“All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)
Sometimes I will find myself in a heated argument over the importance of scriptures. In essence my position is this: If a person knows Christ, through the Gospels, to what significant advantage does he or she have in studying the rest of the Bible? As a Christian, the Gospel of Jesus supersedes the rest of scripture. It even seems to me that a certain rigid adherence to specific scriptural verses, without relating them to Jesus, leads to legalism and is counterproductive to spreading the Good News.
According to the above verse from Timothy, there must be a great benefit to studying all of scripture, not just the Gospels (since when this letter was written there was no “New Testament”). One very important thing that we gain from studying the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) is a greater understanding of the Jewish environment that Jesus and the apostles were part of, an understanding that doesn’t seem to be promoted very often today. An in depth study of the Old Testament will also reveal God’s passion for social justice, which Jesus speaks about often in his ministry. Something else that is missing from many of our church and radio sermons.
Certainly the ex-Pharisee Paul, if no one else, understood the dangers of a pre-Christian interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures as well as a rigid devotion to the laws spelled out within. Paul spent most of his life trying to convince people of the necessity of putting all their trust, hope and vision into Jesus alone. Problems arise when we read scripture without remembering to shade every meaning, every nuance with the Gospels. Without the added focus of looking at scripture through the eyes of Jesus we can take the Word of God and twist it into something else, often something that is exactly the opposite of God’s will.
Anytime we study scripture and do not deliberately measure it against the message of Jesus we are taking a great risk. It is easy to read into the written word our own fears, wishes and idiosyncrasies but only when we measure it against the Gospels will we find the Truth. We must remember not only who the Biblical authors were and who they were writing to but also in what language they were writing. Paul uses Greek, which has no punctuation and many of the words have multiple meanings, meanings that were often lost in translation. It becomes easy for two people to read one of Paul’s verses and come up with two completely different interpretations. If our interpretations of scripture do not jive with Jesus’ Good News, then either there is something wrong with the translation or, more likely, with our interpretation.
Examples of biblical misinterpretation are not too hard to find. Throughout the past 2000 years the Church (or its various factions) have used the Word of God to justify slavery, colonialism, torture, murder and despotism. Even today there are those that can find biblical justifications for classism, racism, sexism, total war and capital punishment. Today the Bible is being used by some to validate positions and attitudes that encourage the condemnation and expulsion of certain targeted people from our churches. Rarely does it seem that they reference the Gospels for support, with most of their support stemming from the remainder of the the New Testament as well as the Old Testament books of the Law. The compassion of God that Jesus preached of is sometimes easy to miss in these books, especially when we proof text them or read them out of context.
Steven Kay does a better job addressing this problem in an excellent article published on the Ooze website entitled; “Am I a Christian or a Paulian?” He sums up his thoughts this way;
Christ is our example, Christ is the one that we follow, and Christ is the one we need to emulate. There can be no denying that Christ dealt with the need of the people, so my question is how can a follower of Christ not see that as their primary goal?
Of course, I am speaking from a Christian perspective. Obviously someone who is Jewish would have a different, although as legitimate, perspective than mine. I am just curious as to why some Christians, professed followers of Jesus, would place as much, if not more, importance on other parts of the Bible. Especially when their interpretations of these other parts may contradict Jesus’ Good News.
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)