2002-04-21 There are no "throw away" lines in the Bible

April 21, 2002

There are no "throw away" lines in the Bible. Even those long and obscure genealogies and ritual laws in the early books of the Old Testament are there to show our roots and the importance of worship. The New Testament develops what was in the Old Testament the way the image on a photographic image develops in a processing solution. This is what "development of doctrine means." It is not the changing of some truth beyond recognition. It is the historical process by which a truth becomes clearer. Jesus says, "I have come not to destroy the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them."

If a man does not believe that prophecies can be fulfilled, he will add a pinch of cynicism to the events of Christ's life and say that they were made up later to match what the prophets foretold. This overlooks the astonishment in the early Christians themselves when they saw events unfolding. On Easter, Jesus actually asked Cleopas and his companion on the Emmaus road how could they have been so forgetful of what the prophets had said. He "upbraided" the Apostles for not believing. I think "upbraided" may be a mild translation. But the risen Christ did not scold. His tone was a mixture of sternness and what we might call, for lack of a better word, humor.

Architects say God is in the details. Certain details in the Easter narratives may sound like "throw away" lines but they shed light on the historicity of the events. Take the comment about the body of Jesus being placed in a new tomb. This was done because in Jewish law the body of a crucified man would pollute other bodies if they were interred together. Then there is the remark that Joseph of Arimathea was allowed to take the body from the cross. Since Christ was crucified on "Preparation Day" when the lambs were being slaughtered for Passover, the body would have "defiled" the land had it been left hanging any longer (cf. Number 9:6-10). The death happened around three in the afternoon (the "sixth hour"), so there would have been time for burial before the Sabbath sunset. Then there is another detail: on Easter morning Jesus left his shroud and a linen napkin neatly folded up in the tomb. The napkin was the cloth ritually placed over the face. Many sermons could be preached on the Lord of the Universe tidying up his own tomb.

Fr. George W. Rutler

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