A “Better” Christianity, (Part 2: Trust Jesus, not the Bible)

Mar 05

A “Better” Christianity, (Part 2: Trust Jesus, not the Bible)

In my previous post, I started by stating that this “new” Christianity states that we should be cautious to judge things up to Scripture, since quite a few parts of Scripture appear flawed/misguided in their understandings of God. That’s why I commented to Melena that I chose not to use the words of Paul in my last post. I know that there are those who might dismiss what Paul has to say, because they see some of his teachings as contradictory to what Jesus taught. So I wanted instead to study Jesus’ own words as much as possible, since we hadn’t addressed the issue of this blog post yet. So what does this “better” Christianity have to say about Scripture and Jesus?

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TRUST JESUS, NOT THE BIBLE
The idea goes something like this: Jesus is the fullest revelation of God, not the Bible. Jesus is the word of God (John 1:14), not the Bible. The Old Testament tried its best to describe who God is, how He acts, what He wants from us. But it was written by people who didn’t have the knowledge of God given to us by Jesus, and therefore they attribute things to God that aren’t really in His character. And it’s not just them that do this. Even in the New Testament, various authors in their zeal of God over-reach themselves. People like Paul, for example, who is trying his best to understand what it means that Jesus has come in the flesh and how we should respond to that truth. But we also have something better than the writings of people before Christ and the people after Christ (who are humans like the rest of us). We have the very words of Christ himself! Paul wasn’t the Son of God. Paul didn’t die for our sins. Paul isn’t the Way, the Truth, the Life. He didn’t come down from heaven. He isn’t our Savior, and he isn’t the Messiah. Jesus is! So, sure, it’s great to read what Paul or Old Testament writers had to say–just like it’s great to read what any Christian philosopher has to say down the centuries. But we aren’t to trust Paul or his words with our life–we’re supposed to trust Jesus and his words with our life. We should really focus on the teachings of Jesus, and as long as you do that, you’ll be fine. But once you start to trust and follow Paul’s teachings–watch out! Because he was a man just like the rest of us. And let’s not even get started with the Old Testament. It was all written by other men too–and all centuries before Jesus, the light of the world, ever came!! They were writing under much misunderstandings about who God is–stick with the words of Jesus. He showed us who God really is.

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To be clear, I don’t think that people who believe this way would throw out the Old Testament or the Epistles completely. Just like they wouldn’t throw out Max Lucado or Koran completely either. Instead, it seems to be more of a continuum. We can trust Jesus’ words to be true the best. I am curious if they would say that we can trust all of Jesus’ words to be true, however. It seems even his words are “pick and choose.” Then next comes perhaps Paul or some other New Testament writings. They can be trusted to contain quite a bit of truth about God as well, although not all of it. It is all rather insightful however, though some parts seem to misrepresent the message of Jesus. The Old Testament has some light about God as well–although we find many more sketchy parts than we do in the New Testament. In fact, there are some parts of the Old Testament that just aren’t insightful at all and quite possibly grossly misrepresent God. The Koran, other spiritual writings,  I would assume, follow below that.

How does this play out? What’s the big deal? One example is if Jesus is silent on an issue, even though the rest of Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) speaks uniformly and plainly. Since Jesus doesn’t outright discuss His viewpoint on the matter, we cannot be sure whether the position taken by the rest of Scripture can be trusted or not. As a result, we shouldn’t have strong convictions on those matters. An example I encountered deals with the issue of homosexuality. Jesus never specifically says that homosexuality is a sin. Yet everywhere else it is mentioned in the Bible, it is declared to be sin. In light of this, my church decided to go with Jesus, rather than the Bible. If Jesus didn’t speak against it, neither should we. If He didn’t speak or preach about it, neither should we. It was so determined that we should allow Christians to practice this lifestyle. It was also permitted for Christians in homosexual relationships to serve in leadership capacities at the church. Church leaders congratulating and supporting homosexual couples who chose to commit to monogamous relationships by attending their civil union ceremonies was considered appropriate and Christ-like. After all, Jesus hung out with sinners and drunkards. Not that we mean that homosexuality is a sin…

Following this logic can get even more messy…what other things did Jesus remain silent on? Well, for starters Jesus is silent on quite a bit of alternative sexuality (although he addresses adultery): He never mentions incest. He never says that having sex with animals is wrong. He also never says anything against rape. I personally wouldn’t lump homosexuality in with some of those things, but I list them to make a point. Even beyond sexuality, what other things does Jesus never address? He never says that it’s wrong to build an idol and worship it as Yahweh. He never said it was wrong to get drunk/wasted. Only the rest of the Bible talks about those things.

Of course, this “better” Christianity pits Jesus against the rest of the Bible beyond the issues of homosexuality or any particular sin. It is bigger than that. The idea is that Jesus was a person who was loving and accepting of everyone, whereas the Old Testament reveals a God of wrath and judgment. For example, when the Old Testament claims that God told the Israelites to destroy man, woman, and child–today, through Jesus Christ, we realize that God would never have commanded them to do something as evil as that. That’s how the argument goes. It makes me wonder about their position on bloody, smelly animal sacrifices. God surely wouldn’t have commanded them to sacrifice animals for their sins to be forgiven. That’s just animal cruelty. The Israelites just felt guilty for their sins, and sacrificing animals made them feel better by easing their guilt. Of course, once you eliminate this as coming from God (as bloody, gross, disgusting, revolting as animal sacrifice is), you eliminate the idea of Jesus’ death on the cross as being the fulfillment of the sacrificial system ordained by God. Jesus’ death loses its significance. Do we sacrifice animals today now that Jesus has come? No, because Jesus’ sacrifice ended that need any longer! But not because Jesus somehow corrected the Jews for thinking it was from God and enlightened them of a better way. Just because we don’t do it today doesn’t mean that God didn’t ordain it for that time. In fact the book of Hebrews declares that the animal system was ordained by God INTENTIONALLY imperfect, to point to Christ. God ordained it–that is, if you believe the book of Hebrews.

Of course, people who hold this claim — that Jesus is all about grace, while the OT God is about judgment — fail to realize that Jesus spoke of fiery hell far more than any other person in Scripture. In fact, the Old Testament never mentions it–it just talks about Sheol/Grave–the place where good and bad people go alike. Jesus was much more “judgmental” than that. Even Paul doesn’t come close to talking about hell as much as Jesus does. And there are numerous places in the Old Testament that refer to God as merciful/gracious–Jesus’ teachings were not new on these points. Beyond this, in the New Testament, God kills Ananias and Sapphira in “Old Testament barbaric” fashion. Luke, who wrote one of the gospels of Jesus, writes this account as well. Do we trust him when he writes the book of Luke, but not when he writes the book of Acts? Which raises the question–why do we even trust what Jesus says in the gospels if He didn’t write them? We don’t even know who wrote Matthew or Mark, although some people have their opinions. And many question the book of John too. So can we really trust that any of it is what Jesus really said if Jesus didn’t author the books? (Yet we have books of Paul’s teachings that were actually authored by Paul.)

Speaking of Paul, why do we feel the need to pit Jesus against Paul? Like I laid out in the last post, most of these arguments center around taking Jesus’ words out of context, such as “Do not judge.” Sure, Paul said things that Jesus didn’t. And Jesus said things that Paul didn’t.  In fact, they seem to complement each other quite well! Jesus himself said that the apostles would receive the Holy Spirit after He left, and that the Holy Spirit would teach and guide them in all things (John 16:12-15). If Jesus really said that, why can’t we trust the words of the apostles, even if they weren’t said by Jesus himself? Can’t we trust what is written by the apostles after Jesus left? That includes Paul, who was also appointed by God as an apostle. In Acts (once again, written by the same author who wrote the words of Jesus in the book of Luke), we see how Peter and the rest of the apostles who followed Jesus embraced Paul (Acts 15:25-26). Paul mentions himself that Peter, James, and John–Jesus’ closest disciples–recognized him (Galatians 2:9-10).Of course, maybe Paul was just a flat-out liar…but then why would his books have been so revered and protected by the early church if it were so? If it became known that Paul was lying about his apostleship or harmony with the other apostles, he and his writings would have been discredited.

Even after Paul blatantly calls Peter out publicly for his hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-21), later on Peter himself recognizes Paul’s writings as on a similar level as Scripture!!! (2 Peter 3:15-16) And he also forcefully warns his readers about people who will try to distort Paul’s writings, as they distort the rest of Scripture. Distorting Paul’s writings and the rest of Scripture–that sounds eerily familiar. Why should we assume Jesus contradicts Paul, when His own disciples affirm both what Jesus said and what Paul taught? And why should we assume that Jesus contradicts the Old Testament when Jesus’ apostles use the Old Testament to prove He is the Messiah? Obviously they did not view the Old Testament like this “better” Christianity. Jesus himself, on the way to Emmaus, opens the Old Testament Scriptures to show people he is the Messiah (Luke 24:25-27).Jesus calls them foolish and slow of heart for not believing the Old Testament Prophets. And He shows us today that we can trust the Old Testament when He reveals to them on the road to Emmaus that Moses and all the prophets were inspired by God–not just writing their own words.

At the end of the day, the question being raised here is “Did God really say…?” Did God really say that homosexuality was a sin? Did God really say that all who do not turn to Jesus will be tormented in eternity? Did God really say, “No one gets to the Father except through me?” Did God really say that the way is narrow and only a few will find it? The first temptation the devil used as the serpent was to ask “Did God really say…?” We must both know what is in God’s Word, believe it, and battle our flesh so we do not repeat Adam and Eve’s mistake of giving in. We’ll neglect what God says in His word, because we no longer believe He would say something like THAT! And we would be wrong.

10 comments

  1. avatar

    P.S. Those who know me know that I have wrestled all my thinking life–and probably will all my thinking life–about issues of open canon/closed canon, inerrancy of Scripture, etc. While I’m not a person who thinks that you have to accept the decisions of the church council in 400 AD in order to get to heaven (how crazy is that?), my real concern on this issue is those who pick and choose what they think is from God and what isn’t–and how that is done as an excuse to not having to live by Scripture. If someone blindly accepts everything they read in Scripture without wrestling with it, they probably aren’t really understanding what they’re reading. If, on the other hand, they refuse to believe what they read, that is just as scary to me. As we’ll see in the next post, this issue of not abiding by Scripture leads all too quickly to the matter of utmost importance: salvation–is salvation through Jesus Christ alone?

  2. avatar
    Joel /

    I find myself sympathetic with this line of thinking in some ways simply because I think there are a few times where Paul is.. umm… creative in his interpretations of an OT passage. One such example is when Moses came down from the mountain… Paul, where did you get that?!

    At the same time, I think what separates me from this line of thinking is that I find very few of these moments and I give Paul some leeway precisely because his writings were revered enough to put it with the Gospels.

    For whatever reason, I find that I just love reading Jesus’ words. It is amazing to think “This is what God said when he decided to show up.” And interestingly enough, all the words from your “did God really say” quotes were from Jesus (except homosexuality).

    • avatar

      I don’t see Paul using creative license in that example, but I do see it in others. However, it doesn’t so much bother me that he uses creative license to support his truths at other times. I see that as a minor issue like the Gospels not always getting all the minor details exactly right (such as what time it was when Jesus was crucified). There are things in Paul’s writings, however, that I struggle to reconcile with internally. The same is true for me with some of Jesus’ words–so there you go!

  3. avatar
    Audra /

    I think there is always room for questions about Bible passages that don’t necessarily make sense to us, and I do have questions about the inerrancy of Scripture after thousands of years of human intervention. But that being said, I also don’t trust any humans to tell me which parts of the Bible are inaccurate! We are fortunate enough to be able to own and read our own Bibles and the Bible was given to Christians as a guideline for living…the whole Bible. I don’t think I’m narrow-minded at all (though some might disagree) but I do think that in the end I may be judged based on the knowledge that was given to me (the WHOLE Bible) and whether I did or did not follow it.

  4. avatar

    Hey Joel–are you referring to 2 Corinthians 3:13? If so, Paul was referring to Exodus 34:29-25…

    “Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. 30So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them. 32Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. 34But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded. 35And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.

    If you are not speaking of this passage, I would be curious which one you are referring to. THANKS

    • avatar
      Joel /

      That’s exactly what I was referring to. Exodus states that Moses wore the veil because the people were afraid of his face shining, but Paul says that Moses wore the veil so the people wouldn’t see the glory fading away.

      • avatar

        Okay…glad we are on the same page (of the Bible that is!) My question to you is: why can’t both be true? Paul’s version, coming after the original, gives another layer to what was happening. Paul was, after all, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In writing half the New Testament, he defines, refines, and articulates a wide range of doctrinal truth. He claimed he was doing so under direct authority of Christ and the Holy Spirit. For example, Colossians 1:25-27… 25 “Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; 26Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory”

        He also claimed to have direct authority from Jesus Himself to articulate the what Gospel of Jesus Christ is…Galatians 1:11.

        Here is what I think: The Apostle’s doctrine is critical. Without it, we can go just about any direction we want with Jesus (even his disciples has a hard time figuring him out and they hung out with Him!) Jesus came and made a big splash. God deputized Paul to bring clear definition to who Jesus is and the significance of His teaching and mission.

        • avatar
          Joel /

          Sure, and that’s what I figure… both may well be true. It just feels like Paul is adding to the detail of the story to better fit his point. And as Tim said above, it’s a minor point, not a major one.

  5. avatar
    Drew /

    I really like your stream of thought here. No matter what you decide is authoritative it’s going to have the same problem of how you establish it’s veracity and authority. The question of Scriptural authority is not a simple issue to address, though.

    Also, it should be important to note that Jesus’ teaching was very influenced by context. Jesus was constantly addressing people in different layers of a very legalistic system so his teaching was a response and a reflection of that. The absence of his teaching on a specific subject came from the fact that it was not a point of contention in his context that required teaching. Had Jesus taught the permissive Romans rather than the legalistic Jews the emphasis of his teaching would be dramatically different.

    If the bulk of the people who you teach are legalistic and your purpose is to get them to understand that holiness through the law is impossible, then you would probably give a sermon like The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). If the bulk of the people who you teach are permissive like many who Paul taught were then you would be a bit more blunt about what is missing the mark in God’s eyes.

    Regardless, the fact that Jesus was silent on several important issues is indicative to me that God intended for Scripture to extend beyond the Gospels.

    • avatar

      Drew, I think this is extremely insightful. I want to apply it to my own situation:

      Some people would say that I have a “judgmental” view of who Jesus is, because in this blog I seem to repeat over and over the passages where Jesus talks about hell/punishment/narrow way, etc. but not focusing on the passages of grace. They would be wrong for thinking this. I don’t fixate on this, even though it seems so from my blog entries of late.

      The only reason I am reiterating these things on judgment is because I’m addressing a belief system that refuses to acknowledge it, which necessitates me to delve into it. Jesus had to deal with legalism. Paul with permissiveness. I wish I didn’t need to deal with judgment, but if I don’t, I’m afraid people will continue to preach “tolerance” and dismiss the clear reality of it. It was an essential part of Jesus’ message–and it’s the reason why Jesus offered grace. Jesus’ life-giving grace isn’t needed unless you’re in danger of God’s judgment. Jesus warned us over and over about God’s judgment–let’s take him seriously.

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