I love to read scripture, but I don't worship the Bible. To worship the Bible is to make the Bible into something it was never meant to be - an idol. The Bible is not the Word of God, but the inspired witness to the only Word of God - Jesus, the Word made flesh.
Jesus and Jesus alone is the Word of God and the Bible is the primary witness to this Word of God. We read, study and discuss the written witness of the Bible to better understand and experience the Word in our midst - Jesus, God's enfleshed logos (John 1).
As the Word of God, what Jesus says and does must always take precedence over everything else written in the Bible. Jesus, God's Word made flesh, will never be a servant to the Bible, but the Bible will always be a servant to him.
Nowhere was this more abundantly clear than when Jesus announced, "you have heard that it was said, but I tell you.” (Matthew 5-7). Jesus spoke as one having authority, not in a derived sense from Moses or Elijah, but directly from the Father. No one in Israel had ever witnessed anything like this before.
Whatever else we read in the Bible,
Whatever conclusions we arrive at after reading the Bible,
Whatever beliefs we construct after reading the Bible,
Each and every idea will always be subservient to God's final Word - Jesus.
The writer to the Hebrews said it this way - “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
As Leonard Sweet once wrote, "Jesus is God's final Word.”
Jesus and the Old Testament
Jesus doesn't destroy the Old Testament, but fulfills it (Matthew 5:17). That is, he brings it through to its intended conclusion. The Old Testament is a witness to Jesus, God's promised Messiah, and finds its completion in him.
The teachings found in the Old point to the New. The dim light of the Old points to the bright Light in the New - for all people everywhere. The Old is important as it demonstrates God's redemptive activity through the people of Israel - a story that finds its completion in God's promised Messiah-King, Jesus.
To quote Brian Zahnd, "Jesus is what God has to say."
However, there have been many times when I’ve been confronted with the reality that though we may believe this in principle, we don't always demonstrate it in practice.
While we may claim that Jesus' teachings and life have supreme authority over those who follow him, as the statement ‘Jesus is Lord’ communicates, we don't always allow his Lordship to actually rule over us, particularly in our reading of scripture.
The Bible is not a flat text. That is, every part does not carry equal weight. We do not read, interpret and apply every passage equally.
Old Testament Torah and the writings of the Prophets, as important as they are in their witness to the Messiah, are not to be read and applied in such a way that they usurp Jesus' authority. They point to the only Word of God and lead us to him as the One in whom, from whom and through whom we exist.
As Brian Zahnd stated in a recent podcast, “Moses is like the sun and the prophets the stars. They point us in the right direction in the midst of a dark world. They illuminate the way forward towards the Light that is to come. But they are not the light. They point to the Light.”
Their witness, as important as it is, was always incomplete. They witnessed to the Light that was to come, leading people in the right direction, but one day they would have to step aside and allow the Light, Jesus - God’s promised final Word, to take his proper place.
The Old Testament scriptures are, as the Psalmist wrote, a "lamp to our feet and a light to our path” (Psalm 119:105). That is, it points us in the right direction, leading us forward towards the One who is called the "Light of the world."
John the Baptist later testified to this Light, but was himself not the Light. He prepared the way for the Light and his words were a witness to it, but his witness had to bow to the Light when he arrived. John said it best when he declared, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).
Scripture as the Witness to the Word
So many of us have almost given the Bible divine status so that it has become a god unto itself. However, to view the Bible this way is to impose on it a foreign status. Like John the Baptist, it points us to the Word made flesh and is the inspired witness to this Word, but it is not the Word itself.
We will encounter significant problems when we mix up the order of witness and Word. When this happens, we will confuse one with the other and give the witness a place it was never meant to have. Unfortunately, we have often been guilty of making the witness into the Word.
Jesus is the goal of the Bible. The Bible is the means to that goal. However, when we make the means the goal we run the risk of missing the goal altogether.
We read all of scripture through and by the Light and lens of Jesus, God's Word enfleshed. He informs and shapes the way we read and understand all of scripture precisely because all scripture points to him. When we use any other source to illuminate the Word, we will end up reading scripture improperly.
Without Jesus guiding our reading of the Bible, we will end up misunderstanding much of what we read.
The Word sheds light on the witness and dispels the darkness of our misunderstandings. Jesus takes the message within the witness and gives it meaning and significance. Jesus is the interpretive lens through which we read and understand the entire biblical story.
Without his Light, we will never be able to truly see. Without Jesus’ Light, we will give Old Testament laws the same weight as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This should never be.
If we can learn anything at all from the Transfiguration account in Matthew 17, it is this - Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, have their place within God's redemptive story, but they were lesser lights that point us all towards the true and final Light of Jesus.
At the conclusion of the account, Peter, James and John saw no one except Jesus. They then heard a voice from heaven say these words, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5).
Jesus - God’s Final Word
Jesus brought Israel's story to its culminating point. He is the completion and fulfillment of Israel's theo-drama. We all need to hear and heed the voice of the Father if we are to rightly understand the witness that points to him - "This is my Son, listen to him." (For further reading, see Scot McKnight's book, The King Jesus Gospel and N.T. Wright's, How God Became King).
Jesus takes his rightful place within God's redemptive story and shows us what God has been like all along - God is like Jesus. And, his Words are the final Word we all need to hear.
Whatever else we read in the witness of scripture, whatever commands we see, whatever promises we hear, whatever another letter or book says to do, it all must bow down to Jesus, God's final Word.
Bruxy Cavey said it this way, “Christians, our first allegiance is not to a set of teachings (like Buddhism) or a book (like Islam), but to the person of Jesus as Lord.”
"You have heard that it was said, but I tell you" needs to be the primary interpretive key that unlocks who we are and all we do as followers of Jesus. In these last days, God speaks by his Son - the full and perfect revelation of God. Jesus should inform and shape what we believe and how we live in response.
His entire life and teaching should govern our practice. Not Jesus plus Moses plus Elijah, but
Jesus alone. Moses and Elijah point to Jesus, but they are not co-equal with him. God spoke through the prophets in the past, but now he will forever speak through his Son.
let us learn to cultivate a posture of listening to Jesus.
let us learn to cultivate a posture of allowing Jesus words and life to take absolute preeminence over our own.
If we are ever in doubt about what to believe, listen and look to Jesus.
If we are ever in doubt about what to do, listen and look to Jesus.
“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
Jeff K. Clarke is a public speaker, blogger and award-winning published writer of articles and book reviews in a variety of faith-based publications. Additional posts can be found on his blog – Jesus (Re)Centered at www.jeffkclarke.com.
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