They Did It...Must We Do It?

Last week we talked about "lenses" of interpretation.  This week we're looking at the unfailing lens to translate scripture: Jesus himself.  And as we do that we are going to talk about one of the crucial questions of interpretation:  what is normative and what is narrative?  

We looked at two scriptures: selections from Matthew 22:15-40, where people are questioning Jesus' own interpretation of scripture.  And Leviticus 11:1-12, a particularly famous passage that to this day defines certain people's food choices.  

One of the most compelling things about Jesus (and the writers who preserved his life and teaching in the Bible) is his own interpretation of scriptures.  To Jesus, the Bible is trustworthy.  To Jesus, the Bible has authority.  And he is a master at translation.  Because he knew the scriptures were designed to be read to form us.  But when we try to be the ones to form scripture to our expectations, the result is quite ironic -- we become deformed.  

So, how do we get it right?  We look at Jesus. He is the central focus of the unfolding plan of salvation history – not just another character in that process, but THE lens from which we make sense of all the Bible.

As theologian Thomas T. Torrance puts it, the Old Covenant – the Old testament – helps provide the mindset to prepare for the Christ Event, but the Christ Event is necessary to fully understand and appreciate the old. So, good interpretation must be careful to read all of the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus Christ if it is to make sense and handled properly.  Toxic religion doesn’t do this.  This is what the Pharisees and Sadducees were doing.  In fact they had made the law and the prophets (the Old Testament) an impossible yoke that simply couldn’t be carried.  (To do that is actually a way of keeping only the elite and educated in power).  

And so, Jesus says; All of the Old Testament hangs on my commands to love: God and neighbor.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Simply put, we don’t take something out of the Old Testament and bring it directly into today without first going through Jesus Christ.  And so we take a look at the passage from Lev. 11, about not eating shellfish.  A law God gave in the narrative of Israel in the desert has continued for some to be normative, that is, a teaching that is intended for all people at all times.  But when we interpret it through the lens of Jesus Christ’s life and ministry, we learn that this prohibition was intended  to allow an unclean people (sick from spoiled shellfish) come before a Holy God.  But in Christ, we are made clean regardless of what we eat.  We can approach God, even if we are sick, even in our sin, we can approach God because by the atoning work of Jesus the Holy Spirit makes it’s indwelling in us.

Let's conclude with Fee's and Stuart's basic guidelines for interpreting Old Testament narrative:

1.Do see the Old Testament law as God’s fully inspired word to you. Don’t see the Old Testament Law as a direct command to you.
2.Do see the Law as the basis for the old covenant and Israel’s history. Don’t see the Old Testament Law as binding on Christians unless specifically renewed in Christ.
3.Do See God’s justice, love, and high standards revealed in the Law. Don’t forget to see that God’s mercy is made equal to those standards through the love of Christ.
--By Pastor Aaron

For reflection:
1) What Old Testament (OT) stories have you found baffling?
2) What OT laws have you found baffling?
3) If you haven't read enough of these kinds of stories, poke around in Genesis for narratives, and Leviticus for laws (there are far more, but that's a good start).
4) Jesus did not "do away with" the OT.  But he claimed to "fulfill" it.  What do you think that means?
5) The early Church saw themselves as a continuation of the people of God in the old covenant.  How does this influence the way we read all of scripture? 
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2 Comments


Bob Mohr - January 28th, 2020 at 6:40pm

Good Blog !! But I question the wording "To Jesus the Bible is trustworthy. To Jesus the Bible has authority". The Bible was not put together until 300AD. Jesus knew the stories and narratives of the Old Testament, but it could not have been written down. The Old Testament narratives must have been passed down via word of mouth by the prophets and priests. Help?

Mike - January 28th, 2020 at 9:45pm

Good question Bob! You're right that Jesus didn't have the "Bible" as we know it. And you're also right that scripture was passed on, certainly to the masses, orally. But we know it was also written down because synagogues contained the Torah scroll (as Jesus unrolled it in Luke 4). We also have fragments of written scripture that date as far back as Jesus' time. So perhaps I could have worded it: "To Jesus, scripture is trustworthy" meaning the scripture of the Old Testament that had been written and passed down for centuries by the time Jesus lived on earth. As for the New Testament -- we're talking about that this Sunday!