Continuing to reflect on differences between Christianity and Islam (for background see previous post) I've been struck by the fact that although Christians often say that they "start with the Bible" they really don't. At least, most of them don't, and those that do are usually a little unhinged. This is because the Christian faith starts for most of us with an encounter of Christ through his Spirit and/or through his community and/or through his word. We are not called as Christians primarily to submit to a book, however inspired, but to submit to Christ. It is not that Muslims submit to a book, per se, but their submission to Allah is controlled and completed by their adherence to the Q'ran. That is because the Q'ran was written to codify a religion, in Muslim belief dictated by the angel Gabriel to Mohammed. In many ways while there might have been muslims, there was no religion of Islam until the Q'ran was written to codify it (I realise that the Q'ran was received over time, but the essence of what I say is, I hope, correct. If it is not please correct me).
But because Christianity, while "a religion of the book," is first and formost a religion of a person: Jesus the Christ, it is more than possible to be a Christian without knowing or having access to the Bible. Indeed, many Christians throughout history and even today had and have no access to the scriptures. The New Testament was collected subsequent to the emergence of Christianity, and most of the documents it contains are not self consciously intended as scripture. The works that comprise the New Testament were collected and recognised only on the basis of their adherence to an unwritten "rule of faith," that is the oral testimnoy and teaching of the apostolic and sub-apostolic church about Christ.
So here is another fundamental contrast in Islamic and Christian approaches to their scriptures. For the Muslim Mohammed was the receiver of the the Q'ran, and consequently the greatest and seal of all the prophets. But Christ did not give Christians the Bible, it was written about him, to testify to him. Mohammed's authority came from the Q'ran as Allah's dictated word. But, in Christian belief, Jesus does not derive his authority from the scripture but the other way round. Scripture is only authorative as and in that it testifies to Christ. This is important and true, for Christians, not just of the New Testament, but of the Old also. For when Christ talks of fulfilling scripture, or the NT describes ways in which he does, it is not meant that the OT has prescribed who and what Jesus must do to be the Christ, but rather it describes the one who is to come, whose reality gives shape to all creation and the whole story of God's salvation.
And here we, the Christians, might start an argument for Jesus' divinity (and from there the Trinity), because it is the very shape of scripture that testifies that Jesus was not just a man who happened to fit the necessary mould to be the Christ, but that the whole of God's work of salvation, starting with God's promises to Abraham, has been moulded around Jesus Christ, predicated on his reality. Jesus Christ did not come into being to complete the plan. The plan came into being to express the reality of Jesus Christ.
Let me know what you think :-)