Jesus is the most important revelation of God. The Lord Jesus Christ should be the basis of our faith. Jesus is the whose steps we want to walk in. Jesus said that knowing the only true God and the one he sent – Jesus – is the basis of eternal life in John 17:3. I find that hard and feel slightly intimidated by people who say they have a relationship with Jesus. It’s a work in progress for me. And maybe for you too. Christians often describe ourselves as Bible students or as a bible based community. However we need to be a Jesus based community. Are we? And let’s not focus on the community when we can focus on ourselves first. Am I? Honestly I don’t feel like I’ve got this piece right, that there is too little Jesus in my focus.
One of the goals of this post is to invite you to think about the relationship between Jesus and the Bible and the importance of making Jesus’ perspective the context in which we read the Bible so we get it right. Actually it’s probably written to me….
Jesus is THE perfect revelation of God. If we start and end with him we are far more likely to be in tune with God’s principles. God wants us to be imitators of Jesus. This is not about license to pick and choose God’s principles but using Jesus as the interpreter of the Bible and more importantly as the ultimate guide and template for life.
The anchor of faith – Jesus was raised
Life is very random but often so predictable. If you haven’t already the chances are very high that one day you will run into facts or horrible experiences which will shake your faith to its core. You will question what you believe. You will probably challenge the basis of your belief, and that’s not a bad thing. Spoiler alert though – there is one basis worth having. The reality of Jesus. Faith cannot be based on community belonging & tradition. When the chips are down you need more. You need to anchor your faith in Jesus.
I am not going to spend long on this. We are going to bullet point the evidence, evidence about which many books have been written. When my faith was shaken to the core because I discovered I was reading Genesis wrong I wondered if I would have to walk away from faith. Plenty of people lined up to tell to walk away from the Christadelphian community. But two things anchored me in faith. Whatever my uncertainties and unanswered questions, two things remained sure. Israel was back as a nation and – more importantly – Jesus was not in the tomb.
Paul puts it very bluntly:
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless1 Cor 15:17 NET
Either the tomb was empty and Jesus raised or we are wasting our time. So in 30 seconds why do I think the best explanation of the evidence is that Jesus is alive?
Independent historical sources
History provides some external witness to Jesus’ existence and death. Despite fantasy nonsense written by some for a popular audience, no serious historian or scholar in the field denies Jesus lived and was crucified. And yes that includes non-believers. Jesus existed and was crucified. Not a serious question.
History provides evidence of the key political players. Pilate and the gang were real people in the positions described. This is independently attested and accepted.
The Missing Body
History provides evidence of the local political reaction. The Jewish leadership promulgated the story of the stolen body – that is again a fact of history. This incidentally demonstrates there was a problem – no body and stories of resurrection
A bodily resurrection is easily to disprove. The disciples, according to their own literature, were disorganised, scared and few in number. Liars make poor martyrs (Gary Habermas). One crazy sure but hundreds? Many were caught and killed. Not one recanted. No-one found the body – because there wasn’t one…
The gospels are not logical if viewed as anything but authentic. Several things convince scholars that the gospels are collated eyewitness accounts. They are not perfectly uniform, they describe people and place in detail and have many unflattering facts – consistent with truth telling not myth building.
The testimony of Saul of Tarsus is surprising. Something made an up and coming leader switch sides. Not only that but he remained viewed with suspicion in the community. And he wasn’t the only usual convert – Acts says many Pharisees and priests converted. Something convinced them to go from in power to being persecuted.
It didn’t stop…you have an enormous number of Jews and later Gentiles adopting a radical new framework despite persecution. In view of the unlikely leaders (none of whom come across in a great light in the gospels). Something convinced them.
I think the best explanation of the facts is a bodily resurrection. This leads to the following observation by Peter Hitchens:
The most dangerous idea in human history and philosophy remains the belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and rose from the dead and that is the most dangerous idea you will ever encounter. “Because it alters the whole of human behaviour and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is/ hope and, therefore, we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. It alters us all. If we reject it, it alters us all as well. It is incredibly dangerous. It’s why so many people turn against it.”Peter Hitchens
Jesus is risen. This is the anchor of faith and should shape our lives.
Let me make another important point. Jesus being raised is the most important fact in the Bible. Everything else in the Bible is mere detail. If you cling to this one central point then there are no scary ideas – nothing else matters, so variances about creation or the historical books of the Old Testament or whatever don’t matter a whit. Jesus is raised. With that confidence we are free to explore and learn without seeing anything as a threat to faith. The resurrection is independent of how you understand Song of Solomon or what you think a Greek word means.
Jesus is risen – hold that and don’t let it go.
Jesus is the revelation from God
If we say Jesus is the clearest revelation it is obvious that other things are less clear. This is not news:
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very beingHeb 1:1-3a (NRSV)
There is no comparison between the clarity of the message and the quality of the messenger is the point. What was obscure is now crystal clear in Jesus.
In Col 1:26 Paul will also refer to the
“mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but now revealed”.
What was once unclear is now obvious in Jesus. 1 Pet 1:10a-12 makes clear that the prophets didn’t fully comprehend the message they bore as it related to Jesus and even angels tried to figure more out from the limited information available, but these things were now plainly announced to the 1st century believers.
This should be obvious from John 1:1 & 14. The Word was with God and was God. The logos, the idea the communicated intention, the wisdom of God was there according to John 1:1. This word became flesh in John 1:14
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth John 1:14 NRSV
Here we might point out a
When John declares that ‘in the beginning was the word’, he does not reach a climax with ‘and the word was written down’ but ‘and the word became flesh’NT Wright
Jesus is the complete revelation of God. If you can only see God’s glory in Jesus , if he alone is full of grace and truth then everything else is not so complete. John is telling us Jesus supersedes (not makes redundant – supercedes) everything else.
This should not be a surprise to us. Gal 3 is a well known chapter in our community linking Jesus and the gospel to the promises to Abraham and putting the Law in context. The Law says Paul served a temporary purpose and couldn’t achieve salvation. It was a tool to direct God’s people to faith and therefore Jesus (Gal 3:21-24). It had a temporary value. Again in Rom 15:4 we are told that the OT writings are there for our learning, to provide comfort and hope. They have value. We can learn.
Jesus was not the Bible made flesh. He was God’s wisdom and purpose made flesh. The full and clearest demonstration of God’s character and wisdom. God’s intention similarly is not that we become walking Bibles (although rightly used this is not a bad thing) but the GOAL is to become a walking Jesus. Paul told the Corinthians to be imitators of him as he imitated Christ 1 Cor 11:1. The whole point of discipleship is to become like Jesus we need to work together:
until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into ChristEph 4:13-15 (NRSV)
While it is obvious that Jesus is the standard and objective, isn’t it obvious that we grow by the Bible? Yes and no. The context of Eph 4 is that we grow by working together as a community to grow. Yes the Bible is an important tool but Jesus is the:
the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [Jesus]John 14:6 NRSV
The Bible must be read through Jesus – because the natural reading might lead us astray
We respect the Bible. And we should. But we can read passages like
“Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” Matt 5:18
to this man will I look, Even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, And trembleth at my word. Isa 66:2
As a straightjacket that they were not intended to be. We can become Bible worshippers. Without Jesus it is possible to misunderstand the Bible. Here’s some classic examples
Divorce was permitted by the OT. Deut 24:1 said if you went to see the priest you could get divorced with a legal certificate for the woman seemingly so she had the right to remarry. The logical conclusion is there was no issue with divorce. But Jesus comments on this in Matt 19:1-7 and makes a few points:
- God’s intention from the beginning was one man & woman for life
- The law was there because of human weakness
- If you are divorcing your wife (except for the most serious reasons) you are committing adultery
So the clear statement of the law permitted it. We might therefore think it’s fine. The question to Jesus is surely we can divorce for any cause. But Jesus teaches us the law was regulating male behaviour (actually male oppression against women), God wants us to be faithful and men typically use divorce as an enabler to legitimise lust. The classic ‘leave your wife of 20 years to marry the young secretary’. A Jesus interpretation is that the OT wasn’t in favour of divorce but rather sought some protection against discarding women with no recourse to remarry (and therefore have an economic future). Jesus however condemns using legal divorce because a new model caught your eye. Would we derive these principles from the OT ourselves? Probably not. Jesus reading and use of the OT is not intuitive. It is obvious once Jesus says it – but it is not an obvious reading and linking of the text. Importantly Jesus says the Law was given NOT because it was the highest and best moral position and teaching but rather it was a compromise. The Law allowed for human weakness and unpleasantness. So the Law is regulating bad behaviour rather than expressing the highest standard.
This is why Jesus first and foremost.
Matthew 5 has six examples where Jesus – while upholding the law – changes the meaning and demands you would draw from the Law to something altogether different.
|Do not murder Exod 20:13||Don’t be angry and reconcile issues quickly Matt 5:22-26|
|Don’t commit adultery Exod 20:14||Don’t indulge lust, find ways to cut off opportunity Matt 5:28-30|
|Divorce and give your ex a legal clearance Deut 24:1||You’re using divorce to commit legal adultery Matt 5:32|
|Fulfil your vows Lev 19:12||Don’t make vows just always tell the truth Matt 5:34-37|
|Eye for an eye justice Exod 21:24||Show love (not justice) Matt 5:39-42|
|Love your neighbour (Lev 19:18) hate your enemy (possibly a summary of Deut. 23:3–6; 25:17–19; Ps. 139:21; Mounce [1991: 50] adds Deut. 7:2; 20:16).||Show love to your enemies like God loves all Matt 5:44-48|
Can you derive the best and highest moral understanding of God from the OT? Or do you get this from Jesus? You have to read Scripture through Jesus, not the other way around.
Eg slavery is absolutely tolerated by the OT (and NT). If this the best and highest principle? Does God see no issue with slavery? Many slavers used the Bible to justify slavery! But Jesus said the OT made allowance for the hardness of human hearts – their inability to handle the truth – is this another example? Jesus said we should love our neighbours AND we cannot define our neighbours to suit ourselves. Is slavery love? Obviously no. If you think through the way of Jesus it is obvious. The Bible doesn’t make that explicit though – but a Jesus filter makes the answer much more obvious. The Jewish leadership knew the OT better than any of us yet Jesus would ask them several times “have you never read?” – they missed the point. Reading through Jesus reduces that risk.
So the point? We need to be Jesus centred believers. The teachings of Jesus provide simple powerful guidance like nothing else. We read Matt 5:1-20. The clear and powerful message of Jesus on the sermon on the mount challenged people and blew them away. The call, the standard, the clarity is intense. The word, the idea, the full glory of God, God’s grace and truth shine through. The sub conclusion of Matt 5:48 is
be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect
Jesus has amply illustrated what that looks like in a uniquely clear and complete way – through his words and life. Perhaps a word from Jesus:
You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me, 40 but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life.John 5:39-40
Jesus is the point, not the Bible. One is the destination, the other is just the path.
Jesus is not the only time we see that a literal biblicism is misplaced
Yet biblical literalism is a tough habit to shake. Even when we see Jesus reshaping some of the narrative. So perhaps consider that the literal demands of the OT are not always followed – even in the OT. Hint this is not saying the bible is wrong but our approach to it can be!
King David conspired to commit premeditated murder. He committed adultery or actually by any modern standard he committed rape since sending the king’s men to collect a woman he spied on and the power imbalance means Bathsheba was incapable of giving consent (and is described as a lamb in Nathan’s parable in 2 Sam 12). The simple clear and only just outcome under the law was the death penalty. And frankly that was fair. Yet the Law was NOT enforced. Perhaps we might imagine this was the privilege of rank.
So here’s a more interesting example. Can you do the right thing and while repeatedly disregarding what the Bible says? Remember not one jot or tittle of the law and all that….
Consider King Hezekiah. A famous king of Judah, a great reformer. He cleaned up the temple and restored worship there. He got rid of idols. He also held a massive Passover – seemingly the first one for a long time. But in doing so he clearly broke numerous requirements of the Law:
- The Levites did burnt offerings but this was the priest’s job and the Law put a death penalty on taking the priest’s role (Num 18:7)
- The feast was a month late (which without excellent excuse – travel or uncleaness was a major problem Num 9:12-13)
- The Levites kill the lambs not the householders themselves (Exod 12:3-6)
We know mercy rejoices against judgement but this is hardly a literal approach to Bible reading and observance!
Here’s another thing Hezekiah did. In the exodus wanderings there was an incident with snakes. Part of the solution was a miracle where Moses made a snake of brass and hung it on a pole (see Num 21:8-9). Those who looked at it faithfully were cured. Jesus refers to this snake on a pole as a symbol of his crucifixion in John 3:14. It was a spiritually valuable piece of heritage. It was prophetic of Jesus. Hezekiah took it and:
He broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it2 Kings 18:4 NRSV
Sacred cows are just made for BBQs! Over time a tool became reimagined to be an end in itself. And this is a real risk with the Bible. It’s an incredibly powerful tool. It was given by God. But like the brass serpent we shouldn’t be worshipping it. Or thinking we need to adopt a wooden literalism which flies in the face of Jesus’ approach to the OT and some of the examples in the OT as well.
The NT uses the OT in some surprisingly non-literalistic ways. Context is ignored in favour of making a point based on general connections rather than exactitude. Just two examples:
- Matt 2:15 calls on Hos 11:1 and says that the return of Joseph, Mary and Jesus from Egypt was “God calling his son from Egypt”. But in Hos 11 the context is the rebellious idol worshipping son of Israel. A strict biblical literalism would choke on this totally out of context use. Yet it is not rare.
- In Acts 13:22 Paul says God spoke about David and proceeds to string some quotes together including Isa 44:28 – which was written centuries after David about Cyrus. Why is Paul saying something about Cyrus, written after David was actually about David? It sounds like it could mean David and for the most part it is true.
There is a host of examples where the NT quote from the LXX because what it expresses supports their argument whereas the Hebrew MT doesn’t. Again two examples:
- James in Acts 15:17 quotes Amos 9:11 from the LXX. The LXX speaks of a benefit to all nations. The MT is very different. Israel are blest and will dominate Edom. Scholars suggest the difference in the texts can be explained based on spelling errors/mistaking similar words rather than a difference Hebrew text
- Hebrews 10:5 uses Psa 40:6-8 as a proof text, saying Jesus was a prepared body. But the MT text clearly says “you have opened my ear” (probably meaning God’s word penetrated him to fill his heart cp v8, you don’t need offerings but you want me to listen). Hebrews uses the LXX as it suits the point being made.
How do we use the Bible in the context of Jesus?
Simple answer – respect it and use it. It is a God given tool First principles often touch on 2 Tim 3:16
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness
It doesn’t have all the answers. The answers are in the way Jesus revealed God. The OT at least was in part moderating human weakness rather than stating the clearest highest principles of God’s ways. If we want to see the glory of God, His grace and truth we should take our lead from Jesus and read through a Jesus lens. Some principled reading might be required because reconciling “love your enemies” with some OT passages isn’t obvious.
But using our own judgement? Isn’t that a bit dangerous? Shouldn’t we use the Bible literally and not trust human judgement – wisdom of man and all that?
No, as the Bible says:
For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil.Hebrews 5:12-14
God expects us to develop – by practice – the maturity to discern between good and evil. We need to be able to think things through.
This is what the Bible is useful for – providing us with instruction in preparing us to exercise discernment. While Jeremiah 10:23 might say humans can’t direct their steps, with the input of Jesus’ morality, the righteous do direct their way Prov 11:5 (that’s the whole message of Proverbs surely!).
This discernment is expected in the NT as much as it is in Proverbs. Paul expected believers to be able to sort out material/legal disputes between each other in 1 Cor 6:3 (because you will be judges in future). He also appeals to their own sense of good order to judge on matters – like head coverings and behaviour in the meeting (1 Cor 11:13 – “judge yourselves”). Yes he presents other arguments – including referencing the OT – but he also expects Jesus followers to exercise personal judgement and this to be a significant factor in the outcome. Just think about that – Paul presents OT allusions and on equal footing says judge for yourselves. There’s a dangerous idea! Yet in Matt 18:18 Jesus delegates tremendous authority to the disciples.
“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heavenMatt 18:18
While this is probably talking in the context of exclusion from the congregation (probably) – it plainly says that massive decisions made by Jesus followers are trusted if nothing else! (and no they didn’t have spirit given answers as the debates about Gentiles in Acts 15 show!). How do we make these decisions and show this discernment?
The Bible is not an instruction book with all the answers. I’m an accountant. How should I deal with a person who has some mental illness impacting their workplace performance? Or maybe a disabled person who needs $ spent to enable wheelchair access to the workplace? The Bible doesn’t tell me exactly what to do. I could choose to pick up aspects of the Law which talk about excluding those who are physically disabled. Horrific but perhaps I could. But we wouldn’t because we know the best instruction are the pointers from Jesus teaching and life. He is the gold standard. And while I have to exercise moral judgement on the application I have a clear pointer on compassion and dealing with the disadvantaged – Jesus. And we should think about his approach first.
The Bible is a tool – a powerful one. But like all power tools it is prone to misuse. It can be used to justify all types of unchristlike behaviour. If we are not reading through Jesus we are reading it though our own eyes. Yes sometimes this might cause us to ask some hard questions. Take Psa 69 for example – an imprecatory psalm (ie a psalm asking for judgement & curses on your enemies):
Let their table be a trap for them, a snare for their allies. 23 Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually. 24 Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them.Psalm 68:22-24
Is it appropriate for us then to ape Psa 69 and pray for curses on our enemies and their friends? Look how Jesus used the Psalm. He quotes from it in John 15:25 (“they hated me without a cause” Psa 69:4) but rather than call down destruction he warns of the coming destruction (Luke 23:28) and forgave his tormentors (Luke 23:34). Jesus tells us to do the OPPOSITE of what the inspired Psalmist is saying and doing. In the sermon on the plain Jesus says:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat youLuke 6:27-28
The Psalm might be inspired, a record of the thoughts of the writer we can relate to, it might even be prophetic (well it is). But it is not necessarily the Jesus way any more than legitimising free and easy divorce so men can throw away their wife for a younger woman was God’s intention. Calling for judgement on our enemies is very different to the Jesus way where we seeking a blessing on our enemies and pray for them. and leave judgement to God.
I am NOT suggesting we neglect the Bible. It is a revelation from God. But we need to read it in the context of Jesus.
As the Lord said:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the othersMatt 23:23
We can obsess about Greek and Hebrew, we can argue about the correct interpretation of Joshua, or Exodus. We can squeeze principles out of the Mosaic Law in a way which suits our prejudices. Or we can accept the warning from Jesus. Justice, mercy and faith. Get those right as priorities. Don’t ignore the OT. Don’t overreact and somehow think we can learn Jesus without any Bible. But the things we pull from the OT should be justice, mercy and faith first, second and third. Tithing tiny herbs is where humanity trends, mainly because it’s achievable and I can tithe more righteously than you. But discipleship of Jesus keeps things in perspective. The hard stuff – justice, mercy and truth is priority.
The most important fact in history is the resurrection of Jesus. There are good sound reasons to accept the tomb was empty and Jesus was raised. Compared to this fact essentially nothing else matters. Complexities or challenges in the Bible can be parked in the “I don’t know yet” bucket without hitting our faith because our faith is anchored in the risen Jesus.
Jesus is the supreme revelation of God. Scripture was given by indirect means versus a complete manifestation. It was also given by prophets – good people but not God’s son. Jesus is the exact impression of God, the embodiment of God’s character and purpose. What can perhaps be distilled with effort from the OT becomes plain and obvious in Jesus.
Jesus teaches us that the Law made allowances for human misbehaviour. It is a teacher pointing us to the real lessons in Jesus. The way Jesus sets out God’s principles goes much further than elsewhere in the Bible, meaning we could take a wrong steer from thinking the OT sets out the requirements.
Biblical literalism is perhaps a sacred cow, a brass serpent which has served it’s purpose but is at risk of getting in the way as it did for the Jewish leadership. The use of the OT by Jesus and the NT writers, to say nothing of the use of the LXX, points to a different approach to the Bible is needed rather than woodenly literalism and an obsession with Strongs numbers prevalent in parts of Christianity (not just parts of our community).
We are expected to think about God’s way and words through the clarifying lens of Jesus. This is how we develop the moral discernment, the spiritual maturity to choose to walk like Jesus. If we keep Jesus at the forefront we will ensure Justice, Mercy and Truth are the centre of our discipleship. The human tendency to overemphasis details (important though they may be) often distracts from the important big picture. Yes drill into the Bible, take it seriously (as you should) but Justice, Mercy and Truth are the keys through Jesus.
Final comment. Jesus is at the centre of our faith. As a community we have a valuable heritage of Biblical exploration and knowledge. That is a good thing. This is a great thing. It would be a terrible mistake to jettison the value of biblical knowledge because somethings might be overplayed. We do not want to throw the bible out with the bathwater. We personally need to capitalise on our rich heritage by ensuring we keep the (or build) the focus on Jesus.
A final word from Peter:
Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps1 Peter 2:21
Let’s follow in his steps and trust his lead as the best and surest one on which to base our lives.
by Daniel Edgecombe
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 Blomberg, C. L. (2007). Matthew. In Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (p. 27). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.
 McLay, T. (2003). The use of the Septuagint in New Testament research (p. 20). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.
 Craigie, P. C. (2004). Psalms 1–50 (2nd ed., Vol. 19, p. 313). Nashville, TN: Nelson Reference & Electronic.
 Hubbard, R. L. J., & Johnston, R. K. (2012). Foreword. In W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston (Eds.), Psalms (p. 191). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.