Paul Unifies Old and New Testaments
The phrase we have chosen, “For to me to live is Christ” means that Christ has become all in all for Saint Paul and that the person of Jesus is central to the whole revelation of God to mankind in both Old and New Testaments. So we discover what Paul affirmed, that “For …Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us … was not yea and nay, but in him was yea.” (II Corinthians 1:19) He also said, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8) It means that the covenant of God with human beings and his revelation to them is one, for the source of the covenant and of the testaments is the same: it is he, the one God. What we call the Old and New Testaments are one and the same thing, which can be traced back to a single origin, God, who himself revealed his divine word and confirmed it by the testament of his love and faithfulness to humanity.
So the two testaments are but one, so that what was related in the events and teachings of the Old Testament are fulfilled in a new reality, a new garb, as it were, a new meaning, and complete vision in the person of Jesus Christ, for the testament or covenant is Jesus Christ himself. The revelation is again, Jesus himself: as God says in the book of Ezekiel, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” (Ezekiel 36:26 ) Thus the Old Testament becomes the word of Jesus in the institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist, the Mystical Supper, where he says, “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 22:20)
When reading and analysing the first speeches and sermons of the apostles in the Acts of the Apostles: those of Peter, Stephen, Phillip, Paul (and even the conversation of Jesus on the Day of Resurrection with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus ) we do not find anything of the teachings of Jesus directly, or of his parables or miracles as elsewhere in the Gospel, but we see that these apostles go through the history and events of the Old Testament and thence arrive at the salvation realised by Jesus Christ. Thereby they demonstrate what Saint Paul said, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (I Corinthians 2:2)
So the apostles read the Old Testament as devout, believing Jews. (Acts 2:5) In doing so, they see only Jesus. That is what happened to the apostles on the Day of Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, where that vision ends with the very beautiful expression, “And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.” (Matthew 17:8) So, Moses and Elijah who had been on the mountain, on either side of Jesus, had disappeared, or rather, the three apostles began to understand that all that had been said on the subject by Moses, Elijah and the other prophets could only be understood through the person of Jesus Christ. That is exactly the meaning of the phrase, “For to me to live is Christ” and it is thus that Jesus became the focus of the life of Saint Paul.
It is thus that we understand the meaning of the first dialogue between Jesus and Saul: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” and his reply, “Who art thou, Lord?” to which Jesus replies, “I am he, whom thou persecutest,” although Saul was persecuting only his peers, his fellow-Jews, for the first Christian community in Damascus was of Jewish origin.
Hence, we can further understand Jesus’ reply to the Samaritan woman, who had begun a conversation with him about prophecy, worship on this mountain or in Jerusalem and the Messiah, when it was Jesus’ turn to interrupt her, stemming the flow of conversation with this peremptory answer, “I that speak unto thee am he.” (John 4:26)
Thus, Jesus is himself divine revelation: it is he who comes instead of the book. Jesus is the Word himself: Jesus is the person; Jesus is all. That is why calling us “the people of the book,” or “people of the religion of the book” is something of a misnomer as it does not correspond to the whole truth of our Christian faith, with its belief in the existence of Jesus as focus of all our creeds, dogmas, devotion, worship, and ethics and all aspects of our spiritual, religious, social, political and professional life. We are more than the phrase suggests. The expression, “people of the book,” cannot cover all aspects of Christian reality, for the “book” is Jesus himself, as we shall see in the Epistles of Saint Paul.
In the same way, it should be noted that the Qur’anic expression “the people of the book” refers to Jews and Nazarenes (Christians), who themselves have inspired books in which there is everything that can be useful for living, enabling them to exercise their judgment and decide all aspects of their life according to their own book: that is the meaning of the phrase “the people of the book.” This is indicated in the Qur’anic verses, requiring judgment to be made according to the book. “Say: ‘I believe in the Book which Allah has sent down; and I am commanded to judge justly between you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord: for us (is the responsibility for) our deeds, and for you for your deeds. There is no contention between us and you. Allah will bring us together, and to Him is (our) Final Goal.’” (Surah 42:15 Council)
So, whoever believes in Jesus and is baptized in the Christian faith, finds his starting point in Christ, who is the subject of all holy books. In those books, he discovers the person and teachings of Christ, who is indeed the way, the truth and the life. They are the way to true life in Jesus Christ: with him and for him and in and for society, in all our obligations and duties, which all originate from our faith in Jesus Christ. So, Christian living is focused, not on the book, but on Jesus, who is himself the book.