Jesus, Inspiration, and Revelation: Part 6 of “How I Interpret the Bible, and So Can You!”


In the last post in this series on interpreting the Bible, I noted that the New Testament writers are all in agreement that Jesus is the fullest revelation of the nature and character of God.

This naturally raises questions regarding the nature of Scripture, inspiration, and Jesus’ relationship to the Old Testament. Here’s the conclusion to that post:

Some might say—indeed some have said—that the only way we know Jesus is in Scripture, and all Scripture is inspired, which means that some Scripture, even the parts about Jesus, cannot be more inspired than others, so I must have a faulty view of Scripture.

And now, my response.

Many of us have Bibles in which the words of Jesus are written in red. When I was young my youth minister told us that that really wasn’t proper, since all Scripture is inspired and no Scripture, not even the words of Jesus, are more inspired than others.

That was the first hint that there was some disagreement among Christians regarding the inspiration of Scripture. Little did I know! Obviously, the translators and publishers of a lot of Bibles thought that there was something different about the words spoken by Jesus that set them apart from the rest of the Bible.

But my youth minister had a point: the Bible says that all Scripture is inspired, which meant that it’s all true, from Genesis through Revelation. One part can’t be more true than another, can it?

But, still, these are the words of Jesus.

And in John 1 he is called the Word.

Yes, but if God inspired, say, Leviticus 4:16, then those are God’s words also, and God is Jesus and Jesus is God, so in a sense those are Jesus’ words every bit as much as John 3:16.

This is getting confusing.

I’m going to leave aside the debate about inspiration meaning that these are the actual words of God transmitted through human writers, a view that actually very few biblical scholars hold, even most conservative scholars, at least in theory even if in practical ways they hew very close to that view.

But for now I’ll just say this: all Scripture is inspired, but not all Scripture is equally revelatory.

There may be some people who would disagree with me, but they would have a hard time explaining why as a child was taught to memorize John 3:16 and not Leviticus 4:16.

Or why as a child in Sunday School I sat through lots of flannelgraph stories about Daniel in the Lion’s Den or Jonah and the Whale or Josephs colorful robe but not once did I see a flannelgraph of Elisha calling out the she-bears to maul the 42 boys who made fun of his bald head.

Now that would have been a fun flannelgraph!

(For those of you who have never heard of that story, it’s in 2 Kings 2: 23-24. And for those of you who don’t know what a flannelgraph is, stop Snapchatting for a second and Google it. And for those of you who don’t know what Snapchat is…oh, don’t worry about it.)

All Scripture is inspired, but not all Scripture is revelatory in the same way. As I said last time, there are parts of the Old Testament that Jesus disagreed with and contravened. These serve as cautionary tales, showing us how certain people, even with proper motivation, tried some things that led to disaster.

Among these are the flood narrative in Genesis 6-9, Joseph when he gains power over the Egyptian people, the stories about Saul and Solomon, and even the David saga, which begins well and ends tragically.

There are other parts with Jesus agreed were useful for their time but said we had to move beyond. The Law falls into this category. Useful, but of limited use for Jesus.

4th grade math is important, but if you want to be an engineer you have to move beyond 4th grade math. The Law is sometimes 4th grade math, sometimes 12th grade, but not advanced calculus, theologically speaking. Jesus told us to move beyond it.

Then there are those parts of the Old Testament that Jesus referred to without any modification, fully embracing the message as revelatory and incorporating into his own teaching. Certain Psalms and almost all of Isaiah, particularly the middle chapters, fall into this category.

Notice, however, that Jesus is acting as Master Interpreter over Scripture. He is the Lord over it.

We don’t exercise that kind of authority over the Bible, but Jesus does.

So when I interpret Scripture, I always do so in light of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. He is God translated into Human, and thus is the fullest revelation of who God is and what God is doing.

All things, including the inspired Bible, come under his authority.

Now we’re ready for the final, and most difficult, move in biblical interpretation. In the next post.

(For the rest of the series click here:Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.  Part 4  Part 5. Part 7.)

Photo via Visual Hunt

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