Rule 1

The New Testament is the final chapter in the biblical story of God.

In the Christian Bible the New Testament revelation completes the Old Testament promise. That obvious statement cannot be overemphasized. The New Testament is not the whole story. It is the concluding chapter of a story that begins in Jewish scripture. The God revealed in the New Testament is first revealed in the Old Testament.

Christians affirm that Jesus of Nazareth was God as well as man. Why would God become a man? Moreover, what would lead God to be incarnated in a Jew who lived two thousand years ago in Galilee? Why would God become this particular man in this particular place at this particular time?

For the first Christians this was a question about the God of Israel, the God of their fathers, the God of a Jew named Jesus and of his Jewish disciples. The answer they found is in the story of God told by the Torah, the Writings, and the Prophets. These scrolls in Hebrew and Aramaic were the scriptures of Jesus and his disciples, and of the Jews who first joined the church in Jerusalem. These writings in their Greek translation were the scriptures of Paul, of Greek-speaking Jews in cities throughout the Roman Empire, and of the first Greek-speaking Gentile churches.

The church began without the New Testament, without the gospels, without the letters of Paul. It began with the ministry of an itinerant Jewish preacher and healer, who proclaimed that those who lived, like God, with justice and mercy, would enter into the kingdom of God. It began with a meal among destitute Jews in Galilee, who gave thanks to God and shared what little they had. It began with the death of Jesus and with an experience of his resurrection that inspired his disciples, his brothers, his mother, Mary of Magdala and other women who followed him. The church began with the conversion of Paul, a Greek-speaking Jewish Pharisee and Roman citizen, who interpreted his experience of the risen Christ through the scriptures of his people as a call to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles.

All these people looked for the word of God in the scriptures of Israel and found in the Torah, the Writings, and the Prophets a way of understanding, as the word of God, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In the 40s and 50s A.D. Paul explained his experience of God in Christ in his letters. Later, Christian leaders edited and wrote the gospels and other letters and materials to express their understanding of God in Christ. These writings all confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but they also reveal differences among the early churches. Paul's letters are full of arguments with his Christian adversaries, including a sharp disagreement with the Jerusalem apostles about enforcing Jewish law in churches with Gentile Christians. The story of Jesus in each gospel defends the author's understanding of Christian faith and supports the apostles identified with that teaching tradition.

The New Testament is the concluding chapter of the story about the God of Israel, the Jewish people, and the nations. In the fourth century, when the church leadership authorized by the Roman Emperor created the New Testament, it also constructed the Old Testament by reordering the Jewish scriptures. The rabbis read the Prophets after the Torah and before the Writings, in the order they understood to be historical. They believed God gave the law, spoke through the prophets to judge the Israelites for breaking the law, and then relied on the rabbis to interpret God's will as expressed in the law, the prophets, and the traditional wisdom writings.

In the Christian story, however, God gives the law, explains it through the wisdom writings, speaks through the prophets, and then in Jesus bears the judgment of the law as a way of "reconciling the world to himself." (2 Cor. 5:19) The Christian Bible affirms that the law and the prophets are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The church proclaims that Christ's crucifixion and resurrection is the consummation of God's will to create, sustain and redeem human life on earth in the image of just and righteous life in heaven. © Robert Traer 2016