What Else Did Jesus Believe About the Bible?

via CreationSwap

In an earlier article, I wrote about what Jesus believed about the Bible. How you approach the Bible determines in large part how you understand and live out the Christian faith. Even more basic, how you read the Bible determines what you think about God, about yourself and about the redemption that is ours through Jesus Christ.

It is therefore hard to think of a more important conversation than this one. How are we to read the Bible? How are we to interpret it? Is the Old Testament authoritative? If so, how so? Are the stories to be taken literally, allegorically, figuratively or typologically? Are the letters of Paul to be taken as seriously as The Gospels? These are the root questions behind every secondary controversy at play in the church today.

Therefore it seems worthwhile to spend a little more time thinking about how Jesus related to the Scriptures.  The first article dealt in Big Rocks and foundational assumptions; this article means to dig a little deeper. As always, I would solicit your feedback and improvements.

In addition to the 3 observations made previously, it seems fair and reasonable to suggest the following:

Jesus believed that the stories in Scripture were literally and typologically true

There can be no doubt that Jesus believed the stories recorded in the Old Testament were literally true. He refers to the story of Adam and Eve in Matthew 19; he refers to the story of Cain and Abel in Matthew 23 and he speaks about Noah’s flood in Matthew 24.

His statement about Noah is particularly helpful because it reveals that Jesus read the stories of the Old Testament as both historically and typologically true.

For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:37–39 ESV)

Jesus clearly believed that the story of Noah’s flood was a type of his own second coming – that is to say he believed that the story established a pattern and provided a picture of the judgment and catastrophe associated with the end of all things.  “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

However, it is equally true that Jesus accepted the details of the story of Noah’s flood without any form of embarrassment or apology. He talks about what people in those days were doing, as if he believed they were actually doing those very things. They were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage. And they were unaware until the flood swept them all away. Jesus accepted those details as reliable while simultaneously accepting the pattern as predictive and in some sense descriptive of the future.

In contrast to the “either/or” hermeneutic of contemporary Protestantism, Jesus maintained a consistent “both/and” approach with respect to the stories in the Old Testament.

Jesus believed that the law and the prophets were fulfilled in him

People have been interested in what Jesus thought about the Bible for a very long time – in fact, the conversation was current in his own lifetime. Apparently, some people thought that Jesus had an antagonistic attitude towards the Old Testament but Jesus was eager to set the record straight. He said:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17–18 ESV)

According to Jesus, the authority of the Old Testament was enduring. That is what he means by saying that ‘until heaven and earth pass away’ and ‘all is accomplished’, the Law will not pass away. To state the obvious, heaven and earth have not passed away and several things remain to be accomplished; therefore, Jesus would have us understand that the Law is still in effect to this day. However, the exact way in which the Law is still in effect is conditioned by the other thing he said – that the Law and the prophets are fulfilled in him.

What does that mean?

It means more than that he kept the Law, although of course he did, and it means more than that he clarified the Law, although of course he did that too.  D.A. Carson says helpfully:

The best interpretation of these difficult verses says that Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets in that they point to him, and he is their fulfillment… here Jesus presents himself as the eschatological goal of the OT, and thereby its sole authoritative interpreter, the one through whom alone the OT finds its valid continuity and significance. [1]

Therefore, how we keep the commandments and how we teach them depends upon how we understand Jesus to have fulfilled them. Since Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, we understand the need for animal sacrifices to have come to an end. Since the Body of Jesus is the new temple of God, we understand the need for temple based worship to have come to an end. Since Jesus has made us clean and acceptable before God we understand that the ritual laws related to clean and unclean have come to an end. If we were at all unclear about that one we refer to Mark 7:19 which says plainly: “Thus he declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19 ESV).

As the eschatological fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and anticipations, and as its sole authoritative interpreter, we recognize the unique ability of Jesus to tell us what has been fulfilled and how things will be different on the other side.

That he expects us to love God and our neighbours in reference to the Law is equally clear; he says that the greatest of the commandments point us in this direction:

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30–31 ESV)

Jesus believed that people could interpret the Scriptures incorrectly 

Having identified himself as the sole authoritative interpreter of the Old Testament in Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus set about to clarify some of the misunderstandings that were current in his day. In verses 21-48, Jesus is not annulling or abolishing the Law – he just said emphatically that this was not why he had come; rather, he sets out to clarify and to extend the application to which the Law originally pointed.

So for example on the matter of divorce Jesus says:

It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31–32 ESV)

Here Jesus refers to the teaching of Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. There was an active discussion within Judaism as to what Moses meant in Deuteronomy 24:1 when he referred to “some indecency” as potential grounds for divorce. What does “some indecency” mean? Obviously the term could be taken in a variety of ways and so Jesus, the only person who could claim to give a definitive answer to that question does so. He says, authoritatively, that it refers to an act of sexual immorality. That, and only that, could potentially serve as a legitimate grounds for divorce.

Jesus could say such a thing because he and he alone is the ultimate author of Holy Scripture. He is the Spirit of Prophecy (Revelation 19:10), he was the One who by His Spirit inspired Moses to write those words in Deuteronomy 24:1; therefore, if there is a discussion about the intent behind those words, he is the only one to whom that discussion can appeal.

People can be wrong in their interpretations. Jesus never is.

Jesus believed and taught that he was the only one competent to mediate interpretive disputes with respect to the Old Testament. No wonder Mark records that the people: “were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22 ESV).

Jesus believed that understanding was a gift

Jesus was not the first person in the Bible to teach that understanding was a gift from God; David said that in Psalm 119. “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart” (Psalms 119:34 ESV).

Sin affects the mind. All human beings are born leaning away from God and inclining towards rebellion and self-serving autonomy. We are naturally skilled at not seeing what is plainly taught in God’s Word. Jeremiah said: “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV).

Therefore, Divine Help is needed for any person to truly see, understand, obey and love the Word of God. According to Jesus that help is given, though in ways that appear mysterious to us. He said:

I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. (Matthew 11:25–26 ESV)

Perhaps the safest thing to say before a mystery such as this is that God helps those who know that they need help. Like little children. Like those who are poor in spirit. Like those who mourn.

a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalms 51:17 KJV)

for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:14 ESV)

Jesus believed that obedience to the commandments was an expression of love

Jesus spoke of a connection between obeying the Word of God and loving the person of God that seems foreign to many of us today. He said about himself: “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father”  (John 14:31 ESV).

Obedience is never about obedience per se; it’s about communication.

In reading the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden, one gets the impression that there was nothing particularly special about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil apart from the fact that God had said it was forbidden. He said quite clearly:

You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. (Genesis 2:16–17 ESV)

Permission and prohibition were spoken simultaneously and the trial was in essence a test of their attitude and disposition. Did Adam and Eve believe that God was good and that he could be trusted? In short, did they love him? And did they believe that he loved them?

That was the test.

Their disobedience communicated that they did not believe God was good. They believed that God was ungenerous and withholding and that he did not want them to be all that they could be. Disobedience is distrust, and it reveals a lack of regard and affection for the Lord.

Therefore, obedience is a compelling expression of love. Obeying the commands of God says clearly to everyone who is watching: I believe that God is good. I believe his ways are right. I believe he can be trusted.

Jesus communicated his love for the Father through obedience to his commandments. He said that he would receive our expressions of love in the exact same way: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV).

The commandments in the Bible are an expression of God’s character; therefore, to obey them is to express our love for God’s person as revealed climactically in the life, death and teaching of Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God!

Pastor Paul Carter

N.B. To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here; to listen on SoundCloud see here. You can also find it on iTunes.

[1]   D.A. Carson, Matthew 1-12 in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 143-144.