Read the Bible with Jesus

Christians highly value the Bible. That is as it should be. But as we read Holy Scripture, do we receive what God intends? To do so consistently, I believe it is vital that we read the Bible with Jesus. Let me explain.

A recent post on the Evangelical Calvinist blog notes the danger of a personalized or private approach to reading the Bible:
In American Evangelicalism we have been taken captive by what some have termed a solo scriptura; meaning that... all I need is my own personal, introspective and private reading of the Bible.... My strongest argument against ‘solo scriptura’ (or scripture by itself in contrast to the Reformed ‘sola scriptura’) is that Jesus himself actually reinterpreted the Old Testament scriptures (often times in contrast to the Rabbinic readings of his earthly day) in light of himself. This at the least should underscore the fact that the scriptures have a ‘canon’ or standard by which they themselves are measured; indeed, this canon is none other than Christ in God’s life himself. In short, even Jesus engaged in what today has been termed as ‘theological-exegesis’; even Jesus recognized that you didn’t or couldn’t just read scripture in isolation or as your own private Readers-Digest. No, Jesus understood that the context through which the scriptures made sense was only in light of a theological reality. [emphasis added]
I agree. Indeed, it is not uncommon to hear people say, "This is what this verse [of Scripture] means to me." Though such statements are likely well-intentioned, they may reflect a wrong-headed approach to reading the Bible. The meaning of scripture is found not in "it seems to me" personal interpretations, but in the reality of its central focus--the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ.

The above-quoted blog post also notes the resurgence of interest in the writings of Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who championed a Christocentric approach toward Scripture. He realized that the truth of the written word of God (the Bible) is found in who it points to--the living Word of God (Jesus Christ). In order to encounter that Living Word in the words of the Bible, Scripture must be read through the "lens" of Jesus himself. Said another way, we must read the Bible with Jesus. He is Scripture's canon (rule or standard); he is Scripture's hermeneutic (interpretive process).

I am reminded here of a fictional, though powerful story. Jesus walked into the cavernous reading room of a large library. The room was full of erudite biblical scholars hunched over copies of the Bible, reading intently; deep in thought. As Jesus entered, not a single head turned to acknowledge his presence in the room. Jesus waited for a while; still no one noticed him. So he cleared his throat; still no response. Then in a loud and authoritative voice, Jesus proclaimed concerning the Bible these scholars were so intently studying, "DON'T YOU KNOW---IT'S ABOUT ME!!!"

If forests can be missed by intently gazing at trees, it is even more true (and devastating) when Jesus is missed by people as they intently gaze at the words of Scripture. This reminds us, of course, of words actually spoken by Jesus--this time to some assembled Jewish religious leaders who were recognized experts in the Hebrew Scriptures:
"You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life" (John 5:39-40 NRSV).
These scholars were guilty of bibliolatry (the worship of a particular book, in this case the Bible). Indeed, a misplaced reverence for Scripture held them in blindness concerning Scripture's true, life-giving subject, Jesus Christ.

To read the Bible with Jesus is to read it in his presence, guided by his Spirit, and in community with his body, the Church; and there to find the God who is revealed in and by Jesus Christ. To read the Bible with Jesus is to read it along with 2,000 years of teaching, including times when the church's understanding of Scripture was renewed, refined and even radically reformed.

Thus to read Scripture and then say, "This is what this means to me," is potentially to miss (even to grossly miss) its actual meaning, both for that person and for all humanity.

What we need is not a personalized understanding of Scripture, but a Christocentric understanding. And it is my experience that this understanding is offered to us with consistency and clarity through a Trinitarian, Christ-centered theology.

For additional information on this topic, check out these resources:


Anonymous said…
Hi Ted,

Your blog posting here covers a very important point, and it relates to the discussion of ethics you have been covering. So, in this context, what is Jesus saying in regard to sexuality and its related issues. How about this often used passage?

Matthew 19:3-6--Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (NIV)

This passage of Scripture is often used to show that we are either male or female and that "Biblical" marriage is based on this concept with no divorce allowed. But, is this passage really saying these things? Well, let us look. You see, this passage points to what was in place "at the beginning." And what happened right after that beginning? Well, what is called "the fall" occurred, and everything in the whole creation fell--including human sexuality and also marriage with God as the officiator. Instead, the law came into play. Well, because the Pharisees didn't like Jesus' answer and could not understand it, they continued to challenge Jesus based on the law they pretended to keep. So:

Matthew 19:7--“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (NIV)

Well, Jesus had a comeback that dug deeply at the Pharisees and how they lived their version of the law. Please note:

Matthew 19:8-9--Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (NIV)

When the disciples heard this, they were flabbergasted, and:

Matthew 19:10--The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” (NIV)

With this, Jesus pointed out something quite profound:

Matthew 19:11-12--Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (NIV)

Jesus was making a point as to how the fallen world is when it comes to human sexuality and how we handle it. It is not a world of just males and females, and not everyone can handle this viewpoint. In fact, the world is filled with all sorts of nuances in this area.

But lest I forget, please keep in mind that the marriage that is ultimately and eternally important to us is our marriage to the Lamb. This marriage is for everyone--male, female, and otherwise. Imagine that; I will be married to the Lamb.

All the best!

J. Richard Parker
Ted Johnston said…
Well said Richard. And the discourse to which you point is also a prime example of how ethics is formed in a particular cultural/historical context. The ultimate ethic (call it the Kingdom ethic) is found in the fullness of life lived in the presence of Jesus. This is true of all ethical issues, including those related to sexual ethics. There are no simple, easy solutions to some of the ethical dilemmas such issues present in this fallen world. Thank God that Jesus is alive and that we can read the Bible with him, and in the light of that revelation, think with him about all issues, ethical ones included!
Jerome Ellard said…
Thank you for this post, Ted. How comforting to consider reading the Bible with Jesus! That lifts burdens and breathes supernatural freedom and peace into a person's life, if they will only receive it.

All thanks, praise and glory to Emmanuel, who has been given all power and authority in heaven and on earth and never leaves us or forsakes us!