I’ve read quite a number of books on how to interpret the Bible and from most have been helped in some way. But it always intrigues me that a human writer would claim that the way they propose to interpret Scripture is the right way when there is no Scripture to which they can turn that says this is the way one should interpret Scripture. One could easily compare the different ways inspired men interpreted the Old Testament Scriptures they used as a basis for a conclusion. But even with that it would be extremely difficult to find a consistent plan that was followed. Truthfully, the New Testament writers often violate just about every rule of interpretation we come up with in their interpreting of the Old Testament, including taking a Scripture completely out of the context in which it was given to make application to something going on in their own time.
Since the Holy Spirit was leading the inspired writers of the New Testament in how they used the Old, it certainly can’t be said that they abused or misused anything in the Old Testament Scriptures. It does put many of our rules down as suspect.
In Matthew 12:1-13 there is another example from Jesus on Old Testament interpretation. Since Jesus certainly regarded the Old Testament as the Scriptures bound on men of that day, his way of interpreting the Old Testament is the right way of interpreting all Scripture.
On this occasion Jesus and the disciples were walking through a grain field on the Sabbath. The disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw what they were doing they came unglued. “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” Jesus answered them with a story out of their history with which they would have been very familiar. Don’t you remember what happened with David when he was running from Saul. He and his men became hungry and went to the house of God and ate the consecrated bread that only the priest could eat. He then reminded them of how the priests on each Sabbath desecrate the Sabbath by doing the work God requires of them and yet are innocent. Then look at his conclusions to this point. “I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
Jesus and the disciples went from there to the Synagogue and a man with a shriveled hand was there. The religious leaders were there looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, so they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Jesus reminded them that if any of them had a sheep to fall into a pit on the Sabbath they would take hold of it and lift it out. “How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” He then had the man to stretch out his hand and he was completely healed. Of course the Pharisees went from there to plot how they could kill Jesus.
So what can we learn about Bible interpretation from these events and teachings in Jesus ministry? We can learn that some laws are of greater value and significance than others and that at times it is right to break a lesser law in order to fulfill the teachings of another. It broke the law of eating the consecrated bread when David and his men did it but there was a higher need and law involved. The men were hungry and running for their life. In our time this principle is often needed in application. It is God’s teaching that one shouldn’t forsake the gatherings of Christians (Hebrews 10:25). Yet there may be many things that come up at that time that require one to miss to meet a higher need. For example, one might come upon an accident where people need our attention and care. To leave them and rush on to church would make us more like the priest and Levite in Jesus story of the Good Samaritan than like the man whom he blessed.
A second principle in this story is that God’s law doesn’t always apply in the same way to every person. The priests were doing what God required of them on the Sabbath even though it violated the command not to work on that day. There was a general law, but the specific law to them superseded the general command.
A third principle that stands out in this text is that mercy trumps law. God gave the Sabbath as an act of mercy. It was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. But they had taken the very law intended to bless the people and give them a time of rest, meditation and worship to God and had turned it into a legislative nightmare. All their restrictions instead of making things clearer, easier or more inspiring had turned it into a quagmire than no one could completely observe. For Sabbath to be used as an excuse not to help someone who is hurting was missing the point of the law by a million miles. Sabbath should bless people not curse them.
Besides all that, Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. He made it, conceived it and presented it to the people. He holds complete authority over its use and application. Instead of Sabbath being used as a means of condemning him it should have been the case that the people observed how he acted and did on that day to determine how one should conduct themselves on the Sabbath. His actions serve as the standard for all people. Remember that Jesus is the “Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.” His actions as well as his words convey the message of God to all people.
So, follow Jesus!