Au In the beginning was the Word

1. -      The evangels are born writing down Jesus´ paschal experience. It is its oldest part. Although it is not usually taken into account, the relevant indication was there: Write it down (Tb 12, 20). If we read attentively Tobit´s chapter 12, we understand better the Gospel’s message that announce the resurrection of the crucified. Tobit´s text serves like a base to the angel’s message, reflected in the evangels. At the beginning, apostles´ experience is that of failure (Lk 24, 21), of pain, of disorder: They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don´t know where they have laid him” (Jn 20, 2). In that context, Jesus´ resurrection is announced.

2. -      Mathew talks about the Angel of the Lord: his face was like the lightning and his garment white like the snow (Mt 28, 2-3); Mark talks about a young man clothed in a white robe (Mk 16, 5); Luke, about two men with dazzling garments (Lk 24, 4), to whom he later on calls angels (24, 23); John talks about two white angels (Jn 20, 12). They are different way to expressing the same experience: Jesus has risen. In the Acts of the Apostles we see two men dressed in white (Acts 1, 11- 12; see 23, 7). In the passage of the transfiguration the two men are Moses and Elijah, who talk with Jesus (Mk 9, 4) and appear in glory (Lk 9, 29). In the Bible, the white is the colour of the glorious beings, transfigured, resurrected (Mt 17, 2; Rev 3, 5; 7, 14)

3. -      But, let us go to Tobit´s book. Two parallel stories take place. The one about the old Tobit, from Neftali´s tribe (Tb 1, 1), deported to Nineveh in the North’s reign exile (1, 2; 722 B.C.). Tobit stays believer among the general indifference. A Pentecost day, Jewish Law’s feast, he picks up the body of a compatriot laying in the square; after the sunset, he buries it. That same night, he goes out to the yard, to sleep against the wall; the hot dropping from the sparrows falls into his eyes and he goes blind; he suffers the incomprehension of his neighbours, and also of his wife (2, 1-14). Denounced before king Senaquerib, he must flee and his properties are confiscated. One of his nephews, who lead the administration in Esarhaddon times, intervenes on his behalf, and he can return to Nineveh and to join his wife Anna and his son Tobit (1, 21- 2, 1). Tobit believes in the word of God about Nineveh’s fall (Na 3, 7): already approaching his death, he advises Tobit to move with his family to Media, where they will be safer (Tb 14, 3-4). Before his death, Tobit contemplates Nineveh citizens’ deportation to Media (14, 15; 612 B.C.)

4. -      The other story is that of the young Sara, unlucky in love. A devil (Asmodeus, that who makes to perish) kills each one of her seven husbands before the marriage had been consummated. The old man and the young female, from very distant places, ask God to send them the death (3, 6 and 3, 15). They have not met, but God gathers their respective destinies in such a way that a happy end take place (3, 16- 17). That day, Tobit remembered some money that he could recover in a far country (4, 1). Before he initiates the long trip, Tobias receives some advices from his father (4, 3-21). Azariah, a man looking for a job, accompanies him: he knows well the way (5, 5-17), he turns a fish danger into a remedy (6, 2-9), he provides for the meeting between Tobias and Sara (6, 10- 19; 7, 1-16; 10, 1-14), he gives back the sight to Tobit (11, 7 – 14).

5. -      His father says to Tobias: Be sure your give the wages to the man who accompanied you (12, 1). Tobias answers: It would not be too much if I were to give him half of what I have brought back since he has brought me home again safe and sound, he has taken care of my wife and he helped me to get back the money; he has also cured your blindness. What shall I give him? His father tells him: That amount would be well justified in his case (12, 2-4). The man took Tobit and Tobias to one side and said to them: Bless God, proclaim his glory and render him thanks before all the living for all he has done for you… Exalt God´s name by making known in a worthy manner the story of God´s deeds (12, 6; see Acts 2, 11).

6. -      In Isaac’s wedding not only Abraham’s servant takes part, but also the angel who goes forward (Gn 24, 2.7). In a similar way, in Tobias wedding not only Azariah takes part, but also the angel of the Lord: I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who presents the prayers of holy people and who stands before the glory of God (Tb 12, 15; see Rev 1, 20; 8, 2). In the Bible, angel is the name of a function meaning messenger. It hardly differs from God himself, who acts in history through mediations. Before the angel’s message, father and son fill with fear: They threw themselves face downwards on the ground because they were seized with terror. He tells them: Do not be afraid, be at peace (12, 16 – 17). It is the same that happens to those people (angels, men) who announce Jesus resurrection. In fright the women bowed to the ground. But the men told them: Why look for the living among the dead? (Lk 24, 5). And also: Do not be afraid… you are looking for Jesus who was crucified; he is not here, for he is risen as he said (Mt 28, 5-6; see Mk 16, 6). The signal of peace is the resurrected visiting card: Peace be with you (Jn 20, 19. 21.26; see Lk 24, 37).

7. -      Raphael claims nothing for himself, but for God. Glory is due to him. For I did not come on my own account, but because God willed it, bless him forever, sing to him. At the time I was visible to you I neither ate nor drank anything, I only appeared to do so (Tb 12, 18-19). The experience of the disciples goes beyond the basic passage. In his own way, the resurrected also eats. The walkers of Emmaus recognized him in the breaking of the bread: And it happened that, when they were at the table, he took the bread, said a blessing, broke it and gave each a piece. Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, but he vanished out of their sight. (Lk 24, 30-31; 24, 33).

8. -      The presence of the resurrected goes beyond the hands of the disciples. They wanted to retain him, but that is impossible. That is Mary Magdalena’s experience, to whom Jesus says: Do not hold on to me (Jn 20, 17). Jesus has a new way of being present, it is God´s way. His life does not finish in the death’s depth, but in God´s heights: I am returning to the One who sent me (Tb 12, 20). In her heart, that is what Mary Magdalena communicates to the disciples on Jesus´ behalf: I am ascending to my Father, who is your Father, to my God, who is your God (Jn 20, 17). The resurrection is ascension, glory. The last word is in God´s hand. Then he rose up and disappeared. They got up but he was no longer visible (Tb 12, 21). Something similar is in Luke´s evangel: And as he blessed them, he withdrew and was taken to heaven (Lk 24, 51).

9. -      All ends up with a thanks giving: They made known the great and wonderful works of God and how and angel of the Lord had appeared to them. (Tb 12, 21). Luke’s evangel ends in a similar way: They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem full of joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God. (Lk 24, 52-53). The experience of the resurrected overcomes the faith experience which constitutes its basis. The disciples fall in an attitude of worshipping. Even an unbeliever, Thomas, shows himself satisfied. He had said: If I do not see it, I do not believe it; he retires the conditions set to believe, his critical exigencies, and he confesses the nascent Church: My Lord and my God! (Jn 20, 28). The disciples do not forget the advice: Write down in a book all that has happened (Tb 12, 20). The accounts of the paschal experience are the oldest part of the evangels. What Jesus said and made is added to it.

10. -    The evangels, says the Vatican II, are “of apostolic origin” (DV 18), “they faithfully tell… what Jesus made and taught”, choosing data from the oral and written tradition, reducing them to synthesis, adapting them to the situation of the several Churches, maintaining the proclamation style” (DV 19). The other writings in the New Testament “confirm Jesus´ reality, explain his authentic doctrine, proclaim the saving strength of Christ´s divine work, tell the beginnings and the wonderful diffusion of the Church and predict its glorious consummation” (DV 20).

11. -    The books of the New Testament are 27 distributed in this manner: Acts of Apostles, letters and Revelations. As we approach them we find several problems. No first draft of these books is kept. The complete copies of the New Testament go no farther than the second half of the century IV. The same happens with the classics. The oldest copies of the philosopher Plato (428-347 B.C) are from the century IX and the oldest copy of poet Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is from the century VI. Another problem is that of the diversity: none of the copies coincides completely with another. There is, besides, the problem of setting the several sources used; for instance, Luke has used several sources: in first place we have the eyewitness and the word servants; afterwards, the oral and written traditions; finally, the text of the evangels (Lk 1, 1-4). The school of the history of the shapes tries to trace the underlying tradition. The school of the history of the draft tries to trace the personal work of each author. Each one of the texts, if it is desired to understand it fully, must be situated in its context. The papyrus P52, of the second half of the century II, is the oldest testimony of John’s evangel (18, 31 – 33; 37 – 38) and, for many, of the New Testament. Bought in Egypt in 1920, is published in 1935. It is kept in John Ryland´s library of Manchester.

12. -    Unlike the apocryphal, the Church has recognized like canonical the books of the New Testament. A book to be recognized like canonical needs that the Church consider it like inspired (DV 11). The council of Trent defined, in 1545, the cannon or list of inspired books. It made no more than to reaffirm Church´s tradition, already clear from the councils of Hipona and Cartage in the IV century.

13. -    The Old Testament is divided into three parts: the Law, the Prophets and other writings (Ecl, Prologue, 8 -10). In total 46 books  “These books, although they contain imperfect and passing elements, teach us God´s pedagogy” (DV 15). Yamnia school rabbis (near Joppe, about the year 100 A.D.) only admit those read in Jerusalem Jewish community before year 70. Nevertheless, in Alexandria synagogues other writings are also read. Jewish and Protestants only admit those read in Jerusalem. The Catholic also admit the others, which are: Judith, Toby, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Sirach, Baruch and other chapters drafted in Greek of Esther and Daniel. Bible’s Greek translation, called “of the Seventy” (the Pentateuch is translated about the half of the century III B. C.) is made in Alexandria and includes all the writings.

14. -    When Christianity spreads, Greek is the Mediterranean world common language. Christians use the Old Testament (version of the Seventy) and the New Testament in a Greek language, called koiné, id est, common, popular. In the roman Africa, the translation from Greek to Latin is carried out rapidly. This translation, later on known like Vetus Latina (old Latin) begins about the year 150. The Editio Vulgata (common edition) is carried out by Saint Geronimo (dead in 420).

15. -    After Diocletian (284-305) persecution, in which a large number of sacred books are burnt, the Christianity becomes the religion of the Empire (Milan edict, year 313 A. D.). Emperor Constantine orders to Eusebius of Caesarea 50 good quality copies of the New Testament. In different regions, the Churches adopt an “official” text. The copyists work from several manuscripts. Clever as they are (¡ay!) they correct, harmonize, eliminate the non classic expressions, work up “the best” text to their own accord (See DUPONT-MERCIER, Bible manuscripts and textual critic, Ed. Verbo Divino, Estella, 2000, page 55). Let’s make some observations to this. We may distinguish three types of textual critics: the verbal critic that tries to eliminate all that which may be signalled like copyists´ accidental mistakes, and, fewer times, their deliberate corrections; the verbal critic can not decide by itself, it must appeal to the external critic (number and quality of the former witnesses and manuscripts, and to the internal critic (author style and vocabulary, passage coherence, doctrinal authenticity)

16. -    The former may be useful, convenient or necessary. Nevertheless, it could happen that the trees do not allow seeing the forest. It is necessary to recall that, at the bottom of the New Testament, we have the experience of the good news (that is the meaning of the gospel), the experience of the Apostles to have found what they were looking for (Jn 2, 41). To go into the experience of the Gospel is to for from the parable to the secrets of the Kingdom of God. Jesus announces to the crowd the Gospel through parables (Mk 4,2), but he dedicates a special teaching to the disciples (4, 10 – 11), God´s action amidst history. To join the experience of the Gospel, after the Pasch or Jesus´ pass (Jn 13, 1), is to recognize that he lives in spite of the death, that he comes out to meet us, that he addresses his word to us, he tells us like to the blind from birth who asked for him: You have seen him; the one who is talking to you, that is him (9, 37).


-          the pertinent indication: Write it down

-          the two stories of Tobit

-          the message from the angel

-          the books of the New Testament

-          some problems: copies, variations, sources

-          apocrypha, canonical, inspired

-          books of the Old Testament

-          50 good quality, “improved”, of the New Testament

-          the experience of faith.