Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Way to Emmaus: "Then beginning with Moses and the prophets,
he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures."
(Lk 24:27)
A couple of years ago, in the middle of a class, one of my students came up with a question that made me, for a moment, ask myself if I was made to be a Scripture teacher. The ‘famous’ question was: “If Jesus is the prophet, why do we have to read the OT prophets?” It took me a couple of seconds to regroup and respond to such a question. I guess I took for granted everybody knew that at a graduate level and studying to become ministers, Bible courses, any of them, are most relevant… Well, I blog on that same question today, because I got this infamous inquiry again. This time it did not take me by surprise.

An idea which I see sacred scripture students need to grasp before delving deeply in biblical studies is the character of inspiration of the Bible. Following that, a clear understanding of the possible composition process of the Bible is essential. Then (for those who have the interest on it), having a sound sense of the relationship between the Old and the New Testament gives the student an irreplaceable hermeneutical key, enabling them to recognize the importance of the Prophetic Literature (PL) in the New Testament (NT) writings.

The NT shows roughly 400 references or allusions to the PL, making it the best represented part of the Tanakh. Isaiah is quoted 22 times by name and in five other times, although he is not mentioned explicitly, we know the reference is certain. Jonah is quoted ten times, Jeremiah three times and Hosea and Joel once. These are the prophets that are clearly mentioned in the NT. Narrowing the scope to the Gospels, we can count around 45 times where the PL helps to validate Jesus’ demeanor or teaching.

Rembrandt: Matthew writing his Gospel
Contrary to what many students may think a priori, when the PL is quoted, it is not to make a NT text more inspirational, beautiful and appealing. The NT writers, making reference to different texts throughout the PL, intend to express better the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ. In the Gospels specifically, the references from the prophets have a distinct theological role. The relevance the evangelists gave to the PL confirms the validity of the OT prophets’ point of view on God and his relationship with his people (Lk 7:16). Therefore, we can say that in the Gospels, Jesus demonstrates total consensus with the prophets’ teaching while appealing to the same God (cf. Mt 22:40).  

Although the NT writers called Jesus with many different titles (Son of man, Son of God, Messiah, Savior, etc.), the title prophet was also applied to him many times. Furthermore, because of his words and actions, Jesus was considered “the prophet who is to come into the world” (Jn 6:14), in a time when many were awaiting the resurgence of the prophetic charism and the return of the one who was to be Moses’ successor (cf. Mt 21:11; Lk 24:44; Jn 9:17.) On that same note, after the resurrection, Jesus’ followers made clear that he really was a prophet “mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Lk 24:19).

Jesus is in complete agreement with the OT prophets’ line, in harmony with those who have delivered and interpreted God’s mind and will throughout history (cf. Mk 8:28).  For Christians he is indeed the prophet who YHWH would raise to succeed Moses, much greater that his predecessor (cf. Jn 1:17; Gal 4:4; Heb 1:1). We cannot comprehend the extension and importance of Jesus’ mission without reading the PL. To say the least, with his life in the world Jesus has honored every single one of those who have been prophets before him (cf. Mt 7:12; 10:41; 13:57; 23: 29-32; Mk 6:4; Lk 11:49; 24:25).

Juan Miguel Betancourt
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