Baby Jesus and Bible-Reading

The term ‘Christ centered’ gets thrown around a lot in reference to the Bible – a Christ-centered hermeneutic, a Christ-centered exegesis, Christ-centered interpretation, etc. But this seems to be one of those things that, upon close inspection, isn’t’t as clear cut in meaning as is supposed. What does ‘Christ-centered’ actually mean? Does it mean that every word of Scripture is actually about Jesus? Every story, every narrative, every page of Scripture, has Jesus as its subject and object? What does Christ-centered actually mean?

Well, taken at face value, it could mean a reading of Scripture which aims to ‘see’ Christ in all of the Bible. There are multitudes of books, devotionals, exegetical manuals, etc, which broadly have this goal – see Christ on every page. But this has some complications, because, obviously enough, Jesus isn’t the immediate objector subject of a lot of biblical stories. The story about Achan is (duh) about Achan. The story of Esther is about Esther, etc etc. So, (again) obviously enough, if Christ is supposed to be seen on every page, then there has to be more to the method than simply saying ‘that story is about Jesus.’

A common technique is typology, or foreshadowing, or whatever you like to call it. Something is a type of Christ if it foreshadows an aspect of His person, life and work. A good example of this would be Mechelzidek, or the Levitical sacrificial system (one can reference the book of Hebrews for this). These things are types of Christ in that they point to what is accomplished by Christ.

Now, here’s a few things I notice about that: the significance of that which is the type is intelligible only by virtue of what it points to (comparisons can be made with a realist interpretation of language). Types are pointers to a greater reality. I also notice that it devalues the type, or the sign – the real significance isn’t the sign but that to which it points. This makes it very easy to simply assign the role of type to something and by doing so assign it value only as a type or sign rather than it having significance in itself. To put it another way: it becomes very easy to look a X and say, ‘Oh, X is a type of Christ. Next!’

Continuing along that route: typology can become quite ridiculous – think of the medieval obsession with paralleling every part of the Ark narrative to some aspect of Christ’s person, work and life. Now that’s not a cheap sideshot, just an observation.

So the point so far is that in saying that one has to see Jesus on every page, one is basically committing to moving beyond the immediate subject/object of the text and engaging in typology, or metaphor, or what have you. So the text isn’t ‘about’ Jesus in the strict sense – it points beyond itself, by way of typology or metaphor, to Jesus.

Now that isn’t really too controversial as it stands, but I’m not so sure that Jesus is literally the subject of every aspect of Scripture. I don’t personally think every story s meant to foreshadow or be a type of Christ, and I think sustained attempts to make that so border of flights of fancy because Jesus isn’t, strictly speaking, the center of every aspect of the Biblical text but rather the goal of the text as a whole.

Put another way: not every word of the Bible has to have Jesus as its immediate object and subject, though the Truth of the Scriptures is, obviously, Jesus.  Scripture as a whole has Jesus as its telos – but not every word of Scripture is necessarily about Jesus in the sense that if we look hard enough at every page, or engage in typology/metaphor, Jesus will emerge. Typology is obviously great, and biblical – one can find types of Christ all over (again, Leviticus/Hebrews is a good place to start). But I remain unconvinced that every story, or every page, of Scripture has Jesus as its object and subject, though Scripture’s telos and goal is, in fact, Christ, the Word of God, the Truth of the Scriptures, to which the Scriptures bear witness.

Postscript: the telos of Scripture has to be understood in the context of Israel, exile, restoration, etc, because that’s the overarching narrative of the Scriptures. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to go into too much depth there.

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3 thoughts on “Baby Jesus and Bible-Reading

  1. Joel March 11, 2014 / 8:45 am

    Good post. I’m a little bothered when Christians say the Old Testament is meaningless apart from Christ – it seems almost anti-Semitic, even if not intentionally. I think their hearts are in the right place and they’re often saying it as a corrective to therapeutic preaching that’s goes really heavy on “applying it to your life”, but it’s still misguided.

    Of course the OT finds its greatest fulfillment in Christ, but it certainly has its own value and meaning (John Goldingay is good at emphasizing this, by the way). Aren’t Song of Solomon and Job rich and meaningful texts even without the NT, for example?

    Like

    • whitefrozen March 11, 2014 / 11:25 am

      Indeed, misguided is a good way to describe it. Job, Psalms, etc would certainly be meaningful without the NT.

      Like

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