Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Listening to Moses and the Prophets

The Holy Scriptures, as St. Paul declares to Timothy, are all "God-breathed" (Theopneustos) and profitable for instruction (Didaskalion), for rebuking, for correction, and for instruction into righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

Throughout the history of the church catholic, there has always been the debate as to how we interpret the Holy Scriptures. This goes back to the very beginnings of the church and even had an influence in the forming of the canon, the canon being the accepted books of the Bible as the inspired word of God. This debate continued on and is divided in church history by two geographic regions. One method of interpretation is dubbed "The School of Alexandria." This school was very fond of the use of allegory.

The other school of intepretation, "The School of Antioch," is centered around an interpretation of the Scriptures that has tightly formed hermeneutical rules which govern one's understanding of the scriptural text. To say that the school of Antioch took on a literalistic approach is not correct, however. They, too, had layers of meaning in the text. The difference was that the Antiochene school worked by their hermeneutical "interpretive" rules. The Alexandrian school tended to be more loose in its intepretation of the different layers. To the Antiochene school, the Alexandrians loose methods were dangerous and left up to the interpreter. The Antiochene school believed that the the methods and guidelines of interpretation belonged to the church. This latter school did, of course, use typology and spiritual interpretations.

The church finds its source and method of interpretation within the scriptures themselves. We find many examples in the New Testament, where the apostles through their preaching and administration of the church demonstrate for us how to interpret the Old Testament in light of the New. We learn how to understand the Regula Fidei "Rule of Faith," the gospel itself.

A good example of how the church is to interpret the scriptures is found in Christ's own words through a story meant for the Pharisees to hear. St. Luke 16:19-31 treats of the Rich Man and Lazarus. There is the whole dialogue between the rich man who, being dead, is in Hades, and Father Abraham who holds Lazarus in his arms in heaven.

What is important for the purposes of this article is found at the end of the chapter. The rich man doesn't want his brothers to suffer the same conclusion. So, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers in order to warn them on how to live (ie. the life of faith).

How does Abraham respond? "They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them hear them"(St. Luke 16:29). The Greek demonsrates urgency in the rich man's response, "(Ouxi) No! Father Abraham, but if someone from the dead were to journey to them, they will repent." Abraham responds with a statement that grants us great hermeneutical (interpretive) insight into the Old Testament and Christ. "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone were to rise from the dead"(St. Luke 16:31).

What a note on which to end! If the hearer or interpreter of the scriptures does not pay close enough attention, then one may miss this intepretive benchmark from Jesus Himself. "They have Moses and the Prophets." What does Abraham mean by "Moses and the Prophets?" Moses represents the 5 books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). The Prophets means the rest of the Old Testament. Moses was a prophet, but his being singled out highlights his importance in the whole scheme of the Old Testament salvation history. First, this means that the Old Testament has been given to bring life to its hearers. Even the Old Testament saves those who listen (upakouw). Second, we see that the Old Testament is equated to the proclamation of one rising from the dead. "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rise from the dead."

If the hearts are hardened and the veil goes over their hearts when Moses is read (2 Cor. 3:15), then Jesus rising from the dead will do them no good, either. One wouldn't think this would be the case. One rising from the dead would be much more of a "wake up call" than just hearing holy words proclaimed in one's midst. The point lies in the message of the Old Testament. Is it simply a dead letter or does it proclaim something life-giving?

What Abraham is saying is this: The Old Testament preaches and proclaims the death and resurrection of the Messiah, though it is somewhat veiled. The proclamation of this message in the temple will bear this out. They are to go and listen. These words proclaimed, being "God-breathed" scripture has the power to change hearts and bring life. These words preach the resurrection of one man--the Messiah. We know that Abraham's exhortation to the Old Testament is not a flippant response. Jesus, we are told, "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, interpreted to them using all the writings concerning Himself"(St. Luke 24:27).

This whole account of the Rich Man and Lazarus should remind the church of, both, the necessity of missions as well as the realization that church programs will not convert the heart of a person. If they will not listen to the Holy Scriptures, and if they do not find "one rising from the dead" in and amongst the scriptures, then the word is like a dead letter to them. It will only kill and slay.

It is only when one hears of the one dying and rising from the dead, and believes that He is God and Man, that life can be obtained. Only then can one's soul be ransomed from Hades.

It is the task of the church to preach Jesus Christ crucified, died, and resurrected because this alone frees the soul from the captivity of Satan. It is in the gospel that the church can then breathe a breath of fresh air, the aroma of Christ and find the only peace it can really know. It is this gospel that enables the church to gather around the sacrament and rejoice in it. The Old Testament, therefore, is a preaching of this very gospel. We find in it typology--images and hints at baptism, the Eucharist, Confession/Absolution, the church, and the pattern and life-giving of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this way, the church carries on and finds the peace that surpasses all understanding from Old Testament to New Testament, the "God-breathed" holy Scriptures which brings life.

+Fr. Chadius