THE primary purpose of this reflection is to ask these questions: do we “orthodox” Anglicans treat the Old Testament as Word of God in its own right? Or have we unwittingly relegated it to merely the preparation for the New Testament?
Those who use the classic form of Morning and Evening Prayer from The Book of Common Prayer (1662) actually read (or read and chant) much more of The Old Testament than of The New Testament each day.
True enough there is an appointed Lesson from both Testaments in both Morning and Evening Prayer; however, to these are added several Psalms based on a monthly cycle and also Canticles. And a majority of the Canticles are from the Old Testament or the Apocrypha.
Though the Psalms are read from the Old Testament, they are understood in these Services as Christian prayers, prayed with, in and through Jesus Christ (the “Man” of Psalm 1). They are concluded by the Gloria addressed to the Holy Trinity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in order to place them securely in the period after the Death and Resurrection of Jesus and in the new covenant. The Psalter is the primary Christian Prayer Book (and thus must be translated in a way that makes it available to be prayed in Christ).
Likewise all the Canticles—from Old Testament, the Apocrypha and New Testament—are chanted as Christian Prayers and Praises.
Then the Lesson from the Old Testament is read as Word of God written having the same authority as the Lesson from the New Testament—with the difference that the former is heard in the light of the Incarnation and Saving Work of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.
The advantage of the Lectionary (1872) in The BCP of 1662 is that there is both a reading of texts so as to hear their totality and also a use of texts that relate specifically to the major festivals as they arrive in the Christian Year.
Thus far, then, we see that The Old Testament is received as the Word of God written and related to The New Testament in terms of first in order (but not either first or second in importance.)
In the Baptismal Service, being specifically a new covenant sacrament, there is little use of the Old Testament but what is cited is significant. The Old Testament is read typologically as in the opening prayer in The BCP 1662: “Almighty and everlasting God, who of thy tender mercy didst save Noah and his family in the Ark from perishing by water; and didst safely lead the children of Israel through the Red See,…” And in the Catechism related to Baptism, the study and learning off by heart of the Ten Commandments as God’s law is a bounden duty!
Turning to the Order for Holy Communion in BCP 1662, we notice that while there is the recitation as Word of God of the Ten Commandments, there is no Old Testament Lesson. The reason for this is that it is presumed that Morning Prayer has been said before the start of Holy Communion. However, there are several significant references to the Old Testament as Word of God. In the Nicene Creed, it is said of Jesus: “on the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures” and the Scriptures are the Old Testament (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Then of the Holy Spirit it is said “ who spake by the Prophets,” which is a reference again to the Old Testament. Then in the Sursum Corda and Consecration Prayer, there are many echoes of the Old Testament as these point to the Messiah and his fulfilling his role as Son of Man, Suffering Servant and Paschal Lamb. Further, the nature of character of God set forth in the Old Testament—the Lord God almighty, the Holy One, the Redeemer, the Revealer and so on—are assumed as true in the New Testament and used in this Liturgy as givens.
It would appear, therefore, that any church or baptized Christian who lives devotionally within the daily liturgy of the Church will acquire as both a mindset and habit the treating of the Old Testament as Word of God, and will learn how to read it as Christian Scripture, in with and through Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit.
In contrast, those (and they appear to be the majority), who rarely if ever make use of the Daily Offices, and thus only hear a short lection from the Old Testament with a part of a Psalm in the modern “Holy Eucharist,” are likely to view the Old Testament as not only previous to, but also inferior to, the New Testament. At best, they will think of it as a kind of development of insights into the nature of God and salvation, leading to the real information in the New Testament. Further, the use of a psalm or part thereof is rarely concluded by the Gloria and so they will not learn to recite it as Christian prayer in and with Christ. It hardly needs pointing out that a Christianity, from which the Old Testament is basically absent, leads to a very imbalanced Christianity—if Christianity at all!
We recall that the Bible of Jesus, the Apostles and the early Church was what we call the Old Testament; that the Old Testament was received and used within “the Rule of Faith” by the early Church and that when the New Testament books came along, and were formally admitted as Canon, they did not downsize or depreciate the Canon of the Old Testament. The New Testament books both depended upon the Old Testament and also served as the authentic commentary on them. Christian Scripture is both Old and New Testament, and in a specific relation to each other.
Anglican Christianity in its western forms surely needs to recapture the commitment to, and confidence in, the Old Testament that permeates its classic Formularies (BCP, Ordinal and Articles) and one sure way to do this is to begin reading the O.T. lections and praying the Psalms at Morning and Evening Prayer. And there are various modern studies to help increase understanding and appreciation once this discipline in well under way! Finally a warning. We live in a culture of short-cuts, easy access and dumbing down—Beware of shortened and abbreviated and simplistic forms of the Daily Office! If a job is worth doing it is well doing well. God-speed.
www.pbsusa.org firstname.lastname@example.org January 17, 2008