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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Quote of the Day (19)

I find the following paragraph from C.R. Hallpike’s Do We Need God to be Good? An Anthropologist Considers the Evidence rather striking:

“This powerful and important doctrine for right living was worked out in great philosophical detail in Greece, India, and China; we do not find it in explicit form in the Old Testament which was not philosophically minded, but in the New Testament St. Paul added the religious virtues of faith, hope, and charity to the classical virtues of justice, reasonableness, courage, and self-control.”

I’m far from agreeing with Hallpike on everything, but he’s got me thinking with that line. The Old Testament, he says, was “not philosophically minded”.

Philosophy in the Old Testament

On reflection, that’s probably at least partially true. There is nothing in the Law, Prophets or Psalms to compare to Paul’s disquisitions in Romans, Philippians or Colossians. There is plenty of history, proverbial wisdom, poetry and prophecy, but there is a marked lack of corresponding theological analysis. Rarely does the narrative stop so that we can inquire, “What’s this all about then?”

Ecclesiastes is one exception, though its writer appears alternately baffled and frustrated with the world he observes. He has more questions than answers:
What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?”

Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’?”
and so on.

Job too is exceptional, though until we reach its final chapters, it also inquires more than it reveals:
Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire?”
A reasonable thing to wonder about, given his situation. The Old Testament writers pose the deep questions, but we should hardly be surprised to find that until the revelation of Christ in the gospels, no entirely satisfactory answers are available to us. Instead, we get this sort of thing:
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
Hmmph. You see the problem. There’s plenty of duty and plenty of judgment, but nobody seems to tell us precisely why. It’s in there, but to understand it we’d have to really work at it.

Faith in Explicit Form

Leaving aside hope and charity, do we find faith in explicit form in the Old Testament? Is Hallpike correct?

I guess it very much depends on our definition of “explicit”. Hebrews 11 would initially appear to give the lie to Hallpike’s assertion. After all, here is a long and detailed list of exactly how early believers and patriarchs demonstrated their faith. There is undoubtedly a through-line here: God did not suddenly demand something he had never previously valued; rather, all the way back to Abel, we find that faith pleased God and that in the absence of faith it was impossible to do so. In one sense there is no “development” in theology. The writer to the Hebrews is showing us what was there between the lines all along.

But this is precisely Hallpike’s point: not that faith was absent from the Old Testament histories, but that it was very much between the lines. There is no pithy definition in Abel’s brief account to correspond to this one:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Such a clear, concise exposition of the nature of faith and its value to God is unique to the post-resurrection era.

Paul did not discover anything new when he “added the religious virtues of faith, hope and charity” to the classical virtues.

But he certainly made them explicit.

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