Covenant, Humanity, and Scripture: Some Theological Reflections -- By: Paul Wells

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 48:1 (Spring 1986)
Article: Covenant, Humanity, and Scripture: Some Theological Reflections
Author: Paul Wells


Covenant, Humanity, and Scripture:
Some Theological Reflections

Paul Wells

Over the last few years, theologians have been asking innovative questions about Scripture. Rather than seeking a means of indicating its divine features and defining how it might be the Word of God, the discussion has focused on the humanity of the Bible. More attention has been given to the “inescapable question of relativity,” the cultural background of the text, the development of the biblical traditions or the problem of the “pastness” of the message.1 In general the tendency has veered away from a discussion of the well worn themes of the unity, sufficiency, and clarity of the biblical message towards doubts about the justification or the usefulness of approaching the Bible in this way. Is not the Bible more diverse, less self-contained and more enigmatic than we thought, or perhaps than we were willing to admit? Is it true that “when traditional Christianity affirmed the authority of the Bible it did not make it clear whether this meant the authority of the books as such or the authority of the people, the time, the life of the Bible”?2 If this is the case, it is obvious that human factors will enter into the debate about the status of the biblical materials to a greater extent than previously.

In the light of this situation, the object of the present paper is to raise the issue of what humanity means in the context of the biblical notion of the covenant and ask how this may help in considering the humanity of Scripture. If the tenor of our discussion is not exegetical, it is hoped that some of the reflections will be of use to biblical scholars as they consider the nature of their task.

I. The Enigma of Humanity

It is ironic that the renewed interest in the humanity of Scripture should come at a time when serious questions are being raised about whether we can speak of humanity as such. The title of John Macquarrie’s recent work, In Search of Humanity, is significant in this respect, as are his assertions that we should speak not of “human being” but of “human becoming, and that the fundamental human freedom is to create humanity itself.3 Consequently Macquarrie refers to humanity as “a strange blending of the finite and the infinite” which puts no end of horizons to transcend before man.4 Throughout this work, humanity remains elusive, an open-ended variable which curves away into the mysteries of affirmation or negation. Humanity is becoming, but becoming what? freedom, but for what? transce...

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