Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
One of the major criticisms of the Bible is that it comes off as disjointed or even contradictory; especially in terms of how salvation is handled and how God is portrayed. People look at the Lord of the Old Testament and see a wrathful, vengeful God who kills everyone who looks at him wrong. Then suddenly in the New Testament, we’re told that God actually is very loving and caring, oh, and his name is Jesus now…and he existed as a person. Something seems off. Today, the Holy Spirit wants to remind you that things are not as weird and contradictory as they seem and the message really hasn’t changed.
The 4th, 5th, and 6th chapters of Deuteronomy all introduce aspects of the law; and with each one of them, the Lord has a special message he wants to remind the Israelites. The fourth chapter starts with,
You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did at Baal Peor. The Lord your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, but all of you who held fast to the Lord your God are still alive today (Deuteronomy 4:3-4).
So basically God said, “Those who followed me lived, the rest died.” That is to say, the Lord wants to stress that life is only found through him. Chapter five features Moses repeating the Ten Commandments. And what is the first commandment?
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me (Deuteronomy 5:6-7).
In this, God says, “I am God. Only I can bring you freedom. There are no other gods.” So to be clear, there is only one God, and only he can bring salvation and freedom. Then, in the very next chapter, God reminds us, “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). In case you haven’t noticed yet, there is only one God. We’re supposed to love and follow him. Keep in mind; these are three chapters right in a row where the subject is always the same: God is one, follow him only. The Lord is beating the Israelites over the head with his godhood…er, Godhood.
Then came the New Testament. In this new, hipper version of the Bible we’ve got a dude named Jesus preaching peace and love. Also, apparently he’s also God. Anyway, while he went around being totally not the God of the Old Testament, some people started to wonder how he’d handle older concepts. History records what happened,
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:34-36)
The Old Testament was defined by the Law. Everything eventually would lead back to it, being the first piece of Scripture given to the Israelites. As we saw, the Law repeatedly reminded its readers that God is God, the only God, and your only hope. So what would God 2.0 say about the Law? We read, “Jesus replied: ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment’” (Matthew 22:37-38). Wait. That sounds familiar- oh yeah, because we already read it in Deuteronomy 6. But wait; doesn’t the New Testament say that it is only through Jesus we are saved? I mean, that’s what the pastors are always saying, right? Indeed, check out one of my favorite set of verses in the New Testament:
But what does is say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (Romans 10: 8-11).
Wait, hold on a second, Deuteronomy said that only through God we can find salvation; but according to Paul it is only through acknowledging Jesus Christ’s Lordship that we can be saved. Something doesn’t add up. Luckily, Jesus already addressed this issue. He taught his Gospel-spreading disciples, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). Now, we have to unpack this a little bit. Jesus notes that if people won’t listen to the Gospel, they don’t care about Jesus. But more importantly, if a person directly rejects Jesus, he’s also rejecting God (who sent the Christ). The “but” in the middle separates the concepts a little. Another way of writing it would be, “He who rejects your version of the gospel message rejects the concept of me; however, he who rejects me directly won’t be saved as he has rejected God.” This reflects the rejection of people trying to preach the gospel versus the total rejection of Jesus Christ. Anyway, the point is that if you read what Jesus said, he taught that God is one, we should put our faith in God, and that it is only through God that we can be saved. It just so happens that Jesus, God in the flesh, is the method through which we are saved. Therefore, by rejecting Jesus, we reject God and are not saved. The rules are still the same from way back in Deuteronomy. The primary concern of a believer should still be to follow God with all of their heart and soul and mind.
Ok, so the first rule of the Bible hasn’t changed. Well then, what’s next? According to Jesus, “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commands” (Matthew 22:39-40). Jesus says that it is like the first because once again he is quoting the Old Testament, specifically the Law. We’re called to love our neighbors as ourselves; or simply put, we’re called to do good to others (as theoretically, we’d only seek our own good). And how do we love others? John explains, “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands” (1 John 5:2). Who knew the New Testament was filled with circular reasoning? The method of command two is actually command one. Again, the Lord is one, we should love the Lord. Ok, so how do we love God? John continues,
This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of god overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith (1 John 5:3-4).
To love God is to do as he commands. And he commands that we should love others. What else does he command? Let’s check out Deuteronomy 6:18-19,
Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land that the Lord promised on oath to your forefathers, thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said.
As an aside: I didn’t include the 1 John stuff in my original notes. But if you noticed, the Deuteronomy quote above has an awkward note about taking over the land that doesn’t really fit with our times- except if you see that there’s a note in 1 John about overcoming the world. And so although we’re not taking over lands in the name of Christ, we are taking over concepts and precepts, and overcoming the worldliness through loving God. Anyway, God commands that we should do good.
Well, what is good? Jesus tells us that we will get the answer to that through the Holy Spirit. For it is written,
I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come (John 16:12-13).
Although the Law exists, Jesus taught that we shouldn’t be devoting our lives to it; rather we should focus on loving God and loving people. Beyond that, Christ explained that the Holy Spirit would guide us in the way we should love and do good. That is to say that God does all the heavy lifting, all we have to do is trust in him and he’ll make sure everything gets done. Sure enough, everything established in Deuteronomy stands. The Lord is one, by accepting the Lord (through Jesus) you can have life, the Lord brings freedom, the Lord brings life, love the Lord. Love the Lord.