In my opening thoughts, I briefly referred to the Bible as the revelation of Jesus Christ. I want to expand on this concept and show why I believe this to be true.
Not only do I believe it to be true, I believe it to be a salient concept that guards against prideful and narcissistic eisegesis.
When you eisegete a text, you bring your presuppositions and biases, cramming them into the text to make it mean what you want it to mean. Eisegeting the Bible is especially dangerous as this is the inspired word of God. An eisegete can claim credibility for their views based on divine inspiration. Accordingly, many cults start with the Bible.
On the other hand, when you exegete a text, you endeavor to understand what the author intended the text to mean using the all-important context (this could be textual, historical, social, etc.).
The dangers of eisegesis are manifested in the contemporary teachings of ‘finding yourself in the text’ and ‘discovering what the text means to you’. Christians are being taught to read the Bible as if it was about them and are encouraged to discover what the text means in their opinion.
Now opinions aren’t intrinsically bad, and differing interpretations of some parts of scripture are fine. But if your opinion of the meaning of a passage is based solely on your imagination, you have some work to do.
To give an example of how biblical passages are largely taught in contemporary Christianity, let’s look at David and Goliath. You can read the whole story in 1 Samuel 17, but I’ll summarize it here.
David was a young shepherd boy, anointed by the prophet Samuel to be king as God had rejected the current king, Saul. The Philistines came against Israel in battle, and one of their fiercest warriors, a towering giant named Goliath, came out before the Israelite army and defied Israel and God.
Along came David, bringing food for his brothers, and he heard Goliath’s daily defiance. Being angered by such blasphemy, David sought to take on Goliath. Saul doubted he could, but let him go anyway. Now, David was adept at killing lions and bears with just a sling and some stones and didn’t doubt God would deliver him from the hand of that uncircumcised Philistine.
David collected five stones, approached Goliath, they exchanged some strong words, Goliath and David charged at each other, David flicked a stone into Goliath’s forehead, and it was all over.
A simple summary, but you get the picture.
Now, you may have heard this passage preached like this: you need to be like David and slay your Goliaths!
You are not David. You are not Moses. You are not Elijah. You are not Ruth. You are not Esther.
The Bible is not about you.
This story, apart from being an awesome historical narrative, is a picture of Jesus Christ and the salvation he wrought for us on the cross.
Look at it this way: the Israelites are a picture of us sinners, David is a picture of Jesus, and Goliath is a picture of the devil and our sin. We are the cowering Israelites, terrified of this evil giant who seeks to destroy us. We are not the heroic David who slays Goliath.
Our sin controls us and we are enslaved, unable to break its bonds (Romans 6:15 - 23). No matter how hard we may try, Satan still has the upper hand through tempting our weak and sinful flesh. Without the saving power of God, no human can resist sin’s sensual call.
It is Jesus Christ who saves us from Satan and sin. This is what the story of David and Goliath pictures. While all of us were cowering in the background unable to face our enemy, Jesus Christ took sin and the devil head-on, defeating them once for all. Christ has freed us from enslavement to sin, we have not freed ourselves.
I pray this brief look at the narrative of David and Goliath has helped you see how the Bible is the revelation of Jesus Christ. And also, how not to read yourself into the biblical text.
To give this perspective some evidential grounding, we’ll look at several key passages that help us understand the purpose of the Bible.
First up, let’s head to the gospel of John:
You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me, but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life.
John 5:39 - 40
And a little further on in the passage:
If you believed Moses, you would believe me because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what Moses wrote, how will you believe my words?
John 5:46 - 47
These two passages are part of a great discourse of Jesus against the Jewish leaders (you should read the whole thing in John 5). But I want to focus in on these two sections as Jesus reveals succinctly the purpose of the scriptures.
The Jewish leaders were faithful students of the Tanakh, the Old Testament, but when Jesus began his ministry they refused to recognize him as the promised Messiah. Jesus’ question to them is that if they know the scriptures so well, then why don’t they believe what he was saying about himself?
The reason for his question is that the scriptures speak of Jesus. What Moses and the prophets wrote ultimately points us to Jesus Christ, who is the son of God and the promised Messiah.
When we read the Bible we need to keep in mind that what was written has its immediate historical purpose, but the overarching purpose of every part of scripture is the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Now let’s move on to Paul’s epistle to the Colossians:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days—these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ!
Colossians 2:16 - 17
This section is part of a larger discourse where Paul is refuting several heresies that had crept into the Colossian church. Specifically, these verses combat the Judaizing heresy whereby Christians were taught they had to obey all the Mosaic law to be saved. This contradicts salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
But these verses also give us insight into the greater purpose of the Mosaic law. From the sacrifices to the Sabbaths, all the elements of the Mosaic law ultimately point us to Jesus Christ. They are the types and shadows, but Christ is the substance and reality. The blood of bulls and goats could never take away our sin, but the blood of Christ can (Hebrews 10:4, Hebrews 9:25 - 26).
Finally, we’ll come back to the gospel of John:
Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John 20:30 - 31
John is primarily referring to his gospel with these words. But based on the other scriptures we have looked at, I think it is reasonable to assert that these verses apply to the entire biblical corpus.
The ultimate goal of inspiring people throughout history to write the biblical books has been God’s desire to reveal himself through his son Jesus Christ. It is in Christ alone that we find salvation and reconciliation with the Father (John 14:6, 2 Corinthians 5:19).
The goal is salvation, not purely rationalistic understanding. God has revealed himself so we can learn about him. But more importantly, so we can be saved from our sins and reconciled to God for eternity.
It’s easy to read yourself into the biblical text. I should know, I did it for years.
But this way of reading the Bible is superficial and void of substance. You won’t be able to appreciate the beauty of scripture if you keep getting in the way.
Step back, look to Christ, and ask how the passage you are reading relates to Jesus and the salvation he wrought for us on the cross.
When you shift your perspective and see the Bible as the revelation of Jesus Christ, you discover the true beauty and richness of the scriptures.