Friday, January 05, 2007

Interpreting Jesus

The discussion with Jim Wilson continues. Jim wrote:

The problem is, there are so many perspectives and portraits of Jesus, the Gospels, and the Bible as a whole - from different cultural perspectives, philosophies and understanding of historical context. The most intelligent and well-informed from each tradition can craft nearly irrefutable arguments that their Jesus is the correct one. Those who choose to believe in Jesus have basically two options - go along with what's one's been taught since childhood, or after however much one has studied, choose the Jesus closest to one's own feelings and intuition.

I respond to Jim: To a certain extent, I agree with you. In reading any great book, or trying to understand any historical figure, there will be a multitude of interpretations. That is especially the case with a book like the Bible, which is a collection of works, of various genres, written over more than 1,000 years by dozens of authors. It is also especially true with a figure like Jesus, who lived 2,000 years ago and left behind no writings of his own. I don’t think the debate about Jesus’ character and significance will ever be finished this side of the Kingdom of God.

But, I do not think we need to jump to an extreme relativism. There are better and worse interpretations of the Bible, and better and worse interpretations of Jesus, as witnessed to in the Newer Testament. There is nothing intrinsic to the Bible that makes it incapable of being interpreted in better or worse ways. For example, your interpretation of Jesus is more true to Scripture than an interpretation of Jesus that justifies torture, aggression, and oppression, and we could cite dozens of passages of the Gospels to make the case. Using Jesus to justify such wickedness is like using Martin Luther King, Jr. to justify racism; it just doesn’t work.

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