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Theology > Jesus > Introductory Considerations > Unity of the Text


Diversity and unity are both exhibited in the Text, but these are not in opposition to each other. In fact, these two characteristics complement each other, for it is in and through the diversity that the unity is grasped. The character of the obvious diversity is the undeniable unity—this affirms that the message is superior to the components of the message.

A recognition of diversity within the Text does not justify a preoccupation with the diversity and an amplification of the diversity. Rather priority should be given to the unity that is established by the diversity. In other words, the main concern should be with the message of the total Text, not with the contribution of a particular author to the Text. To give emphasis to the theology of John or the theology of the New Testament rather than the theology of the total Text is to be occupied improperly with the incidental rather than with the essential.

One example will suffice. Consider the word “Elohim” in the Hebrew Old Testament. How is this plural word that is used with a singular verb to be understood?

Is it a verbal vestige of polytheistic thought which is a reflection of man’s evolving concept of deity?

Or is it an intensive word, with the plural form being a plural of fullness or majesty similar to the plural “heavens” in Genesis 1:1 and the plural “waters” in Genesis 1:2? With reference to God, therefore, the word speaks of His fullness, completeness, majesty, and the plenitude of His existence.

Or does the plural form contain the latent concept of the Trinity that is revealed more fully later in Scripture? Thus in this single word, appearing initially in the first verse of the Bible, we have an anticipation of the teaching concerning the Trinity that is progressively revealed by God in the rest of the Scriptures.

Of the three possibilities, it is obvious that the third is the correct one. And this serves as an example of the incorrectness of limiting one’s understanding of this word to the understanding of the writer of Genesis. The word must not be interpreted in terms of Moses but in terms of the Canon. The point is not what Moses knew or understood, but the message regarding Elohim that is taught in the complete Text. And so it is with all of Scripture.

The context of a particular text is the entire Text.

In what sense can the unity of the Text be affirmed? What are some features that suggest a unified Text rather than a compartmentalized Text?

The Text is one in the sense of Origin – Was the Text initiated and given by God or created and adjusted by man? Unavoidable is the question of Revelation versus reflection, that is, whether the Text is from the top down or from the bottom up. Is the Text of God or of man? Is it the Text, or is it simply texts?

The Christian Faith must affirm that its Word is from God, and by so doing an objective and normative foundation is established. Whether it is Moses reporting creation or John unfolding future events, the material that they wrote is from God not themselves. Of course, it goes without saying that each book reflects the particular individual’s style and personality, but that horizontal phenomenon does not detract from the fact that the Revelation, the propositional form, originates on the vertical plane. And what is true of Moses and John is true of all of the writers of the Canon: “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21; see: The Source Material).

This statement from II Peter is either correct or false; it is either accepted or rejected by the reader. There is no middle ground. And such is true for all of the statements of Scripture.

To affirm that the Text is one in the sense of origin is to affirm that the Text is from God; it is from God to men who were inspired by the Spirit to write and guided by the Spirit as they wrote. Worded differently, the affirmation is that the Author of the Text is One; though many individuals wrote, they wrote according to the leadership of the One who is the single Author of Scripture (see: Revelation was Supernatural and Source of Truth).

The Text is one in the sense of Text – The Canon is composed of sixty-six books, yet the books constitute One Book, the Bible. Though many texts, the Text is one.

What about the Jewish intertestamental books? The following statement seems to affirm all that needs to be affirmed: the “writings of the canonical Scriptures partake of the character of holy history . . . the books outside the canon lack the sense of holy history found in the canonical books” (Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 32).

There is an inner unity in the Canonical books that is missing in the apocryphal writings. To read the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation is to be enveloped by the sense of oneness that characterizes the Scriptures. It is as though the sixty-six books of the Bible are really sixty-six chapters of one Book.

If unity characterizes the Text then unity should characterize the study of the Text. In this assertion lies the justification for Systematic Theology or Dogmatics. The content of each book must be studied in terms of the entire Book. To limit the study to specifics, individual texts,  rather than to the contribution of the specifics to the comprehensiveness of the whole is to reveal lack of appreciation for the concept of Canon, a Text—one Book.

Related to this foundational issue is the question of whether the believer’s study will be guided by historical interests or theological interests. Are they mutually exclusive?

The Text is one in the sense of Message – The message is the message of God. It is God’s Word to man; it is God’s light given to man so that that man will not exist in the darkness and ignorance of sin. Without God’s Word man would have no knowledge of himself, his origin, his predicament, his hope, or his destiny. But because God has spoken man not only can know himself but more importantly he can know God.

So the message is one, the message of God. There are various aspects to the message and much diversity characterizes its sending, but the message is not varied and there are not diverse messages. Through the diversity the single message is known. Therefore, study of the Text should focus on the unity, the oneness, not on the diversity. The diversity is incidental whereas the unity is essential.

Variation in form does not translate into variance in message.

Originally from the Enlightenment and later from Rationalism came the influences that led to the Scriptures being viewed as any other ancient text and approached in the same manner, and also from these two influences arose the perspective which separated Dogmatics from the so-called new approach, Biblical Theology, with the latter viewing the Text as essentially the reflection of the early Church.

If this is accepted then the occasion is created for the appearance of treatments of the specific thinking of the various writers of the Scriptures, especially the New Testament. So there is a Theology of John or Theology of Paul, or even a New Testament Theology. Such concepts are erroneous and misleading (see: Unity of Truth).

It may be debatable as to what constitutes the essential message of the Bible. But it is not debatable that there is a single message in the Bible.

Return to: Introductory Considerations; Next Article: Relationship of Theology and History

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