Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12
When I read this verse, I’ve always thought of all the miracles that Jesus did, more than his preaching and teaching, and I’ve just felt so challenged, because I know that miracles are impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit. But why do I think that preaching or teaching or even understanding Scripture is any different? What if we read the Scriptures the way Jesus did by the power of the Holy Spirit???
What if we read the Scriptures like Jesus did?
The first time I said that out loud, I felt like a bit of a heretic. It seemed so ……far fetched. Yet in Charismatic circles, doing miracles and healing by the power of the Holy Spirit like Jesus did is something that’s longed for, taught and practised all over the world, so why don’t we long for, teach and practice understanding the Word like Jesus did by the power of the Holy Spirit? (Still feeling a bit out there with this^…)
Because we could get it wrong? Well, that certainly applies to doing miracles too. Because we could drift into heresy? How sure are you that you’re not a heretic right now? Or is it because we think we’ve mastered how to read the Bible? There are SO many different camps with that idea.
The historical/critical school, for example, use archaeology and history to discredit large sections of scripture, but believes in the moral teaching of what’s left. (Not my cup of tea!) Others use archaeology and history to defend the accuracy and trustworthiness of the Bible, (more my cup of tea) but differ hugely in how to interpret it – just think of the variety of views on the supernatural, Israel, the Book of Revelation, Creation (just to mention a few thorny issues). And that’s just among those who look to the Bible as God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16).
Frankly, I get quite fed up of it all. What if we could just read the Scriptures the way Jesus did???
My own approach to reading the Bible has changed over the years. As a new Christian, I read the Bible as a love letter from God to me; so I really just read and read and read until a passage leapt out at me and I encountered God in my heart. It was primarily devotional. That’s how I got baptised as an adult: I suddenly saw that you needed to repent and believe BEFORE you got baptised, something I clearly could not have done as a baby. (Acts 2:38)
When I was bothered by a scripture, I’d pray and ask the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, to lead me into all the truth. John 14:27 was the mantra of God’s Kindergarten, the Catholic Charismatic prayer group I belonged to at the time. Since we knew we knew nothing, we had to depend on the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name,(who) will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. We were so hungry for the truth.
Then I got more sophisticated. I found out about Strong’s Concordance, Bible dictionaries, Bible Studies and all manner of wonderful aids to understanding the Bible. But the book that really changed my approach to the Scriptures was Reading the Bible for All its Worth*. It was such an eye opener. I saw the need for exegesis, – putting a book in its historical and literary context so that I understood what it meant there and then before rushing off into an application here and now. It introduced me to the world of hermeneutics (bible interpretation) and gave me an approach to understanding the scriptures as a whole beyond haphazard personal revelations. I just loved it!
And so that’s how I’ve been reading the Bible ever since: carefully exegeting the original, intended meaning in its historical and literary context before applying it to our modern life. Seeking to understand a topic by investigating it in scripture from beginning to end, weighing the cultural and the universal principles. And also listening for the the Lord’s voice in devotional reading…
But in these last few weeks, I’ve become increasingly conscious of a strange paradox: Jesus did not approach the Scriptures that way! Neither did Paul and the other apostles!!
Jesus quotes from every book in the Old Testament as divinely authoritative, but without setting it in its historical and literary context or even commenting on whether it was originally fact or fiction. In fact, Jesus does no exegesis whatsoever; He usually applies the scripture to the question at hand in a very simple, direct way:
39 He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
50 Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.
And that’s just Luke 11. After the resurrection, this is what He taught his disciples: And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27) You could say his understanding of Scripture was very self-centred, or Christocentric. (That is a word, isn’t it?)
Could we read the Scriptures in the simple direct way the Jesus did?
It does seem that’s how the apostles read the Old Testament Scriptures: in a Christocentric way, looking to understand more about Jesus and the significance of his life, death and resurrection. From his letters, it’s clear that Paul taught new, Gentile believers to read the Old Testament through this lens. In some cases, this involved a radical reinterpretation very far from the original intent and meaning as understood at the time.
21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. 24 These things are being taken figuratively: the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: this is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother…..31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
That’s a complete upending of the original meaning: the Jews were the physical descendants of Sarah, the children of promise, but with one bold figurative interpretation, the believers in Christ are the children of heavenly Jerusalem, the truly free spiritual descendants of Abraham and Sarah. It’s no wonder Paul had to run this by the apostles in Jerusalem. (Acts 15) And they accepted and endorsed it! (2 Peter 3:16)
How could they dare to read the Scriptures in that way? I remember reading somewhere that we modern day believers couldn’t do things like this with Scripture any more because only the early apostles had the authority to do it, and now the canon of scripture was established, it was no longer necessary or possible. That now sounds suspiciously like the supposed cessation of miracles after the apostles to me. I wonder….
Perhaps I’m just nostalgic for the simplicity of my early Bible reading, when I was so hungry for God. Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14:23)
Perhaps I am just tired of all the often bitter disputes over the Bible out there. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. (2 Tim 2:23) It’s all so far from the love for which Jesus said his disciples would be known.
Or perhaps we really could learn to read the Bible the way Jesus did……in spirit and in truth.
^ Really just thinking out loud……….no heresy intended.
* Still a great book! It can be downloaded here: http://stockholmlife.se/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/How_To_Read_The_Bible.pdf