Scripture is not a random collection of ancient myths and aphorisms. It has a unifying message told in every genre, by every author, in every period of redemptive history. The unifying thread is not God’s plan to establish a glorious national people on the earth nor is the Bible about the reader. The Bible is about God the Son who became incarnate for us.
The hit TV show Seinfeld has been called a show about nothing. One of the most pernicious falsehoods about the Bible is that it, too, is a book about nothing, that it is a random collection of ancient myths and moral aphorisms. Strangely, some Christians seem to regard Scripture this way. Others find unity in Scripture around God’s plan for national Israel and/or a time of millennial glory. Still others treat the Bible as if it is about the reader, as if there is no such thing as a “text” or authorial intent but only the reader’s experience of the text. Even more crassly, the Bible is read as if the reader (and his or her prosperity and happiness) is at the center of the story.
Reading the Bible the New Testament Way
These errant approaches to the Scriptures are borne from the misapprehension that the biblical writers themselves did not understand themselves to be contributing to a larger unified story and that they did not have a way of reading the Scriptures. There are writers who admit that such a unity and way of reading Scripture exists, but they contend Scripture is inspired and therefore it is beyond our ability to imitate the biblical hermeneutic. This view is mistaken. Scripture is inspired, but the biblical hermeneutic is not-at least not so that we cannot observe and imitate it. That is precisely what we shall begin to do in this essay.
The Scriptures are organized around God the Son who was “manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16; esv).
Our Lord himself claimed throughout his ministry to be not only God the Son incarnate but also to be at the center of God’s saving purposes and revelation. Indeed, he attacked the hermeneutic of the Pharisees as wrongheaded. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life,” but the Scribes and Pharisees missed the unifying message of the history of redemption and revelation: the Scriptures “bear witness about” Jesus (John 5:39). The Pharisees claimed to believe Moses, but they did not, because Moses, “on whom you have set your hope” (John 5:45) accuses them. The Pharisees missed the point of the Pentateuch: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46).
One of the great and common misunderstandings of the Bible is that, before the incarnation, believers had direct, immediate access to God the Father and that the mediating work of the Son began only with his incarnation. Such a view is directly contradictory to the explicit teaching of Jesus. He said the Father’s “voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen.” He was even more explicit in John 6:46 that no one has “seen the Father except him who is from God ….” If anyone would see the Father he must look at Jesus, the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15). According to Jesus, his mediation does not mean less access to the Father, but more: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus was conscious of his office as the “revelation” of God (John 1:1). He knew that “No one has ever seen God. The only begotten God … has revealed him” (John 1:18).