T. Okure – New Testament and Mercy

« The New Testament and Mercy »

by Teresa Okure

Index – Verzeichnis – Indice – Índice – 指數


The Catholic Biblical Association of Nigeria (CABAN) habitually explores biblical themes by approaching a given topicas it occurs “in the Bible”. The approachis in response to the tendency of Bible loving Christians in Nigeria and elsewhere to ask concerning an issue: “Is it in the Bible?” As exegetes, CABAN members delight to be in service to God’s people by helping them to discover that their daily problemsare in fact in the Bible, God’s word in human language where “God responds to our questions”.[1] CABAN members aim at helping the people to understand what the Bible actually says, since it should be interpreted in light of the meaning intended by the author[2] of the message of the gospel as a whole, and of the historic faith of the church –though none of these maybe the meaning given by popular readers and TV evangelists, on the grounds that “it is in the Bible” or “the word of God says”[3] Popular readings make no distinction between the Old and New Testaments as progressive divine revelation. They ignore critical studies and the church’s guidelines on how to interpret the Bible, essentially a book of the church.[4]

The editors of Concilium (4/2017) framed the topic of this study as “The New Testament and Mercy”. Given the above contextual background, my instinctive reading was to see it as “Mercy in the New Testament”. On further reflection, I see a fundamental difference between the two formulations. The issue here is not what the NT says concerning mercy (“Is it in the Bible?”). Rather it calls for “cutting edge” effort (citing the editors) to understand the intrinsic relationship between the New Testament and mercy.

This insight requires that a distinction be made between the New Testament as the twenty seven books which with the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) forms the Bible, and the new testament understood as God’s new covenant with creation and humanity. The New Testament is the record of this covenant as the different authors received, appropriated and proclaimed it.[5] Accordingly, the study seeks to identify the essential character of mercy as new testament, without attempting to engage the occurrences of “mercy” in the NT or the views of scholars on the subject. Once the reader understands the essential property of mercy as new covenant, he or she will be better equipped to navigate through the New Testament to discover its dimensions and in turn reap its fruit to impact their lives as did the authors of the different books.

The present study posits firstly, that the new testament is born of and rooted in God’s mercy; secondly it is the duty and responsibility of every Christian, follower of Jesus, to know, appropriate and assimilate this mercy for themselves.  Then, as evidence that they have understood and received God’s mercy, they will mediate it to others irrespective of race, creed, sex, nationality or colour. Pope Francis captured this responsibility of Christians in service to mercy in his Misericordiae Vultus: “Merciful like the Father”,[6] a phrase which became the mantra of the Special Jubilee Year of Mercy. It is from Jesus himself in the Lucan Sermon on the Plain, “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

[1] Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1993),4, 23.

[2] VD 19.

[3] Works of CABAN include, Alive and Active: Images of the Word of God in the Bible, 2008; Paul Embodiment of the Old and New Testaments, 2009; Good Citizenship and Leadership in the Bible, 2010; Faith, Culture and Development in the Bible, 2011; Material Wealth and Divine Blessings in the Bible, 2012; The Bible on Faith and Evangelisation, 2013; The Family in the Bible, 2014; Consecration and Vows in the Bible, 2015 and Mercy and Justice in the Bible 2016. These works are published by CABAN, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

[4] The Pontifical Biblical Commission, Interpretation of the Bible in the Church; Vatican Council II, Dei Verbum and The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (1965) 11; alsoVD, 29-30.

[5] New Testament with “T” in this study represents the book, with “t” it represents God’s new covenant recorded in the book.  Further, “testament” and “covenant” are used interchangeably in the study. See further, Teresa Okure, “Becoming a Church of the New Testament”, The Church We Want: African Catholics Look to Vatican III. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, ed (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2016) 93-105. 

[6] Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2016) 13.

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