the lens of Jesus?

October 21, 2008

Tony Jones says something over at Emergent Village which I’ve been hearing a number of times in the past years: “I’ll continue to put Jesus first, and to preach that we should read Paul through the lens of Jesus and not Jesus through the lens of Paul“. No, hear me out, I’m not a Paulophilic, with me the danger is rather to become a Paulophobic (again with reference to Tony’s post), but I’m always wondering how people tend to do this? Doesn’t this assume some perfect picture of Jesus? Don’t we always read Jesus through the lens of Matthew, Mark, Luke (and maybe using John, depending on your approach to the Jesus-question)? Where else do we find the “Jesus-lens”?

So, at most we could say that we read Paul through the lens of the gospels, not through the lens of Jesus. Except if you say that Paul knew nothing of Jesus, has nothing to say for the historical-Jesus question (yeah, some have said this). But from what I hear listening to scholars, that would be downright irresponsible, to look back from 2000 years in the future, and throw away the oldest Christian sources (Galatians or 1 Thessalonians) in our search for Jesus.

A more honest approach would be to acknowledge that we read Jesus through the lens of Paul, or Mark, of Matthew or Luke. Or that we read Paul through the lens of Matthew of Mark or some of the others (who had to have carried knowledge of Paul when writing, and surely Paul and his fights against the Judaizers should at least somewhere have crossed their minds while writing). Or a number of other combinations might exist, but you cannot jump over your sources, find your perfect Jesus, and use this as lens for reading everything else… but that’s my two cents… would love to hear what comes out of the reclaiming Paul conference!

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4 Responses to “the lens of Jesus?”

  1. Pastor Chad Says:

    Who was it said, “We should interpret scripture with scripture?” All of the biblical writers wrote from a given perspective and we learn about God from reading ALL of them together. We learn about Jesus by reading and comparing all sources (even the Old Testament, dare I say it).

  2. Benjan Says:

    maybe we can use the historical Jesus research as a possible Jesus-lens. then we can use as a introduction to the gospels and Paul. the problem is, however, that the historical Jesus research is very obscure in depicting Jesus and will most likely stay that way.

  3. dave Says:

    I truly like Pastor Chad’s response. If we believe in the Spirit’s inspiration, we can hear God speaking through all of Scripture. Think of God as musician, composer and a maker of musical instruments. He created the human instruments, and spoke through them what he chose to speak, using their God-given personalities, abilities and even limitations. Together they make a complete composition, harmonizing with one another and enhancing one another’s statements. They can each be appreciated individually, but together they make the Bible the “Word of God”. And how nice that Jesus is also the “Word of God”.

  4. cobus Says:

    It really is nice. But it begs the question which was asked to Karl Barth: “Dave: How do you know this?”.

    You see, we don’t have the sheet music for this complete harmonizing composition. We only have the parts. From this we create our own complete compositions. This is called interpretation. Some interpretations harmonize better than others.

    Talk about harmonization is done from whatever theological vantage point I come from, the harmonization wasn’t intended in the texts. We talk about Jesus as “Word of God”, which has a way of harmonizing the music, but Jesus never used those words of himself, John didn’t write from the perspective of a finally formed canon (and what’s more, the logos had totally different connotations in Greek culture than “Word of God” has in ours), and the link between the Bible and Jesus as both Word of God was made in dogma only centuries later. In this way we have created a harmonization.

    This process of harmonization isn’t necessarily wrong, on the contrary, I don’t think it can be avoided. But we don’t have the harmonization, we don’t even have the promise that the harmonization exist. All we have is the the different parts. So let’s listen to the parts, and see what comes out. If we believe in the presence of the Spirit then it’d be OK if things don’t completely harmonize, we believe in God, not a perfect Bible. Let’s be open that maybe everything doesn’t fit our system completely. Maybe there is some false notes, certain lines which contradict others. Some seventh interval’s which hurt our ears.

    We don’t have the perfect Jesus harmonized from the synoptic gospels, we only have these pieces of sheet singing about him. And we have Paul also singing about Jesus. So we cannot get in behind Paul, and interpret Paul through the lens of Jesus. This I say from the reality of the underside, the parts of music, since this is what we’ve been left with.


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