Readers of this blog may be aware that the Anglican Communion is engaged in a hermeneutics project in which Anglican churches are encouraged to work on what it means to read the Bible together, seek common understanding of its meaning, and to do so with particular reference to human sexuality. In practice some Anglican churches are doing more on this than others. ACANZP is one of those. I have a tiny bit part in this work as a member of the organising committee for the second of three hermeneutic hui (conferences), and a task to work on a joint presentation at the next hui (in May 2009) on Jesus and Scripture.
So, in a spirit of collaboration, I share some of my early thinking on this subject in order to seek some feedback, so that what I present might be sharpened to the point of usefulness! Incidentally, the central focus of the next hui is on ‘the church’. Kind of a safe subject to see how we might read the Bible together about it; a practice session for the difficult subject of human sexuality at the third hermeneutical hui!
When Christians read the Bible (or, as I prefer it, ‘Scripture’), we sometimes forget that Scripture has Jesus Christ at its centre – not only as chief subject but also as the centre of its authority over the life of the church. Though often tempted to ditch the Old Testament, the church cannot do so because Jesus himself upheld and honoured the Old Testament. A contrasting temptation is to pit ‘Jesus’ versus his later interpreters such as ‘Paul’, with the former offering pristine truth and the latter sadly manipulating it under the influence of Hellenism. The temptation is resistible as we note that Jesus himself authorised his disciples for their apostolic mission as a continuation of his own, in word and in deed; Paul himself being an ‘untimely’ yet genuine addition to the apostolic band. In perhaps over simplistic terms, Scripture is the book of truth authorised by Jesus Christ.
Thus when working together on our understanding of ‘church’ or ‘human sexuality’ with reference to Scripture, we are not working with a series of texts which may be singled out one by one for examination and marked down as valid or invalid according to some assessment criteria of our own making. Rather, we work with the book authorised by Jesus Christ (we could also say, authored by the God of Jesus Christ through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit). Each text on which we seek a common understanding should be approached from the perspective of the authorisation of Jesus Christ, the Lord and Saviour of the church whom we believe in together.
OK, since this is a blog post and not a book I’ll stop that line of reflection and move to this observation which arose the other day through a daily Bible reading: Jesus is the hinge upon which the meaning of Scripture turns.
I was reading Jeremiah 33:17-18, ‘For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to make grain offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time.’ The larger context, by the way, is the Babylonian exile of Judah, the sacking of Jerusalem, and the vision of a ‘new’ covenant with a rebuilt Jerusalem also envisaged.
Now, if we press the ‘literal’ button of understanding Scripture, Jeremiah 33:17-18 is a falsehood. David has lacked a man to sit on his throne and the Levitical priesthood has been in vacancy mode for thousands of years. But if we approach Jeremiah 33:17 through the lens of the whole of Scripture, including the Synoptic Gospels, Paul’s writings, and the Epistle to the Hebrews, then we (i.e. the church collectively through its history) understand Jeremiah 33:17 to be truthful in this way: the throne of the house of Israel is the throne of the kingdom of God and on that throne forever sits Jesus Christ, a descendant of David, the temple of Jerusalem is consummated in the person of the great high priest, Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice on the cross incorporates all Levitical sacrifices and is eternally present to God.
Our point here is not only that Jesus Christ ‘makes’ Jeremiah 33:17-18 to be true but also that in the person of Jesus Christ a new expression of the authorial authority of God comes to humanity. Who dare offer a new interpretation of the words of God? The Word of God himself! Matthew’s Gospel, for example, takes up Mosaic teaching in the teaching of Jesus and recounts for us a new interpretation of Moses’ law. Is this the work of another rabbi from among the ranks of the learned rabbis of first century Israel? No, according to Matthew, this is a new and greater Moses who has come among us! John's Gospel, as with many themes in the Synoptic Gospels, develops the idea of Jesus as a greater Moses, offering the more penetrating insight that Jesus is the Word of God and his teaching transforms 'law' into 'grace and truth' (John 1:1, 17).
If we read on in Jeremiah 33 and note the kind of underlining God gives through Jeremiah of his promise in 33:17-18, we can marvel at the authority of Jesus Christ over Scripture which gives 33:17-18 a new and unexpected meaning. The one who does this is rightly ascribed as both a new and greater Moses and the Word of God become human flesh.
With this authority we must reckon as we wrestle with the words of Scripture seeking a common understanding.
What do you think?