Over the last year or so I have adopted a very Christ-centered hermeneutic. That is to say, I read the Bible through the lens of Jesus. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the “visible image of the invisible God” since he is the “exact representation of his being.” Even Jesus refers to himself as the “fulfillment of the law.” Because of this, I filter what I read in the Bible through Jesus. How does the Law point to Jesus? How does Jesus embody the words of the prophets? How does Jesus reorient what we think the Bible says when he says, “You have heard it said, but I say to you…”?
On the one hand, I think this is the right way to read the Bible. The Bible points forward to Christ and God’s redemptive work through his death and resurrection. Christ is the very centerpiece of what God is doing as he restores a broken world. So yes, by all means, read the Bible through the lens of Jesus. Because it’s all about him.
But let’s admit something we are all in danger of. In some cases, Jesus is simply an excuse to throw out certain texts all together. Who wouldn’t want to throw out the majority of Joshua with its genocidal mass killings? On the surface it would be so easy to do. Who can picture Jesus commanding the mass killing of all the Canaanites and then commanding people to love their enemies? Or turning Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt for one last look at her home and then telling people to carry a soldiers belongings an extra mile?
See? It would be easy to let Jesus trump the Bible.
And, if I am honest, I want to.
Is that bad to say?
I don’t know that it is bad to say, but I do think it is bad to do. For as easy and tidy and comfortable as it would be to let Jesus trump the Bible, doing so would require me to ignore the words of Jesus himself when he said, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
Simply put, Jesus, the one who influences how I read the Bible, says that the troubling parts of the Bible still matter.
Let me be even more honest. Some of what bothers me about the Bible are the words of Jesus himself. I want to filter some of the words of Jesus through the lens of, not Jesus as he is, but the self-selected version of Jesus I have constructed in my head.
Everyone picks and chooses which parts of the Bible they listen to and which parts they ignore. Everyone gives some attributes of God’s character more weight than other parts of his character. We naturally develop a Christianity that challenges us in the places we are comfortable being challenged in while dismissing, sometimes self-consciously, the words of God that challenge us in the areas we should be challenged in. Some of us love it when Jesus says, “You study the scriptures in vain!” We swing that verse like a billy club around those we see as legalists (never mind the fact that when we pick up that scripture to billy club those we see as legalists we have become the legalist…but I digress). Yet, Jesus himself taught often on the importance of studying the scriptures. After his resurrection, his explanation of the Law and the Prophets was essential to the disciples understanding what had happened.
Or we love to talk about Jesus giving grace and mercy to people but dismissing how much he talked about judgement. I’ve been preaching through the book of Luke and it is amazing how much I have to talk about judgement and repentance. Jesus talked a lot about those things. We can debate what judgement and repentance are, but we cannot debate that according to Jesus judgement is going to happen and repentance is necessary.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t think a Jesus-centered hermeneutic is helpful. Quite the opposite. I believe it is essential. Without it we run the risk of thinking Bible knowledge saves us. We are not to believe in the Bible, rather we are to believe in the one the Bible reveals.
I think we need a more robust understanding of Jesus actions and words and how they fulfill what God is doing in the grand narrative of the gospel. This means, rather than trying to use Jesus to dismiss the parts of the Bible that make us uncomfortable, we need to wrestle in the tension and let Jesus help us make sense of the text while still treating it as the inspired Word of God. But before we can even get to that, we have to be honest about the parts of the Bible that make us uncomfortable. For some, it is the stories that show the wrath and anger of God. For others, it is the grace of Jesus and who he extends grace to that scandalizes our sensibilities. For others, it is the hard words of turning the other cheek to our enemies. For others it is the role we have in naming what is good in the world – and thereby naming what is bad.
There is always something we would rather ignore.
The danger is letting ourselves turn a blind eye to what we don’t like. If Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, then we shouldn’t just focus on Jesus to the neglect of the Law, but we should ask “How does Jesus fulfill what God has already said?” How does Jesus fulfill what was happening in the Canaanite genocide? The exile of Israel? The killing of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts? Letting Jesus trump the Bible actually removes the tension those texts bring up. And the tension might just be the point! If I just throw down the Jesus trump card then I don’t have to wrestle any longer with the text.
But, I believe the growth is in the wrestling through the tension.
Better yet, Jesus is in the tension.