Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
There’s often a lot of confusion among people as they read the New Testament and compare it to the Old Testament. Jesus’ ministry was one of love and forgiveness as opposed strict legal action in the case of sin. For example, in quoting the Law, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39). Whereas the part of the Law that Jesus was quoting was in fact very strong on retribution. We read in Leviticus 24:19-20, “If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured.” Jesus was big on forgiveness, though. When asked about the subject of forgiveness and its limits, the Christ gave what most of his time would have considered an unreasonable answer. The Bible records,
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22).
Seventy-seven times? And some translations suggest the number was even higher. What it comes down to is that Jesus thought that people should forgive continually, and without holding grudges against people. Even while on earth, Jesus made it a point to forgive people. Take the women caught in adultery for example, after he got everyone else to leave her alone we read,
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:10-11).
What J-Man!? Even Jesus himself preached very strongly against sexual sin. We read his mini-sermon on it in Matthew 5:27-29,
You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
Now if a guy with a wandering eye is supposed to lose said eyes just for looking at a woman, what is the gal who’s actually committed adultery supposed to do? But Jesus just forgave her and told her to stop sinning. Jesus’ ministry seems to directly go against the Old Testament teachings. I mean, check this out, “If anyone curse his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head” (Leviticus 20:10). Even just saying something bad to your parents will bring the death penalty with no remorse in Leviticus! In fact, chapter 20 is basically a list of crimes that end in death- which as it turns out is pretty much every sin. So how can Jesus preach forgiveness when the Law is preaching merciless capital punishment for almost any crime? If there are any atheists reading, take note, you’ll probably trip up a fair few Christians asking about it.
Now, for those in Christ who are still reading, or those who really want to know what to do about this apparent contradiction in the Bible, read on. First off, the Bible is not contradictory. God can’t contradict himself because he’s perfect, therefore the Word of God cannot go against itself. Well then what are we supposed to do with Jesus’ ministry going up against the Law? Let’s go back a second to the woman caught in adultery. In line with the Law, the people were getting ready to kill her, for it is written, “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife- with the wife of his neighbor- both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10). However, Jesus did not condone her death at the hands of the people. We read in John 8:7, “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’” You see, Jesus realized that we have no right to punish each other. Nobody was able to stone her since everybody has sinned; and since Jesus’ ministry was one of forgiveness and healing, he didn’t kill her either. Well wait, hold on here. If we’re not supposed to carry out the hardcore punishments of the Law, then why are they even there? To find the answer we must return to the chapter of death sentences: Leviticus 20,
The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him. I will set my face against that man and I will cut him off from his people; for by giving his children to Molech, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my name. If the people of the community close their eyes when that man has given one of his children to Molech and they fail to put him to death, I will set my face against that man and his family and will cut off from their people both him and all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molech.
I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people (Leviticus 20:1-6).
There’s a catch in the Law that most of us probably skim over while reading Leviticus: if we don’t punish, God will. God knew already way back when that we were incapable of properly handling sin. Therefore, he noted that when we forgive or cover over other’s sins, he takes care of the dirty work. This isn’t the only other place we find this notation either. In the song of Moses, God tells us,
It is mine to avenge; I will repay.
In due time their foot will slip;
Their day of disaster is near
And their doom rushes upon them (Deuteronomy 32:35).
This is why Paul is able to confidently quote the Law in his argument that we must love our neighbors, no matter how flawed they are. He writes in Romans 12:18-19,
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for god’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.”
When we forgive as opposed to administering quick justice or seeking out evil for someone who has wronged us, God takes care of it. And wouldn’t you say he’s a much better judge of character than you?
Jesus, therefore, looks at the bigger picture of things. There is no sinless person on the face of the earth, nor has there ever been, nor will there ever be (until we live with Jesus in the new heaven and earth). For the Word of God says “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Therefore, we are all dead men (and women) walking, for God says in Ezekiel 18:4, “For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son- both alike belong to me. The soul who sins in the one who will die.” Since this is the case, then we have no place to punish others, because we are just as much embroiled in sin as others are.
However, since we are all under the penalty of death, then theoretically, God should wipe us out (as his law requires). But the Lord understands our plight, and to that end he sent his son to forgive us of our sins. For the Scriptures record that Jesus himself said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). And since we are all lost by sin, Jesus seeks us all out. Therefore we read,
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Romans 3:22-24).
Since we are all under sin, then we all can be under grace as well. We don’t deserve life, as we have all sinned, however, as a gift; the Lord extends his forgiveness to all. As it is written: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Not only does the Lord extend this forgiveness to anyone who is willing to receive it, but he makes it quite easy to do; all you have to do is believe in his son, Jesus Christ, and that he died to save you from your sins. For as John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It’s that easy, check out what Jesus says in John 5:24, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” So by all means, if you haven’t accepted Christ’s forgiveness yet, do it now!
If we’re all forgiven by the Lord, then we should forgive others too; for we are to follow the Lord’s example. Even Leviticus agrees with this point, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them; “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy”’” (Leviticus 19:1-2). This is echoed by Jesus in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as you heavenly Father is perfect.” Well, since our perfect God forgives us, then we, imperfect as we are, should be forgiving as well. To this end Paul wrote, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). So Jesus’ ministry never went against the Law, in fact, he followed it perfectly in his life, and completed it in his death and resurrection, extending life to all of us.
Rock on God!