**I cannot take full credit for the ideas behind this post. These ideas have come from all over Christendom.**
The Bible. What is it? This is a question I’ve been asking a lot recently (for a wonderfully engaging overview of the Bible, see Rob Bell’s “What is the Bible?” blog post…intriguing). I’m not asking about the Bible for the purpose of rattling the cages, nor am I wanting to walk away from orthodoxy into heresy. The questions I’ve been asking about Scripture recently have been honest, heart-wrestling questions. Allow me to think through one here that has been wrestled with the most. How do the Old and New Testaments fit together?
I’ve been asked this question so many times in the classroom. And, I could tell you rather quickly how I’ve answered that question each time it has been asked. However, I’ve noticed a struggle in my approach to teaching that I haven’t verbalized for my students. I certainly understand the mainstream belief about the two testaments of Scripture. And, I believe I’m still in the same camp with mainstream. However, some particular areas of Scripture have caused me to wonder. How should we understand the Bible? What does “inspiration” really mean? How did Jesus understand the various parts of the Old Testament? What does that mean for us?
In Matthew 4, Jesus is tempted three times in the wilderness. With each of the temptations Jesus faced, he responds to each temptation by saying not what any man thinks, but what the Word of God says. He triumph’s by relying upon the word of God. In Matthew 5-7, Jesus gives what we call the Sermon on the Mount. In chapter 5, Jesus alters, upgrades, changes, etc., a few laws. He teaches that murder is far more than an action, but an attitude of the heart. The same goes with adultery. Jesus then, however, takes the Mosaic teaching on divorce and retribution and (seemingly) totally invalidates (maybe not the best word) it. In the case of marriage, Moses said one thing, and Jesus said another. Later in Matthew 19, the subject of divorce comes up again. Here, Jesus gives more details surrounding the Mosaic law. Jesus says, “Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” (Matt. 19:8) So, here is my question concerning this example. How do we understand this example in terms of traditional “inspiration”? It seems to me (emphasis on seems to me because I don’t claim to know) Moses said something that was only of temporary value. Or, to put it another way, Moses spoke to a particular people at a particular place and time about a particular object, not necessarily one that was eternally valid (as demonstrated by Jesus’ correcting of Mosaic law). If that is so, how do we know what to keep from the Old Testament and what to reconsider? I offer this suggestion. What did Jesus affirm to be wholly, eternally, completely true? What Jesus affirmed is true.
By the way, this brings up another issue concerning the Old Testament. And, I’d like to use this example of Mosaic law on divorce again. I believe it is right to say that the Old Testament records things without necessarily endorsing them. For example, David’s adultery and murder would be recorded, not endorsed. This means that when we read the Old Testament, there might be bits and pieces that cause some physical/emotional reaction. We might need to ask if what we’ve just read is endorsed or recorded. When we read something Scripture not only records, but endorses, and that thing causes in us a response, those are the cases when it might be good for us to examine our response and probe our hearts in that area. Maybe, just maybe, we get uncomfortable when God is being who He is, God.
So, endorsing, recording and divorce…Could it be this is an example in the Old Testament where Moses gave the law to the people that the Old Testament recorded, though it did not accurately reflect the ideal God had inscribed into the heart of pre-fall man? After all, know finally and fully what is God’s ideal when God himself becomes man, right? (Phil. 2:5-11) Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (Jn 14:7). Paul says of Jesus that he is the image of the invisible God and the fullness of God in bodily form (Col 1 & 2). The writer of Hebrews says Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory (Heb 1). So, what I’m trying to say is that to know the difference between the Old Testament’s recording or endorsing would require us to look often to Jesus as he is God and man. Jesus is it. Following him is it. That’s it.
Again, the essence of Christianity seems less on certainty of belief, and more on the centrality of following Jesus. People who deny there are genuine questions in faith could be lying, or maybe they’ve not thought about the faith much. While questions and uncertainties about certain things are numerous, there is one thing which is absolutely certain, ineffable, unchanging, a source of eternal hope. That’s the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the “solid rock upon which I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
I’m talking about looking at the entire Bible through the lens of the Cross (thanks, Greg Boyd). Jesus is the “interpretive key” to all of the Bible. Jesus is the Word, and the Word was God (Jn 1:1). While these questions have been unsettling, the solution is rather comforting. Run to Jesus. It’s Jesus. That’s our answer. He’s our hope. When we are confused about this whole Christianity thing, we look to Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. (Heb. 12:2) Once this idea becomes firmly planted, questions about the rest of the book arise. And, it is these question to which I hope to return.