Reading the Bible #1 - Jesus: The Ultimate Context.



I've read a lot of material on how to Read and interpret the Bible.  There's a lot of Good advice out there. But what I've noticed is that most of it doesn't place Jesus at the center. This is concerning.

My favorite piece of advice I've come across over the years on Bible reading 'best practises' is advice about context.



Understand context. This is indeed a big one. It's really, really important. If you don't understand the context of a verse, passage or book, chances are high that you'll easily flub on figuring out what it means. You'll import all of your default biases onto the text without realizing it. It's not only poor practice to disregard context, but it makes for terribly boring (and occasionally insufferable) discussions. It makes for even worse preaching.

Context includes everything from the cultural setting of the Bible and the cultures around the biblical world to word context (i.e. what came right before or right after what you just read).  I can't count the number of times I've heard an authority speak about the Bible in a harmfully impoverished way because they didn't do something as simple as read one or two verses ahead.

Context also includes word meanings, which can change over time. This is nothing a concordance can't solve. Occasionally, there are also single English words that correspond to multiple words in the languages the bible was originally written in. Yeah, it's a little crazy. But all of that isn't as important as placing Jesus at the center of our Bible reading.

Here's an example of how this works out.

The word 'Word' in English Bible translations such as the NIV derive "Word" from three distinct Greek words, each which mean something totally different from each other. There's Rhema, which means "to speak", there's Graphe, which means "to write" and there's Logos, which is a philosophical term meaning 'source or essence'. The English word "Logic" is derived directly from the Greek, Logos.

So ... "The word Became flesh" (John 1). It's not Rhema or Graphe (yes, that means the Bible wasn't incarnated somehow ...). It's Logos. The Logos became flesh. It seems as a concession, the translators capitalized Word for when it means Logos, but I hardly think this does it any justice. Anyhow ...

In the greco-roman mind, at it's core Logos is the internal, inherent logic that under-girds all of reality. This is also related to Wisdom. John points out that this Logos, this source, this logic behind all logic is not a something; it's a someone.

In the beginning was the Word (Logos) ...
The Word (Logos) was with God ....
The Word (Logos) was God ...
He was with God in the beginning ...
The Word (Logos) became flesh and made a dwelling among us ...

Read all of John 1 and you'll see what I'm getting at.

Wait. Does that mean Logic and God are the same thing? No. Logic itself is not what the author is talking about. This is different. It's the logic behind all logic, the essence behind all essence, the being behind all beings, the force behind all forces,  the wisdom behind all wisdom. To quote Tillech, you could call it the ground of all being. That's the kind of thing John is poking at when he uses the word Logos to describe Jesus. Logos therefore acts more like a mental hook than the reality itself. It explains something important, but uses metaphor do accomplish it. Why? Because the metaphor was highly accessible to the greco-roman world. It's much less accessible now.

John is simply pointing to Jesus as the beginning of everything. If you flip to Colossians 1:15-23, this is reiterated by the Apostle Paul (and is another principal of Bible reading ... let the Bible interpret the Bible). Here's the interesting part. It's possible to get to the conclusion that John is pointing to Jesus as the beginning of everything if you are already thinking about The Bible in terms of "Jesus as central". It's easy to get lost in an overwhelming pile of details otherwise, but with a Jesus first approach the more you look into the details the more the details show the depth and breadth of Jesus' centrality.

Of course, this leaves questions of why John feels the need to show Jesus is the beginning, or how this relates to the big bang and evolution or the multiverse. Maybe I'll come back to this another time ...

Here's the Point: If Jesus is the beginning of everything, then Jesus surely also needs to be the beginning of our Bible reading. Put another way, Jesus needs to be re-positioned at the explicit center of the entire Christian faith. Right now, it seems that morality and the Bible are the center of the faith.

I am thinking at this point, least one person wants to throw Christian themed Zeka Viruses at my computer. But think about this: Whatever is at the core of us is the thing we love most, whether we admit it or not. Placing the Bible or "God's perfect Law" at the explicit center of faith also places it at the core of us because our faith is integral to who we are as people. To love the Bible most above all things is to then by definition not love Jesus most above all things. Therefore, if you love the Bible more than you love Jesus, Jesus will end up playing second fiddle to whatever you, your pastor,  church, or denomination or whomever your trust spiritually thinks the Bible means when it's read. If they think the Bible condones oppression of certain people, and you love the Bible more than you love Jesus, you'll be more likely to concur. Or perhaps in your disagreement with them over their interpretation of the Book you love, you might become aggressive or violent or impossible. Or maybe not. The point is it's uncertain whether what you do will be Jesus-shaped, because it's not Jesus you are looking toward to be the ultimate ground floor of who you are. Get the idea?

Here's another way of putting it: Read the bible, but follow Jesus. Our churches, our lives, and even our Bible reading need to become inextricably Jesus-shaped. We may never do it perfectly, but we can start the journey of becoming, today. The first place we can undoubtedly learn the most clearly about Jesus is in the scriptures themselves. But the scriptures themselves are a testament to and about Jesus. Interestingly, by placing Jesus at the center of our faith, we are pointed back to the scriptures as the center of our relationship with Jesus.

The result is a kind of positive feedback loop. The more we look to Jesus as the center of our faith, the more we will find him all over the scriptures. But if we fail to look to Jesus as the center of our faith (and instead look to logic or morals or certainty etc), we will easily miss Him.


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