Jesus Christ: The Interpretive Key to the Holy Scripture

In "Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics," Graeme Goldsworthy expands upon the thesis that the gospel (and by that he means the gospel of the person of Jesus Christ) is the definitive key to all Christian hermeneutics (biblical interpretation). (For more about Goldsworthy and his view of Biblical Theology, click here).

Commenting on Goldsworthy's book on the Reformation Theology website (click here to read the whole article) J.W. Hendryx asserts that..."Errors and inconsistencies in our understanding of Bible texts occur when our interpretation is less than Christ-centered...Unless our study, however diligent, leads us to see that all Scripture points to Jesus Christ, our study is in vain."

I agree wholeheartedly with his assertion (though I might disagree with some of his conclusions in the full article). In my view, the issue of being fully "Christ-centered" is indeed the "crux" of what we're discussing in this blog.

How, we are asking, does Jesus Christ himself shape our approach to Scripture? In this we are clearly acknowledging that Jesus is above Scripture (or said another way, Scripture serves to reveal Jesus). We worship Jesus, not the Bible. But to hold this view (and some seem worried about this issue), is NOT to devalue Scripture. Rather it is to affirm and rightly use it for what it is - God's gift to humanity to reveal Jesus Christ.

In order to approach Scripture rightly, in accordance with this God-given purpose, we seek God's own answer to the question, "Who is Jesus Christ?" And of course, that answer takes us to Scripture where a Christ-centered hermeutic has led the church historically to find and formulate the doctrine of the Trinity (Jesus as the second person of the Godhead), the doctrine of humankind's adoption in Jesus, the doctrine of Jesus' continuing (now glordied) humanity, etc.

To the revelaton of Jesus Christ in Scripture is added, through the Spirit, our personal experience (encounter) with Jesus. This experience (which is subjective because it is personal), must be understood (intepreted) in the light of the revelation of Jesus given to us in the Holy Scriptures. This approach toward experience protects individuals and the church from the vagaries of subjective personal experience.

And so whether we're talking about the Bible or about experience - it's all about receiving God's revelation of Jesus Christ as the God who has added our humanity to his divinity - a union that is very real and one that can not be broken. Your thoughts and comments on this are welcome.

Comments

  1. Thank you Ted for your insightful post.

    And as I read and contemplate the issues you present, I sense that we are struggling to relieve a tension of having Jesus Christ be who and what He is as contrasted with a Biblical view, which actually places Jesus in a diminished position under His creation.

    An example of this diminished position is found in Jesus’ dealings with the Pharisees as recorded in Matthew:

    Matt 12:1-8--At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath." He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread-- which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." (NIV)

    This diminished view in turn plays out in reaching into events and teachings from Jesus’ earthly ministry (typically found in the Synoptic Gospels) as normative for Christians and which effectively puts Jesus behind or underneath the law. Thus we (speaking generally of the Christian community) end up with a conflict in which we want the Bible to stand forth as infallible and authoritative in our lives, yet we find a Jesus who wants to act apart from that “Biblical mandate.” For me, this conflict is real and constant in the lives of so many folks, both active and inactive, in the modern faith.

    But the solution is so simple and is expressed by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians as he wrote about God’s solution to the division of Jew and Gentile based on the law:

    Eph 2:13-20--But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace,and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (NIV)

    This passage shows on several levels the work of Jesus, as fully supported by the Scripture, to remove the law from the salvation formula and to place the salvation and continuing living effort firmly upon Jesus for all people. This understanding relieves the tension and allows us all to walk with a God who loves us and lives in us, even in our humanness. As such, the Bible still stands as authoritative and infallible but also as a work that flows to a grace conclusion in belief in the name of Jesus and as established through and by the cross.

    Aloha!

    J. Richard Parker

    ReplyDelete
  2. Richard, I appreciate your desire to sort through Scripture to understand what is applicable ("binding") on Christians and what is not. Indeed, distinguishing between the new and old covenants has been an important step in the development of a truly Christ centered theology within the WCG.

    But I think God is adding to our understanding and in doing so shifting our emphasis. I see him showing us that the issue is "Who is Jesus?" In this way I see God giving us a fully Christ-centered (or call it "trinitarian") hermeneutic. I see this as more fruitful and adequate to the task than a covenantal-dispensational hermeneutic.

    The issue is not so much the covenants as it is Jesus himself: who he is and what he has been saying no matter which covenant he was speaking through.

    If the hermeneutical emphasis is on distinguishing covenants, we may find ourselves pushing to the side much of Scripture which is given to the church by the Spirit precisely to reveal to us Jesus in all his fullness.

    A covenantal approach might cause us to relegate the Gospels to being old covenant documents (the position, if I understand you correctly, that you hold).

    But a Christ-centered hermeneutic tells us that the Gospels are relevant to our life in Christ because they reveal Christ to us through evangelistic/theological documents given by the Spirit to the new covenant community to open to her understanding concerning who Jesus is and to reveal more of the the mind that is his (the mind we share with him through the Spirit by faith).

    A Christ-centered hermeneutic goes to the Sermon on the Mount to hear the Lord speak and through that communication understand more of his mind. This thinking of our Lord is the essential ethos of his Kingdom which he is proclaiming in that Sermon.

    This is not to say that we his followers are able to live that ethos fully or perfectly. But our lives are, none-the-less joined to his and we share that mind. It is the mind, for example, that truly and fully loves its enemies, fully forgiving its abusers.

    You might consider replacing an old covenant - new covenant hermeneutic with one that seeks in all of Scripture to answer the question, "Who is Jesus?" This is a Christ-centered hermeneutic. With that approach you will not need in your thinking to sweep aside all or parts of the Old Testament nor the Gospels of the New Testament as belonging to an outdated covenant.

    There is one covenant and he is Jesus. This eternal covenant is mediated to us at various times and in various ways. We thank God for the new covenant which is Jesus mediated by none other than himself through his Spirit. But all other covenants of the Lord mediate the same Jesus who is the same always in his grace and mind toward us.

    Food for thought.

    -Ted

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  3. Hi Ted!

    Thanks for your response to my response. Your thoughts are always
    appreciated by me. But I am left with the feeling that you are missing my point. As such, it is best for me to default to what the New Covenant writers say about this subject. Thus, when it comes to the covenants, Paul tells us:

    2 Cor 3:6-18--He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant-- not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives
    life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at
    the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings
    righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! Therefore, since we have such a
    hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains
    when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is
    freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (NIV)

    This passage shows us that the mixing of the covenants is not a good idea. In fact, mixing of the covenants forces Christians to pick and choose,because they can’t possibly keep all of the Old Covenant, which parts of the
    Old Covenant to keep. Therefore, without a sense of the Bible flowing to a grace conclusion in Jesus Christ, the Sermon on the Mount confuses Christians, and ends up, for instance, forcing Christians to love their enemies, while ignoring the part about removing body parts, and at the
    same time looking awkwardly at those who have been divorced and then remarry.

    But the entire Scripture flows to a grace conclusion in Jesus Christ, and all of it is most exciting to read and study with that in mind. Its message is most clear: We can’t get there from here through what we do (Old
    Covenant), but we can be saved past, present, and future through belief in the name of Jesus Christ (New Covenant, which covenant started at the cross).

    Aloha!

    J. Richard Parker

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Richard,

    I apologize if I'm misrepresenting what you're saying. And I certainly agree that people should not seek to live in accordance with the outdated provisions of the old covenant which was temporary. Indeed, the new covenant (who is Jesus) is the permanent and enduring covenant. In that sense we can say that the new covenant precedes the old covenant (in time, priority and value).

    And we seem to agree that the focus we seek is to understand and embrace Jesus - as he is found and revealed to us through the entire flow of Scripture and thus through the entire flow of salvation history. And so all of Scripture speaks to us of Jesus. That's what I mean by a Christ-centered hermeneutic. It does not obliterate distinctions between covenants. It just subordinates such distinctions to the primacy of Jesus Christ.

    In this way we are given to undertand that the old covenant, like the new covenant is a revelation of Jesus Christ and thus a covenant that reveals God's grace. But clearly the new covenant is the full revelation of that grace in Jesus and replaces (transends and thus makes void) the old.

    And yes, I agree with you that Jesus in the Gospels is speaking, at least to some extent, from within the old covenant. But I do not agree with your apparent conclusion that the Gospels should be considered old covenant documents (and please correct me if I mis-represent your position on this point).

    So it seems we are agreed on subtance (i.e. all Scripture is about Jesus), though we may disagree on some of the details of biblical exegesis in working out the substantial agreement we hold.

    Blessings,
    Ted

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Ted!

    As they say where I come from, “You are cool!” which by the way is a compliment.

    And as for the approach I am using, I do so in order to magnify both the Bible and Jesus Christ, and not to diminished either the way I see both being diminished so often in this day and age.

    As such, the Synoptic Gospels have a high place for me. One way this is so is by studying the Synoptic teachings Jesus gave and then seeing the logic that flows out of those teachings.

    For instance, the Sermon on the Mount pressed home many demanding points showing indeed that the law’s ramifications do make for a very narrow way to God. Then Matthew records a most startling reaction after that sermon:

    Matt 8:5-13--When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. "Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering." Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him." The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! It will be done just as you believed it would." And his servant was healed at that very hour. (NIV)

    To me, the reaction of the centurion (a man who, as the chief military officer in the area, would have heard or heard of Jesus’ sermon) is most telling. This guy understood that, through the law, he was not worthy to have God come to him, and by extension that he (the centurion) desperately needed a Savior.

    Likewise, Luke records a most insightful exchange with a law type about the law:

    Luke 10:25-29--On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (NIV)

    Then follows Jesus’ very demanding parable of the Good Samaritan concluding with Jesus’ words to the law type to, “Go and do likewise.” which as a law type, that man would be unable to do and thus would not be justified by the law.

    Later after the cross, Luke goes onto quote Paul as saying,

    Acts 13:38-41--"Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: "'Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.'" (NIV)

    I feel that the Synoptic Gospels are essential to have in place so that we can see what the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ was like (including the law issues He had to confront) as He pressed folks up against the cross with the law they claimed to follow. Then starting with the Gospel of John, we learn what that ministry means to those who believe in the name of Jesus Christ and thus live apart from that law and instead with the presence of Jesus within.

    Anyway, the best to you.

    J. Richard Parker

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  6. Likewise, the best to you my brother.
    -Ted

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  7. To say that Jesus is the interpretive key to Holy Scripture is to say something about Jesus and about Scripture.

    It says that, like Jesus, Scripture is living; relational. It views Scripture as dynamic, interactive story. We are invited in, we are included.

    This is the point made by Eugene Peterson in an article posted at http://fly2.ws/hE4Qs93. Here's a quote from the end of the article:

    Spiritual theology, using Scripture as text, does not so much present us with a moral code and tell us, "Live up to this," nor does it set out a system of doctrine and say,
    "Think like this." The biblical way is to tell a story and invite us, "Live into this - this is what it looks like to be human in this God-made and God-ruled world; this is what is involved in becoming and maturing as a human being." We don't have to fit into prefabricated moral and mental or religious boxes before we are admitted into the company of God. We are taken seriously just as we are and given place in his story - for it is, after all, God's story. None of us is the leading character in the story of our lives. God is the larger context and plot in which all our stories find themselves.

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  8. In reading through this 8 year old conversation between Richard and Ted with interest I think of the verse where Paul says we no longer even regard Christ "kata sarka" (2 Cor 5:16). The Gospels are now read in view of a fuller understanding of who Jesus is, not (only) as a rabbi or messiah. We read the Gospels understanding more than the disciples did, and, probably, with more understanding than Matthew, Mark, Luke or John did at the time. Jesus teachings about the law, and the ways in which it seems that he is juggling the law's requirements (as Richard noted citing in Matthew 12) are now taken out of their legal context and put, instead, into the revelation of who Jesus is, and who we are through Him. Jesus being "Lord of the Sabbath" doesn't mean he picks and chooses which laws are binding on us, but, instead, that the the whole legal system (i.e. re: "Sabbath" and etc.) is now placed UNDER Jesus, and, by extension, under his brothers and sisters. Law then is reinterpreted from a purely practical point of view, that is, what is good and helpful for us and what is not, but it (the law) does not influence our unshakable relational standing with God. Does that make any sense?

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  9. Thank you Steve. Your very helpful and insightful comment makes a great deal of sense to me. Truly, Jesus is the interpretive (hermeneutical) key by which and through which we are to read and understand all of Scripture. Any other approach, I believe, leads us away from the gospel (the good news of God's grace) rather than toward it. Thanks brother for your contribution to this dialog.

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