Jesus is the pre-eminent interpreter of scripture. Jesus reinterprets scripture often. And in one instance he injects one interpretive word into one familiar theological statement, and we still haven’t recovered.
Jesus is recorded as often saying something like, “You’ve heard it said …”, then repeating something from Hebrew Scripture (sometimes only an interpretation of scripture that had already evolved). Then he would toss that understanding on its ear by saying something like, “But I say to you …”, then offering a re-narrated interpretation.
People got upset by such things.
We still do.
Every single time we assert that our theology is better than the interpretation of Jesus, we sound like a pathetic broken record that should’ve been trashed long ago.
It’s amazing that some of us who identify as “Christians” still have trouble accepting the authority of Jesus Christ to render interpretation of Holy Scripture. We put things on billboards like “The Bible = God’s Final Authority in our Lives.”
That’s so misguided and wrong.We put things on billboards like *The Bible = God's Final Authority in our Lives.* That's so misguided and wrong. Click To Tweet
God in Christ is the final authority. The Risen Lord of Life is the final authority. And he leaves nothing to presumption in that department. He reinterpreted the perceptions of his day and is still doing so by his Spirit moving among the gathered community.
But that is a discussion for another time and another article. Like this one!
I’ll just offer one thing more on that note: John the Apostle makes it pretty clear how the early church interpreted Christ’s interpretation of the “word.” He told us the word was no longer a written text. The Word became flesh in Jesus and has moved into our neighborhood.
There’s one particular instance I want to focus on where Jesus interprets the text in a fresh way.
He’s in the wilderness for a long time. 40 days we’re told. 40 days is the biblical literary language for “the right amount of time.” 40 days Noah and the fam are stuck on a boat with animals. 40 years the Hebrew people wander around in a desert making a journey of a few weeks last make longer. You get the picture.
During this time Jesus is confronted with several tests offered him by the Adversary. Or the devil. Or Satan (which is simply a version of the Hebrew word that means “adversary”). Or maybe just those parts of his 100% human self that struggle for control.
It’s easy to get distracted by this particular character in the story. But that would be missing the focus. The focus is on Jesus and what he says and does.
Each time the Adversary tempts Jesus in some way, Jesus doesn’t take the bait and instead quotes scripture to make his case for resistance. Not a bad tactic.
In Matthew’s account, it is the third and final exchange, in which the Adversary takes Jesus to the highest point on earth. Presumably this is some mountain and Jesus is not in need of an oxygen mask nor extreme conditions hiking gear. You can read versions of the story in Matthew 4 and Luke 4.
At any rate, the Adversary tells Jesus to look around the earth from this high point and see all the kingdoms. He offers all these kingdoms to Jesus if Jesus simply bows down and worships the Adversary.
Here’s one of the many instances where I’d make a bad Messiah. I would’ve reminded the Adversary that all the dominions of the earth are already mine. In fact the whole universe is mine because I was with God and was God from the beginning. Then I would’ve thrown him off the mountain.
But Jesus takes a different tact and quotes scripture. It is either Deuteronomy 6:13 or Deuteronomy 10:20 that he is quoting. But when he quotes it, he adds a single word.
Here’s the original scripture:
You shall worship the LORD your God and serve him and swear by his name.
And here’s how Jesus says it:
You shall worship and serve only the Lord your God.
Did you spot the word Jesus inserts? It’s “only.”
He so reinterprets scripture that now most English translations have added the word “only” in Deuteronomy 6:13. It isn’t there in the Hebrew. The New American Standard version is even honest enough to italicize the word “only”, transparently showing the reader that the editors added the word.
Jesus has done a remarkable thing here. With one simple word he has completely changed the game. He has messed up generations worth of interpretation.
You see, before this, we could have worshipped and served God right along with lots of other things. We would need to worship God first, of course. In Exodus it was relayed that we should have no other gods before Yahweh. So as long as God was first, we could still worship other things.
We still do this today. Many of us who identify as Christian would say we worship God first. Heck, we go to a church building on the first day of the week after all. But then after God we worship our vocations, our bank accounts, our families, our dreams, our vices, our pursuit of self … and dozens of other things.
Jesus blows all that thinking out of the water. And we still haven’t changed.
Jesus reinterprets scripture to mean that we cannot have other gods after the Lord. We cannot worship and serve other things after God. We are to worship and serve only the God that Jesus calls Father.Jesus reinterprets scripture to mean that we cannot have other gods after the Lord. Click To Tweet
I fail so often, and so miserably, in following the light of reinterpretation Jesus gave us some 2000 years ago. It’s easier to do what the Hebrew Scripture suggests. It’s supremely difficult to follow Jesus’ teaching and example.
Jesus reimagined and continues to reimagine a lot that we think we already have figured out.
I want to be open to letting him change the game as often as he needs to. How about you?