Reading Authentically Part 2
© 07.21.2014 By D. Eric Williams
This article appeared in the July 24 edition of the Cottonwood Chronicle
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:17-18).
Biblical literalists have tied themselves in knots over these words of our Lord Jesus Christ, because taken literally, Jesus says there will not be any change in the law whatsoever until the created order is destroyed. One attempted solution is to declare that Jesus is speaking about the moral law. But that is to do violence to the text - and the worldview of first century Jews. First century devout followers of God did not differentiate between moral, ritual and civil law in the way we do today. Thus Christ is referring to the law as a whole. And he said that not even a "jot or tittle" would fall from the law until heaven and earth pass away. If that is so, why do we Christians not practice the old covenant ritual of sacrifice? Why is it okay to eat pork and shrimp? To what do we attribute our freedom to wear wool blend slacks? Taken literally, followers of Jesus Christ should be living in a very different world than we do. Yet, these words of cosmic dissolution were never meant to be taken literally.
In his description of Babylon's overthrow by the Medo-Persian army, Isaiah says, see, the day of the Lord is coming - a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger - to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. ...Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the Lord Almighty, in the day of his burning anger (Isaiah 13:9-10, 13). This language of "decreation" is commonly used in the old testament and other extra-biblical Jewish writing to describe the end of a socio-political and religious order. When it is coupled with the language of creation, it also heralds the beginning of a new order.
Concerning these things, the nineteenth century divine John Brown, wrote, "a person at all familiar with the phraseology of the Old Testament Scriptures, knows that the dissolution of the Mosaic economy, and the establishment of the Christian, is often spoken of as the removing of the old earth and heavens, and the creation of a new earth and new heavens. For example, for, behold, I create new heavens, and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. ...for as the new heavens and a new earth which I shall make remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain" (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22). Moreover, "the period of the close of one dispensation, and the commencement of the other, is spoken of as 'the last days' and 'the end of the world' and is described as such a shaking of the heavens and Earth as should lead to the removal of the things which were shaken (Haggai 2:6, Hebrews 12:26-27)" (Sayings and Discourses of Christ, Vol 1 pages 171-172).
Again, the solution to this problem is to read the Bible authentically rather than literally. Keep in mind, an authentic reading is often a literal reading but only when that understanding of the text is in keeping with the worldview of the writer and his original audience.
One of the reasons Christians are reluctant to interpret the Bible authentically is because it places a great burden of responsibility upon them. Indeed, to read the Bible as it should be read is a frightening task. It forces us to know the Bible thoroughly because "you will always find that biblical imagery is rooted in the Bible itself or explained in the passage itself" (James Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall, page 176, fn). Moreover it demands a lively, spirit filled relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.
More on this next week.