“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” – Matthew 22:29
I’ve come across a lot of people recently who seem to pit Jesus against the Bible. It seems like this is a growing trend. People say things like, “Jesus is the only Word of God. The Bible was written by human authors and it might be wrong” – that kind of thing. The point is: we can trust in Jesus, because he was God and is therefore infallible. We can’t trust completely in the Bible, because it was written by humans and therefore fallible.
I don’t see how this works logically: how do we know what Jesus said and did? Well, it’s written down here in… oh.
OK, that was a cheap shot. But I think there are nonetheless good reasons for not pitting the Bible against Jesus:
- Jesus himself doesn’t. He constantly says “It is written”. For example, when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness in Matthew 4 he responds by saying “It is written…” and quoting from the Old Testament.
- Jesus sees himself as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, e.g. Mark 14:49 “The Scriptures must be fulfilled”. Jesus begins his ministry in Luke 4:21, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 18:31, “everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.” Why do I say this? Jesus assumes that what is written about him in the Old Testament is actually accurate.
- Jesus says things like “Scripture cannot be set aside” (John 10:35).
- Jesus uses the Old Testament to teach people about himself – Luke 24:27 “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
- Finally, as I quoted at the beginning of this post, Jesus claims that a cause of error is not knowing the Scriptures. Jesus responds to the Sadducees by making an argument which is based on a particular verse in the Old Testament. The problem is often not which bits of Scripture to believe or not – the problem is usually that we don’t understand Scripture well enough.
It seems to me that Jesus himself was comfortable using Scripture and relying on it as the Word of God – and I think this is an attitude which is supported by the rest of the New Testament, e.g. 2 Timothy 3:16 “All scripture is God-breathed”, or 2 Peter 1:21 “prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Or look at the book of Hebrews, as I have blogged about before.
There is another more subtle way in which people like to pit Jesus against the Bible: reading all Scripture through the “Jesus Lens”. Andrew Wilson nails it in his blog “The Jesus Lens, or the Jesus Tea-Strainer?“:
In his [Steve Chalke’s] view, the Bible should be read through “the Jesus lens”, that is to say, in the light of God’s self-revelation in Jesus. I agree. But he then goes on to argue that this enables us, and in fact requires us, to correct all sorts of things that the texts actually say, particularly those which involve wrath, death and sexual ethics
Now this is in some respects a difficult area because we do need to read the Bible ‘Christologically’, i.e. read the whole Bible as pointing to Christ. But, as Andrew Wilson points out, that doesn’t mean using Jesus as a kind of ‘tea strainer’ where we block out all the bits we don’t like because Jesus “obviously wouldn’t have done that”. I’m sure this is a caricature, but nonetheless I think this kind of attitude is very popular: “Jesus showed us the way of love and inclusiveness; therefore we need to be loving and inclusive”.
As you might imagine, this is applied a lot to the current debates about sexuality within the church: “What would Jesus have done with a same-sex couple?” The implication being that Jesus was loving and inclusive and would have accepted people as they were.
The problem is – I don’t think this is the Jesus I see in the gospels. Of course he was loving and inclusive – but not to the exclusion of caring about sin. Jesus’ love is not ‘fluffy kittens and rainbows’ kind of love. Jesus did not come to abolish the Scriptures, but fulfil them. How is it that God can be merciful and wrathful at the same time? Look to Jesus’ death on the cross, where he bore the punishment for our sins. How is it that a holy God can be inclusive of sinners? Look to Jesus’ death on the cross.
Jesus never excuses sin. He never says “Forget about it” when it comes to sin. If anything, he takes the Law and sets the standards even higher (I was struck by this when reading through Matthew recently – especially the Sermon on the Mount).
Of course Jesus is inclusive and accepting, but he is inclusive and accepting of those who come to him knowing that they need to be healed, knowing that they are sinners who are worthy of God’s judgement but instead will receive mercy, knowing that they need to turn to him in repentance and faith and intend to lead a new life in his power.
I’d like to finish by quoting Revelation 19, where we see this magnificent description of Jesus as the all-conquering Word of God. I think this is something we would all do well to reflect on – Jesus is not all inclusive and love, he is the just judge who will return to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end:
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron sceptre.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
King of Kings and Lord of Lords.