Sunday, March 04, 2007

How did Jesus use the Bible?

We limit not the truth of God, to our poor reach of mind,
by notions of our day and sect, crude, partial, and confined.
The Lord hath yet more light and truth; to break forth from his word.

(Hymn from the 1850’s by George Rawson.)

The Bible is important to Christians, who claim that Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16). And I think of Genesis 2:7 Lord God breathed into adam the breath of life. And of John 20:22, where Jesus breathed on the disciples, the new adams, and they received the Holy Spirit. The Bible as God’s life-giving Words.

The claim that Scripture is God-breathed in 2 Timothy 3:16 is then followed by a statement of what Scripture is useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

Which got me thinking about how Jesus used the Bible. Luke 10:25-37 (the Parable of the Good Samaritan) is one of the most well-known Bible passages of all time. So how does Jesus uses the Bible in this passage?

Firstly to answer questions. A lawyer comes to Jesus with a question: What must I do to inherit eternal life? It’s hard to tell if this is a sneaky question, someone trying to trap Jesus. Lawyers can do that.

So do we at times. We come to the Bible already assuming we know what it says, we know the answer. We only want to know if the preacher agrees with us, fits into our existing boxes.

Still, the Bible is used to answer the lawyer’s question. 2 Bible verses are merged together; Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; from Dueteronomy 6:5, and Love your neighbor as yourself from Leviticus 19:18. So the Bible is useful for answering questions.

Secondly, the Bible is useful for connecting with real life. The lawyer wanted to justify himself, [Lawyers can do that] so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” (v.29)

Jesus answers by telling a story. A story from his real life, a crime story, about respected local leaders, about local ethnic conflict.

So the Bible is useful because Jesus can relate the Bible to his world, to his culture, to the issues of the day. So that’s a 2nd way the Bible becomes useful, to connect with our real life.

Sometimes people say to me “Steve, we’re not sure you are really and truly a Biblical preacher. You use stories rather than exposit the Bible?” And at those moments, I am comforted by Jesus here in Luke 10.

And I also think of all those parables that Jesus used; how he took objects from everyday life, and how he took local stories (his equivalent of our movies or newspaper articles). About 30% of Jesus teaching was parables, using stories connecting the Bible with the real world.

Can we do what Jesus did? Can we take our favourite Bible passage and find a story from our world, that could communicate this verse today.

There is third way that the Bible is useful in this passage. This comes at the end. Jesus has told a story and the lawyer has grown in his understanding of what it means for him to practise his faith.

Who should I love as my neighbour? Answer comes in the story: Love anyone who has need. And then comes verse 37: Go and do likewise.

So the Bible is not just useful for answering questions and for trying to dodge tricky lawyers. Nor is the Bible, useful just for telling a story that challenges people and grows their understanding of following Jesus.

The Bible is useful when we go and do likewise. Here’s a quote from Chris Marshall, Lecturer in Religious Studies at Victoria University in Wellington. “The authority that any [Bible] text possesses is not measured by what we say about the text, but by what we do with the text, by the way we permit the text to function in our life and thought.”

Practical ways we are working on this at Opawa include:
-Every year we use a Bible passage to shape our vision for the year.
– the use of Dwelling in the Word, as a congregation, as a Board and as a leadership as we plan and make decisions about our future,
– the use of lectionary (daily Bible readings) among the staff team, and the use of lectio Divino on these Bible texts when the staff gather. We also print these lectionary readings in our newsletter, and invite the church to read the same Scriptures with us every day.
– At Digestion we have started mixing God’s Big Story with the Hot text. Someone shares a Bible verse that is currently “hot” for them and then we as a congregation work in groups linking that text with God’s big story (creation, journey and promise, power and justice, songs and sayings, Good news of Jesus, letters of love)
– Often sermons include discussion and interaction and application

Because “The authority that any [Bible] text possesses is not measured by what we say about the text, but by what we do with the text, by the way we permit the text to function in our life and thought.”

So they will know we are Christians not just by our head knowledge of the Bible. Nor will they know we are Christians because we are trendy and hip and able to relate the Bible to real life. Rather, the Bible is GodÂ’s living word, because, we, like Jesus can tell stories, can connect these God-breathed words with our real world lives today. And then we can “Go and do likewise.”

Posted by steve at 10:52 AM


  1. Steve,

    My own journey reflects much of what you are saying in this post, particularly with reference to the authority of text. I come from a background where priority was given to ‘belief’ over practice. Now I’m starting to finally realise the value of practice and service (the actions of love) and the inseperable place they hold with and beside faith.

    This kind of thinking is heavily influencing how I read much of what Jesus is taeching and also the words in the book of James, which is fast becoming a favourite.

    Comment by phil_style — March 6, 2007 @ 11:12 am

  2. I not condeming anything you’ve said, but I just want to reiterate an important thing, to always keep scripture IN CONTEXT, because I’ve seen so much scripture used out of context to justify many many things and it’s very wrong.

    Comment by Andrew Brown — March 6, 2007 @ 2:26 pm

  3. just an aside, I notice that your topics in what you call the ‘big story’ do not include the fall. You move straight from creation to journey. Are you including fall as part of journey? Or as part of creation? if so why?

    I like your post.

    Comment by dave wells — March 7, 2007 @ 12:59 pm

  4. Dave,
    appreciate the comment. I am always puzzled by the focus Christians place on “the fall.” Genesis 3 is one chapter. The word “fall” is barely used in the Bible. So given this lack of Biblical focus, why make it a whole category? Seems to me to change the shape of the Biblical narrative.

    For me, these topics that are often “fall related” eg sin and judgement – are explored in the catergory of “power and justice” – that the people of God break covenant and God responds with judgement, and exile. This has some implications, it allows “sin” to be placed in a societal and prophetically justice context.

    It is not only personal, but is corporate. I quite like that God creates earth, adam and the people of Isreal: who go on a Journey: and then have to learn how to live in the land ie Power and Justice.


    Comment by steve — March 8, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

  5. Even though the fall appears to be one chapter it is a Plot Point that spins the story in a completely new direction…it takes the hero into the Underworld…you could say that “the crash” of the Fed Ex plane in Cast Away was only one short scene, but it took a man from one place to another and left him there…all of his experiences from that moment on were because of that short scene…and so, while short it is nontheless major from a story structure overview.
    Creation works differently, ie. hurricanes, etc., human relations work differently, ie. the curse of the woman desiring the leadership of the man in her part of the curse, etc., the shift from organic timelessness to working like crazy to put bread on the table, so much of the story is a result of the fall…I wonder how much of our inner speaking is fear based and a result of the fall.
    God bless you as you minister life to your community.

    Comment by Kean Salzer — March 11, 2007 @ 9:31 am

  6. Kean,
    I really appreciate you dropping by and your input. As I say at the top of this blog; “this blog is a work in process :: thoughts expressed are personal opinions, and are not necessarily final opinions.” So I am thinking out aloud.

    What do you think of my comment about sin being placed not in the context of Genesis 3, but in the context of “power and justice” and the nation of Israel. Is it our Western individualism that has “over-read” and “over-interpreted” Genesis 3? What would happen if sin was placed first in communal and justice terms, rather than individualism? That would still keep “the fall” as a key part of the story (and you need the fall to explain the evil of a Pol Pot or Hitler, but it would frame “the fall” and sin in the context of care for the poor and living corporately the covenant gift of God?


    Comment by steve — March 11, 2007 @ 1:10 pm

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