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radical christians & the word of god (part 1 of 3): authority

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We believe in the authoritative, inerrant, infallible Word of God – and his name is Jesus.

This is the first of three blog posts on the authority, inerrancy, and application of the Word of God from an Anabaptist Christian perspective. Anabaptism is a 500 year old movement that primarily formed on the heels of the Protestant Reformation, and became known as the Radical Reformation. “Radical” is a good word to describe Anabaptists, since it comes from the Latin, radix, which means “root”. The Radical Reformers were and still are about getting Christians back to our roots as Jesus followers. If the Protestant Reformation was about getting Christians to rally around the Bible, the Radical Reformation was a further call for Christians to rally around the Jesus they read about in the Bible. (For more on the Radical Reformation, see our teaching series here.)

When Radicals (or, Anabaptists) hear or use the phrase “the Word of God”, we tend to think of three things in descending order:

  1. Jesus
  2. The message of God contained in the Bible
  3. The Bible

When Reformers (or, Protestants) hear or use the phrase “the Word of God”, they typically think of similar things as Radicals, but in reverse order:

  1. The Bible
  2. The message of God contained in the Bible
  3. Jesus

Ever since the 16th century, when the Protestant Reformers and Radical Reformers were differentiating from one another as alternative Christian expressions, this simple shift in emphasis showed itself to have significant, real world ramifications.

One critique that Radicals sometimes make of Reformers is that Protestants tend to talk about the Bible in ways that Christians should really talk about Jesus. Many Protestant Christians say things like “We follow the Bible”, or will talk about the “authority of the Bible”, or say that Scripture is “inerrant”. As a Radical Christian, these are things I would tend to say about Jesus first and foremost. I follow Jesus. Jesus holds all authority. And Jesus is the perfect one, without error.

Most Anabaptists combined a tremendous love for Scripture with a refusal to place it above or even alongside Christ as the Word of God.
~ Stuart Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition

Sometimes when Protestants find out that Anabaptists don’t tend to use the word “inerrant” to refer to Scripture, they assume we must be theological liberals (where “liberal” is one of the worst things you can say about a fellow Christian). In their minds, there are only two camps: 1) theological conservatives who uphold the inerrancy of Scripture, and 2) theological liberals who demean Christian Scripture in order to import progressive (i.e., worldly) ideas into the Christian faith apart from biblical support. For many Protestants, it never occurs to them that there might be a third option: a group of deeply committed Christians who hold the Bible in very high regard as God’s inspired gift to the Church, but who also hold Jesus in even higher regard than Scripture and who use their language intentionally to reflect this. Maybe you’ve been part of this way of thinking. If so, I can relate.

This was me when I first heard about the Anabaptist denomination I am now a part of – Be In Christ Canada (formerly, the Brethren In Christ). I was an Evangelical with Reformed/Calvinist theology at the time I heard about the BIC. As a Baptist pastor, I had been slowly questioning some basic Evangelical assumptions, especially the role Jesus should play in how we interpret, understand, and apply everything in the Bible. It seemed to me that a Jesus-centred reading of Scripture should lead Christ-followers to fully embrace, among other things, the nonviolent, enemy loving, peace making way of Jesus. So when the leadership of the BIC invited me to dialogue with them, I was excited to learn about this 200 year old denomination, and to know that it was part of a 500 year old movement of Christians who prioritized precisely that – the nonviolent, enemy loving, peace making way of Jesus. But even though I was thrilled with what might become my new denominational home, as a transitioning Evangelical I remember being suspicious when I couldn’t find the word “inerrant” in the BIC’s statement of faith. “I knew they were too good to be true!” I remember thinking to myself. Inerrancy, I had been taught, was the litmus test of orthodoxy. Look for a clear and bold proclamation of the inerrancy of Scripture and you can be more assured that a church was preaching the true gospel. Today I’m so glad I didn’t run away from the issue or suppress my questions, but leaned into Scripture and the ongoing conversation around Scripture with my new Anabaptist family.

I learned that Radical Christians were far from theological liberals, but in fact the early Anabaptists would have considered the Protestants to be the liberal side of the divide, because they dismissed, disregarded, or otherwise excused themselves from following the most obvious aspects of Jesus’ teaching and example. Protestants were just as violent as Catholics at the time of the Protestant Reformation and the Radical Reformation, and they rationalized their violence by appealing to the Bible! Repeatedly, Protestants found biblical justification for violence which they used to overrule the clear nonviolent, enemy loving, peace making way of Jesus.

Anabaptists, on the other hand, had been willing to die at the hands of fellow Christians for generations because they refused to bear the sword in self defense or national defense. Their kingdom was the Kingdom of God, the war they waged was not against flesh and blood, but against a spiritual enemy (Ephesians 6:12), and their only king was King Jesus. Anabaptists believed that Jesus was God’s ultimate self-disclosure (John 1:18) and that all of Scripture should be relentlessly interpreted through the Jesus lens.  I realized that, whether or not I would come to agree with Anabaptist theology on every issue, mistaking them as theological liberals would be insulting to this branch of the Christian family tree.


Well, that’s my introduction. (Thanks for making it this far!) Now let’s talk now about the issue of AUTHORITY…


 

Anabaptists have a high regard for the Scriptures and an even higher regard for Jesus. Jesus, even more than the Bible, is our final authority.
~ Palmer Becker, Anabaptist Essentials

Anabaptists (Radical Reformers) read the Bible, study the Bible, memorize and meditate on the Bible. And yet, we don’t think in terms of following the Bible – we follow Jesus.  Why do I think this distinction matters? Because I want to align my language with Jesus, as recorded in the Bible. Let’s flesh this out a bit more in three ways…

Firstly, Jesus-following is our identity as disciples of Christ. We are Christ-ians, not Bible-ians (Acts 11:26). This aligns with what Jesus himself said – “follow me” (Matthew 4:19). It seems to me that this should be Christianity 101 and not at all a controversial idea.

Come to ME, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take MY yoke upon you and learn from ME, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For MY yoke is easy and MY burden is light.
~ Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30)

Secondly, Jesus said clearly, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). He then went on to base his Great Commission to his disciples on this one tremendous truth, when he said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus then goes on to say that the the process of making disciples includes “teaching them to obey everything *I* have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). This doesn’t mean we just read the red letters of the Bible, but it does mean we read the entire Bible differently, as a pointer to Jesus, the one who holds all authority over our lives. Radical Christians believe that, as disciples of Jesus, our central commitment is to learn from JESUS as his apprentices. And, catch this, what we learn about Jesus from the Bible should inform how we read everything else in the Bible.

Thirdly, in the Bible we see examples of Jesus taking authority over the Bible. Consider the six-antitheses in Matthew 5 (where Jesus six times uses the pattern of “You have heard it said… but I tell you…”). Also notice the reaction of the crowd at the end of the Sermon on the Mount – that Jesus taught with authority, unlike other religious readers (Matthew 7:29; also see Mark 1:22, 27; Luke 4:32, 36; ). Or consider Jesus’ statement that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matthew 9:6; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24), which he does apart from the sacrificial system mandated in the Bible. Or consider Jesus’ authority to singlehandedly reverse the dietary laws of Moses in Mark 7:19. Or consider Jesus overruling Moses’ teaching on divorce and remarriage in his discussion with the religious leaders in Matthew 19:8-9. Or consider Jesus’ self-alignment with the authority of God who lives above the law in John 5, rather than see himself as merely a man who must submit to and live under the authority of the law.

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. … And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:16-18, 27)

Later in this same chapter, Jesus challenges the religious leaders who loved and learned and studied and memorized and followed the Bible…

And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:37-40)

This is serious. Jesus says it is possible to follow the Bible, love the Bible, study the Bible – and never hear the voice of God. Furthermore, it is possible to memorize and meditate on the Bible, and never have God’s “word dwell in you”. Let this sink in. Unless we use the Bible as a pointer to Jesus, and then come to JESUS for our life, we are misusing the Bible.

As a Christ-follower, when I open my Bible I don’t ask “God, what are you saying to me through the Bible?”, but “God, what are you saying to me through Jesus in the Bible?” This simple distinction means that I read everything from Genesis to Revelation differently.

A PROTESTANT OBJECTION…

It’s worth pointing out that those who identify as Protestant are not monolithic on this issue. For instance, on the issue of biblical authority, NT Wright sounds as Anabaptist as he does Anglican. Still, some Protestants object: “Wait a minute! You Radicals are using the Bible to establish the authority of Jesus! Doesn’t that mean you treat the Bible as authoritative?”  Now let me be as clear as I can. In the category of written documents, the Bible is uniquely and absolutely authoritative (as our BIC statement of faith asserts). But remember, as Christians, no written document is our absolute authority – Jesus is! Because the Bible is uniquely breathed out by God we trust it and use it, as Paul recommends in 2 Timothy 3:16. So yes, as far as written documents go, the Bible is authoritative – as far as written documents go. But we have a relationship with more than a written document. No written document, including the Bible itself, created the heavens and the earth and entered into our human condition and lived the perfect life and died the loving death that brought us salvation, and rose again as Lord of our lives. The Bible says, “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9).

The Bible does not give us Jesus; Jesus gives us the Bible; and the Bible then points us directly to Jesus. The Bible is not a Christian’s ultimate authority, but our penultimate authority, pointing to Jesus as our ultimate authority.

The Bible is to us what the star was to the wise men.
~ Thomas Adams

This relationship between Jesus and the Bible is similar to the relationship between Jesus and the star that led the magi to Jesus. Or, to use another analogy, the relationship between Jesus and the Bible is similar to the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist. When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he pointed and cried out…

Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ (John 1:29-30)

John didn’t give us Jesus; Jesus gave us John, and then John pointed people to Jesus. Again we read…

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. (John 1:35-37)

Because John’s disciples listened to him and followed Jesus, this doesn’t mean they saw John’s authority as absolute. They simply trusted John enough to listen to his insight and turn to follow Jesus as their absolute authority. Because they trusted John, they submitted to Jesus. And that’s what we do every time we read the Bible and follow Jesus.

When John the Baptist told his disciples to follow Jesus, no one played the word game of saying, “But if we listen to John’s word and we follow Jesus, aren’t we just following John? Doesn’t that mean John has equal authority to Jesus if we’re listening to his instruction to follow Jesus’ authority? So let’s just say we are equally followers of Jesus AND followers of John.” No. Please no. This is silly. Because they listened to John and trusted John and believed what John said, they followed Jesus as the authority of their lives. And yet today many Protestants make the same objection. When Radical Christians say, “Jesus is our sole authority” some Christians respond, “But you only know about Jesus from the Bible! So the Bible must equally be your authority!” No. We trust the Bible, like John’s disciples trusted him, and we do what the Bible instructs us to do – submit to the authority of Jesus.

SO WHAT?

So why is this way of thinking important? Is it all just word games and academic exercise? I wish it were. I love word puzzles, and academic exercise is the only kind of exercise I like. But this discussion is more important than that. History has shown us that when a group of Christians champion the idea of the “authority of Scripture” as did the Protestant Reformers, they get no closer to following Jesus on some very important issues, like the issue of the nonviolent, enemy loving, peace making way of Jesus. During the 16th Century, we might explain Catholic violence by appealing to the influence of the Pope, who represented (or should I say, misrepresented) the authority of Christ in the Church. The Protestants, however, rejected Papal authority and clung to sola scriptura, meaning “Scripture alone”. This is a real world case study. With the Pope’s influence out of the way and with Scripture as their sole authority, what became of Protestants? More unity? No, more division (there are now thousands of different Protestant denominations). More Christ-like enemy love? No, more violence (wars, witch-hunts, and heretic burnings were not abandoned by Protestants). The Protestant Reformers missed such central teaching of Jesus because they balanced it with every other teaching in the Bible as a way of maintaining their commitment to “the authority of Scripture”.

I recently heard a well known Protestant Christian pastor preach on the Sermon on the Mount. He expounded on the radical nonviolent, enemy loving, peace making way of Jesus. I was impressed. Then he made this maneuver – he said, “Now, we know this isn’t an absolute mandate for all Christians at all times, since we can see that God gave very different instructions to his people through Moses and David and other Old Testament saints.” Then he went on to talk about Old Testament examples of violence as justification for Christian participation in violence today. Why was this pastor trying to balance the teaching of Jesus with other teaching in the Bible? Because he was following the Bible, rather than allowing every teaching of the Bible to point him to Jesus. And today, if Christians are to truly repent of our religious violence, our national violence, and our verbal and attitudinal violence, we will need to go beyond just following the Bible and zero in on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Dear Christians, we are not “People of the Book”. This phrase is an Islamic designation of Christians and we are not constrained to adopt a Muslim misunderstanding as our identity. No, we are not “People of the Book” as much as we are “People of the Person”. We are not (or at least, should not be) a bookish faith, lived out primarily by reading. This approach to spirituality favours the academically and economically privileged around the world and throughout history. Yes, “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48), and so those of us who can read and can afford our own Bibles should make much of that privilege. And while we read the Bible, may it always lead us to Jesus, the living, active, and authoritative Word of God.

Maybe you are or aren’t Anabaptist, but maybe you are “Anabaptish” – a growing Radical Christian who sees Jesus at the centre of it all. If so, I would love to hear from you. Comment away!

Peace,

 

 

 

NEXT POST – READ PART 2…
Radical Christians & the Word of God (part 2 of 3): Inerrancy

Tags : AnabaptistAnabaptistsAuthorityBibleinerrancyInerrantJesusProtestantRadicalReformationScriptureWord of God

112 Comments

  1. I’ve got a growing interest in this idea. I grew up in a fundamentalist/biblicist context. I first heard about this understanding of the word in seminary, when our theology professor told us of Barth’s three-fold word of God: the word incarnate, the written word, and the word proclaimed. I may have that slightly wrong, but whatever the layout was, it my first notion of the idea of the word of God ultimately and primarily being Jesus himself.

    I was ordained by and serve in a denomination (The Evangelical Covenant Church) which also does not use the terms “inerrant” or “infallible” in its official statements, though it does use the word “perfect” (and I’m not sure that word is any different than the other two, though it’s qualified: “the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct”). Even if the Bible could be definitively proven to be inerrant or infallible, it still wouldn’t make much difference, since we’re all fallible and errant (and, for that matter, imperfect) interpreters. The language just isn’t useful as far as I can tell, other than to give the sense of the text’s trustworthiness, but I don’t think that’s how people tend to use those words (and something can be trustworthy even if it isn’t “infallible” or “inerrant”).

    I reviewed our official statements and I was reminded again that there does seem to be something missing. We have six affirmations as a denomination, the first of which is “the centrality of the word of God.” It’s a great affirmation, but it never mentions Jesus. Nor does the constitution, which simply identifies the Bible as “the Word of God.” While I don’t think the affirmation is wrong (I can happily affirm it and I think there is room in the statements for Jesus the Word), and other secondary denominational writings do connect the word to Jesus in the ways you do in this post, I think it’s a significant omission not to include Jesus in the official statements. Without Jesus as the ultimate word we tend towards biblicism, which is dangerous territory.

  2. I am overwhelmed with the love of God. That He would have a sweet friend share this blog with me today after I had prayed and told Him that I have always known there is something I am not understanding.
    The very first Scripture that I embraced as a new Christ follower was John 21:22 when I was starting my walk with Jesus and I wanted my husband to be with me. At that time I did just what He asked and followed Him by attending church, reading The Bible and joining with Christian women wanting to learn from them.
    However, I found that I couldn’t agree with some of the teachings and wasn’t content with the “rules” being handed down.
    We also have people in our lives who collect guns (in case they would need to defend themselves and their families against those who would want our Bibles and our freedom.) This is something I could not embrace as the way of Jesus.
    For the last two years our (Christian) Son has accused us and rejected us as we live forgiven and forgiving those who do wrong, stating he is doing it in the Name of Jesus. *I might add that my husband is now walking with the Lord. Glory to God!
    Non-violent, enemy loving, peace making way of Jesus is exactly what I knew to be true but just could not figure out Where that truth was in the Bible but now I know, without a doubt that the Truth is Jesus – in the Bible. Hallelujah! What joy fills my heart. I had it all mixed up.
    I am set free to follow Jesus. Amen!
    Gayle Kent

  3. This smacks of a straw man argument. I don’t know of any Protestant Reformed pastor who would put the Bible above Jesus. It isn’t either/or. You don’t have the Bible without Jesus, but we would never know Jesus without the Bible. You’re a Pacifist, I get it. Just because a Christian isn’t doesn’t mean he or she holds the Bible as a higher authority than Jesus.

    1. It isn’t only about pacifism. It is politics, nation building, how Christians respond to social issues, injustice, not to mention the questions that arise from OT violence and genocide. I assume he’ll cover some of that in future articles.

  4. Bruxy, as a teen 15-16 years, who had a mother who allowed us to smoke, toke, drink. She worked late at night, so often times we were left to roam and party. She was “strict”, but only in other ways. One day, my good friend took me to a youth group. With time these people (young adults about 20-28 years old) showed me UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. By their actions! I got in trouble, several times, and instead of disowning me or shunning me, they explained to me why I shouldn’t be that way, and told me they would forgive me and still accept me as I was. This was profound! They gave me FAITH. They showed me JESUS.
    Now, here I am 40+ years later, and the Republican Party and the Republican President have shaken that foundation. I feel appalled and shocked. Blindsided by such hypocrisy.
    I appreciate this article. I have to admit, I don’t know for sure where you “stand” on the issue…but knowing that I can consider myself an “Anabaptist” (never thought I would consider myself a “Baptist” of any type)…it gives me Hope and a way to understand the difference! It makes sense!!!! So many seem to use the Bible to promote what THEY want, ignoring so many other parts of the Bible they DON’T WANT.
    I honestly want nothing to do with “organized religion” at this point…but deeply desire to keep my Faith…My Faith in a Higher Power. My Faith in Jesus. I like to look at the world from “What Would Jesus Do”.
    I guess this makes me a Mainstream Christian. Mainstream Republican. And I’m OK with that.
    Thanks for what you do, Bruxy. God Bless.

  5. Would you consider other sources of knowledge about Jesus any level of authority comparable to Scripture?(History for example)

    1. Thanks for the question. Yes, absolutely, we can learn more about Jesus and other biblical characters from history for one very good reason – because they were historical. Also the Holy Spirit speaks with the voice of Jesus today because “Jesus IS Lord” (Romans 10:9), not “Jesus WAS Lord.”

      But ultimately, as I said in the post, “In the category of written documents, the Bible is uniquely and absolutely authoritative” because it is uniquely inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). Everything else we learn from other sources can and should be used to enhance our understanding of what God has already said is most important for us to know through Scripture. I hope that helps.

      1. Bruxy,

        Thank you for this. I found it to be well articulated and much more clear than what I was hearing of your views from sound bites online and from other people.

        It seems to me that the issue is largely one of what some of the language you have used communicates to some people in our particular modern context. I would think that in the early Anabaptists’ time, few people questioned the reliability of the Bible and its message about Jesus and the Anabaptist language assumes that fact. However, since the Enlightenment, but especially in the past 100+ years, the rationalism and individualism in our culture have caused huge numbers to question and reject the reliability of the Bible. Thus many Christians have become increasingly concerned to uphold the reliability of the message of the Bible and what it teaches about Jesus in the face of the skepticism that they have faced in the education system, the media and the general culture. Thus, when they hear some of your language about the authority and inerrancy of the Bible, it seems to them to be an attack on the reliability of the Scriptures. I know that you don’t mean it that way but I understand why some people hear it the way that they do.

        I think that if people heard you start this kind of discussion with what you wrote above – “In the category of written documents, the Bible is uniquely and absolutely authoritative” because it is uniquely inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16)” – you would receive much less push-back, at least from evangelicals that I know who have expressed concern. Further, if there was less misinterpretation of your language, it seems to me that your actual message about the authority of Jesus might be better heard.

  6. I was just reflecting on these issues the other day when someone brought up the idea of the infallibility of the Bible. I came to Christ through a church that taught dispensationalism, but I struggled with their tendency to take scripture out of context to support some of their positions. Spent many years after that in churches with more Calvinistic leanings, but I struggled with how Jesus’ teachings got sidelined. Then, through the VIneyard movement I stumbled into the Anabaptists and finally felt like I was home–though I had a lot of learning to do.

    So just the other day I was wondering how do I explain how I think about the Bible to my evangelical friends. This post has been really helpful in this regard–and very timely. I usually think of it this way–before the Bible was the center of my faith, now I see Jesus as the center of my faith, and Jesus as the center of the Bible (with the Bible being the primary way I know about Him) and also as the center of history. When we get to heaven, we will no longer need the Bible, but we will still need Jesus.

    Now that we are involved in starting churches in another culture, it is very helpful to keep the Jesus-Center focus in order to keep from importing unnecessary Western cultural elements.

  7. Your teaching does strongly imply, “This inspired gift to the Church could be wrong since it’s not inerrant”.

    You said, “Christians who hold the Bible in very high regard as God’s inspired gift to the Church”. But, on the other hand, you deny biblical inerrancy. Exactly how do you know your views of Jesus are correct, coming from an inspired gift containing errors, Unless you pick and choose exactly were the errors are?.

    In other words, this statement of your’s.
    “For many Protestants, it never occurs to them that there might be a third option: a group of deeply committed Christians who hold the Bible in very high regard as God’s inspired gift to the Church, but who also hold Jesus in even higher regard than Scripture and who use their language intentionally to reflect this…” in the context of your denial of Biblical inerrancy really means nothing. It boils down to your own views from the bible that, although you claim it’s an “inspired gift to the Church”.

    As I see it, since I believe in biblical inerrancy, I see your claim about God, who “Most High is ruler over the kingdom of men” Dan 4:17,25,32; 5:21; was not smart enough, or strong enough or did not really care if HIS “inspired gift to the Church” contained errors.

    With your views in mind, Exactly WHY should anyone believe what you have to say about Jesus since it could be wrong. You might say, “we God’s inspired gift to the Church”. Response, “SO WHAT”. you have an inspired gift to the Church that contains errors.

    This is what you get when you deny biblical inerrancy. Your views of Jesus based on your theology, “SO WHAT”

    1. Thanks for these thoughts. I think your comment is more relevant to the upcoming post about inerrancy (which wasn’t the topic of this post). See you next time. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Hi Bruxy, I appreciate much of what you’ve written above, but just question these statements…” Or consider Jesus’ authority to singlehandedly reverse the dietary laws of Moses in Mark 7:19. Or consider Jesus overruling Moses’ teaching on divorce and remarriage in his discussion with the religious leaders in Matthew 19:8-9.” Seems to me that it is a “quantum leap” to take Mark 7:19 and conclude that Jesus singlehandedly reversed the dietary laws of Moses!!! Do you believe that an ISRAELITE being made UNCLEAN by eating pork (for example) was equivalent to any MAN being DEFILED? Also, how have you concluded that what Jesus said in Matthew 19:8,9 was overruling Moses’ teaching on divorce and remarriage? Deut.24 specifically deals with the fornication of an incestuous marriage entered into unknowingly. (Any other kind of fornication/uncleanness would have been known by one or both parties and would have required the death penalty under the law.)So too it is marital fornication which he deals with in Matt.19 NOT extramarital adultery! So too, the reason why John the Baptist told Herod that it was not lawful for him to have his brother’s wife was because his marriage to her was one constituted by marital fornication (the marriage itself was one characterized by fornication.) He was not simply WRONG to have taken her (but now that you have her, keep her!) but John declared to Herod, “It is UNLAWFUL for you to HAVE her.” Jesus never taught that when one enters an unlawful marriage that they should just repent and stay there (as many claim!) The “fornication exception” deals specifically with divorcing one to whom one is married BECAUSE THAT MARRIAGE WAS UNLAWFUL FROM ITS COMMENCEMENT.

    1. Hi Bruce. Thanks for your thoughts. I’m not sure I’m tracking with your line of thinking. Sorry if I’m not being clear. Let me see if this helps…

      In Mark 7:19, the author comments on Jesus’ teaching by telling us “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.” Jesus declared all foods clean. That’s the point that the author, Mark, highlights.

      In Matthew 19:8 Jesus says, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.” The Law of Moses was crafted as a response to hard-heart people. But now, Jesus has come to soften our hearts, or actually to replace them with a new heart and a new spirit, and to put God’s own Spirit within us as our New Covenant guide (Ezekiel 36:26).

      Not sure if this addresses your questions. Hope it helps. Peace.

  9. Thanks for this, Bruxy.

    I’m an Anglican but have been strongly influenced by Anabaptism. I think Anglicanism and Anabaptism share a strong emphasis on the Incarnation and so John 1.1-18 is really our theme passage – ‘The word became flesh and dwelt among us’ – the Word of God ‘par excellence’ is Jesus – and of course this is confirmed by Hebrews 1 – ‘Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word’. Jesus is the ‘exact imprint’ of God’s very being – therefore he is our best picture of what God is like. As former Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey once said: ‘God is Christlike, and in Him there is no unchristlikeness at all’.

    I once read an address John Howard Yoder (a Mennonite) gave to a group of Anglican seminarians. He pointed out that although (as I said above) Anglicans and Anabaptists share a strong emphasis on the Incarnation, they tend to read it in two different directions. Anglicans read the Incarnation as God’s affirmation of the created order – God becoming embodied in Jesus is God’s ‘yes’ to the world of matter, the goodness of creation etc. Anabaptists, on the other hand, emphasize that the humanity of Jesus is God’s corrective to the fallenness of humanity. In other words, Anglicans tend hear the Incarnation saying ‘You’re material beings and that’s good!’, whereas Anabaptists tend to hear it as saying ‘You’re going in the wrong direction, so I’m going to come among you and point you in the right direction again’. Both emphases are true, of course, and need to be held in balance. (Sadly, Yoder apparently needed to pay a lot more attention to that corrective in his personal life.)

    Anyway, thanks for a good read Bruxy and I look forward to hearing more on this subject.

    (By the way, that book by Stuart Murray on biblical interpretation was probably the most important book I read during a sabbatical on Anabaptism 11 years ago!).

  10. Growing up Southern Baptist I had the strange paradoxical experience of learning to love and know the Scriptures well AND viewing them as a law until themselves that Jesus (in a sense) stood alongside. Ten years ago this view of Scripture would’ve raised the “liberal” red flag – not from my personal wrestling with the role of Scripture, but the cultural mandate to defend inerrancy from the powers that be. How absurd it seems now. 🙂

    This to me, is so freeing – and helps me love the Scriptures more in their submission to Jesus. Thanks for this!

  11. On “inerrancy”… the scriptures never make such a claim for themselves! So why should we??? Actually many errors are actually recorded in scripture! The serpent made erroneous claims to Eve and they are included in the Biblical text. Eve erroneously constructed her own “creed” by trying to put into her own words what God had instructed about the tree! In John 21:23 many early brethren erroneously interpreted the words of the Lord Jesus and that erroneous interpretation is included in the inspired text. It could only be corrected by simply restating, word for word, exactly what Jesus had spoken! There are hundreds of errors recorded in scripture! Let us not squabble over such things as “inerrancy” but let us uphold all that scripture claims for itself!

  12. Thanks for articulately sharing what now sees so clear to me that was not always so. You reference Matt 11:28-30 but verse 27 that became pivotal for me “… no one knows the Father except the son and those to whom he reveals him.” What an amazingly audacious statement that frames everything previously “known” about God may accurately portray the perceptions of Abraham, Moses, the Prophets but not be as accurate as Jesus teaches and models.

    As you know, punctuation is lacking in most Greek manuscripts and is determined by English translators from their interpretation of the context. Interestingly, most translations add a paragraph break between Matt 11:27 and 28-30 implying a shift to a different topic but read without that break it seems to be that Jesus is doing what is said in 27: revealing the character of his Father’s love and compassion.

    It seems so fundamental that many people assume that “Jesus gave us the Bible” or “the church was founded on the Bible” which is simply not accurate: the church gave us the Bible through long, contentious and fierce debates in languages most of us don’t read today. Add to that the reality that the translator’s theology, the political agenda of those authorizing and paying for it to be translated and the theology of the publisher’s intended market all significantly influence the translations we read today.
    Blessings

  13. Wow Bruxy, a very well put together argument. I have heard/read bits of it here and there, but this post does paint a fuller picture. I remember a great opening question from one of N.T. Wright’s books: How can a narrative text have authority?

    I will be thinking about this. Looking forward to other posts in the series!

  14. Thank you so much for this post! I am a pastor in the United Methodist Church, but married into an Anabaptist family. My father-in-law is a retired BIC pastor. They have influenced me certainly in the direction of Anabaptism and introduced me to this way of understanding Jesus. It took me a very long time to wrap my head around it, because it challenged my understanding of the role of the Bible as preeminent.

    Before entering seminary I participated in a ministry that had neo-reformed leanings. It never made sense to me that Paul would be the source of our theology above Christ. However, it drilled into my mind that I needed to follow the Bible in a way that defended its inerrancy more so than following Jesus. It was as if Jesus mattered not ethically, but merely as a ticket to salvation. I never heard of Kingdom living or peacemaking spoken about in a serious way until I went to seminary. I certainly placed the Radical Reformation in the same group as theological liberalism because I assumed if anyone placed anything above the Bible was in the same category.

    Thankfully the influence from my family has allowed me to see the importance of following Christ first. It has produced a radical shift in my understanding, but one I am very thankful for. This post articulates my theological journey so well. It has been such a liberating journey to follow Christ. Outside of my wife, you and Greg Boyd have been so influential in helping me understand what it means to truly follow Christ.

    Thank you for your ministry and for this message.

  15. can you address Jesus violent temper in clearing the Temple and his command to the Disciples to buy a sword if they didn’t have one?

    1. Hey Paul. About Jesus’ “Temple Tantrum”, see BBQ #77 here… https://www.bruxy.com/bbq/.

      About the swords, I suppose we have three options:

      1. Jesus was changing his teaching from the way of peace and enemy love in the Sermon on the Mount to the way of self protection through violence. (The problem with this view is that none of the apostles or early church leaders interpreted Jesus this way, except for Peter, who used a sword once and was rebuked for it.)
      2. Jesus was speaking symbolically.
      3. Jesus was speaking prophetically. (Knowing that Isaiah 53:12 says he would be numbered among the transgressors.)

      I hope that helps!

  16. Bruxy…

    thanks so much for this! I find myself in the Anabaptist-ish category and have often found your explanations incredibly helpful. Keep pointing us to Jesus!

  17. Recently, I was reading Romans and I kept getting caught up on Paul’s (at times confusing) do’s and don’t’s. I get it – I’m a One on the Enneagram! I know all about the law and judgment. But I began wondering what it would be like if we all focused more on the words of Jesus than, say, Paul. How much of our theology is shaped by Paul’s words rather than the outlook and life of the God-man Jesus? Anyway, you giving words to a lot of what I’ve been feeling is so helpful and insightful. Does this mean I’m Anabaptist? Probably. But it’s also showing me how the Cosmic Christ is working in me, reshaping my own reactions/responses to others. So, thanks. 🙂

  18. I love the concept of the Bible in service to Christ. We so often interpret Jesus through the lens of Moses, the Prophets, or Paul, rather than interpreting them through him

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