How do we read Scripture rightly? How do we know we have the right hermeneutical principle so we can arrive at the correct understanding about what the Bible is telling us?
I’ve already pointed out in times past that when we take a surface, wooden literal view, we often end up with a convoluted and conflicted view of God and ourselves.
Furthermore, saying we’re a “Bible believer” really means nothing at all. As I mentioned in my book, Sonshift, since Luther’s declaration of Sola Scriptura, the church has never been more divisive (over 33,000 Protestant denominations and non-denominations and counting!) And all believe the Bible to be the final authority and that their view is the correct one.
We must admit the embarrassing fact that various interpretations of Scripture have led to centuries of abuse and violence, including condoning slavery, wars, and some of the worst atrocities committed against people in human history…all using the authority of Scripture to justify their actions.
While we can agree that the Bible gives us objective truth; our understanding of it can be quite subjective, because we all view Scripture through our particular pair of glasses.
So…how do we know we have the right glasses on?
We certainly don’t have the right glasses on when we read the Bible indiscriminately. What I mean by that is when we don’t read all Scripture—whether it be the Old Testament or New Testament—through the lens of Jesus Christ and His finished work on the Cross, as if nothing changed with Jesus. I wrote about that here.
As Bill Johnson said, “Jesus Christ is perfect theology.”
We know that Jesus is the only way we actually know what God is really like (Matt.11:27; John 14:6; Heb.1:1-3); He defines how we read the Bible, not the other way around.
But if Jesus is the lens by which we understand Scripture rightly, then how do we interpret Jesus?
This is the fascinating question that Derek Flood asks in his book, “Disarming Scripture: Cherry Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did.” I started to talk about this book here, but there are some other points he makes that bear focusing in on here.
First, Flood makes the observation that I have wondered about for years. That is, why doesn’t Jesus, or Paul for that matter, interpret Scripture like we do?Oftentimes, neither Jesus nor Paul use Scripture in its original context. In fact, they often leave out parts of verses and even reverse the original meaning of the texts they quote.
For instance, when Jesus said that Isaiah 61:1-2 was fulfilled by Him (see Luke 4:18-21), He purposely left out part of verse 2, “And the day of vengeance of our God.” By doing this, He makes Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy about healing and restoration rather than divine retribution.
In 1 Cor.15:55-57, Paul mocks death by quoting Hosea 13, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” But Hosea 13 has quite a different context, which the New English Translation clearly brings out…
Will I deliver them from the power of Sheol? No, I will not!
Will I redeem them from death? No, I will not!
O Death, bring on your plagues!
O Sheol, bring on your destruction!
My eyes will not show any compassion!” (Hosea 13:14 NET)
As Flood points out, Hosea is not mocking death, but calling for death! Paul is reversing the original context, subverting it, redeeming it. He seems to be interpreting the Bible like Jesus.
Flood gives several other examples of Jesus and Paul deliberately leaving out parts of Scripture that promote genocide or violence, or totally contradicting them (For example, Jesus saying, “You have heard it said, but I say…” in His Sermon on the Mount.)
Ironically, if Jesus and Paul were teaching today, we would probably call them false teachers, accusing them of taking biblical texts out of context! As New Testament scholar Richard Hays once said, Paul would’ve surely flunked a seminary class in exegesis.
Of course, this is exactly why the Pharisees concluded that Jesus was a false teacher. As Flood points out…
Throughout the Gospels Jesus is frequently accused by the religious authorities of breaking the Law—and indeed, by their standards, he does break it. He breaks the Sabbath regulations to heal (Luke 6:7-11); touches the unclean, thus making himself unclean (compare Mark 5:23-43 with Lev. 15:19); and practices table fellowship with sinners (Mark 2:15; Matt. 9:10; Luke 5:29; 15:2). Because of all this, he is accused of being a drunk, a blasphemer, a “friend of sinners,” and even in league with the devil (Luke 5:21; 7:34; 11:15). In terms of commands involving violence, John tells how Jesus refuses to participate in the execution of a woman caught in adultery as the law commanded, and instead forgives her (John 8:1-11)….What’s important to recognize here is that there is no precedent for doing this allowed by the law. (p.35-36)
Flood also makes the point about how Jesus interpreted the Scriptures as opposed to how the Pharisees interpreted them…
What we have in the Gospels’ frequent conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees are two diametrically opposed ways of interpreting the same Scriptures coming into open conflict.
The Pharisees understanding, as it is presented in the Gospels, is characterized by a rigid observance of laws and rituals. Jesus, in contrast, had a way of interpreting the Bible that put a priority on people over rules and rituals. The way of the Pharisees is focused on fear, and thus insists on strict adherence to all the commands, even when these commands hurt and shut people out. The way of Jesus in contrast is instead focused on what love requires—even when doing so means breaking the rules. (p.38-39)
A little later, Flood asks us…
The question we must consider is this: Are we in fact interpreting the Bible in the way of the Pharisees, or in the way Jesus did? (p.40)
That’s a very good question. And, by the way, if Pharisee means “separatist,” and we have over 33,000 denominations, what does that make us?
More next time…