Thursday, September 8, 2016

An interesting trajectory

I am reading through the New Testament in my personal quiet time, and was arrested by the first sentence of Mark—which then made me think of the first sentence of Matthew, and then of the rest of the Gospels. More on this in a moment.

Now as I understand it, it is the content of the canon—not necessarily the arrangement of it—that is inspired. Such things as the chapter and verse divisions are not inspired, having been added well after the canon was complete as an aid to study. Nonetheless, the arrangement and items like the chapter and verse divisions often provide interesting observations (though not authoritative in the sense that the content is authoritative).

For instance, the number of books in the English version of the canon is sixty-six. Don’t get too carried away with this, because the Jews considered Samuel to be one book, not two (because it is a long book, it had to be divided into two scrolls, hence “First” and “Second” Samuel). Same with Kings and Chronicles. So the number sixty-six is an artifact of the Christian version of the canon. But even as such, there are some interesting bits of trivia to think about—like the arrangement of Isaiah, for instance.

The English version of the canon has sixty-six books, thirty-nine Old Testament books, twenty-seven New Testament books. Isaiah has sixty-six chapters. Contrast the major emphasis of the first thirty-nine chapters with that of the last twenty-seven. Check out how chapter forty (the first chapter of the final twenty-seven) begins—compare it with Matthew 3. Think about what the last twenty-seven chapters of Isaiah focuses upon. Neat, huh. [I would love to give credit—or blame!!—where credit is due, but I don’t remember how I happened upon this. Someone probably mentioned it in seminary, but I don’t remember.]

So back to the first lines of the Gospels. There’s a trajectory there that is interesting to me. Matthew 1:1 begins by identifying Jesus as the son of David and the son of Abraham—which means He is the heir of the promises to David and Abraham. Then Mark 1:1 identifies Jesus as the Son of God, which more explicitly links Jesus to the promise in 2 Samuel 7:14. But the statement is not necessarily radical, because there’s evidence that the Old Testament Israelites considered their kings to be sons of God—not in the divine sense, mind you—but in the sense that they were the theocratic representatives of the God of Israel.

But the first sentence of Luke is as though the reader is tracking with the trajectory and is getting a sense for where it is going, and is not quite ready for it. The reader steps back and asks the incredulous question, “Wait a minute! Did this stuff really happen in history? Is it for real?” which Luke then proceeds to answer in the affirmative.

And finally, the first sentence of John hits the target to which the other first-sentences were leading. It identifies Jesus as God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Anyway, it’s not profound, but it is an interesting trajectory.