Returning to James Alison (see previous posts), I’m now reading his book Knowing Jesus. In the opening chapter Dr Alison looks at the resurrection of Jesus and the apostolic witness to this event, and in one fascinating paragraph he considers the nature of that witness:
What we have, then, is a witness. We receive the witness in the community which receives the teaching of the apostles. We receive the New Testament, and we also receive the Old Testament, as an aid to understanding what the New Testament is about.
Indeed, we cannot understand what Jesus was doing, or what the resurrection meant, and means, without seeing what it was that formed him, in what context he gave his teaching and lived his life. All that means receiving the Old Testament. The witness of the apostles that we have received is a witness which includes the Old Testament so that they, the apostles, can explain to us, what was the full meaning of the happening on that Sunday morning after Jesus had been killed.
I love this perspective on the Old Testament as being (for us as Christians) part of the apostolic witness to Jesus. This seems to me to have a number of benefits.
First, it ensures we interpret the Old Testament in a Christ-centred way. The only reason the Old Testament is scripture for us is in because of the apostolic witness to it as being a witness to Christ, so we cannot interpret it separately from that witness.
Second, it addresses the concern that many have expressed in recent decades as to whether the adoption of the Old Testament – the Jewish scriptures – as Christian scripture is yet another example of Christian dispossession of the Jewish people. The Old Testament is not the Jewish scriptures as such; rather, the Old Testament is the Jewish scriptures as apostolic witness to Christ. This radical difference in function allows the Old Testament to be “ours” without dispossession of the Jewish people, to whom the Jewish scriptures belong (Romans 9:4) as such.
Finally, just as Dr Alison emphasises both New Testament and Old Testament as apostolic witness, so he emphasises that apostolic witness as something that is received by us within “the community which receives the teaching of the apostles”: that is, the church. This is then significant for the argument of the rest of his book, which I hope to look at in a future post.