Jesus’ approach to interpreting sacred text was radical for his time, yet honored his own Hebrew Bible (or what Christians call the Old Testament). Even though Jesus’ use of Scripture is plain enough for us to see in the Gospels, many Christians are accustomed to reading the Bible in a very different way. We simply haven’t paid attention and connected the dots! Over the next couple days, I’ll share some examples that reveal Jesus’ hermeneutic so that we might follow his methodology:
- Jesus actually does not quote Scripture that much! In fact, he is criticized for not doing this: “you teach with [inner] authority and not like our own
scribes” (Mark 1:22).
- Jesus talks much more out of his own experience of God and humanity instead of teaching like the scribes and Pharisees, who operated out of their own form of case law by quoting previous sources.
- Jesus often uses what appear to be non-Jewish or non-canonical sources,
or at least sources scholars cannot verify. For example, “It is not the
healthy who need the doctor, but the sick do” (see Mark 2:17, Matthew
9:12, and Luke 5:31), or the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (see
Luke 16:19-31). His bandwidth of authority and attention is much wider
than sola Scriptura. He even quotes some sources seemingly incorrectly (for example, John 10:34)!
- Jesus never once quotes from nineteen of the books in his own Scriptures.
In fact, he appears to use a very few favorites: Exodus, Deuteronomy,
Isaiah, Hosea, and Psalms—and those are overwhelmingly in Matthew’s
Gospel, which was directed to a Jewish audience.
- Jesus appears to ignore most of his own Bible, yet it clearly formed his whole consciousness. That
is the paradox. If we look at what he ignores, it includes any
passages—of which there are many—that appear to legitimate violence,
imperialism, exclusion, purity, and dietary laws. Jesus is a biblically formed non-Bible quoter who gets the deeper stream, the spirit, the trajectory of his Jewish history and never settles for mere surface readings.
- When Jesus does once quote Leviticus, he quotes the one positive mandate among long lists of negative ones: “You must love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).