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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Did Jesus interpret the word of truth properly?

Pete Enns wrote an excellent article over at Huffington Post entitled "3 Ways Jesus Read the Bible That Evangelicals Are Told Not to Do." (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pete-enns/3-ways-jesus-read-the-bib_b_5902534.html?utm_hp_ref=religion) According to Mr. Enns: 1) Jesus read the Bible with a "creative flare" that often went beyond the intent of the original human author, 2) Christ cherry picked Scripture - choosing which parts of the Old Testament to accept and which ones to reject, and 3) Jesus read the Bible from the perspective of a First Century Jew, not as a Christian Evangelical. While this blogger thinks that Mr. Enns is spot-on about the ways that Christ interpreted what he read in Scripture, I also understand what he's saying about how many Christians are instructed to interpret the Bible.

In an article entitled "7 Principles of Biblical Interpretation" by Wayne McDill on LifeWay (http://www.lifeway.com/pastorstoday/2014/03/12/7-principles-of-biblical-interpretation/), we read that Christians should "consider the context of the passage for a better understanding of its meaning." He goes on to tell us that we should "read the text for its plain and obvious meaning," and that we should "try to discern the writer's intentions when he wrote the text." When considering these principles, I am immediately struck by the irony of the fact that Christ often violated these principles as he was "dividing the word of truth."

To demonstrate his point, Mr. Enns points to Christ's quotation of God's introduction to Moses in the form of the burning bush. Jesus was in the process of answering a challenge to the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead by the Sadducees. Luke informs us that Christ told them: "But now, as to whether the dead will be raised - even Moses proved this when he wrote about the burning bush. Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, he referred to the Lord as the 'God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' So he is the God of the living, not the dead, for they are all alive to him." (Luke 20:37-38) In the verse that Jesus was quoting (Exodus 3:6), it is very clear that God was telling Moses who "He" was. There is no indication here that God or Moses was thinking about the resurrection of the dead! Moreover, when Christ was finished making his point with this verse, we read that his Jewish listeners were impressed with the way that he had used Scripture to answer them (apparently the Jews of that day approved of creative interpretation).

As has also been done on this blog in previous posts, Mr. Enns points out that Jesus Christ modified, deleted and/or expanded upon certain teachings of the Mosaic Law. Read Matthew 5:21-48. In this passage recounting some of Christ's teachings from his "Sermon on the Mount," we read that he expanded the meaning of the commandments against murder and adultery. He also deleted the Mosaic teachings about Divorce and Vows and changed the instructions relative to how to treat one's enemies! The stark difference between the Mosaic teaching on divorce and Christ's statement of God's original intent in that regard is further underscored in yet another passage. (Matthew 19:1-15) In similar fashion, Christ challenged the prevailing interpretations regarding proper Sabbath observance (Matthew 12) and the notion that all calamities and physical impairments were the consequence of sin. (Luke 13:1-5 & John 9:1-3)

Hence, in the light of all of this evidence about the way that THE Word of God handled the Word of Truth, maybe we should reevaluate the way that we read the Bible and interpret its meaning. It is clear to me that Christ had a vision of God's will and character that often superseded what had been written on those ancient scrolls. What about you? Do you think that literalists have anything to learn from Christ's example in this matter?


  1. Jesus believed in literal Noah flood and you don't. And Paul believed in literal Adam & Eve and you don't. In fact Paul bases what became orthodox soteriology on the literal two Adams! How you 21st-century Christians function with this cognitive dissonance I don't know.

    1. I don't believe in the worldwide cataclysm that is portrayed in Genesis, and I don't believe that it would be possible to save every species of animal life in the manner described there. However, as a consequence of the fact that so many ancient cultures have some kind of story relative to a flood, I'm not discounting the possibility that there was a "Noah" who built an "ark" that survived a flood.
      How do you know what Christ believed about Noah? Do Matthew 24:37-38 and Luke 17:26-27 constitute conclusive proof that Christ believed the story? Is it possible that he was explaining something to people about the future based on THEIR understanding of the past?
      Do you think that Paul was being literal about the two Adams? I always thought he was drawing a spiritual analogy between the first human (and the physical life that we have through him) and the second human (and the possibility of eternal life that we have through him). I guess it's all in how you look at it.

  2. In some private e-mail correspondence, one of my friends wrote: "I think that Jesus, as, presumably, the One who inspired the Bible, i.e., the Author, has the right to interpret and apply Scripture in a way that might be presumptuous or even dangerous for the rest of us. Hence, some guidelines are helpful. They're not the be-all and end-all but I think they help us understand that we had better have a very good reason for drawing outside the lines. Of course, one person's good reason may not be persuasive to anyone else!"

  3. "Do you think that Paul was being literal about the two Adams?"
    Well yeah, he said Eve, in her feminine weakness, really blew it back then.
    "..a spiritual analogy between the first human .."
    What 'first human' is this you are talking about?

  4. Although we obviously don't agree in the realm of religious belief, I always find your comments interesting and searching. I'm referring to the beginnings of humanity, which I make clear in my answer to your comments over at Otagosh. And, as you well know, that is a subject that all of us are still trying to sort out. Does humanity begin with Homo sapiens? (I do think that it's interesting that the study of the human genome has caused scientists to arrive at a Y-Chromosomal Adam and a Mitochondrial Eve) But what about the contributions of Neanderthals and Denisovans to the DNA of modern humans? Moreover, doesn't the evidence suggest that they had some type of religious awareness? Still lots of questions on that score - I'm referring to the beginnings of humanity in a generic sense (whenever that was and whatever it entailed).