How Jesus Read His Bible
(Michael Hardin part 1)
by Peter Enns
April 8, 2014
Today begins a 4-part series by Michael Hardin, “How Jesus Read His Bible.” Hardin is the co-founder and Executive Director of Preaching Peace a non-profit based in Lancaster, PA, whose motto is “Educating the Church in Jesus’ Vision of Peace.” An internationally known speaker, he is one of the earliest members of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion and is a co-founder Theology and Peace, also based in the United States. Michael was educated at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago and is a PhD candidate at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Australia.
Hardin is the author of the acclaimed The Jesus Driven Life and What The Facebook?: Posts from the Edge of Christendom, and co-editor of Stricken by God?: Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ, Peace Be with You: Christ’s Benediction amid Violent Empires, Compassionate Eschatology, and editor of the forthcoming book Reading the Bible with Rene Girard.
His current book project is Lamb Up!: The Resurrection Gospel. He has published over a dozen articles on the mimetic theory of René Girard in addition to essays on theology, spirituality and practical theology.
Michael participated in the recent documentary Hellbound? and is working with director Kevin Miller on a television project on the work of René Girard.
These posts are adapted by Hardin from The Jesus Driven Life.
- Peter Enns
We have learned from modern theologians that what one says about Scripture and how one uses it can be two different things and that how one uses Scripture is the real indication of what one believes about it.
I notice, for example, that many preachers use Scripture as a diving board, they quote it and then jump off into a pool of ideas, leaving the biblical text behind. What they say might be good or true or even relevant but it has little or no connection to the passage under discussion.
Other preachers I have heard treat Scripture like they are in a 7th grade science class dissecting a frog. They notice with some repugnance the things they don’t like and can be quite critical of the process of having to figure out what lies before them.
Some have a "high" view of Scripture by which they mean Scripture is the Word of God, inspired and without error, yet the way in which they use it betrays that they really don’t take it very seriously. These folks ignore context and, "a text without a context is a pretext" or as my Australian friend Jarrod McKenna says “a text without a context is a con.”
These folks have what I call the Old McDonald approach to the Bible, here a verse, there a verse, everywhere a verse verse. Contemporary fundamentalist preaching is like this; a string of verses on a chain like pearls that all make whatever point the preacher is seeking to get across.
That makes the Bible flat and you can do all kinds of strange things with a flat Bible. It’s like silly putty. A flat reading of the Bible is like a 2D grainy black and white silent film compared to reading the Bible on a Hi-Def BIG HDTV screen with Blu-Ray color and Bose Surround Sound in 4D. Now what would you rather have? A thin schemer of old butter on cold toast or a rich robust Feast?
There is a way to read the Bible that is life-giving, thoughtful and joyous. How Scripture is deployed says a lot more than what is believed about it. Believing something to be true about the Bible does not make it true no matter how many have shouted it.
What counts, ultimately, is the way the Bible is rendered in your life, that is, how your life is the living interpretation of the Bible.
Protestants frequently argue that because Jesus quoted the Jewish Bible, this means that he accepted its authority as a whole. When they do this they import a modern view of the authority of Scripture or canon back into the past.
The fact is that there were many and varied views of the authority of the biblical writings and not all groups in Jesus’ time had the same view of biblical authority. It is also true that the way the New Testament writers and Jesus quote and interpret Scripture follows certain patterns in their culture.
Groups in Jesus’ day had rules or guidelines for interpreting the biblical text. The key question for us and one that is rarely raised is this: Did Jesus have a way of using his Bible that was different from those around him? I suggest that he did.
The key text for us to explore in this section will come from Jesus’ inaugural sermon at his hometown synagogue in Nazareth found in the Gospel of Luke (4:16-30).
To be fair, many critical scholars see the hand of the Gospel editor all over this text, noting that many phrases are typical of Luke. Nevertheless, I suspect that there is an authentic story underlying this text inasmuch as Jesus’ first sermon almost gets him killed.
There is also a tremendous congruity with how Jesus interprets the Scripture in this text and his way of understanding both theology and ethics that we find in his teaching, e.g., in the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6).
In Luke 4 Jesus returns to his hometown in Nazareth after having been baptized and then tested in the wilderness. He enters the synagogue and is asked to be the Scripture reader.
In Jesus’ day this could have taken two forms, the first is the actual reader (a vocalizer) of the Hebrew text that would not have been understood by Galileans. It would be like someone reading from the Greek New Testament in church today.
The second role would be that of a translator/interpreter known as a targumist. This person would not read from a scroll but recite from memory a ‘standard’ translation (a Targum) in Aramaic that was the common Semitic tongue in Palestine. Luke appears unclear as to which role Jesus took, perhaps conflating both roles into one. Nevertheless in Luke, Jesus arises takes the scroll and reads from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to
release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
After this he rolls the scroll up, hands it over to the attendant, who puts it away and then Jesus sits down.
The sermon was short and sweet. He further says,
“Today this text has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Now what follows is strange for at first it appears that the listeners are quite glad for what Jesus said. But he retorts rather sarcastically and then proceeds to cite two examples (Elijah and Elisha) to justify his sarcasm. It is at this point that the crowd wants to take him out and kill him by throwing him off a cliff.
This really doesn’t make much sense. Some interpreters might argue that what got Jesus in trouble was some sort of ‘divine’ claim, that God had anointed him to be special. But is such the case?
In my next post, in order to see what is happening here in Luke 4, we shall note three critical but interrelated aspects of this episode. First, we will note the way Jesus cites the book of Isaiah compared to what is actually in Isaiah. Second, we will look at the translation problem of verse 22. Third we will look at why Jesus uses these specific examples from Elijah and Elisha to make his point.
- Michael Hardin
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Are you irked at the thought of God not being wrathful?
(Michael Hardin part 2)
by Peter Enns
April 9, 2014
Today we have part 2 of a 4-part series by Michael Hardin, “How Jesus Read His Bible.” Hardin (see full bio at part 1) is the co-founder and Executive Director of Preaching Peace a non-profit based in Lancaster, PA whose motto is “Educating the Church in Jesus’ Vision of Peace.” Hardin has published over a dozen articles on the mimetic theory of René Girard in addition to essays on theology, spirituality, and practical theology. He is also the author of several books, including the acclaimed The Jesus Driven Life from which these posts are adapted.
In today’s post, Hardin continues his discussion of Luke 4 and and how Jesus’s use of Isaiah 61:1-2 reframes our understanding of “wrath” and the retributive violence of God.
- Peter Enns
When teaching Luke 4, I point out that Isaiah 61:1-2 was one of the more popular passages in Judaism. It is cited in the Dead Sea Scrolls and other writings as well as in rabbinic literature. Have you ever seen a football game where after a touchdown somebody holds up a sign in the end zone seats that reads “John 3:16?” If they had played football in Jesus’ day that sign would have read “Isaiah 61:1-2.”
What made it so important was that it was a lectionary passage for the Year of Jubilee. This was a text that expressed the hope of Israel for liberation from the bondage not only of spiritual disease but also political and economic oppression. The vision of Isaiah was one of shalom, wholeness in all of life.
The first thing to notice is that Jesus does not cite the entire text but eliminates one very important line, “and the day of the vengeance of our God.” The question is: why did he do this?
Some suggest that now is the time of grace and so Jesus holds off on quoting the text about God’s vengeance since that will come later at the end of time. But nowhere else does Jesus seem to quote the biblical text in this fashion, and he never seems to break the work of God into dispensations or periods of time. [Therefore,] something else is going on here.
Second is the problem of translation that arises in Luke 4:22. Most translations indicate that the crowd was pleased with Jesus. These same synagogue hearers then comment, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
|Jesus reading Luke 4|
The intonation we are supposed to supply would be something like “Oh, what a fine sermon and what a fine preacher Jesus has turned out to be, his father would be so proud!” But is this the case?
The Greek text is quite simple and the King James has adequately translated this “and all bore witness to him.” This bearing witness in the KJV is neither positive nor negative. Why then do translators say, “all spoke well of him?”
Translators have to make what is known as a syntactical decision, they have to decide whether or not the “bearing witness” is negative or positive. Technically speaking they have to decide if the dative pronoun “to him” is a dative of disadvantage or a dative of advantage; was the crowd bearing witness to his advantage or to his disadvantage?
If it is the former case then the intonation we gave to “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” above would make sense and Jesus immediately following gets sarcastic for no reason, but if it is the latter then we could just as well translate this text as “and all spoke ill of his sermon,” that is, they didn’t like what he said.
Then the intonation of the phrase “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” should be rendered something like “who does Jesus think he is coming into our synagogue and saying such things?” With this alternate, preferable translation, of verse 23, Jesus is not being sarcastic but is responding to the negativity of the listeners.
A third point to be made concerns the two examples Jesus cites from two of Israel’s greatest prophets, Elijah and Elisha. In both cases Jesus notes that God worked not within the bounds of Israel but outside the chosen people when he sent these prophets to feed and heal.
What is the connection between what these prophets did and what Jesus said when he quoted the Isaiah text, and why did the crowd get angry enough with him to want to kill him?
We noted that when Jesus quoted the Isaiah text he did not quote the phrase “and the day of the vengeance of our God.” If, in popular opinion, part of the promise of jubilee was that God would deliver Israel from her oppressors, and if that expectation was that God would punish her oppressors, then the phrase “and the day of the vengeance of our God” would be an aspect of the longed for and hoped for deliverance by which Israel’s enemies would be cast down.
Political deliverance was perceived as an aspect of God working wrath on Israel’s enemies. By eliminating this line, Jesus also eliminated the possibility that jubilee included God’s wrath upon whoever was oppressing Israel. His words were indeed “gracious words” (“words of grace”).
The citation of the two examples of Elijah and Elisha then justify Jesus’ exclusion of this vengeance saying, for both prophets had worked their healing miracles among foreign outsiders, those whom God was supposed (in popular piety) to hate.
In short, Jesus is saying to his synagogue hearers:
Jubilee is here, not only for you but also for those you hate; in fact God also goes to your oppressors with this message of jubilee, deliverance and salvation. God will become their God and thus you shall all be family.
Now we can begin to understand why they got so mad at him.
But there is a further implication to be drawn from this. By eliminating the phrase regarding God’s vengeance, Jesus is removing the notion of retributive violence from the doctrine of God.
He is in effect saying that God is not like you think, loving you and angry with those you hate. There is a great bumper sticker making the rounds these days that captures this problem. It says “Isn’t it convenient that God hates the same people you do?”
Like the Galileans, we too have a tendency to want to believe that God is on our side and will judge “the other” who is over against us, or different from us. Such was not the case with Jesus. He observed that God makes no distinctions between righteous and wicked, between oppressors and oppressed, they both need deliverance and God’s blessing. Did he not say, “God makes rain to fall on good and evil and sun to shine on just and unjust?” (Matt 5:45)
This is perhaps the most important point I am seeking to make in my book The Jesus Driven Life, namely that, like Jesus, it is essential for us to begin to reframe the way we understand the “wrath” or retributive violence of God.
To suggest that God is nonviolent or better yet, that God is not involved in the cycle of retributive vengeance and punishment will undoubtedly strike many as wrong. Some having read this far are no doubt ready to run me out of town. If you are feeling this way, then what is the difference between how you feel and how Jesus’ hearers felt that day when he preached in his hometown synagogue?
Nothing irks some folks more than losing a God who is wrathful, angry, retributive and punishing. This is only because we want so much to believe that God takes sides, and that side is inevitably our side.
- Michael Hardin
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What does a God without retribution look like?
- Ask Jesus!
(Michael Hardin part 3)
by Peter Enns
April 10, 2014
Today we have part 3 of a 4-part series by Michael Hardin, “How Jesus Read His Bible.” Hardin (see full bio at part 1) is the co-founder and Executive Director of Preaching Peace a non-profit based in Lancaster, PA whose motto is “Educating the Church in Jesus’ Vision of Peace.” Hardin has published over a dozen articles on the mimetic theory of René Girard in addition to essays on theology, spirituality, and practical theology. He is also the author of several books, including the acclaimed The Jesus Driven Life from which these posts are adapted.
In today’s post, Hardin continues his discussion of Jesus’s use of the Old Testament. Hardin argues that the manner in which Jesus quotes his scripture shows us the God Jesus proclaims is not retributive. And, as you’ll see, John the Baptist was confused about this (as you might be).
- Peter Enns
We ended the last post by saying,
Nothing irks some folks more than losing a God who is wrathful, angry, retributive
and punishing. This is only because we want so much to believe that God takes
sides, and that side is inevitably our side.
So much of Jesus’s teaching subverts this sacrificial way of thinking.
One example is the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector found in Luke 18:9-14, where what counts as righteousness is completely and totally turned on its head!
If, in fact, as I argued in my last post, that Jesus begins his ministry by asking what God without retribution looks like (Luke 4), and if he acts this way in his ministry, and if he interprets his Bible to say such things, the question arises:
- Shouldn’t we also follow Jesus in interpreting our Bibles in the same way?
- Is biblical interpretation also a part of discipleship?
- Does following Jesus include more than just living a virtuous life?
- Might it also have to do with helping folks change the way they envision God?
Such was the case for Jesus who called people constantly to “change your thinking.” This is what repentance is, changing the way you think about things (Greek metanoia). When we change the way we see and understand the character of God, everything else changes and we turn back (Hebrew shuv) to the living and true God.
|John the Baptist|
We can see Jesus doing the same thing in Luke 7:18-23 when he responds to the followers of John the Baptist. Herod had imprisoned the Baptist for his preaching against the Herodian family system. John did not want to die without knowing whether Jesus was the one to come.
Now what could possibly have created this doubt in John’s mind? The answer comes in Jesus’ response to John’s followers. “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard,” Jesus says and then follows a list of miracles. Is Jesus saying, “Tell John you have seen a miracle worker and that God is doing great things through me?”
Doesn’t John already know these things about Jesus? Surely he does. Healers were rare but they were not uncommon in Jesus’ day. What then is Jesus really saying?
Luke 7:22ff is a selection of texts, mostly from Isaiah but also including the miracles of Elijah and Elisha (blind, Isaiah 61:1-2, 29:18, 35:5; lame, 35:6; deaf, 29:18, 35:5; poor 29:19; dead/lepers, I Kings 17:17-24 and 2 Kings 5:1-27).
The Isaiah texts all include a consequent or subsequent reference to the vengeance of God none of which Jesus quotes. As in Luke 4 what is at stake is the retributive violence of God that was an important aspect of John’s proclamation (Luke 3:7-9).
John, like the prophets before him, believed that God was going to bring an apocalyptic wrath. Nowhere in Jesus’ preaching do we find such and this is what confused John, just as it confused Jesus’ synagogue hearers.
Jesus implicitly tells John, through his message to John’s followers, that the wrath of God is not part of his message, rather healing and good news is. That is, Jesus is inviting John to read Isaiah the way he did!
The last thing Jesus tells John the Baptists’ disciples is “Blessed is the person who is not scandalized on account of me?” What could have caused this scandal? What had Jesus said and done that would cause people to stumble on his message? The clues are here in both Luke 4 and 7.
Jesus did not include as part of his message the idea that God would pour out wrath on Israel’s enemies in order to deliver Israel. Violence is not part of the divine economy for Jesus.
Sad to say, most Christians still think more like John the Baptist than Jesus.
Christians have lived a long time with a God who is retributive.
- We say that God is perfect and thus has the right to punish those whom he deems fit.
- We say that God will bring his righteous wrath upon all those who reject God.
- We say that God can do what God wants because God is God.
All of this logic is foreign to the gospel teaching of Jesus about the character of his heavenly abba.
Jesus does not begin with an abstract notion of God or Platonic metaphysics, but with the Creator God whom he knows as loving, nurturing and caring for all persons regardless of their moral condition, their politics, their ethnic background or their social or economic status. God cares for everyone equally and alike.
By removing retribution from the work and character of God, Jesus, for the first time in human history, opened up a new way, a path, which he also invites us to travel.
Sadly few have found that this path and church history is replete with hundreds, even thousands of examples of a Janus-faced god, a god who is merciful and wrathful, loving and punishing. Some have said that we need to hold to both of these sides together.
Jesus didn’t and neither should we. It is time for us to follow Jesus in reconsidering what divinity without retribution looks like.
- Michael Hardin
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“Scripture is like a cracked jar” -
the glory of an imperfect Bible
(Michael Hardin part 4)
by Peter Enns
April 11, 2014
Today we come to the final post of a 4-part series by Michael Hardin, “How Jesus Read His Bible.” Hardin (see full bio at part 1) is the co-founder and Executive Director of Preaching Peace a non-profit based in Lancaster, PA whose motto is “Educating the Church in Jesus’ Vision of Peace.” Hardin has published over a dozen articles on the mimetic theory of René Girard in addition to essays on theology, spirituality, and practical theology. He is also the author of several books, including the acclaimed The Jesus Driven Life from which these posts are adapted.
In today’s post, Hardin talks about how he sees God speaking through Scripture: through the cross.
- Peter Enns
If God speaks through Scripture, and I believe God does indeed speak, how shall we understand God speaking? I begin with several criteria.
1 - The first is that in Jesus the “fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily” (Col 2:9). Jesus is the figure who reveals the character of the Father (so Heb 1:1-3, John 1:1- 18, etc).
2 - The second is this: God speaks through broken vessels. The greatest speech/act of God can be found in the cross. God did God’s best work on the cross reconciling a stubborn, blind and rebellious humanity by forgiving them their sins.
The cross is the ultimate place of God’s brokenness. It is in this brokenness that we see most clearly the affection of God for humanity, an affection or love that takes even misjudgment, torture, humiliation and shame and still announces forgiveness.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 says we have “this treasure in clay jars.” This treasure is the gospel (vs. 3). If a jar could contain light, say, the light of the gospel, and it was perfect, then that light would not be seen, for it would have nowhere to shine through. If it is cracked, then there are places for that light to leak out and shine forth.
For me, Scripture is liked a cracked jar, it is because it is cracked that light is able to shine forth. If in our brokenness God shines God’s light in and through us, can we not also assert the same of the prophets and the apostles? Can we not say that we are most like God, not when we are whole, but when we are broken? Does not the Fourth Gospel (John) suggest as much in its view of the relationship between ‘glory’ (doxa) and the cross?
In other words, we do not need to have a theory of Scripture where the Bible must be perfect in order for God to reveal God’s self.
Some may object and say but if that is the case how do we distinguish between what is “man’s [sic] word” and what is “God’s Word?” This has already been answered by suggesting that revelation comes through the voice of the forgiving victim.
It is the Crucified that speaks the eternal word: shalom. The forgiveness announced by Jesus on the cross is no different than the ‘shalom’ announced by the Risen Jesus. They are flip sides of a coin. God is at peace with humanity.
For this reason, I see the cross as the evacuation of all concepts of divine wrath, existential and eschatological. There was no wrath of God poured out on Jesus on the cross; the wrath is strictly ours. Nor is there an eschatological wrath, as though God was only partly ameliorated at the cross but will make sure to vent holy anger come The End.
The cross is the death of all our god concepts, and we humans are the ones who, through the justification of scapegoating, believe that God is one with us when we victimize. After all, ‘God’ victimized plenty of people and people groups in the Old Testament.
This sacrificial way of thinking is terminated by the anti-sacrifice Jesus. Jesus’ blood covers our sin, not through some divine forensic transaction but as we lift our blood stained hands we hear the divine voice, “You are forgiven, each and every one of you, all of you.”
The New Testament writers say this was all done “for us” (hyper humon), for our sakes, for our benefit. This is what the Nicene Creed affirms when it says Jesus “who for us humans and our salvation came down from heaven.” Just as Hebrews 10:5-8 says, this coming was not to be a sacrifice but was the opposite, it was anti-sacrificial.
Jesus did not come to fulfill the logic of the sacrificial system (either Jewish or pagan) but to expose it and put an end to its reign in our lives.
The cross of Christ is the place of revelation, the resurrection of Jesus is the vindication of that revelation, and the ascension, where Jesus is given the Unpronounceable Name (Phil 2:5-11) is the place where that revelation is confirmed for all time.
This is the good news, this is the gospel, and this is why we trust God to use our brokenness to shine his light from our lives into the lives of others, just as God uses the broken prophetic and apostolic witness to continue to shine light to us and for us today.
How can we break through to this new reading of the Bible? What is it that hinders us from really seeing and hearing and experiencing the good news? What keeps us in bondage to our old sacrificial ways of thinking?
It is time to name the interpretive prison system in which Christianity finds herself. We must discern how the ‘satanic’ sacrificial interpretation manifests itself in our theology. Just as a prison has guards or warders so also sacrificial Christianity has warders that keep it bound to the false logic of sacrifice.
It is the revelation of the resurrected victim that creates the possibility, hitherto an impossibility, for reading texts outside the box of our anthropological mythmaking and justification of reciprocal vengeance.
Christopher Marshall also points to this way of understanding our changed relationship to God:
God’s perceived involvement in the infliction of violence is over. God no longer fights fire with fire. God has changed – or, perhaps more accurately, the human experience of God’s association with violence has changed. God no longer permits his identity to be defined by violence; God actively repudiates the violent behavior which has hitherto clouded his character so that the duplicity of violence itself may be exposed and defeated. (“The Violence of God and the Hermeneutics of Paul” in The Work of Jesus Christ in Anabaptist Perspective [Telford: Cascadia Publishing, 2008], 89.)
I suggest a correlation of hermeneutics with resurrection and discipleship as the three legs of a new paradigm of biblical authority. This anthropological reading of the text is a formative new paradigm for framing the specifics of how the Bible is to be read, understood and lived within the Christian communion.
It is a liberating paradigm for it moves beyond the contentious debates regarding the relation of truth to language and brings to the fore the key problem that has bogged down the church since Marcion on the relation of violence to divinity.
The lens of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus reveals our total sin and God’s total grace. It is a paradigm that calls for more than just intellectual assent; indeed it requires the risk of obedience to Jesus so that, just as he is the Light of the World, so we too, in listening to him and following him, may be light to our world.
- Michael HardinMichael Hardin on the Bible & Atonement
Kevin Miller and Michael Hardin - How Jesus Read the Bible?
(Gateway Alliance Church 29.09.2013)
April 14, 2014 by Bo Sanders Comments
April 14, 2014 by Bo Sanders Comments
Michael Hardin is the author of several books among others [you can find here]:
He is the Executive Director of Preaching Peace, an organization co-founded with his wife Lorri. You can see all that they are up to at www.preachingpeace.org
“Our hope is to see the church re-examine its theology in the light of the good news of Jesus who proclaimed a truly distinct and unique vision of God. When we do so we encounter a God of radical free grace, forgiveness and love and our lives are transformed by the Spirit of God sent to us through Jesus.”
HomeBrewed Interview & Audio Link Here
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Michael Hardin: A Nonviolent Atonement
Published on Dec 11, 2013
Michael Hardin and Non-Violent Atonement (Nomad Podcast - 10 December 2013)
Tim and Dave (from Nomad Podcast) are chatting with theologian Michael Hardin, founder of Preaching Peace and author of 'The Jesus Driven Life'. The boys ask him whether God is really as violent as the Old Testament makes out, and whether he really had to kill his own son in order to forgive us.
Source: Nomad Podcast http://www.nomad.libsyn.com