Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Jesus Read, Believe and Taught the Old Testament. How about You?

This is an excerpt from late Dr. John R. W. Stott’s Students of the Word (2013) published by IFES. Christ was a controversialist. He engaged in constant debate with the religious leaders of his day. They disagreed with him, and he disagreed with them. And in every question or conflict, he regarded Scripture as the final court of appeal. In particular, Jesus criticized both the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He criticized the Pharisees for adding to Scripture the traditions of the elders. And he criticized the Sadducees for subtracting from Scripture – subtracting its supernatural element. So to the Pharisees, Jesus said: “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandments of God by your traditions” (Mark 7:9). And to the Sadducees, he said: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).

It is beyond question that our Lord Jesus Christ submitted to the Old Testament as the word of his heavenly Father. The decisive factor for him was what was written. That settled every uncertainty. And there is no example of Jesus contradicting Scripture, only of his submitting to it and fulfilling it. You may ask: “What about the six antithesis in the Sermon of the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5? (“You have heard that it was said, but I say…”). There are some liberal scholars who imagine that Christ was contradicting Moses. No, he was contradicting the scribal misinterpretations and distortions of Moses. He didn’t say: “You’ve seen that it was written, and I say something different.” He was not contradicting what was written in the Scripture, but what was said (in the oral tradition). So the Gospel evidence is incontrovertible. In heart and mind and life, Jesus humbly submitted to the Old Testament as to God’s word written. And because Jesus did, so must we.

There are only two possible ways to escape this logic. That is to conclude Jesus was mistaken or was pretending. It’s important for us to reflect on these alternatives.

Was he mistaken? The argument goes like this: “Jesus was imprisoned by his incarnation in the limited mental reach of a first century Jew. He believed in the authority of Scripture, as did all his Jewish contemporaries. But like them, he was mistaken.” This is commonly called the theory of kenosis – from the Greek for “he emptied himself” (see Philippians 2:7). In short, he emptied himself of his supernatural knowledge, so would make mistakes. And among these mistakes was his erroneous view of Scripture. It does seem to be true that Jesus, during his life on earth, was not omniscient, for he asked questions, which suggests that he didn’t know the answers. He specifically said that he did not know the day or hour of his return (Mark 13:32). Only the Father knew the date of the second coming. On the other hand, he knew what he didn’t know. He wasn’t ignorant of his limits. And knowing the limits of his knowledge, he stayed within those limits and never strayed beyond them. While he was not omniscient, he was inerrant. He taught only what his Father had given him to teach and hence he made no mistakes. So this teaching of the Old Testament was not mistaken. It was true.

Was he pretending? The argument goes like this: “Jesus knew perfectly well that Scripture was not infallible. But because his contemporaries believed it was, and because he didn’t want to upset them, he went along with their error. He pretended to hold it as well.” This is the accommodation theory: that he deliberately accommodated himself to their view. This theory is equally intolerable. To attribute to Jesus Christ a conscious deception is a slander upon him and upon his integrity. It is derogatory to him. He never hesitated to disagree with his contemporaries if he believed them to be mistaken. He criticized their views on tradition, on the Sabbath, on fasting, and he rejected their political notion of messiahship. So why should he not dissent from their view of Scripture if he didn’t agree with it? The accommodation theory would make Jesus guilty of the sin he most detested, and that is the sin of hypocrisy.

Here are two attempted escape routes both of which declared his teaching to be mistaken. According to the first, Jesus’ mistake was involuntary, he couldn’t help it, he was imprisoned in the mentality of a first century Jew. According to the second, his mistake was deliberate. He chose to pretend that he agreed with his contemporaries when he didn’t. According to the first, he was deceived, according to the second, he was a deceiver. Both kenosis and accommodation must be firmly rejected. They seriously discredit the honesty, integrity and authority of the Son of God. Against these slanderous speculations we hold that Jesus knew what he was saying – and he meant it – and it is true. So we must believe and teach it as well.

Here are my (Richard’s) challenge to you:
Our Lord Jesus Christ read, believed and taught the Old Testament Scripture.
How about you? Do you read the Old Testament like Jesus does?
Do you believe that the Old Testament (together with the New Testament) is the Word of God?
Do you studies it diligently and taught it to the people of God?
If you’re a Christian, follow the commandments and the example of Jesus.

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