Friday, May 15, 2020

Christ Is the Meaning of the Scriptures


What does it say? What does it mean? How does it apply? Those were the questions I was taught, in my earlier years, to ask when reading the Scriptures. But I have since come to believe that there really is no difference between the interpretation of a text and the application of it. The act of interpretation is the act of discovering meaning in a text; application is the act of discovering meaning in a text. They are both concerned with discovering meaning in the text. Application and interpretation of the text are really but two different ways of describing the same function.

In 1 Corinthians 10, when Paul speaks of Moses and the children of Israel in the wilderness, he says, “These things happened to them as types written for our instruction” (v. 11). What are they? They are types. Why are they written? For our instruction. They have meaning for us, and that meaning instructs us. Some would call that application, and so it is; but there is really no difference between that and interpretation.

We cannot know for certain what the ancient Scriptures (the Old Testament) meant to ancient readers. We cannot even know for certain what the human authors of the Scriptures understood their own writings to mean. Did the author of Exodus and Numbers understand that the crossing of the Red Sea is about Christ and baptism? Did he realize that the Rock that followed them in the wilderness is Jesus Christ, and that the water that flowed from that Rock is spiritual drink? Did he understand that the One the children of Israel rebelled against in the wilderness is Jesus Christ? It is doubtful. Did the author of the book of Jonah recognize that the sign of Jonah is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as Christ said it is? Again, doubtful. We could bring many more similar examples.

There is also no reason to suppose that there is only one correct interpretation of a passage. There may be many true interpretations (and there are also many interpretations that are not true). This is especially so when we consider that, though the Scriptures have many human authors, the author whose meaning matters most is God, and there is no reason to suppose that God cannot communicate any number of things to us through the divinely inspired Scriptures — but they will always be about the crucified and risen Christ.

Choosing an interpretation as the one and only interpretation and then calling the rest “applications” simply disguises the matter. The truth is that whether we call it “interpretation” or “application,” we are talking about what a text means, and that is always a matter of interpretation.

What this means when we are reading the Scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, is that we are not applying them to Christ, as if Christ were not already inherently present in them — we are not imposing Christ upon them. It is one thing to say that an interpretation is imposed upon the Scriptures; it is quite another to say that Christ is imposed upon them. Christ is neither imposed upon them nor applied to them, but the Scriptures are about him. He is always the One of whom they speak. He is the One they present to us and give witness to. For Christ, who is the Word, the Logos, the divine author of Scripture has said that they are about him.
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me. (John 5:39)
Likewise, in Luke 24, Christ opens the Scriptures to the disciples, and opens the minds of the disciples to see that what Moses and the Prophets wrote are about him, and thus to understand them properly (see Luke 24 and Reading the Scriptures). Christ himself is the meaning of the Scriptures. So we do not apply the Scriptures to Christ, or impose Christ upon the Scriptures, as if he were external to them. Rather, we discover Christ in them as their inherent meaning.

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