“Everyone wears glasses when they read the Bible.” I can remember the first time someone said this phrase to me. I was a junior in college at a Christian university studying to be a full time preacher in my denomination. I can’t tell you how confusing that statement was for me. It was like a dam broke and I was suddenly being flooded with questions that I had no answers for. “What do you mean we all wear glasses? Are you implying that we can’t just read the Bible and understand it? I thought the Bible ‘Says what it means and means what it says’…right?”
The idea that we all wear glasses when we read the Bible can be unsettling, but if we’re honest, we have to admit that our ethnicity, cultural setting, education and experience shape the way we read the Bible. Someone who grew up poor and experienced rejection by the more wealthy parts of society will read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) much differently than someone who grew up in more aristocratic settings. The thing about glasses is that they can either magnify or minimize what we “see.” Our experience shapes what we see in the text of scripture.
Did Jesus Wear Glasses?
If it’s true that we all wear glasses when we read the Bible, then wouldn’t it be cool if we knew what kind of glasses Jesus wore when he read scripture? After all, Jesus not only grew up as a Jew on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, he also found himself in what some would consider to be a dysfunctional family. How did these experiences shape the way Jesus read the scriptures? When Jesus read Isaiah, did he resonate with some passages more than others? Were some topics magnified and others minimized in his mind? These are really interesting questions to ask ourselves. In some ways, we will never know the answer to this. However, if we look closely, we find Jesus using the scriptures in ways that would get him in trouble in most Christian Universities and Seminaries – you know, the places where people know how to interpret the Bible…
Reading the Bible Like Jesus
There is an interesting scene at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry that revelas the kind of glasses Jesus wore when he read and interpreted scripture. Let’s take a look:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Here we have Jesus quoting an Old Testament passage from Isaiah 61 that is saturated with expectations about what the messiah would do when he came on the scene. What’s interesting to note is that Jesus stops short of quoting the entire passage of Isaiah 61. He intentionally leaves one particular phrase out…
“and the day of vengeance of our God.”
Why does Jesus intentionally leave this part of the passage out? Jesus seems to be magnifying parts of this passage that portray God as being redemptive and loving, while minimizing (censoring) parts of the passage that portray God as angry or vengeful. Does Jesus know something about God or the Old Testament that would lead him to sort of pick and choose what parts of scripture he uses and doesn’t use? Luke is showing us something important about the way Jesus reads the Bible. For Jesus, God is not violent or vengeful. Instead, God wants to restore and redeem. It is this basic understanding of God that shaped the way Jesus read and interpreted the scriptures. Jesus wore glasses…and we should too.
Living the Scriptures like Jesus
Luke is somewhat sneaky in the way he represents Jesus as an interpreter of scripture, but the writer of the gospel of John is not so shy. In fact, John just comes right out says some pretty controversial things about Jesus and his relationship to the Old Testament. Listen in…
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth…And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him."
Did you catch that? John says the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Wow, talk about picking and choosing! Imagine if you were a Jew who had dedicated the past 20 years of your life to keeping the Law of Moses. How would you feel about what John was saying? I can hear it now. “So you mean the Law of Moses doesn’t have any grace or truth in it?” Or “So you’re saying the law came through Moses? I thought God gave the law on Mt. Sinai?” Do you see the kind of trouble John is stirring up here by saying this?
So does John mean the Law of Moses does not contain “grace” or “truth”? I don’t think so. John is merely telling us that when it comes to knowing what God is really like, there is something about the Law that is inadequate for the task. Consequently, if we rely on the Law to show us who God really is, you will come up short and empty handed.
In order to know exactly what God is like, we have look at Jesus. He is the only one who is qualified to make him known. Sounds controversial, doesn’t it? What’s even more controversial are the implications for how we read scripture. For example, have you ever read some of the stories that are written in the Law of Moses? What John seems to be saying is that there is some truth about God in those stories, but it is not the whole truth. Those stories need to be re-interpreted in light of the truth we now know about who God as revealed in Jesus. The truth is God is light, and there is no darkness in him. The truth is, God is love, and love is patient and kind. The truth is, God is faithful, and his faithfulness means he will never give up on his creation. The truth is, God looks exactly like Jesus, and if this is true, then the way we read scripture should start looking like him too.
- Tim Catchim
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