One Word, Not Two
102 Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely:
You recall that one and the same Word of God extends throughout Scripture, that it is one and the same Utterance that resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers, since he who was in the beginning God with God has no need of separate syllables; for he is not subject to time.
There are two challenges to approaching Sacred Scripture, and Paragraph 102 labors under both. The preeminent challenge is the mystery of the Incarnation: that a God who is totally “other” from his creation has bridged the gap in a way that we can never understand—which is why we call it faith! The second challenge is squaring the circle: deciphering the Word of this “other” God as it has passed down through thousands of years of perception, translation, and interpretation. Where would you like to start?
Para. 102 calls us to look at the Bible as a unity; “God speaks only one single word.” I received an email recently through the Café asking me if I thought Jews could be saved. I replied that any devout Jew who lived and prayed in the divine revelation of the Old Testament would certainly have as good a chance as I would in the Catholic tradition. I didn’t give it much thought, assuming that this is consistent with Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate (para. 4). What followed was a disturbing avalanche of one-way correspondence (since blocked by me) and outdated historical references to ecclesiastical condemnations of Jews, a monumental effort to refute my answer. In subsequent scanning of Church news I have become more aware of the anti-Semitic tone of some extreme Catholic internet sites. It is a sad thing to see a resurgence of this kind of thought in any Catholic movement, and the Catechism in many places, including para. 102, delegitimizes anti-Semitic tendencies.
By speaking of Scripture as “one single Word,” the Catechism reinforces the truth of the unity of God’s revelation across the two testaments. There is a seamless truth between the two Testaments. For most of Catholic history, the Church’s view of Judaism has been negative. There are multiple reasons for this: (1) Jews who accepted Jesus found it harder to live with their co-religionists in the years leading up to Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.; (2) Christian apologists interpreted the destruction of Jerusalem as God’s disfavor upon the Jews for not embracing Christ as the Savior; (3) the Gospel accounts depict the Jews as the murder of Christ, leading to centuries of Christian accusations of “deicide,” the killing of God. (4) The persecutory stance of Christians against Jews led to a discrediting of the Hebrew Scripture, though the Church found it useful for its indications of a coming Messiah, the Psalm prayers, etc.
It is true that Judaism as a whole has not accepted Jesus as Savior. But consider this: the concept of Messiah was not uniform in Jesus’ day. (1) The Messiah (with a capital ‘M”) in its earliest meaning applied to an anointed king who would lead in the Davidic tradition the coming of Yahweh’s definitive reign; by Jesus’ time, however, many had given up this vision of the future. (2) The Jews had no expectations of a “divine” Messiah. (3) There is no clear evidence that the Jews thought of a messiah as a transcendental figure whose mission would go beyond the boundaries of history.
Much has been made of the historical reality of the Jewish rejection of Jesus, but before heading down that road too far, it is only fair to ask if the Christian Jews were not troubled by the same questions as their non-Christian brethren? There are a number of New Testament texts which suggest that the Jewish-Christian acceptance of Jesus’ nature was complicated and prolonged. Mark 16:14 describes the risen Jesus as quite angry with the disciples for their lack of faith. Luke 24: 25-27 describes Jesus taking an entire afternoon to explain the full meaning of the Scripture [ the Hebrew narrative] to disciples who had been scandalized by his crucifixion.
The “Christian” segment of Judaism, then, had difficulties grasping the unity of the Hebrew Scripture with the experience of Christ that would become the New Testament. I would maintain that the reason we of this century have less difficulty reconciling the two is that we barely know either. For us, the Bible has been “domesticated” to support our Catholic (or other denominational) agenda. Our sense of the pulse of either Testament is faint; God’s Word has become a kind of “Poor Richard’s Almanac” which we plumb for advice or inspiration. It is rare to take God’s Word into one’s hands for the very reason that it is God’s Word, with an agenda that might be foreign to our preoccupations of the moment. This is the seed of Biblical prayer: full obedience to the text.
In Acts of the Apostles 8: 26-40, Philip is directed by an angel to an Ethiopian eunuch who was laboring over a text from the Hebrew Testament, specifically Isaiah. Philip asks if the reader understands what he is reading. “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” Philip explains the text, and the Ethiopian demands to know what stands in the way of his being baptized in the Lord Jesus; Philip baptized him on the spot. St. Luke, author of the Acts, underscores the unity of the Hebrew Scripture with full faith in Christ. The thought occurred to me that Christian enmity against the Jews over two millennia—Venice erected its first walled Jewish ghetto in 1140 A.D.—has actually undermined the mission of reuniting the Old and the New. After reading Paul Johnson’s A History of the Jews (1988), particularly his moving description of the religious faith of the Jewish victims in the extermination camps in the Holocaust, I came away with the confusing feeling that Jews actually live what Christians effortlessly profess.
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