In part one, we saw the problem with this method because of apparent disparity between the God of the Old Testament and the revelation of Jesus Christ, which has been a source of criticism and even distain for the God of the Bible.
We also briefly looked at how the church has tried to solve the issue of final authority by either appealing to bishops and popes, patristic tradition, or Scripture itself, and we looked at some of the problems with each of these positions. If you haven’t read that post, I suggest you read it before continuing here.
Now we’re ready to look at the “Jesus Hermeneutic.” I believe you’ll see that it’s a simple and more consistent way to read the Bible and understand the nature of God.
What is the Jesus Hermeneutic?
The Jesus Hermeneutic is based on two theological axioms:
- God is love (1 John 4:8)
- God looks like Jesus Christ (Heb.1:3)
These two simple points will not only transform your understanding of Scripture, but will also help you discern what’s inspired by God in anyone’s teaching or writing. You don’t have to be a theologian or an apologist; you just need to know Jesus! Jesus said His sheep will hear His voice and they won’t follow another (John 10:1-18).
We follow Jesus and not another by…
His life example and teachings;
and by His Spirit abiding in us (1 John 2:27).
What I’m saying is that we don’t just read the Bible indiscriminately, assuming everything that’s attributed to God in the text is telling us what God is actually like. There are many other factors that go beyond the scope of this post to explain why this is so, but know with confidence that the only accurate way we can know what God is actually like is how Jesus reveals Him to us (emphasis mine):
27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matt.11:27 NIV)
We read the Bible through the lenses of love, letting Jesus walk us through Scripture. Whatever is not like Jesus is not like God. I can’t possibly emphasize this enough. The Godhead is not conflicted. It’s our understanding of God that’s conflicted.
God is love
Love is not one of many attributes of God…it’s the very essence and nature of God. John said, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8 NIV)
And since God is love, this is what love looks like (exchanging “love” with “GOD” in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a):
4 GOD is patient, GOD is kind. GOD does not envy, GOD does not boast, GOD is not proud. 5 GOD does not dishonor others, GOD is not self-seeking, GOD is not easily angered, GOD keeps no record of wrongs. 6 GOD does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 GOD always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 GOD never fails.
Perfect Love looks like the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7)—humble, meek, merciful, peace-making, forgiving, non-retributive, other-centered, non-judgmental, and even loving your enemies (emphasis mine):
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt.5:43-48 NIV)
Everything we’re taught to do in Scripture is founded, empowered, and bounded by love. This is true nature of Christ-likeness because this is God at the very core of who He is.
God looks like Jesus
What we don’t seem to realize is that Jesus reinterpreted His own people’s view of Scripture (“You have heard it said, but I say…”). For Christ is revealed as the only interpretive lenses by which we may see God as He really is (emphasis mine):
18 No man has ever seen God at any time; the only unique Son, or the only begotten God, Who is in the bosom [in the intimate presence] of the Father, He has declared Him [He has revealed Him and brought Him out where He can be seen; He has interpreted Him and He has made Him known]. (John 1:18 AMP)
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NIV)
3 He is the sole expression of the glory of God [the Light-being, the out-raying or radiance of the divine], and He is the perfect imprint and very image of [God’s] nature, upholding and maintaining and guiding and propelling the universe by His mighty word of power. (Heb.1:3a AMP)
The early church did not read Scripture like we do. They let Jesus define their theology and reinterpret their understanding of Scripture, not the other way around. Jesus Himself said that this is how we will understand God from now on.
7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:7 NIV)
You might well ask, what do we do with all the Old Testament passages about God that don’t sound like Jesus or perfect love? We understand them, even re-define them, through the lenses of Jesus Christ. Actually, this is what Jesus and the apostles did all the time, as I pointed out in “Deconstructing our Christian Mythology.”
I’m admittedly oversimplifying on purpose so that anyone can confidently know the true nature of God without having to be an apologist or theologian. But also know that there are a growing number of theologians who are doing the scholarly heavy lifting, dealing with all the nuances of the ancient writings and historical data, and they’re basically coming to the same conclusion. I’m just saving you the time and trouble. 🙂
A more effective hermeneutic
We have a glaring problem that we must face head-on. The world we live in today still has a positive view of Jesus but not of Christians. How can this be so? I think the reason is obvious. We don’t look like Jesus. We don’t love sinners or each other like Jesus. And a lot of this comes from having the wrong interpretative glasses on.
But the benefit of the Jesus hermeneutic that I’ve only summarily outlined here is that it not only compels us to follow Christ (His Spirit, example, teachings, and hermeneutical approach to Scripture), it unifies us in the bond of love. We’ll finally look like Christians!
35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 NKJV)
23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:23 NKJV)
When our theology is founded in love and “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor.4:6), we will finally start loving each other the same way God loves us, and then the world will finally see Jesus in us. And when they finally see Jesus in us, they will want Him, too.