The Church’s Jesus Interprets Everything

Last week I posted a bit on “the church’s Jesus,” in part to throw my lot in with those who see Jesus as God’s agent rather than with those who see Jesus as an interesting historical phenomenon.

The first thing I said was that the church’s Jesus is the agent of Israel’s God. And this has some ramifications that we need to get more comfortable with.

In particular, to say that Jesus is the consummate act of Israel’s God on earth, that Jesus is the revelation of God, that “however many promises God has made they are yes in him”–to say these things is to claim (whether we know it or not) that Jesus is the hermeneutical key for making sense of the entire Biblical story.

Let me say that in a bit more accessible manner: if we really think Jesus is the Messiah, we should be reading the Old Testament in the same creative ways that the New Testament writers do.

Really, this creeps people out.

In Luke 24 we hear of what it means that the OT anticipates a coming Messiah: that the Christ must suffer, die, be raised, and repentance for forgiveness of sins be proclaimed in his name to all nations.

If this is true, it means that other story lines in the OT (like the ones where an earthly king conquers all the nations, like the ones where the Messiah is glorified by the subjugation of the nations, like the ones where the physical land of Israel takes pride of place as the possession of God’s people) are dead-ends. Or, perhaps better, swept up into a story that transforms them.

Knowing that the identity marker of the people of God is union with Christ, we eschew the identity markers of circumcision and food laws–i.e., of ethnic Israel.

Knowing that the defining moment in the story is the crucifixion and resurrection, we structure our lives and ethics to publicly placard to the world that we are the cross people, living in hope of resurrection. That means, of course, that we do not structure our lives by such things as avoidance of icons or sabbath keeping–which would be aimed to show the world that we are the first Exodus people. No, we’re the second Exodus people.

Knowing that Jesus is the defining moment of the story, we reread the psalms, incorporating ourselves into the story of the singers, and Jesus into the Lord whose name is praised.

Jesus becomes our hermeneutic. Luther was half right when he said that the “canon within the canon” is what places Christ front and center (paraphrase). The other half is this: where Christ is not front and center we have both the freedom and obligation to put him there.

That means reinterpreting the scriptures of Israel in light of the Christ event; and it might even mean reinterpreting parts of the NT (James, anyone?) in light of the same.

12 thoughts on “The Church’s Jesus Interprets Everything”

  1. Daniel,

    Terrific post. As I am sure you would agree, I would also add that we also need to understand the OT on its own terms; for this will help us to understand Jesus most accurately. But, all in all, I couldn’t agree more. To read the scriptures in any other way can only lead to confusion, which gives equal ethical authority to themes such as “conquering”, “subjegation”, and “identity markers”; when the supreme authority for the church is supposed to be Jesus Christ. I also am delighted to hear you talk of re-interpreting parts of the NT, to which I would add the book of Revelation, 2 Peter, and Jude. Thanks again!

  2. Daniel,

    You sound like you’ve been reading Barth!! What his christological deficits in vol.1, his overall reading strategy is very much in line with your post today, as far as I can see. Great work! Thanks.


    1. Everything I needed to know about hermeneutics of Christological revisionism I learned at Westminster Seminary–before the dark days; before the Empire. (Ok, and it was refined under Richard Hays at Duke…)

  3. I like your suggestion that we have a right to read the OT not as a way of finding Christ everywhere, but finding both Christ and not-Christ (and both in the light of Christ) – alternatively elevating or rejecting the messianic texts of the old dispensation.

    Conversely, when Jesus told his apostles that he would be ‘rejected by the elders’ I think he was alluding to the fact that not much the elders were reading in their Scriptures was going to square with the incarnation – and that in being interpreted by the elders he was going to be fundamentally MIS-interpreted by them.

    Isn’t there an outside sense in which the Greek there (say Mk 8:31) could even be translated ‘misinterpreted’?

  4. “Knowing that the identity marker of the people of God is union with Christ, we eschew the identity markers of circumcision and food laws–i.e., of ethnic Israel.”

    Y’know, we also know that the identity marker of food laws is to be eschewed because Jesus tells us so verbally.

    It isn’t all fancy pants hermeneutics.

  5. can we re-read Acts, where Herod is eaten by worms, and dies? No suffering messiah would dare strike someone down with worms for blasphemy. Must be an inerrant record of Luke’s errant interpretation or something

  6. Not sure what you mean by re-interpreting James. If I understand you correctly, the best interpreters of James haev already been on this track.

  7. Great post.

    You write: “if we really think Jesus is the Messiah, we should be reading the Old Testament in the same creative ways that the New Testament writers do.” After saying that I agree (strongly), let me add two comments:
    (1) I wonder if our different cultural and interpretive context — we are trained to read the Bible very differently from first century Jews — might mean that our goal is to read the OT in ways that are similar to (rather than the same as) what the NT writers did.
    (2) You’re right. The word “creative” freaks people out. They will say, won’t “creative” involve eisegesis, the much maligned “reading into” a text? I wonder if we should respond boldly with, yes of course it will. So now let’s get beyond that hurdle and start talking about good eisegesis and bad eisegeis and how to distinguish between the two.

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