James Denney’s The Death of Christ is an examination of that theme in the New Testament. Responding to the contention that there is no “New Testament” which was written together and thus asserts a common plan, he writes:
The unity which belongs to the books of the New Testament, whatever be its value, is certainly not fortuitous. The books did not come together by chance. They are not held together simply by the art of the bookbinder. It would be truer to say that they gravitated toward each other in the course of the first century of the Church’s life, and imposed their unity on the Christian mind, than that the Church imposed on them by statute—for when ‘dogma’ is used in the abstract sense which contrasts it with fact or history, this is what it means—a unity to which they were inwardly strange.
James Denney, The Death of Christ: Its Place and Interpretation in the New Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1902), 3. I like that phrase “gravitated toward each other.” It is a fascinating way to speak of the canon. The books were recognized by the Church to belong together. The unity was not imposed by decree, but rather the unity was created by the books, admittedly written at different times and places by different men.
He later makes another comment which could help explain the nature of this unity. The New Testament gathers around Jesus. And Jesus’ self-consciousness, as described by Denney, is built around his understanding of the Old Testament Scripture:
Ideas, as Dr. Johnson says, must be given through something; and Jesus, we must believe, gave His disciples an idea of what His experience at baptism was in the narratives which we now read in the gospels. The sum of that experience is often put by saying that He came then to the consciousness of His Sonship. But the manner in which Jesus Himself puts it is much more revealing. ‘A voice came from heaven, Thou art My Son, the Beloved, in Thee I am well pleased.’ A voice from heaven does not mean a voice from the clouds, but a voice from God; and it is important to notice that the voice from God speaks in familiar Old Testament words. It does not come unmediated, but mediated through psalm and prophecy. It is through the absorption of Old Testament Scripture that Jesus comes to the consciousness of what He is; and the Scriptures which He uses to convey His experience to the disciples are the second Psalm, and the forty-second chapter of Isaiah. The first words of the heavenly voice are from the Psalm, the next from the prophet. Nothing could be more suggestive than this. The Messianic consciousness in Jesus from the very beginning was one with the consciousness of the Servant of the Lord. The King, to whom Jehovah says, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee (Psalm 2:7) 1 is at the same time (in the mind of Jesus) that mysterious Servant of Jehovah—‘my beloved, in whom I am well pleased’—whose tragic yet glorious destiny is adumbrated in the second Isaiah (42:1 ff.). It is not necessary to inquire how Jesus could combine beforehand two lines of anticipation which at the first glance seem so inconsistent with each other; the point is, that on the evidence before us, which seems to the writer as indisputable as anything in the gospels, He did combine them, and therefore cannot have started on His ministry with the cloudless hopes which are sometimes ascribed to Him. However ‘unhistorical’ it might seem on general grounds, on the ground of the evidence which is here available we must hold that from the very beginning of His public work the sense of something tragic in His destiny—something which in form might only become definite with time but in substance was sure—was present to the mind of Jesus.
James Denney, The Death of Christ: Its Place and Interpretation in the New Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1902), 13–15. Since Jesus’ consciousness of himself was shaped in accordance with the Scripture which spoke of his death, the end he suffered was not a surprise or failure; it came as a necessity:
When it did emerge in definite form it brought necessities and appeals along with it which were not there from the beginning; it brought demands for definite action, for assuming a definite attitude, for giving more or less explicit instruction; but it did not bring a monstrous and unanticipated disappointment to which Jesus had to reconcile Himself as best He could. It was not a brutal démenti to all His hopes. It had a necessary relation to His consciousness from the beginning, just as surely as His consciousness, from the beginning had a necessary relation to the prophetic conception of the Servant of the Lord.
James Denney, The Death of Christ: Its Place and Interpretation in the New Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1902), 15–16.