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Jesus Christ: The Interpretive Key to the Scripture

July 23, 2007

by John Hendryx
With Four Examples of Doctrinal Errors that Arise When this Key is not Used.

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” (John 5:39, 40)
“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” – (1 Tim 2:5)

“The Scriptures should be read with the aim of finding Christ in them. Whoever turns aside from this object, even though he wears himself out all his life in learning, he will never reach the knowledge of the truth.” – John Calvin

I have recently had the privilege of reading a phenomenal book that I highly recommend to all teachers of the Word. That book was Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics by Graeme Goldsworthy. Its thesis is simple: the Gospel (or, Jesus Christ) is the Key to all Christian Hermeneutics. During the course of reading, his focus got me to thinking about its antithesis which would be that almost all errors and inconsistencies in our understanding of Bible texts occur when our interpretation is less than Christ-centered. This is foundational. Unless our study, however diligent, leads us to see that all Scripture points to Jesus Christ, our study is in vain. The importance of the Bible (OT & NT) is that it testifies about Jesus Christ (John 1:43-45, Acts 3:18, Acts 17:2-3, 2 Tim 3:14-15,1 Pet 1:10-12, Rom 1:1-3, 16:25-27, Luke 24:25-27 & 44-46).

Jesus never condemned a Pharisee for taking Moses too seriously. They take him far less seriously than they should. For Jesus says, “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for He write of Me. But if you don’t believe His writings, how will you believe My words. Your accuser is Moses.” (John 5:46). So to understand Moses is to come to know Christ when He is revealed. Likewise, Abraham saw Jesus’ day and was glad, the Bible testifies. And “…foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” (Gal)

But now, let’s shift gears by getting specific about doctrinal errors that fail to take into account the above biblical principles … These are produced by an interpretitive grid or presupposition that arises from Christless or less-than-Christocentric views of Scripture. In the following, I wish to give 3-4 examples of current popular, but erroneous, interpretations, that err simply because they fail to see the centrality of Jesus Christ in their understanding:

1) The False Assertion that Salvation can be Lost

The claim by some that a Christian can actually lose his or her salvation is a prime example of reading Christ out of the text, because the focus becomes your own moral ability rather than Christ. Some erroneously believe that a Christian, after being saved by Christ, can make certain choices that will lead to the loss of their adoption and justification, and thus, their salvation in Christ. In other words, they must, by their own effort, or with the Spirit’s help, maintain their just standing before God. With such a view, Christ is not sufficient to save completely. Such a doctrine should immediately make us think of Paul’s warning in Galatians: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3) But why is Paul so stern as to call them foolish? Because they have forgotten that Christ and Christ alone has saved them. To think that we can add to Christ’s perfect work is to utterly misapprehend the Gospel at its core. For, we ask, is it Jesus or something else which is sufficient to carry you to the end? Any addition to Jesus Christ is to believe that justification is found in something else has forgotten about the centrality of Christ.

So we ask in relation to this doctrine, is it Christ who saves us, or does He merely assist us so we may save ourselves? The warning passages in Hebrews actually warn against this very error. They start by pointing out that Jesus is superior to the angels, to Moses and to the Sacrificial System. The warnings of falling away are actually warnings about going back to something inferior to Christ, like the sacrificial system which only pointed to Christ. To read that a particular sin can make us lose our salvation, is thus, to utterly forget what the context of the Text in Hebrews itself is. So the assertion that a Christian can lose salvation is the first error that we have spotted that arises because Christ was seen as the ultimate interpretive presupposition, and thus, left out of the interpretation. Some other ultimate presupposition guided our exposition.

2) Synergism

Synergism is the error that affirms that the natural man can cooperate with God in the regeneration process (the new birth) …that an unregenerate person has the moral capacity to embrace the Gospel apart from the work of the Spirit changing the heart.

Again, remember what our interpretive Key to the Bible is? Jesus Christ. So, in relation to regeneration and conversion, when the gospel is preached, what makes people to differ in their response to it? Does Jesus Christ make us differ or does something else? This “something else” may take various forms; it may be something native to the human constitution (i.e. Pelagianism) or something alien yet universal (i.e. Arminianism)? In either case, the point is that it is not Christ that makes the difference. Anyone who claims that the difference arises from one of these something-else’s has failed to see first our hopelessness as fallen creatures apart from Christ and second the exclusive sufficiency of Christ’s saving work. If I am different than my neighbor because of something other than Jesus Christ, then Christ, whatever role he may play, cannot be central to my understanding of salvation. He is only partly responsible for it. It is the grace we have in Christ that saves, and nothing in addition to it.

3) Four-Point Calvinism

Four-point Calvinism fails the test of Christ-centered interpretation because this view tends to see the TULIP as an abstraction. But the TULIP only works when we see Christ at its center. Consider the TULIP as a chiasm with the “L” at the top of the pyramid. It is Jesus Christ which makes sense of all the doctrines of grace. Four-point Calvinists who reject Limited Atonement but embrace irresistible grace must consider this: Irresistible grace is not some abstract doctrine but must be seen in relation to Jesus Christ, specially in relation to the grace purchased by Christ upon the cross. The Spirit of Christ illuminates, regenerates and effectually brings to faith his elect. And this enabling, effectual grace is, from first to last, Christ-centered. It does not come out of a void, nor from some hidden source of grace in God the Father. Therefore Christ must have died for the elect so as to purchase that grace in a way – a redemptive way – that he did not die for the non-elect. That is why we often call it particular redemption. Irresistible grace is one of the redemptive benefits purchased by Jesus Christ … and it was never granted to the non-elect nor intended for them. I believe that until Jesus Christ is seen as central to the TULIP then four-pointers will continue to reject what is plain.

4) Purgatory

Roman Catholics believe in Purgatory, which again accents their belief that Christ is not sufficient to save completely. Rather then, we must work off our sins after death for 1000’s of years until it is paid. Where is Christ in all this? Was His work insufficient to cover their sins completely and once for all?

Each of these errors occurs when our hermeneutic (our ultimate presupposition) is not Jesus Christ.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 24, 2007 9:39 am

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  2. July 24, 2007 12:20 pm

    Good Stuff.

    I would also add Premillennialism into this list. It is based on the idea that Old Testament prophecy must be interpreted apart from the inspired writers of the New Testament. Some very intelligent pre-mills, such as John MacArthur, have stated as much.

  3. July 27, 2007 1:35 pm

    Or, more specifically, dispensationalism. Dispensationalism basically explicitly builds up a system in which the Gospel of Christ is separated from the salvific mechanism of the Old Testament.

  4. July 28, 2007 3:44 am

    Right on Scrape. Dispensationalism is full of holes. No wonder it has to reinvent itself every ten years or so. (Some have actually gone so far as to suggest that the Jewish people don’t need Jesus. Scary…)

  5. August 2, 2007 1:18 pm

    The sacred biography of Jesus Christ is peppered with numerous anachronisms, contradictions and absurdities.
    What should alert us to wholesale fakery here is that practically all the events of Jesus’s supposed life appear in the lives of OTHER mythical figures of far more ancient origin. Whether we speak of miraculous birth, prodigious youth, miracles or wondrous healings – all such ‘signs’ had been ascribed to other gods, centuries before any Jewish holy man strolled about. Jesus’s supposed utterances and wisdom statements are equally common place, being variously drawn from Jewish scripture, neo-Platonic philosophy or commentaries made by Stoic and Cynic sages.
    No one has the slightest physical evidence to support a historical Jesus; no artifacts, dwelling, works of carpentry, or self-written manuscripts. All claims about Jesus derive from writings of other people. There occurs no contemporary Roman record that shows Pontius Pilate executing a man named Jesus. Devastating to historians, there occurs not a single contemporary writing that mentions Jesus. All documents about Jesus got written well after the life of the alleged Jesus from either: unknown authors, people who had never met an earthly Jesus, or from fraudulent, mythical or allegorical writings.
    There are no non-biblical references to a historical Jesus by any known historian of the time during and after Jesus’ purported life. No literate person of his own time mentioned him in any known writing. Eminent Hellenistic Jewish historian and philosopher Philo (20 B.C.E.-50 C.E.), alive at the purported time of Jesus, makes no mention of him. Nor do any of the some 40 other historians who wrote during the first and second centuries of the Common Era.
    We have nothing but love for those who choose to believe in Jesus, or Robin Hood, Superman or Ethan Hunt. But we choose to be rational.

  6. August 2, 2007 5:06 pm

    “The sacred biography of Jesus Christ is peppered with numerous anachronisms, contradictions and absurdities.”

    You did not quote one. The only contradiction that the Bible can produce is the one that contradicts our lives. The Law is a perfect ethic, and the Messiah fulfilled it and then provided a way for you to be saved, yet you deny Him and in so doing the One who sent Him. He is patient toward you Lary, and He wants you to be apart of His Kingdom, which will never pass away… otherwise in the end He will reject you for rejecting His Son. You take a big chance with your eternity saying and believing the things you do. You play Russian Roulette with your life.

    “What should alert us to wholesale fakery here is that practically all the events of Jesus’s supposed life appear in the lives of OTHER mythical figures of far more ancient origin.”

    The difference between these other gods and figures is that they do not occur in real time with real individuals. Look at the events of Christ and you will see that they each happen with real people in real places, not some made up deal.

    Another difference is that the gods of the ancient were capricious, unethical, etc. The God of the Bible is not. He is just and He is righteous. He deals with sin and He is merciful to provide a way out with His Son Jesus. Very different from these others you speak of. There is a major difference, so it is wrong headed to lump it all together.

    “No one has the slightest physical evidence to support a historical Jesus; no artifacts, dwelling, works of carpentry, or self-written manuscripts. All claims about Jesus derive from writings of other people.”

    And having no writings from Christ causes you to reject Him? Will this be your statement to God when you meet Him? Please do not say it is so. Look at the individual’s lives that did write about Him. They were beheaded, burned, crucified upside down, stoned to death, mamed, etc. They were there when Christ was crucified and saw Him, spoke with Him, touched Him, were able to see the things they claimed. Paul even hyperbolicly said that they preach vainly if what they preach did not happen… He goes on to say that what He does preach is Christ crucified and it is something each of us needs to believe in for the salvation of our souls. So, either you are right and we preach in vain (but we will have a pleasant, honorable life) and then we will die. Or, I am right and we will have an honorable pleasant life and then I will go to Heaven because I have not reject the Son of God and you will not. You will end up in torment, gnashing your teeth, wishing you had listened to this blog writer for eternity. I do not wish this on you at all. I want you to join me in repentance and belief in the Christ who has risen fromt the dead to save you from yourself as well as Hell.

    “There are no non-biblical references to a historical Jesus by any known historian of the time during and after Jesus’ purported life. No literate person of his own time mentioned him in any known writing.”

    The Historical writings are the BIBLE! But you reject the Bible and the fact that it is a historical document, so it is no surprise to make the statements you do. C’est La Vie.

    “Eminent Hellenistic Jewish historian and philosopher Philo (20 B.C.E.-50 C.E.), alive at the purported time of Jesus, makes no mention of him.”

    If we recognize that Christianity was still at an early stage of development when Philo was pondering the relationship of god and man, there is nothing strange here at all.

    “We have nothing but love for those who choose to believe in Jesus, or Robin Hood, Superman or Ethan Hunt. But we choose to be rational.”

    You do not have to lie about your “love.” You are not loving when you say the Robin Hood, Superman, etc. That is not love. You may disagree or not believe, but it is not kind to do this.

    Rationaility would say that their is something beyond this life. Rationality would say that there is meaning to this life. You do not simply live and then die and that is it. If this is the case, then all the moral laws that there are are meaningless and we should be able to rob banks, murder, steal, do whatever we want to do… for we do not answer to anyone but ourselves and the society that we are raised in. And saying this, where do they get their authority from – meaningless people. No sir. Their authority as well as moral authority come from the law of God written on every heart to have a sense of conscience and justice. The Word of God is never broken, it only breaks us from our pride that says there is no God.

    Lary, believe on Christ. This is my plea and persuasion. You may take it as propaganda, rhetoric, rambling, or whatever label you want to put on it. In the end, for you and me is that we believe that Jesus did exactly as stated in the Word of God: He came to die for our sins and give us eternal life.

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