The study of how to interpret The Word of God called “hermeneutics” is always a challenge for the people of God. In our time that discussion has carried lots of emotion and accusations of wrong attitudes on different sides. Much of the question has centered around the question of to handle the silence of the Scriptures. It isn’t usually what is said that leads to questions but what isn’t said leads to all kinds of disagreement. Largely the question has been on whether silence means freedom to do what we think is right or does it mean that we are forbidden to go any further? The question of whether or not instrumental worship in worship is right or wrong really comes down to the question of whether silence forbids or allows.
Each side feels sure that they have the right view of the topic and point to different illustrations to back up their point. Here is the question that seems to me to be most significant on this and any other topic: How did Jesus interpret the Scriptures? Since he came into the world to show us the Father and to allow us to understand God from the avenues of grace and truth, his way of looking at Scriptures is absolutely the right way.
When Jesus came into the world there were three distinct views among the Jewish religious groups on how to look at the Bible. The Sadducees had a much more open, liberal view of Scripture and actually rejected everything other than the five books of Moses. They denied the miraculous and rejected angels, demons and heaven and hell. The Pharisees took a far more restrictive view of Scriptures believing that if a thing wasn’t authorized it was wrong. Yet as strong as they were on staying strong on Scripture they also looked for loopholes to do as they wanted, such as their whole teaching about Corban to allow one to get around taking care of aged parents when they couldn’t care for themselves. The word Pharisee means separatist and they felt sure that they were right and all others were wrong. The Essenes were even stricter in their thinking. They not only took the teachings to be very literal and the thought that one could do only what was authorized, they went so far as to separate completely from everyone else to live in the desert and devote themselves completely to God and his will.
But what about Jesus and his attitude? Perhaps the best starting spot to look at the topic is to note how many times Jesus would say, that the Scriptures had to be fulfilled. Matthew especially will refer to the actions of Jesus to say it was to fulfill the Scriptures. In Matthew 5:17-19 in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear until everything is accomplished.” He considered the Scripture so binding that everything had to be fulfilled and nothing could just be set aside even by him.
Interestingly, he moved immediately to reinterpret their whole way of looking and many Old Testament teachings. His mantra was “You’ve heard it said by those of old, but I say unto you.” They had taken the Scriptures against murder, for example, very literally, but didn’t carry it nearly as far as Jesus declared was God’s intent. He meant to reach the heart and teach all of us not to be angry or hold a grudge. They took the law on divorce to mean simply give the writing of divorce and put her away missing the point that God wanted the marriage to stay together. One obvious point to learn is that a literal interpretation may miss the real point. If we look only at the command not to murder and see it as forbidding the act of murder alone we miss God’s intent. The command of Scripture must be an avenue into seeing the heart of God and it is seldom just the outward action that is in God’s heart.
A second insight into Jesus attitude toward the Scriptures is obvious from Matthew 8:1-4 when a man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing.” he said, “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.” Imagine some religious leader from either of the sects standing by and watching what took place. They might have pointed to the Book of Leviticus to remind Jesus that the law said one was not to touch the leper and that he should have been rebuked for even getting so close since they were to stay isolated and even cry out a warning when anyone came near. Jesus broke the law to meet the emotional and physical needs of the man. He didn’t do wrong. He was the giver of the Law in the first place and knew fully what the purpose of the law was. He didn’t violate the purpose of the law because he was healing the man. He certainly didn’t have to touch the man, but the man needed the touch and he put the need of the man above the strict use of the law.
Just from these two instances two major principles rise in how to interpret Scripture. One, While Scripture cannot be broken it often means more than just what is actually said in the command. Two, Sometimes the right thing to do is break the law for a higher need or purpose than what the law itself said. Not every teaching even in the Bible is of equal importance. Remember when asked what was the greatest command Jesus had a clear answer and even supplied what was second.
In our next post we will go further with the study on how Jesus interpreted Scripture.