This is one that seems fairly obvious to me for anyone who partakes of orthodox Christian theology. If you believe that Jesus was God incarnate, God in the flesh, the Word become flesh, then Jesus must be the center of Christian faith and Christian theology. If you believe that Jesus was merely a prophet or less, then you obviously have the potential for other answers. One prophet, for example, could not become the center as opposed to all the prophets. But for now let’s stick with this more or less orthodox, trinitarian, incarnational theology.
A friend called my attention to a blog, Biblical Foundations, where Dr. Andreas Kostenberger posts. There he has a post titled Jesus and the Bible, in which he complains of people making Jesus more central to Christian theology than the Bible, a complaint which he could certainly level at me.
It seems strange why anyone would want to pit Jesus against the Bible, but in recent weeks the question which of these two is primary, Jesus or the Bible, has once again taken center stage in many circles.
As long as there are people who put the Bible ahead of Jesus, this is certainly an excellent topic to discuss.
One argument advanced in this regard is that if the Bible were central, how could people have come to faith in Jesus Christ before the New Testament was written?
I certainly have no need of such an argument, though it would be relevant. But there’s a more important point hidden in that sentence. The point of the Bible is to tell people about God. The scriptures point to God. They point to Jesus. The Bible is not God. Now some people in their arguments about inerrancy make it seem that they take the Bible as God, and that the Bible must have all the attributes of God. (This is by no means all inerrantists. I argue against the doctrine of inerrancy elsehwere, but that is not my issue here. What I am saying in this post is quite compatible with inerrancy.) But if the point of the scriptures is to bring people to Jesus, how can the Bible itself be central?
I have a car and a manual on how to drive that car. Ignoring now the information I have about that car from other sources (which I will discuss in a little while), the manual is very important in knowing how to handle the car. It has maintenance schedules, requirements for various fluids, safety tips and so forth. But just because I need my vehicle manual (and I do; I’m not good enough to guess the maintenance without it!) doesn’t mean that the manual becomes the center of my transportation. The car is. And just because I say my car is more central than the manual, doesn’t mean that I’m denigrating the manual. It’s a good manual. I like it. But it tells me stuff about my car. It doesn’t get me to work or the doctor’s office.
. . . Arguably, the only way we know Jesus truly is through Scripture. Conversely, if we think Scripture is deficient in some way, then our Jesus will look different from the way in which he is presented in the Gospels. If Scripture is our only reliable and authoritative source for who Jesus is, then how can we say that Jesus is more important than the Bible or pit the two against each other?
Well, no, that is not the only way to know Jesus. Let me list some of the ways:
- Historical testimony
- Personal spiritual experience
- The Natural world (assuming we accept the incarnation fully)
- God’s activity in history
Now amongst the ways of knowing about Jesus specifically, the Bible is central, but that’s in comparison to other ways of knowing about Jesus. But the Bible is a way of knowing about Jesus, not Jesus himself. The Bible is a way of knowing about God, not God himself. In this sense it is very much distinct from Jesus, and Jesus himself becomes more central. Jesus is not only a way of knowing about God; Jesus is God. As a Christian, I can’t think of anything more central than that.
It is not denigrating something to put it in its proper place and function. Saying that the Bible is not God is not to criticize or diminish the Bible; it is simply stating a fact. As the primary way of knowing about God, the Bible remains important. But it can never be a replacement for God, nor can it replace Jesus (God) at the center of our theology or our faith.
Personally, I doubt that Jesus himself would have subscribed to a view that placed him above Scripture. . . .
I have not quoted the remainder of the paragraph, in which Kostenberger suggests putting Jesus “beneath” scripture. You can go to his post if you want. But again, I’ll repeat: Jesus is God and the Bible is not! If Kostenberger would like to join those who do not believe Jesus ever claimed divinity, then he could make a point here. But if he accepts the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation, Jesus becomes the giver of the Bible, and as such he is definitely above it in the sense of authority, and underneath it, in the sense of foundation, and all around it, as the content and meaning of it.
He ends with this question:
If it was good enough for Jesus, the apostles, and the early church to find the coming of the Messiah predicted in the Scriptures, and to identify Jesus as the fulfillment of these predictions, should it not be good enough for us?
And I say false premise, in fact, incredibly false premise. Read the gospels! The disciples recognized Jesus as the Messiah before they figured out all the scriptures. Frequently we are told that they didn’t understand something at the time, but understood it after it happened. They didn’t go through some process of scriptural exegesis, compare their results to Jesus, and then say, “OK! The 1st Century Jesus Seminar has concluded that Jesus is the Christ!” No! They recognized Jesus because he, himself, revealed himself and the Father to them.
The apostles continued to receive revelation afterward. And whether you believe, as I do, that prophetic revelation is still possible or not, the apostles certainly received revelation. If they did not, we must consider the New Testament flawed.
I am unashamed to place Jesus at the center of faith and theology, and to have the Bible take its place as a revelation of God, but not the revelation of God.