The Incarnation Lens

canstockphoto13422181In my last post I wrote about the relationship between the Old Testament and the New. In a culture that tends to value the new over the old, it’s not surprising to find that Christians tend to elevate the New Testament over the Old, whether by considering it to be mere background to the really good stuff found in the New Testament, or by considering it to be mainly about the Jews while the New Testament is about Christians.

Some even view the Old Testament as a failed plan of salvation while the New Testament is the plan that really worked. And sometimes we just read the New Testament more often than the Old.

The curious thing is that the same people who treat it as a subordinate testament will often trot out Old Testament verses whenever it suits their theological, political, or moral positions, giving these passages equal status with the New, if not trumping some New Testament verses that don’t quite say what they want or need them to say.

We really shouldn’t speak of this in terms of “trumping.” I only do so because of the propensity of people to pit the two against each other to bolster their theological or moral arguments. “Yeah, but that’s in the Old Testament, whereas the New Testament says…” (NT trumps OT.) Then again, the astute Old Testament proof-texter can respond, “Yes, this is from Isaiah in the Old Testament, but the passage begins, ‘Thus says the LORD God….’” (God trumps Paul or James or whoever.)

And if one can’t find a “Thus saith the LORD” passage, you can always pull out the “all Scripture is inspired” trope and assert that no verse trumps another, they are all equally authoritative. That one is hard to counter—it sounds like you are denying the total inspiration of all Scripture.

But as much as it can get you out of scrapes, it causes many, many more problems, especially if you like to eat shrimp, which Leviticus declares to be an abomination.

And most of us sense that John 3:16 carries more theological weight than the law against shellfish eating. After all, no one has ever sat in the end zone of a televised football game and held up a large “Leviticus 11:10” sign.

But it’s not just that all this talk of verses trumping verses or testaments trumping testaments is misleading, it’s that the truth is both much simpler as well as more complicated than that.

Here is the simple part: Jesus trumps it all. As revelatory as Scripture is, the fundamental truth of Christianity is that Jesus is the fullest and most complete revelation of both God’s nature and God’s will. What this means is that the Incarnation trumps any and all verses in either the Old or New Testament.

But as I said, let’s do away with the idea of “trumping.” It is better to say that the Incarnation—the teachings as well as the life, death and resurrection of Jesus—is the standard by which all parts of Scripture are measured. The Old Testament points toward it, while the New Testament emanates from it.

Our interpretation of all scriptures must be in line with what Jesus himself reveals about the nature of God.

Now I am clearly talking about the event of the Incarnation, but this is where it gets complicated, because what we know of the Incarnation comes from the four gospels, which are part of the New Testament, which would seem to indicate that this section at least of the New Testament carries more authority than the rest of the Bible. And now we are back to trumping.

See? I told you it was complicated.

This is where talk of inspiration and authority perhaps actually clouds the issue, depending on how you understand those terms regarding the Bible.

The gospels bear witness to the Incarnation, but they didn’t create that witness. Those who themselves were witnesses to the risen Jesus bore witness of what they had seen and heard. It was decades before Matthew, Mark, Luke and John sought to write down any of the oral accounts, and none of the four sought to simply organize and record the accounts—they sought to convey the significance of the events.

Behind the writings was the man, Jesus, who said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” That’s why we give priority to the Incarnation and interpret all Scripture in light of it. Whatever authority Scripture has is a derived authority, just as whatever light the moon has is derived from the sun and reflected to us.

It’s the Son who has authority, and it is the Son who best reflects the nature, mind, and will of God. All things bow down to him.

Including verses about shellfish.

Image by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / pelooye

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