Christ and the Conflict of Interpretations: Hermeneutics Transfigured

(Sirje) #21

Yes, a Christian will “take up the cross and follow Him”. That’s on quite a different level than “What would Jesus do…” . Jesus made it quite clear what a Christian life would look like in His “Sermon on the Mount”. My reference is to the simplistic idea that Jesus came as an example rather than our Saviour.

Even the Sermon on the Mount directs us to the cross since no man is capable of meeting the depths of servitude required by the LAW, nor was it intended as another list of behaviours, since there isn’t a realistic expectation that we “pluck out our eyes” or “cut off an arm”.

The entire Bible comes as a package - the shadow, followed by its culmination in the life, death and resurrection (and ascension). As you pointed out, at the Mount of T^ransfiguration, Jesus’ voice goes beyond that of Moses and Elijah - the shadows. As it says in Romans 5:10, “We are reconciled to God through Christ’s death; and saved by His life” - not our life as we copy His. “Cheap grace” doesn’t come into play here since “reconciliation” presumed our admitting we need reconciliation; and God knows our hearts, unlike man, who knows only our actions.

(Zane Yi) #22

Ahhh…I think I understand what the concern is. It is that an emphasis on Jesus as examples could lead to the view that Jesus becomes a “second Moses” in the legalistic sense, and that the gospel becomes based on human effort to live like Jesus (something no one can do) rather than what Jesus has done. This is an important matter and “getting it right” has to avoid the extremes of both “cheap grace” and “legalism.” But this binary often assumes, I think, an overly simplistic understanding of “salvation” as pertaining primarily to the afterlife, which leads to debates about what one has to believe and how much or how little one has to do to secure it.

What if the gospel had just as much to do with the good news of living a certain kind of life now and, with Jesus’ example, teaching and help, becoming certain kinds of people, i.e. loving peacemakers who care about and advance justice/righteousness in the world?

Regarding Jesus’ instructions about adultery, most commentators I’ve read, agree that Jesus is being hyperbolic (exaggeration, sarcasm, humor, are all tools used by good teachers to provoke reaction and aid memory), the point being that we can and should identify and address the root issues that lead to sexual sin. (My understanding how to interpret the Sermon on the Mount has been influenced by Stassen and Gushee’s Kingdom Ethics. They argue that Jesus’ teachings are not to be understood as impossible ideals, but provide insightful and practical guidance on how to live life.) A life of healthy and whole relationships is something we get to experience rather than something we have to attain to earn God’s love.

And perhaps all this goes back to the issue that they were trying to hammer out in the 4th century at Chalcedon, when it comes to Jesus’ divine and human nature. The heart of the issue was if Jesus was to primarily be understood as example or Savior. Those how wanted to emphasize his human nature focused on Jesus as example and those who wanted to emphasize Jesus as Savior, his divine nature. The framers of Chalcedon, who to this day provide “the orthodox” view of Jesus for most Christians, refused to take sides. Jesus is both fully human and divine, both example and Savior, and salvation is the good news that God through Jesus is willing to do more for us than we can do for ourselves–forgive us, instruct us, inspire us, and transform us.

(Randall) #23

An insightful read. My only suggestion would be to include a little something more regarding the essential to how we understand scripture…the Holy Spirit.

(Sirje) #24

It all depends on how much sin we think we can retain in our 21st century lives. If we live according to the list of “thou shalt nots,” well and good, but Jesus taught, not only with the statements printed in red ink in our Bibles, but with his life. Taking that as our example none of us can measure up.

I guess my concern is that religion has watered down the actual “requirements” of the OT law; and has created a false sense of what it means to “follow Jesus”. The Gospel is “good news”, but our idea of good news and the “abundant life” seems to be content with what some evangelical groups factor down as “health and wealth” - which is the same mistake the Hebrews made (i.e.: Job).

Jesus clearly saw himself as “the suffering servant” of the OT and was able to say: “you search the scriptures…but they testify of me” throughout his life. None of us are prepared to fill those same shoes - by choice; but we can through the transformation the Gospel has on us. The servanthood of the OT is not the same as the one the gospel transforms us to have. I believe that is what Jesus came to give us - a transformed life that goes deeper than the traditions taught from pulpits. He was speaking to the man who lives in the periphery of religiosity, who prays in his closet, as well as he who fulfills all the traditional requirements, giving both the power to exhibit unreasonable love like He did.

(Ray Smith) #25

There are several issues I have not made clear that I will try and clarify. One thing I am finding is that the more I study the gospels and the rest of the NT the consensus between the two is much deeper than it appears on a casual reading. The Apostles’ main themes have their basis in what Jesus both taught and lived as revealed in the gospels. Further, they find meaning through the lens of Calvary.

Let me say first that I find it confronting that Marcion is brought into this discussion in the context of my comments. I have not knowingly minimised the role of the OT, any of the gospels or any of Christ’s teachings or His life. The clear distinction between the old and new covenants originated first with Christ and was taken up especially by Paul. To imply, deliberately or inadvertently, that Marcion originated the clear distinction between the two covenants is unfortunate.

John sums the gospels up in John 20:21, “…but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” This is new covenant truth.

The distinction between the old and new covenants is essential to this discussion of Jesus’ life and teachings in the gospels otherwise it side-lines the key to understanding the NT in my opinion. Jesus made a significant statement about the passing of the old covenant at the Passover feast. “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Hebrews confirms this new covenant in Christ’s blood in significant detail. 2 Cor 3 is also very specific. “… but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

The old covenant is a ministry of death in letters engraved on stones. This old covenant has lost it’s glory and when it is read a veil descends that can only be removed in Christ. Ex 34:28 undergirds Paul’s statement. “And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” This old covenant is the covenant from Sinai.

The Law was given through Moses - old covenant. Grace and truth were realised through Jesus Christ - new covenant. Although the gospels were written many years after Calvary they tell the story of Christ’s life and teachings as He lived His life. However, from time to time there are snippets that reflect their later understanding of the gospel under the new covenant. John 7:39 seems to be an example of this. “But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

The Holy Spirit was not given to anybody living under the old covenant in the way that we now experience Him under the new covenant. It was Christ’s death and resurrection that opened the way for the full presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Pentecost was the realisation of the gift of the Holy Spirit as promised by Christ after His sacrifice was complete. (John 14:16+ and 16:12+).

Both Jew and Gentile have full, not just fuller access to the Holy Spirit under the new covenant. In 2 Cor 3 Paul is very clear on the inadequacy of the old covenant based on the ten commandments written on tablets of stone. This was a ministration of condemnation and death. Under the new covenant we now live by the ministration of the Spirit of life. Growing up in the 50s we still spoke of the Holy Spirit as “It.” The subject of the covenants, old and new, was viewed with great suspicion. People had left the church over that subject!

I am more and more convinced that there is so much more to learn from the four gospels about Christ’s life and teachings that were aimed at transforming the minds of people from the Law, the old covenant, to the new covenant in His blood, the covenant of grace and truth, as ministered in the lives of believers through the Holy Spirit. This I believe will teach us to love one another, not as we love ourselves but as Christ loved us. Big difference.

I am more and more convinced that the deep need of the Christian church today is a clearer understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as it relates to the finished work of Christ on the cross, His resurrection and ministry for us in the presence of His Father. I’m not talking about praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the latter rain. The Holy Spirit already lives in us which also means that Christ lives in us. We need to recognise who it is who lives in us and act on it.

But there is one more work of the Holy Spirit that is often neglected or misunderstood and it is a key to understanding what Christ taught throughout the gospels and the message that the apostles preached in full power. The Holy Spirit also is responsible for the new birth. For every believer, our old sinful nature has been crucified with Christ. It’s dead and buried. The Holy Spirit then created a new spirit, a new heart within us. In this way we have put off the old self and put on the new self. Yet we still contend with sin in the flesh as a foreign invader.

Christ taught what follows before the cross but Paul makes it just that much clearer because he had the benefit of looking back to the cross and recognising what Christ had already established. In Ephesians 4:20-24 we are to be renewed in the spirit of our mind and put on the new self. Paul’s explanation that follows is a glorious description of the new birth which is a new creation. “… put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Christ also spoke about the heart. Paul understood it.

For me, this passage in Ephesians and a similar one in Colossians, has been a major breakthrough in understanding the truth of the new covenant. Put bluntly, for Christians to claim that they are dirty rotten sinners and they do daily battle with their sinful human nature is a denial of both Christ’s teachings and the life He lived and is a denial of the gospel as taught by Paul and the other apostles.

Yes, we battle with sin in our flesh but we have a new identity and our new heart at the core of our being has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. This is why the glory of the sacrifice of Christ and the work and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives reveals the glory of the new covenant that completely outshines any glory that the old covenant once had.

On this basis, John was able to redefine the commandments of the new covenant, again based on what Jesus had already given us as the new commandment; to love one another “as I have loved you.” Note how John puts it in 1 John 3:21-24. “…because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.” i.e. "… as I have loved you. We know all this by the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

There is so much more to be said on this topic but I submit that to study the gospels, Christ’s life and teachings and the meaning of His death and resurrection without a clear understanding of the new covenant in Christ’s blood is to miss the main point of our study. The old covenant has lost its glory. Christians find their mission to follow in the footsteps of Christ through the glory of the new covenant, the ministry of the Spirit of life. Only this can lead to a life of loving service as exemplified in the life of Christ.

(Zane Yi) #26

Hi Sirje, regarding “sin” and sanctification, I have found John Wesley’s thoughts on Christian perfection helpful in providing some important distinctions. He argues perfection is possible, that it is the work of God in the believer (not something humans achieve), and it should be understood as perfect love for God and neighbor. He distinguishes this from “sinless perfection” which is not possible (because, among other things, it would require perfect knowledge, something humans can never have.) For Wesley, sanctification is a gracious act of God through the Spirit, just as justification is a gracious act of God through Jesus.

If I’m adding anything to this basic framework, it’s the thought that Jesus actually has something to teach us about love through his instructions and this very much has to do with the gospel. It gives us insight, in very practical ways, of what it means to love and how.

(Sirje) #27

On a site like this, we’re dealing with many different perceptions of Adventism, as well as the official version that many of us over 55 grew up with - and, WHICH IS STILL ON THE BOOKS; so, when we argue (in a good way) about these issues it’s hard to know which of these perspectives the writer is coming from unless you’ve become familiar with their view point over time.

I have understood most references to “keeping commandments” in the NT, to be defined by Jesus’ answer to the pharisees - “love God and love your neighbour as yourself”. So, I agree with what you’ve said, whole heartedly.

(Zane Yi) #28

Thanks for these clarifications, Ray. They help me understand your view better and have given me much to reflect on. My reference to Marcion was not intended to offend or confront, but seek clarification. If I understand you better now, you are arguing the “new covenant” (God’s work in Jesus understood through the power of the Holy Spirit which also empowers the believer to live the live of love) must form the wider frame in which to understand what has come before–the Old covenant, as well as Jesus’ teachings. It’s a both/and, rather than some sort of supersessionistic either/or.

Much of this resonates with me. The main point of reservation I have is the seeming designation of Jesus’ teachings as part of the old covenant, or a transitional ethic applying mainly to Jews under the old covenant, rather than Jesus’ followers. (Please correct me if I am misreading you.)

You write, that “to study the gospels, Christ’s life and teachings and the meaning of His death and resurrection without a clear understanding of the new covenant in Christ’s blood is to miss the main point of our study.” I’d argue that flow of understanding/appreciation goes both ways and the claim “to study the new covenant in Christ’s blood without a clear understanding of Christ’s life and teachings is to miss the main point…” is just as true.

And while I appreciate covenant theology, and acknowledge it importance in NT thought, I’d suggest the priority of kingdom theology, as expressed in the three synoptics. Reading covenant theology through the lens of kingdom theology provides an overarching framework more directly connected to the central theme of Jesus’ teaching–the good news of God’s in-breaking kingdom, here and now.

(Website Editor) closed #30