The Testament That Comes After the New Testament

Hand holding quill pen preparing to write on blank parchmentBy the time of Jesus, the Old Testament was closed, i.e. it was determined that nothing new would be included in the sacred writings of the Hebrews.

The Torah was five books, not six; Moses was dead, so how could there be more anyway? Besides, five is all that is needed, they said.

Psalms? There are a hundred and fifty to choose from, that’s more than sufficient. If they sang three each Sabbath, it’d be an entire year before any were repeated. Besides, they said, these are the classics. We don’t need any of these new, contemporary “psalms.” Seriously, they aren’t real worship psalms, what with their odd meters and repetitive choruses.

There is also no need to add to the festival scrolls, they said. There are five festivals/fasts (Passover, Pentecost, Ninth of Av, Tabernacles, and Purim) and five scrolls to read during them (respectively, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther). That’s enough. Five is a good, number, corresponding to the Torah.

Prophecy had ended, they said. God had ceased speaking, so don’t believe all these new guys running around claiming to have a new word from God. They are fakes, phonies, charlatans, or just plain nuts.

What God had said was sufficient, so he was done speaking. It’s enough. If there is any lack, it’s in our ability to stay true to what he had already said.

He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, our ancient patriarchs.

His true servant is David, a man after his own heart. The future king will be from the line of David. He will take us back to the glory days of his ancestor.

His true prophet is Elijah, who will come back to herald the new David.

They will take us back to when we were great. Our future is in the past.

That’s what “they” said. The ones who never want anything new to be said are those for whom the present is working pretty well, and the past supports their current status and its comforts, power and prestige. They are the ones who closed the Old Testament canon.

It wasn’t all the Hebrews in the first century, because for many their current state was pretty bad. They had no voice, no wealth to speak of, no means to change things.

Every day was a struggle for daily bread. Same as the day before. Their past was their present, each “new” day the same as the one before, and the one before that. These are the people who would have welcomed a new word. A new word was the only thing that could give them hope.

Sorry, they were told. No new word. Can’t trust new words. Can only trust the old ones. God is done speaking. God doesn’t do new things, just revives old things.

It’s always been interesting to me that Jesus never wrote anything. In all the major religions—even the minor ones I suppose—the foundations of the faith are the writings of the founders: Moses, Muhammad, Buddha, Joseph Smith, etc.

Jesus wrote nothing. And his followers were in no rush to write anything either. The earliest writings we have are Paul’s letters, and they come 20 or more years after the events of Holy Week. The earliest written collection of stories about Jesus is the gospel of Mark, written some forty years after Jesus’ resurrection.

I doubt that they thought they were writing something that would someday be called Scripture and put on the same level—or higher—as the words in the Hebrew Bible.

All they knew was that in Jesus God had done and was still doing something new, and that this new thing cast all the old words in a new light, and they wanted to add their words to the old words so that others could look to the future and see more than just the past on repeat.

They could see something new, and have hope.

So they wrote new words, and I doubt they ever intended them to be the last words.

The thing about writing is that it gives the appearance that things are done. Finished. Complete. As a writer, I know that is never true. I’ve never truly finished anything I’ve written, I’ve just had to stop.

There’s always more that needs to be said, or that can be said better, but at some point I just have to stop because I’ve run out of time or run out of room.

But that’s different than being done.

Eventually some guys—and, yes, they were all guys, not a woman among them—got together and decided that no new words were needed beyond the New Testament—you know, the new words that were added after the old words of the Old Testament were declared to be sufficient.

But as long as there is hope, as long as there is a future that is not just a rehash of the past, we can’t just stop. Each person has a story that needs to be told. Some write. Some compose. Some talk. Some paint. Some sculpt.

But each person adds their story to The Story, because no matter how similar your story is to another’s, no one else can tell your story. Your encounter with The Story is yours alone.

Our God is not just the God of the past. The Lord God is the Alpha and Omega, who was, who is, and who is to come.

And when he says, “It is finished,” well, it’s just beginning.

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / seregam

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