Recently I wrote about the 3 different ways that Post Evangelicals are relating to the Bible. The more conservative group will tend to appeal to the Protestant Reformers while the more progressive folks will cite Origen or Gregory of Nyssa. While it is interesting and helpful to be guided by history, the past can be used to support just about anything. As the wise man of the Old Testament said:
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9 ESV)
Today’s novel interpretation is likely a repackaged version of yesterday’s discarded heresy. A footnote is not a foundation. Rather than grasping for a quote from the sixth or sixteenth century, Christians ought to be primarily concerned to study the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word of God. He is the Spirit of Prophecy. He is God in the flesh, so if we’re looking for some guidance on how to relate to Holy Scripture, we ought to look no further than him.
While there is a great deal that could be said about what Jesus believed about the Bible, any honest treatment of the subject will likely start with these 3 observations.
JESUS BELIEVED THAT THE OLD TESTAMENT WAS DECISIVE AND BINDING
One of the best ways to learn what Jesus believed about the Bible is to observe how Jesus used the Bible in his earthly life and ministry. In John 10 Jesus is engaged in a heated exchange with a hostile Jewish crowd. They are hostile because Jesus has just made a very controversial claim: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV).
That’s a bold statement and the Jews reacted with anger. After all, doesn’t the Bible say: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4 ESV).
To state the obvious: if there is only one God, how can Jesus and the Father both be God? At first glance that seems like a very solid point. The Jews obviously thought so. John 10:31says:
The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:22–38 ESV)
Jesus is clearly operating under the assumption here that if you have a verse and you are using it correctly, then you win the argument. The Jews were saying, ‘the Bible teaches that there is only one God – you say that you are God – therefore you must be blaspheming.’ Jesus says in response that the Bible refers to other people as “gods” as per Psalm 82:6 – therefore the issue is not “do I use the word God to refer to myself” but am I using it legitimately, and by legitimately I mean biblically. D.A. Carson says here in his commentary on John:
As Jesus uses the text, the general line of his argument is clear. This Scripture proves that the word ‘god’ is legitimately used to refer to others than God himself. If there are others whom God (the author of Scripture) can address as ‘god’ and ‘sons of the Most High’ (i.e. sons of God), on what biblical basis should anyone object when Jesus says, I am God’s Son?
“You haven’t understood the whole Bible on this matter. I have. Therefore I win.”
That’s an interesting window into how Jesus understands the Bible. The approach of Jesus in this particular conflict is rooted upon his fundamental conviction that “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35 ESV).
God’s Word is the last Word. Therefore, if you have a verse and you’re using it correctly, you win the argument.
He said the same thing in Matthew 22 while arguing the Sadducees. They came to him with a made up question trying to trap him and Jesus stops them short. He says: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29 ESV).
After thwarting a representative of the Pharisees in a similar fashion, Matthew brings the chapter to a conclusion by saying: “And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions” (Matthew 22:46 ESV).
The opponents of Jesus learned an important lesson that day: don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. Don’t bring your tradition, your superstition or your stupid and try to wield that against the Word of God, because the Word of God wins every time.
Jesus believed that the Old Testament was authoritative, decisive and binding.
That is important for us to understand because many of the progressive Post-Evangelicals like to style themselves as Red Letter Christians; but to state the obvious – to do that, you have to ignore some really important Red Letters. In Matthew 5:19 for example Jesus – in Red Letters, states the following:
whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19 ESV)
Jesus did not commission his people to undo the Old Testament; he faced the devil with Deuteronomy 8:3. He faced the Sadducees with Exodus 3:6. He faced the Pharisees with Psalm 110:1. Jesus clearly operated under the assumption that the whole Old Testament – properly understood – was binding and decisive and to be his follower requires you to do the same.
JESUS BELIEVED THAT THE APOSTLES WERE SPEAKING ON HIS BEHALF
Near the end of his earthly ministry Jesus had an important conversation with his disciples. He told them that he would soon die and rise again and ascend into heaven. In preparing them for those events he said:
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12–15 ESV)
Jesus said that he had more to say to his disciples than he had said in his earthly ministry. He also made it clear that after ascending into heaven he would send down the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Truth – who would take from Jesus and give to the disciples so that they could flesh out the complete revelation of God. J.I. Packer comments on this passage saying:
He had promised the twelve that the Spirit should come to teach them what in His own earthly ministry he had left unsaid, and He kept His promise; so that the apostolic teaching was in reality the complete and final version of His own.
In point of fact there are no Red Letters. There is only the Word of God.
There is what the Father wants to be said as passed on to the Son as passed on through the Spirit as terminating in the Apostles. That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 10:40:
Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. (Matthew 10:40 ESV)
There is a line and it stretches back from the Apostles to Jesus to the Father and you accept it all or you reject it all.
You don’t get to have a smaller Bible than Jesus.
Jesus believed that the Old Testament was the Word of God and Jesus believed that through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the words of the Apostles were the Word of God. And Scripture cannot be broken.
JESUS BELIEVED THAT HE WAS THE CLIMAX AND FOCUS OF ALL OF SCRIPTURE
In John 5:39 Jesus said:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me (John 5:39 ESV)
Jesus believed that the entire Old Testament was preparing people for and pointing people towards his own life and ministry.
Why do you think God had you killing pigeons and doves and goats and lambs – why do you think he was doing that? It was because he wanted you to understand that sin leads to death and he wanted to prepare you to recognize and worship me!
Most of the Jews in Jesus’ day didn’t see that, but John the Baptist did. He saw Jesus and with the help of the Holy Spirit he said: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV)
John got it! He understood that the whole Old Testament sacrificial system was trying to say three things to a very stubborn people:
- God is holy.
- Sin is serious
- People need a Saviour!
John saw that. He saw the whole sacrificial system landing on Jesus Christ – he saw the whole Old Testament Scripture pointing people and driving people towards Jesus Christ.
It took a while for the disciples of Jesus to get to that same place. Even after the resurrection while walking on the Road To Emmaus, they still hadn’t connected all the dots. Jesus obscured his appearance and came alongside them and gave them a Master’s level course in Christian hermeneutics. Luke 24:27 says: “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 ESV).
He taught them how to read the Old Testament such that it lands climactically on the person and work of Christ. It was a labour and it was a miracle. Luke goes on to say:
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:45–47 ESV)
Jesus taught the disciples how to read the Bible such that everything in the Old Testament leads to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!
That’s how you read the Bible as a Christian!
That’s how Jesus read the Bible and that is the foundation of the church.
The Apostle Paul said that we Christians:
are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19–21 ESV)
That is our foundation: the Prophets and the Apostles – with Christ as cornerstone!
Here I stand and I can do no other.
Thanks be to God!