Reading the Bible as Jesus Read It
by William Abbott, June 19, 2016: The current print issue (Spring 2016) of Adventist Today has an article by Professor Zane Yi of Loma Linda University titled: “Beyond Biblical Bread: Reading the Bible as Jesus Read It.” The only problem with Professor Zane Yi’s “must read” essay is it is way too short. He needs to follow up with a book. Yi’s key insight is: “…Jesus interpreted the scriptures… prophetically.” This is the only sound hermeneutic for believers to use to interpret scripture – to follow the Lord’s example and read the Bible as Jesus read it – prophetically. What Professor Yi’s essay leaves unexamined is how Jesus Christ prophetically interpreted everything in the light of scripture. Jesus Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. If Yi fully develops his ideas, Seventh-day Adventists will have in their midst a disruptor. This is not how Adventists typically read their Bibles or think about Jesus.
Jesus Christ interpreted current events prophetically.
There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Luke 13:1-3
Jesus expressed no compassion for these unhappy souls. A striking contrast to our habitually expressed compassion in Jesus’ name to the unhappy victims of unfortunate circumstance. By interpreting these events prophetically Jesus leaves unaddressed (in pure biblical form) the tension between the Sovereign Will of God and the contingent consequences of sin. (Think Job). He makes the corporate body of death a solemn, timeless, prophetic warning to us all. “…unless ye repent…”
Everything is prophetically the will of God.
And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. …I am the light of the world. John 9:1-3, 5
There is a pure prophetic consistency with Jesus as He moves across the landscape of His ministry. The divine purpose in the man who was born blind is prophetic. Jesus Himself is the Light that shines in dark places. From His baptism where He prophetically fulfills all righteousness by entering into mankind’s spiritual death through the ordinance of baptism, to His prophetic “lifting up,” Jesus Christ prophetically inhabits man’s body of death, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief:
Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die. The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man? Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you…. John 12:31-35
The literalist interpretation of scripture is the whipping boy of current, enlightened exegesis. And yes, it is true that Jesus’ prophetic interpretation of the texts makes the literal interpretation of little consequence, but can you interpret the scripture prophetically if you do not literally believe it is true?
Jesus interprets the creation story prophetically when He speaks of the indissolvability of marriage bonds. The seven literal days are of no consequence to the interpretation. Yet, the imagination ought to recoil at the idea Jesus didn’t believe the creation story literally.
For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Matthew 24:38-39
What is the point of the prophetic interpretation if the story of Noah is deconstructed into a local event? It is obvious Jesus simply believes the scripture. It’s paradoxical that Jesus’ hermeneutic strengthens the literalist interpretation by making it of little consequence. If the purpose of the text is prophetic, why don’t you believe it is true? How is it that you know more than Jesus Christ? Why do you have to add to the text your certain knowledge that it is literally untrue? If it would happen to be literally untrue, it doesn’t change the prophetic interpretation. But if you don’t believe it is true, that changes everything, because in hearing, you will not hear. You will hear Jesus and scripture speaking, knowing that they are speaking not merely prophetically, but also superstitiously in ignorance. You will be in unbelief – because you know too much.
Jesus and the authority of scripture.
I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. Psalm 82:6
Professor Yi rightly puts a lot of emphasis on Jesus’ use of the somewhat contextually obscure Lev. 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus’ hermeneutic startled the Jews. And while we moderns enthusiastically embrace Jesus’ teaching about loving our neighbor, His hermeneutic is just as startling to modern scholars. The best theological scholarship is extremely uncomfortable with Jesus’ proof-text exegesis. This is not the only place Jesus “proof-texts” a principal teaching from scripture. In disputing with the Jews in John 10:
Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken… John 10:31-35
Talk about a contextually obscure passage. This text in the 82nd Psalm, a psalm of Asaph, looks like a cut, click and paste error. And yet it is obvious that Jesus Christ has built a prophetic messianic self-conception of Himself based on it. Not only that, it is through this scriptural understanding of the Messiah that the prophetic fulfillment of the equally obscure “a nation of priests and kings” is fulfilled. Jesus’ followers, the believers, are bound up in Him, and Him in them, when they “eat His flesh and drink His blood” and partake of ”the bread which comes down from heaven.” They are priests, like Jesus, after the order of Melchizedek, eating the sacrifice. Darkly, they all are the priests who lift up and offer the One sacrifice for our sins. A nation of priests offering up the One, better, sacrifice.
And there is more: Jesus’ words: “…and the scripture cannot be broken.”
Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. John 5:39
Jesus was not taught by man, and the gospel observes; “[and when] Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Even at age twelve, untaught by man, unstudied in Rabbinic schools; still, “all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.” “Never man spake like this man.” The reason Jesus spoke with such authority, as never a man spoke, is because His prophetic hermeneutic carried all the authority of the Law itself. As Professor Yi says, “He wasn’t channeling it direct from heaven.” He out-rabbi’ed the rabbis. The more you study the words and teachings of Jesus Christ the more you understand everything in His imagination is animated by the Law and the prophets. First and foremost, Jesus Christ is a Torah scholar, the One Torah scholar who has prophetically discovered Himself at the center of every Torah teaching.
But I say unto you that in this place is one greater than the temple… …For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day. Matthew 12:6,8
Jesus Christ, attended by His prophetic Nation of Priests, laboring on the Sabbath day to offer the One, better, sacrifice. The Lord of the Sabbath is the point of the Sabbath and He is greater than the Temple where Aaronic priests offer daily sacrifice and observe no Sabbath. The prophetic interpretation is always, totally, about Messiah. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
I’m doubtful a full exploration of Jesus Christ’s prophetic hermeneutic will be a comfortable journey for Professor Yi. The King’s long dusty road to the cross was not a comfortable journey. Yi is proposing we follow Him. The servant is not greater than His Lord. But surely we need to read the Bible as Jesus read it; we need to see and use scripture the way He did. Exciting work awaits Professor Yi, our new philosopher.