Reading with the Spirit and reason
In the Bible, people testify of the revelations of God. These testimonies are of course inspired by the Holy Spirit, but are also influenced by the knowledge and culture of the people of the time. And this has consequences especially for the reader today. Here is a handout by the Chief Apostle.
Human beings are incapable of recognising God on their own, Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider reminded the participants at the most recent District Apostle Meeting. “All that we can know about God is what He reveals to us,” he explained during the traditional spiritual portion. This revelation happens in a progressive manner.
- First, God made Himself known as the Creator and
- then as Lord in the history of Israel.
- The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ surpassed all previous revelations.
- The sending of the Holy Spirit revealed new knowledge.
- At the return of Christ, God will reveal Himself in perfect measure.
And what about the Bible? Here too, God reveals Himself in a progressive way.
A filter with consequences
“In Holy Scripture the revelations of God are attested by human beings who were inspired by the Holy Spirit.” But: “The authors of the biblical books used their language and knowledge in order to impart that which the Holy Spirit had revealed to them.”
The human filter and its implications: “It is only with the assistance of the Holy Spirit that readers of the Bible are able to recognise the divine will in these texts written by human beings.” The Apostles in particular—under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—have the mandate to interpret Holy Scripture in a binding and authoritative manner for faith, in order to recognise and reveal the divine will it contains.” After all, the Apostles are stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4: 1).
Punishing or loving?
The Chief Apostle immediately put this into practice by addressing the question of how the two Testaments each view and understand God:
- “The Old Testament is a collection of sacred writings by Jewish authors. The manner in which they describe God reflects the cultural and religious context of their time. They often ascribe human qualities to God. For example, God is offended—His honour and dignity are violated. He becomes angry and punishes.”
- The New Testament is quite different: “Jesus Christ reveals the true nature of God to humanity.” He speaks of a God of love who does not seek to punish sinners, but rather to save them. The misfortune that befalls human beings is not a punishment imposed by God, but simply a consequence of the dominion of the evil one.
Does the Old Testament still apply then?
The Old Testament in the light of the New Testament
The Chief Apostle has a clear answer to this: “Jesus Christ interpreted Holy Scripture—in particular the Torah, the prophetic books, and the Psalms—in relation to His own person and activity. From this we conclude that we must interpret the Old Testament from the point of view of the Son of God.
The Catechism says here: “The significance for faith and doctrine of any statements made in the individual books of the Old Testament—or in the later writings of the Old Testament—can be determined by the agreement of their contents with that which the gospel teaches.” (KNK 184.108.40.206).
The fall into sin and the flood
Example number one, the fall into sin: “Jesus Christ expressly states that God does not desire to punish the sinner.” Therefore the suffering caused by toil, childbirth, and dominion (Genesis 3: 14–19) is not to be understood as punishment imposed by God. In light of Jesus’ teaching and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are of the view that God merely announced to Adam and Eve the consequences of their fall into sin. The message we derive from this account is that God continued to love human beings even after their transgression, and promised to send them a Redeemer.”
Example number two, the flood. How could an omniscient God discover man’s wickedness only after the fact (Genesis 6: 5)? How was sin to be eliminated by the flood if, with Noah, people survived again who were sinful by nature? “The Holy Spirit guides us to see the account of the flood in terms of deliverance, not punishment.” For God gives Noah “the opportunity to be saved through obedience to God”, the Chief Apostle writes with reference to 1 Peter 3: 18–22. There it speaks of “souls saved through the water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism.”
Interim conclusion: “In the Old Testament, salvation was conditional on obedience, which was understood as strict observance of the Law.” Jesus Christ, on the other hand, revealed what true obedience is. “God wants us to believe in Jesus Christ, and to love God and our neighbour.” How is the New Testament to be read? This will be the subject of a second article to be published tomorrow.
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District Apostle Meeting (DAMI), Doctrinal statements