Marriage: “Let’s Start at the Very Beginning”

September 6, 2012

Last night I launched my 2012-13 Bible study at church, called “It All Started in the Garden.” The class will take (at least) fifteen theological themes introduced in Genesis 1 through 3 and trace them through the Scriptures. As my blog readers have noticed over the last 198 posts, I quite frequently go back to Eden as my starting point on a topic. And yet, comments occasionally criticize my approach as misguided, believing that the Christian’s starting point for a topical study should always be “what Jesus said about it.” So I thought it would be helpful, in the midst of our process toward a PCUSA marriage curriculum, to remind ourselves of what characterizes biblical theology.

Biblical theology is undertaken when the reader wants to know what “the whole counsel of God” teaches on a particular subject introduced by the Word itself. It is an awareness that in the development of that topic through Scripture God makes himself known, offers insight into human nature, demonstrates how the Chosen People and the early disciples processed that subject, and ultimately teaches Christ-followers what to believe and do. With that in mind, we can make four observations about the Bible that shape the task of biblical theology:

1. Historical. The Scriptures give witness to God in action in history, both in deed and in word. God’s Story is embedded in history. We know what God is like by the way he has acted and what he has said. We do not worship a concept, a misty cloud, or some impersonal virtue. We have been encountered by the living God who is personal and immanent even as he is glorious and transcendent. But God from the beginning condescended to express himself to humanity through human language and the passage of time, as recorded by the writers of Scripture.

2. Progressive. Not in the sense of progressive vs. conservative, but progressive in the sense that God keeps communicating through history in periods and developing circumstances (some have called them ‘dispensations,’ but I am not promoting Dispensationalism here). These circumstances changed through biblical history because the human response to divine initiative varied and changed. And “when the time was right,” the Messiah appeared, and the fullness of the gospel was revealed in God’s Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. All Scripture before and after the Nativity moment is inspired. It would diminish the inspiration and authority of the Scripture to claim that the biblical writings progress from lower to higher revelation. Rather, biblical theology sees movement forward from beginning to end through time, as God’s redemptive plan unfolds to its climax. God is working out his purposes, and we see the story progressing through history to an End on that great Day.  God’s revelation is linear, with a beginning and a conclusion, different from an Eastern mindset that sees history as circular.

3. Unified. Each part is essential to the whole understanding of Scripture. The one Author, God himself, is the “voice” behind (within?) the unique human voices giving witness to God’s grace and truth. There is an inherent unity between the Old and the New Testament, and it is one narrative, “God’s Story in Five Acts” as N. T. Wright put it [Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus, The Church]. Biblical theology examines the whole of Scripture, allows Scripture to interpret Scripture, and offers God’s unified point of view on the subject.

4. Cumulative. Akin to ‘progressive,’ the Scriptures also snowball through the experiences of God’s people and the intervention of Yahweh. Everything builds on what came before. The Old Covenant is fulfilled by New Covenant; the Old Testament is the foundation, and the New Testament builds on it. It is impossible, as an example, to understand the words of institution at communion without grasping the OT imagery that defines its terms:

“This cup is the New Covenant in My blood, shed for you and for all people so that your sins may be forgiven.”

The Scriptures up to the Last Supper have accumulated events and practices that become sermon illustrations for Jesus. Ideas about covenant, the shedding of blood, atonement for sin, and forgiveness all have their definition in OT events.  But then Jesus pours new meaning into old forms and formulations for the purpose of making known the grace and truth of the gospel.

What harm is there, then, in starting at the very beginning on the subject of marriage, and noting in chapter one of Genesis that God created humankind male and female, instituted the two-become-one-flesh of marriage, and commissioned them to steward the earth and populate it? Because our task works with a Bible that is historical, progressive, unified, and cumulative, it makes sense to take the biblical data in the order in which it is presented, and work out what God is trying to teach us.

 

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5 Responses to “Marriage: “Let’s Start at the Very Beginning””

  1. Pat Kinzie Says:

    Amen!


  2. Amen and amen, sister!!!!! We must know the Bible from beginning to end to understand what God wants and what
    he is doing, and what he is going to do.

    Rev 1:4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

    Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come,

    The only reason history keeps repeating itself is from humans, not God. We keep forgeting what happened before and keep making the same mistakes over and over.

    The Bible becomes so much richer when we understand the connection between the Old and the New Testaments, and
    understand what the Lord was doing in light of the culture at
    that time.

  3. John Hindman Says:

    Will the themes covered in “It All Started in the Garden” be covered here in Bringing the Word to Life? I hope so.

  4. Pinky Bender Says:

    Great news for those of us who teach and preach and who are always looking for new ideas….and giving credit to those who furnish us with same!!!

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