, who might be offended or led astray, rather than a rule to be obeyed (but cf. perhaps1 Cor 10:19-23). ))
In the next post I plan to present a similarly over-simplified
version of Vanhoozer’s ideas of ‘Performances and pilgrimages’.