By Jayson M. Brunelle, M.Ed., CAGS
Holy Mother Church presents to her faithful the authentic truths concerning Divine Revelation in Dei verbum, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. Therein, we find treatment of such important topics as inspiration; the Old Testament as preparation for the New; the value of the Old Testament for Christians; the unity of the two testaments; and Christ in the Old Testament. It is the purpose of this essay to briefly explore these points, vital to the study of Sacred Scripture in general and the Old Testament in particular.
Let us begin with a look at the theme of inspiration in the document. Paragraph 11 states that the Church “accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts; on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.” The document continues on to explain the inspired process by which these sacred books were composed: “God chose certain men who, all the while He employed them in this task, made full use of their powers and faculties so that, though He acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever He wanted written and no more” (Para. 11). Thus, Sacred Scripture presents to us “firmly, faithfully, and without error” all the truths God wished to convey to humankind for the sake of its salvation.
The document further explains that the Old Testament was a preparation for the New; or rather, God’s election of Israel, beginning with His promise to Abraham, and the entire history of His dealings with this chosen people, was a “preparation for the salvation of the whole human race,” accomplished through and in Christ and recorded in the New Testament, specifically the four Gospels (Para. 14).
It is precisely here that we begin to see the truth that the books of the Old Testament, “divinely inspired, preserve a lasting value;” for they “are a storehouse of sublime teaching on God and of sound wisdom on human life, as well as a wonderful treasury of prayers” (Para 15). We also find in them the salvific mystery present in hidden form.
This brings us to the profound unity of the two testaments. Paragraph 16 explains how God has brought it about that the “New should be hidden in the Old, and the Old should be made manifest in the new.” Earlier, in Paragraph 12, the Council exhorts exegetes to stay mindful of “divine authorship,” and consequently, “the unity of the whole of Scripture.”
Finally, we find explained in Paragraph 14 just how the New is hidden in the Old; that is, how Christ can be found in the Old Testament: “The economy of the Old Testament was deliberately so oriented that it should prepare for and declare in prophecy the coming of Christ…and should indicate it by means of different types.”
The Church, in the document Dei verbum, has clarified points and established norms of Scripture study for the sake of guiding her faithful in the way of truth. For, it is to her alone that the “commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God” has been entrusted.