If the entire Bible is not authoritative, then none of it can be trusted. If I dismiss the authority of Genesis, Psalms, Isaiah, and the Apostles Paul, John, and Peter, then why should I trust anything Jesus said? On what grounds do I believe the four Gospels? See, once I begin to eliminate what sounds unreasonable to me, what is difficult to interpret, and what doesn’t line up with the current culture, where do I stop? The (in)famous Jesus Seminar ran into this very problem. By the time they were done voting on what Jesus actually said, they could only vouch for a few pithy sayings.
If you want to reject the authority of the Bible, you have that right. If you want to put it on par with the writings of other religions, it’s a free country. But please don’t claim the authority of the red letters and then dismiss the rest out of hand. However . . .
Saying the entire Bible is authoritative does not mean it is all read and interpreted the same way. Often the same person who points out Jesus’ silence immediately points to a passage an Old Testament law and says, “Well, if you believe that, are you also going to say we need to stone children for disobedience?” This person has obviously never been a parent. But I digress. This kind of statement ignores the principles of Biblical interpretation and the principle of progressive revelation in the Bible. It also ignores what God was doing in and through Israel, what he fulfilled in Christ, and how he deals with his church today. The entire Bible is authoritative, but it does not all carry the same interpretative weight. Therefore . . .
Accepting the entire Bible as authoritative requires the hard work of thinking theologically. The last article I posted talked about theological thinking. This simply means:
n We have to read and interpret the Bible within the correct context. For example, not all the promises Godmade to Israel apply to us today (please take note Prosperity Gospel). Similarly, we don’t read a command the same way we read a Proverb. They have different contexts and different purposes.
n We have to read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. In what ways is the Old fulfilled in the New? What are some aspects of the Old that Jesus fulfilled and no longer apply? Now, these questions are always debated, but we must wrestle with them presupposing the authority of the entire Bible.
n We have to wrestle with the entire Scripture, distinguishing between what is descriptive and what is prescriptive, what was God’s original plan and what resulted from the fall, working to pull it all together into a consistent theology. Yes, this is really hard work, but it is both possible and necessary.
Now, back to Jesus’ “silence.”
Sometimes Jesus’ silence speaks louder than his words. What do I mean by that? Several things:
n Sometimes his silence implies his assent. If Jesus wanted to change something he would usually mention it and add new teaching. He could, for example, put the traditions of the elders in proper perspective. In Mark 7:15 he said “Nothing that goes into a person from the outside can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him” (HCSB). Mark then explains that this meant “He made all foods clean.” On the other hand, he could take a teaching or practice and add meaning to it. He often would say, “You have heard it said, but I tell you.” Jesus did not, however, need to address every single issue. If he did not see the need to talk about a specific moral or ethical issue, then it is pretty safe to assume he agreed with the commonly held position.
n Don’t interpret his silence, however, anachronistically. An anachronism is something that is placed in the wrong time period. Sometimes we force modern versions of moral and ethical issues on Jesus him that were not issues in his day. Of course Jesus didn’t say anything about nuclear proliferation, pornography, global warming, drug addictions, or gay marriage. He did however say a lot about peacemaking, lust, creation, stewardship, and his own Lordship above all else.
n Therefore, he does sometimes speak indirectly to an issue. That is, what he does affirm tells us all we need to know. For example, in Mark 10:2-9 Jesus is addressing a question on divorce. In his answer he affirms God’s original intention for marriage. So, it is true, for example, that Jesus never said anything about gay marriage. He did, however, affirm God’s original design and did so even above and beyond the allowances made by Moses “because of the hardness of your hearts.” Similarly, he didn’t say anything about out of control credit card debt. He did say “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth,” and “You cannot be slaves of God and of money” (Matt. 6:19, 24. HCSB).
Here is the bottom line. To say that “Jesus never said anything about this or that” is a cop-out. For one, Jesus didn’t have to address every issue the same way we do. Furthermore, if the church has always appealed to the entire Bible as her authority, then we can do no less today. We may come to different conclusions, but we need start at the same place.
Next article: “Culture: Good, Bad or Neutral?”