Understanding the Bible: Part 3

Reading the scriptures through Jesus

It is possible to study the bible and completely miss Jesus in the process. It must be, because we do it all the time. We read something from the old testament or from one of Paul’s letters, and somehow, someway, we never see Him.

As disciples of Jesus, it makes sense to ask, “How did our teacher read and understand the scriptures?” Not only that, but if Jesus is the word of God, as John 1 insists, and if he is the greatest revelation of God that exists, as Hebrews 1 asserts, then it becomes crucial to ask the question, “How does Jesus give greater understanding to what this text is saying?”

So what does Jesus say about the scriptures?

They point to him

In a conversation with the Jewish leaders in John 5, Jesus teaches them that while they revere the scriptures, they do so neglecting the fact that they point to him. Next week’s post will look more deeply into how this is the case, but some of the ways the old testament points to Jesus include; direct, specific prophecy, the function of the law as a pointer to his sacrifice, and the failure of the overall movement of the story toward the goal of Jesus.

The precept and the principle

In Matthew 5, Jesus gives his disciples a way of reading the scriptures that points them to the heart of God’s message. There is a deeper way to understand what God has said, that fulfills the law, leads to righteousness that surpasses the Pharisees, and ultimately honors God. In last week’s post, we looked at the issue of getting a tattoo through this lens, and realized that while there was a precept, or law, against getting a tattoo there was a deeper principle involved that had to do with staying true to God and holy among the people of the world.[1]

Digging for the principle is like seeking the root of a plant. If we focus on the precept, then we miss the heart of what is going on, however if we get to the roots of the issue we can understand the whole thing.

You can go on hating other people forever and never murder anyone, but it is not likely to work the other way around.

The Jesus Creed

How do we discover the principle that leads to the precept we read? Jesus helps us here too. In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus is asked what is the greatest of all the commandments. His response, “Love God with everything you are and love everybody else as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” For Jesus, the soil in which all of the principles and precepts of God are grown is the love of God and love of others.[2]

So as we study the bible in context we have some guidelines to help us.

  1. Ask what is the precept, what does the text plainly say?
  2. How does this fit within its various contexts?
  3. How does this teach love for God and love for others?
  4. What is the principle out of which this precept grows and how might I live that principle out in today’s culture?

Why is this so important?

Reading the bible through Jesus is the only way we will fully understand what the scriptures teach. When we neglect this question, we find that passages of scriptures seem distorted or out of place, sort of like a tangled up wind chime. When a wind chime is being held up properly by its head, all of its parts hang properly and can sing with one another and make beautiful, haunting music in the wind. However, if you grab one of the tubes and try to hold the whole up instead that tube is unable to sing, and the other parts are noisy and distorted.

Its the same with the bible, read it as being held together by Jesus, and all its parts sing. They work together, pointing to him and to God’s love. In contrast, if we focus on the Genesis, the Law or the Prophets, or Paul’s letters, or the book of Revelation and make Jesus secondary, we get readings that are incomplete, distorted, and far less than beautiful.

[1] Bruxy Cavey, teaching pastor at The Meeting House in Toronto speaks about this often as the Jesus hermeneutic. It is the primary way that he teaches from scripture each Sunday and a good example of it at work.
[2] “Jesus Creed” is Scot McKnight’s term for this two part greatest commandment teaching of Jesus. His book The Jesus Creed, is a look at how this is central to Jesus’ teaching and should permeate every part of a Christian’s life.


3 Replies to “Understanding the Bible: Part 3”

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