By Jake Randolph
With these three statements in mind from the previous post,
"Who decides what is cultural and what goes for everyone?"
There are some guiding principles to help us in this question. The initial guiding principle is that Scripture interprets Scripture. What this means is that there are many, many examples where an obscure teaching can be clarified by the clear teachings which are prevalent in other parts of the Bible. Christians look to how Jesus and the apostles interpreted the Bible. What did they say about Scripture that can steer us in a beneficial direction? For example, when Jesus is asked about divorce, which was permitted in the law of Moses, he grounds his understanding in God’s creative prerogative set out in Genesis 1: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mt. 19:4-6). Or take Jesus’ stance on the ceremonial laws of Moses— “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him…(Thus he declared all foods clean)” (Mk. 7:15,19).
Second, and closely related, we see a precedent set from the earliest teachings and writings of the New Testament on; that the law of Israel, the mission of Israel, indeed the very story of Israel is summed up in and points to Christ. Thus, another principle is this: all the Bible is Christological—it is a word about Christ. Hebrews 1 points this out when it says, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe” (Heb. 1:1-2). Jesus is God’s final authoritative revelation, and it is to Jesus that all God’s prior revelation points. Christ’s coming doesn’t negate God’s former words, but rather it gives them their final interpretation and their ultimate center (Mt. 5:17). The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the lens through which God desires us to read the Bible.
Finally, we are wise to carefully discern the way that the church throughout history has understood the dominant thematic strands of the Bible. In a controversy of the 4th century, a priest named Arius began to posit teachings about Jesus based on his reading of the Bible. Most notably, he began to claim, based on verses about Jesus being “begotten” of the Father, that “there was a time when he [Jesus] was not.” Arius was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy which denied ultimate divinity to anything material—if Jesus had a body, they reckoned, he cannot truly be God. Based on particular verses of Scripture, it seemed Arius had a pretty good argument, but Athanasius argued cogently on the basis of the grand scope (Greek skopos) of Scripture that Jesus “was ever God and is the Son, being the Father’s Logos and Radiance and Wisdom; and that afterwards for us he took [on flesh]…” Arius’s presuppositions clouded his ability to see the guiding theme of the Bible. His teaching lost traction following Athanasius’s compelling arguments from the whole of the Bible that Christ was co-eternal and co-equal with the Father, and the Council of Nicea in 325 affirmed what all Christians believe based on the cohesive and unified “scope” of what the Bible teaches: that Jesus is “begotten, not made” and “true God from true God.”
These may not be “reasons” to believe the Bible, but they are guiding principles to aid you in an assessment of the Bible’s truthfulness. A final word: Regardless of the best arguments in the world for the relevance of the Bible, we feel the friction of biblical commands because they impinge on our tendency to construct an ethical paradigm in our own image. They demand that we be people who listen more than we speak; that we be people who confess more than we pronounce; who remember more than we discover.
What I mean is that Christians are those who constantly return to God revealed in the Bible and allow their lives to be shaped, moved, shaken out of autonomy and self-aggrandizing that we naturally tend toward. We don’t live to discover or create our yet unrealized “true humanity.” Rather, Christians live to recover and live into what has already been revealed as true humanity in the person of Jesus, who is attested by Scripture. Christians in the first century were called out of the ambitious, sexually promiscuous, lucrative and newly-globalized world of Greco-Roman society. It was, in many ways, a pluralistic (in the sense of poly-theistic) society much like ours. Scripture has always and ever been God’s word to people who are called out of the larger culture into His mission, His plan for the world, His rescue operation. In this way, we can say we are in good company if we feel the tension of the Bible’s authority in our lives.
Let me encourage you with this last illustration, given by one of my professors. Think about vintage Pedro Martinez, circa 1999-2001. Go back to that time, and you can spend time debating his place in history, talking about the particulars of his stats, argue about whether or not he is the best pitcher in the MLB…or, you can give Pedro the ball, sit back and watch him go to work. That is, you can stand outside the Bible and try and construct a personalized formula for its authority (or not) in your life, OR you can get caught up in the story. Christians assert that the Bible is a living word about a living Jesus, who you will meet in the pages. I challenge you to test that hypothesis: try reading the Bible with Jesus in mind and see if he doesn’t encounter you in your reading.
Jake Randolph is the Worship Director at Renewal Church.