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On the Historicity of Scripture

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  • Christopher Orr
    The God of the Old Testament By Fr. Stephen Freeman Old habits are hard to break.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 16, 2009
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      The God of the Old
      By Fr. Stephen Freeman

      Old habits are hard to break. For years as an Anglican Christian, and a
      conservative, I battled with academics in the Anglican world whose primary
      agenda seemed to me (at the time) to be the destruction of Scripture. Their
      historical method generally resulted in students being told that this that
      and the other thing didn't happen. This was most disturbing, particularly
      for those who chose to extend their skepticism to the very resurrection of

      It was in such a context that I took up the defense of Scripture. But, of
      course, it is always the case that if you set yourself in a position of
      reaction, whatever it is that you are reacting against has already set the
      parameters of the argument - in some cases distorting all of the fundamental

      As years went by I became more and more familiar with the early Church
      Fathers and later with the use of Scripture in Orthodox liturgical settings.
      It was pointed out to me, when I was a graduate student at Duke, that
      Liberal Historical Critical Studies and Fundamentalist Literalism, were
      actually two sides of the same coin. Both agreed on the triumph of the
      historical. Both sought the meaning of the text within its historical
      original. History was their agreed upon battleground. To enter that
      battleground is already, from my later Orthodox perspective, to have
      surrendered the Truth as received by the Church. They are both profoundly

      Learning to read the Old Testament with the mind of the Fathers, is learning
      to read the Old Testament not so much as historical prelude to Christ, but
      as Scripture, received as inspired, but seen as largely typological and
      always interpreted through Christ. God is as He is revealed in Christ and
      always has been. Thus, the NT reveals the Old and the right way for it to be

      I offer a quote from St. Irenaeus:

      If anyone, therefore, reads the scriptures this way, he will find in them
      the Word concerning Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling. For
      Christ is the "treasure which was hidden in the field" [Mat. 13:44] [a
      treasure] hidden in the scriptures, for he was indicated by means of types
      and parables, which could not be understood by human beings prior to the
      consummation of those things which had been predicted, that is, the advent
      of the Lord. And therefore it was said to Daniel the prophet, "Shut up the
      words and seal the book, until the time of the consummation, until many
      learn and knowledge abounds. For, when the dispersion shall be accomplished,
      they shall know all these things" [Dan. 12:4, 7]. And Jeremiah also says,
      "In the last days they shall understand these things " [Jer. 23:20]. For
      every prophecy, before its fulfillment, is nothing but an enigma and
      ambiguity to human beings; but when the time has arrived, and the prediction
      has come to pass, then it has an exact exposition [*exegesis*]. And for this
      reason, when at this present time the Law is read by the Jews, it is like a
      myth, for they do not possess the explanation [*exegesis*] of all things
      which pertain to the human advent of the Son of God: but when it is read by
      Christians, it is a treasure, hid in a field, but brought to light by the
      Cross of Christ, and explained, both enriching the understanding of humans,
      and showing forth the wisdom of God, and making known his dispensations with
      regard to human beings, and prefiguring the kingdom of Christ, and preaching
      in anticipation the good news of the inheritance of the holy Jerusalem, and
      proclaiming beforehand that the one who loves God shall advance so far as
      even to see God, and hear his Word, and be glorified, from hearing his
      speech, to such an extent, that others will not be able to behold his
      glorious countenance [cf. 2 Cor. 3:7], as was said by Daniel, "Those who
      understand shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and many of the
      righteous as the stars for ever and ever" [Dan. 12:3]. In this manner, then,
      I have show it to be, if anyone read the scriptures.

      What so many moderns find difficult is leaving behind the presumptions of
      either modernist Biblical Criticism or fundamentalist literalism. They are
      deeply married to a historical paradigm. Whereas, the paradigm of the Church
      is Christ Himself. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
      He is not judged by history but is the truth of history.

      There are many passages in the OT that if read literally would lead us to
      believe in a God far removed from the one revealed to us in Christ. This is
      a false reading. But many are more married to their literal historical
      method (of whichever form) than to Christ. Unless the OT is literal, they
      reason, then everything else is not true.

      This is not the beginning place of the Church. Truth was only ever
      vindicated for us in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and that alone is our
      Alpha and Omega. It troubles some to begin "in the middle" though Christ
      resurrected is not the middle but also the beginning and the ending, if we
      know how to read in an Apostolic manner. Many coming to Orthodoxy think it
      offers another historical proof of the faith, since it is the first
      foundation of Christ and has an impeccable historical pedigree. This is
      simply fundamentalism looking for another straw to erect in its support and
      not a true conversion to Orthodoxy.

      Christ is risen from the dead and His resurrection becomes the center of all
      things. Only through His resurrection may the Old Testament be read. It's
      historical claims (though many are quite strong) are not the issue. Christ
      is the only issue and the only Truth that matters. This is frightening to
      fundamentalists, for any loosening of their grip on historical literalism
      feels like failure and capitulation to modernism. But before either
      fundamentalist or modernist existed, the Church existed, and has always
      known how to read the Scriptures. Thus it behooves us not to look for
      Orthodoxy to support some other structure as the nature of Truth, but as
      witness to that which we have accepted as the Truth. Let the dead bury the
      dead. Read the Scriptures with the living.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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