Is Scripture Still Holy? Coming of age with the New
A. E. Harvey
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A GOOD question! Things can stop being what they once were, and
scripture could be one of them. After a fashion, of course, in this
fine book - so much more illuminating, not to say even important,
than its slender dimensions might give you to think - it is
provided with an answer.
A "tentative" answer, Anthony Harvey calls it: one that attends
to "some considerations which should be taken more seriously by
scholars than is usually the case". It may be "tentative", but is
also, I can report, positive. He has delivered it without footnotes
or bibliography; and the word "eschatology", a sure sign that the
conversation has taken off to where you might not feel able to go,
does not appear in the index of subjects.
The index of biblical references mentions only the New
Testament, because written here are some things that a specialist
New Testament scholar of great experience and, I would add, of
refined judgement particularly wants to say now about that strange
and all but literally fascinating, or "bewitching", bundle of
His thoughts do not need footnotes or bibliography. They surely
and certainly arise from long study. His readers will give their
respectful attention, conscious that, at the drop of a hat on any
particular point, he could furnish a long list of scholars who have
or have not thought the same as he; and that for his present
purpose such listing is pretty well irrelevant: he is writing what
he thinks to be the case.
There are seven chapters. The first, "Coming of Age", focuses
the theme, and has all the trickiest ideas in the book: what
elsewhere in an old-fashioned handbook of doctrine you would find
under the headings "Godhead", "Providence", and "Revelation".
Scripture is holy in so far as it "mediates some moment of
experience in the past when the transcendent God in whom we believe
intervened in the universe he had created"; scripture is
authoritative in so far as it is historically reliable, morally
relevant, and nourishes the imagination. The rest of the book is
about how it continues to fulfil these conditions.
Chapter Two, "Checking the History", looks first at Acts, and
gives reasons for judging it to be "true to the facts" according to
the standards and methods of the historiography of its author's
time; the "Jesus tradition" of the Gospels is consistent and was
carefully preserved, its integral miraculous element not
Chapter Three, "Evaluating John", allows for the differences
from the other Gospels and as complement to them, but concludes
that a negative assessment of its witness is not called for.
Chapter Four, "Seeking a Moral", deals with New Testament
ethical teaching. Chapter Five, "Questing for Jesus", makes
"Messiah" the dominating category for interpretation of Jesus'
role. Chapter Six, "Reckoning with Paul", does just that; and the
final chapter, "Supplying 'If'", is about interpreting the New
Testament understanding of ultimate and imminent divine
This book pursues the historical method. History provides no
spiritual or metaphysical truths. It de-scribes how they came to be
entertained. I commend this reliable de-scription. It deserves
The Revd Dr Lionel Wickham is a former lecturer in the
Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge.