Around 140 A.D. a church bishop named Marcion published a canon of Scripture that left out the Old Testament as well as any reference to it in the gospels and the letters of Paul. It appears he was motivated by his inability to reconcile the character of the God of the Old Testament with God the Father as revealed by Jesus Christ. His final product was a severely edited gospel of Luke (no Matthew, Mark, or John) and ten abridged letters of Paul. He was excommunicated from the church as a heretic.
While Marcion was clearly over the line in his rejection of the Old Testament and much of what we have come to accept in the New, his angst is still with us today as evidenced by the recent series of cover stories in Christianity Today magazine under the banner Grappling with the God of Two Testaments. The challenge brought on by how God describes Himself in the two testaments – a challenge Marcion basically gave up on – is still with us.
As a first step in addressing this challenge, I think we should flip things around in our Bible publishing. What I mean is, let’s publish our Bible with the New Testament first and the Old Testament second. Let’s publish our Christian Bible with the Christian message first. Let’s print the New Covenant – our current arrangement with God – first, and include the Old Covenant second as a prequel or appendix as it were to the New. Don’t you think that the Christian Bible, if it is to represent the Chirstian message, should start with the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ?
The church fathers in the second century, in direct response to Marcion, said that the New Testament does not supercede the Old Testament, but stands beside it to form a complete set. But I wonder if the New Testament does indeed supercede the Old. After all, the New Testament itself proclaims its superiority to the Old Covenant.
Theologically speaking, the New Covenant proclaims itself as better than the Old. The book of Hebrews is a thirteen chapter dissertation on the main idea that Jesus is better. Jesus is better than the angels, Jesus is better than the Old Testament prophets, Jesus is better than Moses, Jesus is better than the Law. And the New Covenant introduced by Jesus is superior to the Old Covenant.
Practically speaking, the provisions for righteous living are far superior under the New Covenant than under the Old. The whole book of Galatians is based on this idea. The Law was nothing more than a schoolmaster condemning us and pointing out our sin. But this ministry of condemnation, identified by Paul as the Old Covenant, has “come to an end” (II Cor 3:11). It has been replaced, not added on to, by the New Covenant; described as the ministry of life, the ministry of the Spirit, the minstry of righteousness (II Cor 3:6-9).
So what do you think? Do you like the idea of publishing the New Testament first in our Bibles? It is an approach that is not that uncommon in the literary and film-making worlds. Not to take our cues from Hollywood, but think about the Star Wars franchise. As you recall, Episodes 4, 5, and 6 – the heart of the story – were produced first. Episodes 1, 2, and 3 were produced many years later as a prequel. If it had been shown the other way around, would the impact have been the same? Would we have lost interest long before the pivitol quote, “Luke, I AM your father”? Just a thought, but it causes me to wonder if it is an unfortunate part of our Bible publishing that one has to read through 931 chapters of the Bible before hearing God say, “Jesus, I AM your Father.”