Interpreting the Bible can be dangerous business. And pastors enter into the danger every time we preach. How should we proceed?
Imagine a fairy tale about an enchanted book. Everyone who comes to the book reads the same words, but each person comes away with a different picture: some see a warrior riding a white horse, others read a love story with an impossibly happy ending, and still others find secret messages with the tale capable of predicting the future. The hero of each and every picture is someone named Jesus and, amazingly, in each and every case the hero-Jesus tends to look like our very own values, hopes, and dreams.
Interpreting the Bible
The current fashion among many Christians is to remind us that Jesus is the perfect picture of God. They point us (properly) to Hebrews 1:3: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being . . .” So far, so good—until we begin to describe what this representation looks like. Jesus is the conquering King, Christus Victor. Jesus is the sacrificial lamb, Agnus Dei. Jesus is the way of peace, the Viam Pacis.
“God looks like Jesus.” Right. I’m with you—right up until you begin to describe what Jesus looks like. The grave can’t hold Jesus; neither can our opinions. This is what I love about Jesus: he defies any category—no single description will do him justice, not even a “biblical” one.
It’s completely true: the Bible is an enchanted book. But the fairy tales remind us that enchantments can be dangerous blessings. We come to the Bible with full assurance of its inspiration and reliability, unaware that we ourselves, the readers of this inspiration, are not so reliable. We behold in the book a mirror of our values. Our heart is first stirred by those things we already love, and there lies the dangerous blessing: we are likely to see Jesus from one angle while missing ten thousand more. “I have seen Jesus!” we say, unaware of other (infinite) possibilities.
We fall in love with our viewpoint of Jesus and in our enthusiasm we want everyone to agree with us–and sometimes only us. In our excitement we overstep the boundaries of our finite perspective, and begin to insist that this, our own viewpoint of Jesus, is the true revelation of God’s great glory. But interpreting the Bible is not always about right-or-wrong views of Jesus. He represents all the glory of God’s nature, a glory beyond the scope of any single eye.
This article about interpreting the Bible originally appeared here, and is used by permission.