The New Testament materials are a body. But it is not enough to say that some parts of that body are strong, some are weak, some are clear, some are not so clear, some are simple, some are hard to understand – or that the whole body matures in its communication – from milk to meat. There are also dissonances. Yet, just as in music, dissonances do not detract from the whole. They are not mistakes by the composer. They are deliberately put in to the music not only that they might be resolved in a pleasant and fitting way, but they might be resolved in a particular way – a way that brings a new level of awareness to the meta-dialogue of the entire composition.
And surely no one would imagine that a credible musicologist would take a piece of music and analyze every instantaneous chord in isolation from the whole piece – as Fundamentalists often do with individual passages. Nor would anyone devise a synthetic categorization system and rearrange chords or melodic lines by some scheme other than that of the composition itself – as systematic theologians do. The music – and every passage in that music – must be judged against the whole.
The Epistle of James, for example, provides an underlying dissonance which pushes comprehension of the Pauline melodic line to its furthest limit. And that melodic line – “justification by faith apart from works” – is like the repeating eight measure “gospel” in Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor. Everything in the piece supports and informs that repeating, eight measure stretch. Sometimes the development is so intricately delicate that the listener finds himself mentally supplying that melodic line when it is purposely omitted. The composer intentionally did this. As with the Passacaglia, so with the New Testament; the entire piece grows in maturity – from utter simplicity – to a conclusion of power, meaning and glory.
The New Testament corpus has grown as a body has grown, one part supplying what the other part lacked, and that whole body itself grows to maturity, supping for so long on just milk, and then, suddenly in Hebrews and the Apocalypse – upon the very meat of truth. The men who wrote the New Testament materials are not telling the world about haphazard verbal traditions about how a pre-existing community of faith “feels” about certain data. No. These individual spokesmen are all grappling directly with an object which lies entirely outside themselves – outside of any pre-existing faith community. And the more they grapple with it, the larger it becomes, until the cosmos itself is just a footstool.
These men believe that a fellowship has been begotten by this object. These men believe that they are the “temple of the Holy Spirit of God.” These men believe that this koinonia is an entirely new wineskin into which has been poured the very wine of truth. The continued aging of this wine in its own wineskin is a process so dynamic, no pre-existing community of faith could have contained it without bursting – neither Jew nor Greek, Essene or Persian, Barbarian, Scythian, bond or free – not even the empire of Rome.