The Great Orientation: Reading the Bible in Light of the Primacy of Jesus

There is a whole new way (which is really an old way) of interpreting Scripture; it is the way of the New Testament authors jesuscollage(and Apostles) themselves. As an evangelical Christian, trained in the N. American evangelical ways of biblical interpretation (i.e. Literal, Grammatical, Historical given expression within a Dispensationalist hermeneutic) I have primarily learned how to interpret Scripture in ways that are inductive, self-focused, ethically principled, literalist, literary, and other ways; maybe this has been your experience too. But the “new” way, at least as I have discovered it takes its cue from the New Testament itself; if we pay close attention to the contours of the NT we will see a whole new world of biblical interpretation that has a deeply grounded theological, more pointedly, christological orientation. When John makes the claim of Jesus that Jesus is the ‘exegesis’ of God, it becomes quickly apparent that the whole of the New Testament composition believes this claim. Todd Billings communicates it this way:

The New Testament writers interpret the Old Testament in light of the event of Jesus Christ. In a sense, the whole of the Old Testament becomes a book of prophecy to New Testament writers. The New Testament does not merely indicate that passages that were clearly messianic at the time they were written point to Christ. It is not punctiliar, that is, a connect-the-dots kind of exercise between passages such as Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:18 (concerning the miraculous birth of Jesus). Rather, the New Testament appropriation of the Old Testament liberally applies nearly anything about the proper ends of Israel, even the proper ends of humanity itself, to the life of Christ. In appropriating the Hebrew Scriptures christologically, the New Testament writers did not restrict the meaning of the Old Testament to something like the author’s original intentions, or to how the Old Testament text would have originally been heard. Rather, they saw the event of Jesus Christ as itself shedding light on the Old Testament, revealing the “substance” of what were “shadows” in anticipation.[1]

Personal Reflection

This area continues to be an ongoing battle for me; my hope is to continue to develop in this area, and to better be able to read the whole Bible the way the New Testament authors did. One thing that does need to be mentioned, I think, is that we, as readers today, do not read the Old Testament (for example) the way the NT authors did; they gave us inspired scripture, the best we can do is to have illumined scripture. That said, this fact should not hinder us from the realization that the New Testament (or “New Covenant”) does supply us with an actual hermeneutic to follow (just as Billings underscores). Jesus is the point of creation in general, he is the point of Israel in particular, and the point of all humanity for all eternity; we ought to read all of Scripture as if this is the case.

 

[1] J. Todd Billings, The Word Of God For The People Of God: An Entryway to the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 19.

 

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6 Responses to The Great Orientation: Reading the Bible in Light of the Primacy of Jesus

  1. Well put. I think you’ll like my new edited volume: All That the Prophets Have Declared: The Appropriation of Scripture in the Emergence of Christianity. It’s on exactly this topic. We don’t label this ‘theological interpretation’ of Scripture though, so might be slightly different to Billings.

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  2. Heather says:

    I really enjoyed the quote and appreciate your related thoughts, Bobby.

    It’s also interesting to read this in light of the fact that about five years ago, the Lord primarily used you and one other blogger to direct me to a “Christ-centered hermeneutic”. I still get excited about Jesus’ John 5:39 statement that the Scriptures are all about Him 🙂

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  3. Fariba says:

    The Medievalists emphasized the 4 senses of Scripture (the literal, allegorical, anagogical, and moral). While the allegorical interpretation can be abused, what I like about reading the Scriptures with the 4 senses is that everything points to Christ, the OT and the NT are read together, and the Scriptures are more than just words written thousands of years ago. The Word of God is dynamic. Christ is speaking to me in the Scriptures (but always in the context of Church – the communal dimension is emphasized). In the past century, the two major approaches to Scripture-reading have been the historical-critical method (its extreme form being liberal theology) and absolute literalism (the response to liberal theology). I feel like the 4 senses approach offers a satisfactory alternative.

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  4. Bobby Grow says:

    @Matt, I cannot wait to read your edited book … it sounds awesome and right up my alley! 🙂 Thanks for letting me know!

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  5. Bobby Grow says:

    @Heather,

    Amen, that always encourages me when someone tells me that something or things that I have written on my blog has helped point them to Christ; that must mean the Spirit is doing something 🙂 .

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  6. Bobby Grow says:

    @Fariba,

    Hi. I’m not a fan of the medieval or Augustinian quadriga, or allegory for that matter. But I do think we have some valuable things we can still learn from some of that, and I’ve found Roman Catholic Henri de Lubac (a ressourcement theologian) helpful, and even more helpful in a distilled way, the work of Matthew Levering and his book Participatory Bible Study (or some title). But as a Reformed Christian I prefer what Calvin and others called the sensus literalis.

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