chapter  2
18 Pages

Seeing and Hearing God in the New Testament

The documents which make up our New Testament were composed by men who, using Greek as an everyday tongue, appear to have no model for writing but the Septuagint. Their prose admits, as all prose does, of rhetorical analysis, but they have evidently not attended any school where such analysis would have guided them in the imitation of Lysias or Plato.1 Nor could they have held their own in philosophy with the dilettantes of the pagan world, although their ethical precepts often coincide, like those of all sane men, with the teachings of at least one classical school. It can hardly be denied that the primitive Christians were indebted to Philo’s concept of the Logos or to some kindred speculation;2 it is only in Philo, however, not the New Testament, that the term logos denotes the reason of God without reference to his speech. Christ, as the speaking emissary of the Father, had none of the eloquence that a Gorgias or a Philostratus deemed essential to a logos; as the image of the Father, he came to make the invisible visible, not through the static heraldry of the plastic arts, nor (as Plato imagined) by direct illumination of the intellect, but by mingling power with obedience in a short life, voluntarily concealing his glory under a veil of flesh. The precedents both for his miracles and for his ministry are more easily discovered in the Septuagint than in Hellenistic literature before the Roman era;3 yet, even in the Septuagint, the vision of God takes a different form, and if one can say without absurdity that ocular knowledge of God is claimed more often in the New Testament than the Old, it must be added that in the New Testament there is a more consistent occlusion of his glory. For this reason the image never supersedes the word in these seminal texts of the Christian tradition; the word remains the indispensable vehicle of the image.