How Does the Bible Teach Jesus?

 

Christianity teaches that the Bible teaches Jesus the Messiah. Traditionally, we Christians look for ways to connect the whole of the Bible to Him.  Sometimes we try to do it directly, from whatever bit of the Bible we’re dealing with. In the story of David and Goliath, we could say that David symbolizes Jesus, and Goliath, Satan. That’s probably been done in any number of sermons–sometimes with an explanation of how the five smooth stones symbolize the first five books of the New Testament or whatever, and the sword of Goliath symbolizes something or other, and maybe David cutting off Goliath’s head connects to the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 crushing Satan’s head, and . . . so on.

And when David helps lame Mephibosheth, it’s a symbol of Jesus helping the pathetic sinner who can’t help himself. And Boaz and Ruth are like Christ and the Church.  And so on.  I kinda like this way of reading the Bible. And it’s very well-precedented, from Church Fathers down to Charles Spurgeon and missionary sermons I’ve heard myself.

But if the point is to connect everything in the Bible to Jesus, why do we have to do it directly? Why not do it the way G-d did it with most things in the Bible–indirectly?

Weren’t the stories of David and Goliath and of David and Mephibosheth stories of the history of G-d’s people? Aren’t they stories of the founding of the kingdom of which Jesus is king–and isn’t that what the New Testament itself teaches, building off of the original straightforward meaning of the Old Testament?

And doesn’t that mean that Christians have a responsibility to read the Bible straightforwardly–as meaning whatever it meant to the original authors and readers?

In Augustine’s theology, you’ll find a lot of both of these things–straightforward readings and connect-it-all-directly-to-Jesus readings. Sometimes at the same time!

His deal is basically these two things:
1. He thinks the whole Bible refers to Jesus.
2. He focuses on smaller units of reference–the word refers, or the phrase, or the sentence.

I think he’s … at least sort of wrong.  I think Christians don’t need to do allegories and other figurative readings as much as he does.  I think Christians have a responsibility to pay attention to the original, straightforward meaning of every passage in the Bible–whatever it meant to the original author and readers.

Why do I think this? Because I don’t think we have to focus only on those smaller units of reference. I think the whole biblical narrative is a reference to Jesus Messiah.

I explained this in a recent publication in The Heythrop Journal, and I’m happy to report that it’s free to read on the public internet. I’ll copy below a couple of paragraphs.

The upshot of it all is this: in Christian theology, an original non-figurative reading is always pointing to Christ, if sometimes indirectly. So, with great respect for Augustinian figurative readings, I think those of us who believe that the whole Bible refers to Christ do not need to use them so much. For how is it that some biblical word, sentence, Psalm, prophecy, or anecdote teaches us Christ? Perhaps some refer individually and directly to Christ, but all of them teach Christ by means of their position in the narrative that teaches Christ. So they already teach Christ by means of any non-figurative sense they may happen to have. Christians have a responsibility to understand that narrative on its own terms, complete with all the non-figurative senses of its various constituent statements about births and deaths, cattle and sheep, earth and water, gold and wood, field and vine, city and desert, staff and sword, feast and famine, wartime and peacetime, prayer of Hannah and song of Miriam.

That, of course, does not guarantee that a straightforward original-meaning exegesis of some story about, for example, the doings of a rotten king in Samaria is going to be the best way to help us love God and neighbour and is going to point to Christ. All the same, I propose that a straightforward original-meaning interpretation of a passage about the doings of a rotten king in Samaria actually is a fine way of achieving this goal. It is entirely fitting with the figure of Christ and with the reordering of our loves. There may be any number of reasons for this, such as the obvious sermonic application: ‘Don’t be like this miserable sinner who didn’t love anyone but himself’. (Similarly, in Enarrationes in Psalmos 33 2, 17—section 17 of the second Exposition on Psalm 34, or 33 in the LXX numbering—Augustine himself gives a perfectly straightforward historical reading of biblical passages from Genesis, 2 Kings, and 2 Corinthians, observing how difficult life is and drawing a spiritual lesson from this.) But the major reason, I think, is this: just as the New Testament presents Christ as the centrepiece of the biblical narrative, so the historical details of earlier chapters in the narrative are already pointing to Christ. We need only follow the historical details through their place in the narrative and to Christ. This will involve tracing their relation to the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic law, the Davidic covenant, the exile, and the return all the way down to the coming of the Messiah. This is how orthodox Christians believe God himself referred to Christ in the Scriptures—by means of this covenantal narrative that leads through the Old Testament to the Messiah and presents him in the New as the fulfilment of the Old. And if tracing the details is sometimes difficult, no problem—Augustine is right that the hard work of finding Christ in Scripture can train us not only to find Christ but also to love him better.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Amazing how much freight a word will bear.

    • #1
  2. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    I understand and agree.

    • #2
  3. Bishop Wash Member
    Bishop Wash
    @BishopWash

    Saint Augustine: Traditionally, we Christians look for ways to connect the whole of the Bible to him.  Sometimes we try to do it directly, from whatever bit of the Bible we’re dealing with.

    I listen to Matt Whitman’s Ten Minute Bible Hour Podcast and currently he is going through Esther. In today’s episode Matt mentioned again, as he frequently does during the study, that God isn’t mentioned in the book. He says that maybe some can pull out symbolism, like Haman hanging on his gallows is connected to Jesus on the cross, but he doesn’t see that. Then I’m greeted tonight with your post. Good timing.

    • #3
  4. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine: Traditionally, we Christians look for ways to connect the whole of the Bible to him. Sometimes we try to do it directly, from whatever bit of the Bible we’re dealing with.

    I listen to Matt Whitman’s Ten Minute Bible Hour Podcast and currently he is going through Esther. In today’s episode Matt mentioned again, as he frequently does during the study, that God isn’t mentioned in the book. He says that maybe some can pull out symbolism, like Haman hanging on his gallows is connected to Jesus on the cross, but he doesn’t see that. Then I’m greeted tonight with your post. Good timing.

    Go to the published article and Ctr-F for “Esther”!

    • #4
  5. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Is there a passage, chapter and verse,  where Christ actually states upfront that he is the Messiah?

    Isn’t it that He fends off such an idea?

    I was taught by the nuns that He proclaimed that He was the Messiah.

    But I have also heard an explanation that He tried to avoid the designation.

     

    • #5
  6. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Is there a passage, chapter and verse, where Christ actually states upfront that he is the Messiah?

    Isn’t it that He fends off such an idea?

    I was taught by the nuns that He proclaimed that He was the Messiah.

    But I have also heard an explanation that He tried to avoid the designation.

    Try John 2 or somewhere nearby, where he’s talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. He says, “I who speak to you am he.”

    Also early in Luke, reading a passage where Isaiah quotes Handel’s Messiah about the people in darkness seeing a great light or something. “Today this passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

    • #6
  7. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    where Isaiah quotes Handel’s Messiah

    Heh. I see what you did there.

    • #7
  8. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    where Isaiah quotes Handel’s Messiah

    Heh. I see what you did there.

    A great joke. I heard it from our Irish peeps when I was in Pakistan.

    • #8
  9. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Is there a passage, chapter and verse, where Christ actually states upfront that he is the Messiah?

    Isn’t it that He fends off such an idea?

    I was taught by the nuns that He proclaimed that He was the Messiah.

    But I have also heard an explanation that He tried to avoid the designation.

    Try John 2 or somewhere nearby, where he’s talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. He says, “I who speak to you am he.”

    Also early in Luke, reading a passage where Isaiah quotes Handel’s Messiah about the people in darkness seeing a great light or something. “Today this passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

    A lot of the Jewish hearers and watchers of Jesus heard what Jesus said, and saw what Jesus did as Jesus making claims to being The Messiah,  even if He didn’t use that exact word.  Part of why they reacted as strongly as they did. 

    • #9
  10. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):
    I listen to Matt Whitman’s Ten Minute Bible Hour Podcast and currently he is going through Esther. In today’s episode Matt mentioned again, as he frequently does during the study, that God isn’t mentioned in the book. He says that maybe some can pull out symbolism, like Haman hanging on his gallows is connected to Jesus on the cross, but he doesn’t see that. Then I’m greeted tonight with your post. Good timing.

    I connect Haman the Agagite to folks like Hamas.

    • #10
  11. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Is there a passage, chapter and verse, where Christ actually states upfront that he is the Messiah?

    Isn’t it that He fends off such an idea?

    I was taught by the nuns that He proclaimed that He was the Messiah.

    But I have also heard an explanation that He tried to avoid the designation.

    Try John 2 or somewhere nearby, where he’s talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. He says, “I who speak to you am he.”

    Also early in Luke, reading a passage where Isaiah quotes Handel’s Messiah about the people in darkness seeing a great light or something. “Today this passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

    John 1.

    Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

    “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

    “Come and see,” said Philip.

    When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

    “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

    Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

    Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

    Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

    — John 1:43-51

    Nathaniel saw it straight off.

    Edited to fix a format error.

    • #11
  12. QuietPI Member
    QuietPI
    @Quietpi

    I love Esther.  True, it’s an anomaly in that God isn’t mentioned, but it’s included in the Canon because it’s such a clear demonstration of God’s work, caring for His people, that it made it into the Bible.  In my opinion, the symbolism, and prophesy (intended or not) of Haman being hoisted in the place of Mordecai, is profound. (I don’t think for a moment that the symbolism isn’t intended.)

    Early on, Jesus hid His dual nature, and He explained why, in John 2:4, at the wedding feast.  But even if the Bible does not quote Him as saying “I am the Messiah,” when His time arrived, He acknowledged it, and proved it.  

    Something just occurred to me.  What would Jesus’ early life been like if he had proclaimed who He was, say, in Jerusalem, when He stayed behind, in Luke 24:3?  I’m working on memorizing a song, “Joseph’s Lullaby,” by Millard and Bannister.  It’s not Biblical in any sense, but it does pose the question of how Joseph should respond to this baby.  He says, I know who you are, you’re the savior of the world.  But for tonight, would you just be my child?  

    It’s hard to sing without losing control of my voice.

    • #12
  13. Stina Inactive
    Stina
    @CM

    You can do ALL of that :)

    Jesus himself starts typology teaching with the Mana from heaven and how he is the bread of heaven, only greater than what was given in the desert.

    Paul does it: he is the rock that follows in the desert, he is the one loaf (check Mark’s account of feeding the 5k and the scene with the disciples after).

    Hebrews – Melchizedek.

    So yes, the origin of typology goes to the source Himself.

    But there’s hints in place names (Jerusalem and Bethel/Luz), people names (lineage of Noah). There’s also entire narratives that are so obviously being used in the telling of Jesus’ story.

    My idea is that the OT era, for the people living in that time, are forming a culture, a language, rituals and symbols that will help them know the messiah when he comes. So yeah, reading it as they would matters… because of course it points to Jesus.

    Just imagine a lamp stand not allowed to go out that is shaped like the tree of life… and then encountering the teachings of John the Apostle that out of darkness, there is light… and he hangs on a tree and his flesh is life when eaten.

    • #13
  14. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    QuietPI (View Comment):
    But even if the Bible does not quote Him as saying “I am the Messiah,” when His time arrived, He acknowledged it, and proved it.  

    But “I who speak to you am he” is the same thing.

    Did I say John 2? I think that one is John 4.

    • #14
  15. QuietPI Member
    QuietPI
    @Quietpi

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    QuietPI (View Comment):
    But even if the Bible does not quote Him as saying “I am the Messiah,” when His time arrived, He acknowledged it, and proved it.

    But “I who speak to you am he” is the same thing.

    Did I say John 2? I think that one is John 4.

    Precisely.

    • #15
  16. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    I think this is the first time I’ve ever been on Twitter, or on Instagram. I’m not sure that’s the best picture of me, but whatevs.

    • #16
  17. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    I think this is the first time I’ve ever been on Twitter, or on Instagram. I’m not sure that’s the best picture of me, but whatevs.

     

    • #17
  18. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    • #18
  19. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Great. Another thing to watch.

    • #19
  20. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Percival (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Great. Another thing to watch.

    Speed him up to 1.5 times normal. It’s much more fun then.

    • #20
  21. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Great. Another thing to watch.

    Speed him up to 1.5 times normal. It’s much more fun then.

    I prefer listening to podcasts at X 2. Ben Shapiro is fun at double-speed.  But I probably miss more of it that way, even if I blame the kids interrupting for things I miss.

    Try slowing me down to 1/2 if you want to hear what I’d sound like drunk. It’s also a great way to hear Shapiro, and Al Mohler too.

    • #21
  22. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    I prefer listening to podcasts at X 2.

    See, you could pre-edit it to be at that speed as normal, and then people could really get through them quickly. Kind of like the one-minute Shakespeare. Instead, you could be the one-minute philosophy teacher.

    • #22
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