Is the Bible is about you or about God? You’d look at me like I’d sprouted an extra head and respond, “About God! Of Course!” But people familiar with the concept of “world views” knows that not everyone is conscious of what he or she believes. Anyone can give lip service to putting God at the center of the Bible’s narrative. I watch how people handle God’s word. When your pastor teaches God’s Word, what does he tell you it means. His interpretations of Scripture reveal who is at the center of his biblical world view — Jesus or himself.
I watch the visible church, what various popular teachers teach, and conclude that the standard view in the Church today is this: the Bible is all about us: how we should live, what our goals should be and who we should emulate. It’s a guide to a better life, or at least a more virtuous one.
I hope this post will cause some readers see passages from a point of view they hadn’t considered, from a point of view that has actually been the historical understanding of biblical interpretation for most of the Church’s history.
Christ appears quite early in the Bible as redeemer and savior. When God speaks to Adam and Eve and the serpent in the garden, God promises that the offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. (Genesis 3:15) This is not a promise that mankind would eventually triumph over Hell, but rather is the first declaration of the gospel! God promises to work salvation through his own mighty hand. The woman’s seed, Abraham’s seed, a singular seed, Jesus our Lord crushes the serpent on the cross. (Galatians 3:16)
When we hear the story of Abraham taking Isaac up to the mountain as a sacrifice to God (Genesis 22), and God provides the ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son, we are not Abraham in that story. This was not recorded for us to show us how need to “lay down our all” for God. This is a picture of the Heavenly Father providing the sacrifice and giving up his only Son for our salvation. If we have a place in this story, we are hidden inside Isaac’s seed, yet to be born, the deceiver, the one blessed all his life despite his behavior and because of God’s grace.
In the account of the life of Joseph (Genesis 37-50), we are not Joseph and his life was not recorded for us to teach us how to keep our “dream alive”. Joseph is a shadow and type of Christ, betrayed by his own brothers, returning figuratively from the dead (in Christ’s case literally) to save the very brothers that betrayed him from certain death.
In the account of Moses’ life (Exodus), we are not Moses. Moses points forward to the deliverance we would find through Jesus who would come to rescue us from bondage and slavery to sin. We are the unbelieving Israelites, whom the Lord saves for the sake of his own name and not because of the good behavior of a basically faithless people.
The same goes for Joshua. In fact, Jesus’ name in Hebrew is the same as Joshua’s! We are not Joshua, who leads the people in victory to take the land. Joshua is a type and shadow of our great redeemer, Jesus.
In the book of Judges, when you read about Gideon (Judges 6-8), Samson (Judges 14-16) and other such great men (and women, such as Deborah (Judges 4)), the stories recorded of these people’s life are not about us, except where the account mentions the Isrealites. God’s people were faithless and idolatrous and judged by God who sent Israel’s enemies to conquer and rule over them. The Israelites would eventually cry out to God and he sends them a deliverer. This cycle of falling away, repentance and deliverance points us straight to Jesus.
The New Testament is also rife with accounts that people love to make about themselves, in all the wrong ways. There are too many to list, but I’ll name a few of the most popular.
The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is not given to show how to be a good neighbor. We are not the kindly Samaritan, helping those in need. We are the man beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. The Samaritan represents Jesus Christ! He saved us, who were dead in our trespasses and sins, gave what was needed to nurse us back to health and promised to come back for us.
In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), it is not really about either son. We do not go to this so much as a cautionary tale about how to not be like the prodigal, or the other son for that matter, but to rejoice in the mercy of a father who receives unworthy sons, who gives grace that absolutely defies reason, human tradition and every sensibility.
And this should be obvious, but you’d be surprised how often this needs to be pointed out, in the accounts of Jesus’ life recorded for us in the gospels, we are not Jesus! His life is not instructional regarding how to have our miracles, how to raise the dead, how to heal the blind, how to multiply our resources or how to deal with those times in life when our dreams are crucified and we need to have the faith for them to be resurrected.
In these stories, we are the blind, the deaf, the lame, the leprous sinner. We are starving in need of the Bread of Life. We are dying of thirst in need of the Living Water. From the time we are born, we are lost, deceived and dying. We need the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. (John 14:6)