Series = Jesus, the interpreter of scripture
If you haven’t yet read my previous post ‘Seeking the Key’ then please do so now so that you can get the full benefit of what I write in this post.
I have a dear friend who is super-sensitive to man-made traditions and religious schemes. If he senses that someone is trying to slip one of these past him he will immediately say, “So where do you see that in the Bible?” For example, someone in our church suggested that we set up a prayer chain. As soon as he heard this his religious antenna twitched and he exclaimed, “So where do you see that in the Bible?!” So let me use his question to evaluate some common attempts at defining a key to interpreting the scriptures.
‘Scripture interprets scripture’ is a much used dictum. This usually means that we should interpret any text with reference to other texts, and that an ambiguous text should be interpreted with reference to a clear text. So, where do we see that in the Bible? It seems a reasonable contention but I don’t know of any biblical teaching that sets this out as an interpretive key.
Another dictum is that we should allow the authors original meaning to supply our interpretation of any text. Sure, we need to do this as part of our search for understanding. I have a slight variation on this and prefer to ask ‘what did the original readings/hearers understand by this?’ Either way, the idea is part of what is commonly referred to as the Gramatical-Historical key to interpretation. In other words, we need to consider the context, the actual words used, and so on, in order to determine meaning. This is a sensible approach and certainly helps us to determine the superficial meaning of any given text. However, it does not always help us determine what is being taught or implied in the text. And, once again, to quote my friend, “Where do we find this interpretive key in the Bible?”
Let me tell you what I do find in the Bible concerning how it should be interpreted. I am going to give just one example here and then continue with this theme in my next few posts.
Matthew 5:21-22 records Jesus as saying, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment”. A few verses on it has; “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Verses 27-29). Then in verses 33-34 it has; “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, do not swear at all”.
These statements point us clearly to the interpretive key to scripture – Jesus himself.
The Lord is referring to two of the Ten Commandments and to the instructions Moses gave as recorded in Numbers 30:1-2. These commandments were given to Moses by God. In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus was not contradicting the scriptures of His day for 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 fulfil them” (Matthew 5:17).
What He was actually doing was interpreting the scriptures. Jesus rejected the traditional rabbinical understandings and then gave His authoritative interpretation.
In doing this He presented His understanding as the key to interpreting the scriptures. This I do see in the Bible!
There is more to come – watch this space. In the meantime I would love to interact with you if you post a comment on this Blog.