Over the weekend I was involved in a conversation. I’ve heard people say they like Jesus but not the church. This wasn’t exactly the issue that was raised in this conversation. Instead this person felt that Jesus was ok but the rest of the Bible was rubbish. The person felt that people would be better off if they got rid of the Bible except for Jesus’ teaching. I was caught a bit off-guard. I wish I had more time to think about my answer because I have several things to say about this viewpoint.
1. Jesus Lived in the Bible
Nothing is without a context. For Jesus it is important to remember that he was a first century Jew who was influential enough in religious thought to be called rabbi. He quoted the Old Testament. His teaching not only centred around issues in the Bible but in many cases added greater weight to what they were saying. It is simply impossible to remove him from his time and context. To do so is at best naïve, and at worst nothing short of vulgar proof-texting.
2. Jesus’ Teaching is Recorded in the Bible
This statement may sound overwhelmingly simplistic and yet it is true. Jesus didn’t write a book. You can’t download his sermons online. We know his teachings because they have been recorded by the Biblical writers. Assuming that the Bible can simply be cut apart, isn’t just pulling out Jesus’ teaching an overly drastic editing technique? That’s even assuming it is possible to concretely determine exactly what Jesus’ words are. The earliest manuscripts don’t use quotation marks and Jesus’ words are filtered through the lens of the writer. This means that at times it is difficult to tell whether certain phrases are from Jesus or the writer. A classic example of this is John 3:16. Commentators are divided over whether it is Jesus’ words or John’s.
3. Jesus Used the Bible to Speak About Himself
You know the story at the end of the book of Luke. Jesus has risen from the dead but not many people know it yet. He is travelling with 2 strangers who are upset over Jesus’ death. What does Jesus do? He doesn’t jump out and say here I am. Instead he reveals to them how the whole Old Testament is pointing to himself. This means at very least the Old Testament is important to Jesus because it validates who he is.
4. The Bible Ultimately is Expecting Jesus’ Return
Finally the Bible reaches a climax in the expectation that Jesus will return to earth as a king. It pictures a time when God triumphs over evil. A time when God will reign and all injustices will be righted. In a very real sense, what is pictured is the fulfilment of Jesus’ teaching in daily life. This is most obviously seen in the writing of the New Testament but is also present in the Old. Most significantly, it centres on Jesus. It is his triumph over the powers of evil that makes it possible. And it is the belief in him that we are able to enter into this future expectation.
As I probed deeper into this conversation I realised that the issue wasn’t getting the Bible out of Jesus’ teaching. This is just impossible. Instead it related to doctrines and interpretation of the Bible. We need to understand the Bible as a whole to see the importance of it in Jesus’ teaching.