Thursday, March 3, 2011

How to Read the Bible, According to the Author of Hebrews

I've been asked to consider leading a teaching time at my church on how to read the Bible. In prepareation I started mulling over passages about God's Word itself for direction. One important passage is Hebrews 4:12, which says that "the word of God is living and active, sharter than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." I've thought about this verse many times, but I never related it to its actual context in the letter. So I went back and read chapters 1-4 of Hebrews, and the following structure emerged:

1. (1:1-7) In the past God spoke through the Law and the prophets, but "in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son." The reference to Jesus' superiority over angels is likely a nod to the Jewish notion that angels were the intermediaries through whom the Torah came to Moses. So in saying Jesus is better than the angels is saying he reveals truth more clearly than angels and that he himself is greater than the Law.

2. (2:1-4:11) The Old Testament and Israel's story is an example intended to point us to the rest and peace that come through the obedience belonging to faith--a "Sabbath-rest" for the people of God greater than of Israel in Canaan. The history and practices of Israel are meant to be shadows of greater things to come, namely, the era of the Messiah and the worship of his new covenant people. The author is explicit to say that, like Israel, "good news has come to us" (4:2)--the news of Jesus the superior head (2:5-9) and priest (2:10-17)--but it must be met with faith and obedience. The gospel is God's very voice speaking to us, and we should not harden our hearts to it (3:7-4:11).

3. (4:12-13) As a gracious warning to us, the word of God serves to discern the wrong beliefs and idolatrous, sinful heart attitudes that lead us astray from clinging to God, receiving the news of his salvation, and obediently trusting him through this life. The Scriptures serve to "leave us naked and exposed" in God's presence.

4. (4:14-16) Rather than leave us laid bare as hard-hearted and dull-eared sinners who are doomed to fail to reach God's rest, the word of rescue comes again, pointing us to Jesus, our great high priest and mediator before God, through whom we can draw near to receive grace and mercy to help us in time of need. Our redemption lies not in a behavioral program, but in a person.

In other words, the aim of the Bible as we read it is twofold: (1) The warnings and examples contained in the Law and in the narrative history of Israel and the nations are meant to expose not only their sin and fallenness, but ours as well. The author to the Hebrews is insistent that historical texts still speak today by the Holy Spirit to all who hear. So it is God's word which also points us to our own need for rescue. (2) The Rescuer and Redeemer pledged in the promises and foreshadowings of the Old Testament has come in Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. As the word expounds, he is the one who perfectly meets our needs, and we are directed to trust and follow him.

In other words, the "sacred writings" are meant to "make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). More on this to come.

1 comment:

Litl-Luther said...

Good thoughts. I would add that to read Scripture just like Hebrews is to always see Christ in the Old Testament. -Triston