Is there a theological reason for the order of the books in the New Testament canon?
There are many events in the Bible which, if taken in isolation, make little sense. The “translation” of Enoch is one of them.
The skeptical mind sees them as artefacts of imaginative story telling. The faithful mind sees them rightly as works of God. But the faithful modern mind is left to scour the slim pickings available from even the best commentators if historical architecture is not taken into account.
Aaron Denlinger remarks that “Calvin’s comments on chapter 5 of Genesis barely fill a handful of pages in his lengthy commentary on the first book of the Bible,” then comments:
The record of Enoch’s translation, then, speaks not to what a man might merit, in distinction from his peers, by virtue of his righteous walk or talk. It speaks, rather, to the peculiar mercy of God, who responds to the need of his people to have their faith in him and his promise buttressed by clear and repeated reminders of his character and his promise. And in itself it constitutes an instance of God’s promise, reminding God’s people that death is no final word even for those who, unlike Enoch, must undergo it. Enoch inherited a “better abode” by a rather peculiar means; but every true believer is an heir of that “better abode,” and so ultimately of the God whose presence defines that place.1Aaron Denlinger, The gospel according to Enoch: Calvin on Gen. 5.21-24.
This conclusion is a good one, since it takes the whole Bible into account. But if you are like me, there is a niggling feeling that we still have not got to the bottom of things. The modern evangelical practice of “seeing Christ in all the Scriptures” is often little more than whitewashing a passage with things we already know. Rusty Reno writes:
Many of us have limited biblical imaginations. We have stock phrases and favorite passages. We think of ourselves as biblical, but our friends recognize that nine times out of ten we’re quoting from Paul’s Letter to the Romans or the Book of Revelation or the Gospel of John. The Old Testament functions as a hazy background. The Psalms have no living power. Although we would vigorously deny it, we are functionally allied with Friedrich Schleiermacher, who notoriously set aside the Old Testament, or Immanuel Kant, who rejected the ‘Jewish’ parts of the Old Testament as unusable. Should we be surprised, therefore, that our preaching and teaching remains ‘spiritual’ or ‘theological’ in an abstract and theoretical way? Nothing we say is heretical. Orthodoxy carries the day. But it all floats a few feet above the ground.2Rusty Reno, from his foreword to The Glory of Kings: A Festschrift for James B. Jordan.
This explains why Calvin’s, and even Denligner’s, explanations are so unsatisfying. They are merely telling us what we already know. Their “big picture” is in reality just a collection of facts about the Gospel, with little or no comprehension of the work of the Gospel as a process in history. Consequently, so much theology today, even at the highest levels, has the character of a long-winded essay by a high school student who has not really understood the question. This failure is disguised in a smokescreen of factoids and generalities, and the actual question is never answered. We learn what effect the taking of Enoch might have had on the people of the day. We learn why God might have chosen Enoch instead of somebody else. But why did God actually take him? This is the question even the child wants answered. But these learned minds haven’t got a clue, because they do not see the mind of God expounded in the processes of history.
The answer is that Enoch was taken by God as a kind of Firstfruits. The pattern of Adam’s testing as an individual became the first step in a larger but identical pattern measured out in the culture he founded. Adam was taken from the Land into the Garden Sanctuary, and there must be a correspondence in the larger picture as the cultus is reflected in the culture, as the Head takes on a Body.
Like the Creation Week, every level of the narrative prefigures the pattern described more clearly in Israel’s festal calendar, where the Gospel process is written into the nation’s harvest year. In a very simplified form, the greater picture looks like this:
We can also align the elements of the Tabernacle to each step of this process, which means that the history also has a cruciform shape. But that is probably enough for now. The question has not only been answered, it has been answered in a form so simple that it could have been sketched on the triangular shape of a folded paper napkin. Yet so far, after seven years of beating the drum, it seems such an understanding is beyond the grasp of almost all of the brightest in the field today.
The Bible Matrix offers a new paradigm for theology, one which is not imposed upon the text but instead springs from the text, and makes the absolute genius of the inspired Scriptures apparent in a way that a child can understand.
“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.” – Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher (1788 – 1860)
Even the earliest accounts in Scripture are doing something far beyond the grasp not only of the Reformers, but also of modern Reformed academia, which seems incapable of meaningful reform generated by the Scriptures. It merely attempts to maintain the status quo.
These theologians are unwilling to open their minds like children. When it comes to the Scriptures, even among the godly, the wise are indeed simple, their eyes are blind, their ears are deaf, and their academic rigor is mortis. But as always, God is beginning something new outside the artificial boundaries of the city of men, and putting His new wine into new skins. I wish He would hurry up, but lasting change and solid edification are always a protracted process, especially when dealing with slow minds.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Aaron Denlinger, The gospel according to Enoch: Calvin on Gen. 5.21-24.|
|2.||↑||Rusty Reno, from his foreword to The Glory of Kings: A Festschrift for James B. Jordan.|
|3.||↑||For a more detailed presentation, see Bible Matrix: An Introduction To The DNA Of The Scriptures.|
This foreword was kindly written by Dr Peter Leithart for Bible Matrix: An Introduction to the DNA of the Scriptures.
Beginnings are seeds. Plants grow up from seeds. So do animals, and humans too. Seeds are beginnings, but seeds also initiate a process of growth that will be fulfilled in the middle and end. So beginnings contain endings. Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow, but mighty hippos do not. For that, you need some hippo seed and preferably a female incubator to nourish it along. It is certainly one-sided, but T. S. Eliot had something right when he said, in East Coker, “In my beginning is my end.” As seed, we already are from the beginning what we will become.
Texts are not organisms, but for writers who are in control of their tools and materials, textual beginnings are also seeds that determine what sort of text will spring up. No book illustrates this more clearly than the Bible, which begins in a well-watered garden full of fruit trees and peaceable animals and ends with a vision of a garden restored, complete with crystalline river and prolific trees.
For Christians, the inner link of protology and eschatology, the organic movement from beginnings to ends, is rooted in the fundamentals of our faith. Christians confess that God is Triune, which is as much as to say that in God there is not only a “beginning,” the Father, but also an “ending,” a product, the Son, begotten by the Spirit. The Son is irreducibly different from the Father, as different from the Father as ends are from beginnings. Yet the Son is also the exact image of the Father, so that in seeing the Son one can see the Father. Between this Beginning and the End, nothing leaks out or is wasted. All that the Father is, the Son is, except that the Father is Beginning and the Son End.
At a different register, Christians confess that the Son is Himself Beginning and End. He is the “firstborn” of the Father, the Father’s first and unique Word, who was with the Father from the beginning. Yet He is also the final Word, the Judge appointed by the Father who will, at the very last, tell us what it was all about and reveal once and for all who wore the white hats, and who the black hats, and who the black hats painted white. Christ is the first letter and the last, the Alpha and the Omega, in the alphabet that is human history.
That is not quite right. Creation does not circle back to square one. The story of the Bible is not a circle, but a history of creation in development, creation becoming. It is the history of a garden growing up to be a garden city that is also a bride. Along with the trees and river of Revelation 21-22, there are walls and streets and nations hauling in their treasures. The biblical story is not merely creation and return, not merely beginning, loss, and recovery of beginning. Scripture tells a story of creation’s glorification.
And that too, unthinkably, is rooted in Triune life. The Father is wholly God, but He is also, mysteriously, “more” by begetting a Son than He would be otherwise. He has, of course, always had that Son; the Son is, as Athanasius says, “proper” to the Father’s essence, and the begetting of the Son is an eternal begetting. The Father has eternally been “more.” We might put it this way: The Triune God is not so much a timeless God as a God who has always already realized His future. He is the Alpha that has always already been, equally and simultaneously, Omega. He is the infinitely productive seed that is always already eternally tree and fruit.
Press our two main observations together, and we get to the premise of Mike Bull’s remarkable Bible Matrix. On the one hand, the Bible’s beginnings are the seeds from which the rest of the Bible grows; on the other hand, the Bible’s story is one of glorification. If both are true, then we should expect to find, within the Bible’s beginnings, hints of the story of glorification that reaches its end in the New Jerusalem. In the Alpha words of Genesis 1, we should be able to discern some clues to the Omega words of the Apocalypse.
And so we do. Each day of creation week is an advance over the last. That there is anything—even a dark, formless emptiness, or empty formlessness—that is other than God is a remarkable enough fact by itself (Genesis 1:2). But on Day 1, Yahweh determines that the world needs light, and over the subsequent days, He speaks the world into shape and fills it with all manner of delightful clutter. Yahweh will move the world along and make it better along the way. We know that because that is how the story starts. From the seed of the beginning, we form a nascent sense of what the full plant will look like.
This insight is the heart of Bible Matrix. Mike Bull does more than show us the big story of the Bible, the movement from glorious beginning to the greater glory of the end. That is a story so obvious that even academic Bible scholars can see it. But Bull sees what few have seen, namely, that this big story is present seminally in the opening chapter of the Bible, and more than that, that the glorification of the world is not only the big story of Scripture but also the shape of nearly every little story of the Bible as well. Seed, tree, and every leaf and branch of the tree, is imprinted with the same Triune pattern.
Bible Matrix connects pieces of the Bible that might have looked like scattered fragments. It shows coherence and recurring sequences where you might have seen only randomness and confusion. It gives the world in a grain of sand, as Bull explains how each passage and portion of the Bible is a lens through which the whole is uniquely refracted. Bull roots around in the genetics of Scripture and everywhere discovers not a circle of identical return but the chiastically coiled DNA that moves creation from glory to glory.
My hope is that Bible Matrix will itself be a seed, and that its creative and arresting insights will burrow down into the souls of readers until they germinate and begin, by the power of the Spirit, to produce the fruit of a transformed, biblical imagination.
Peter Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute and an adjunct Senior Fellow of Theology at New St. Andrews College, Moscow, Idaho. He is ordained in the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC). He is the author of many books, most recently of Gratitude: An Intellectual History (Baylor, 2014) and Traces of the Trinity (Baker, forthcoming). He writes a blog at firstthings.com, where he also writes a regular bi-weekly column. He has published articles in many periodicals, both popular and academic.
Leithart has served in two pastorates: He was pastor of Reformed Heritage Presbyterian Church (now Trinity Presbyterian Church), Birmingham, Alabama from 1989 to 1995, and was pastor of Trinity Reformed Church, Moscow, Idaho, from 2003-2013. From 1998 and 2013 he taught theology and literature fulltime at New St. Andrews College, Moscow, Idaho.
He received an A.B. in English and History from Hillsdale College in 1981, and a Master of Arts in Religion and a Master of Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1986 and 1987. In 1998 he received his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in England.
He and his wife, Noel, have ten children and seven grandchildren.
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