Events, Texts, Interpretations…

The most difficult thing that I have had to grapple with lately is this issue of “differences” in the gospel accounts. How are we to approach these “differences”? How do they effect our understanding of what Scripture is, as well as how we are to interpret Scripture?

The Gospels are records of historical events. But were they intended to be the records of an “Ideal Chronicler”, a person who records for us everything perfectly just as they happened down to the smallest detail, AS THE EVENTS WERE TAKING PLACE? This kind of record would be but a bare skeleton of a record, only recording the “brute facts.” Jesus went to Galilee. He performed a Miracle. People tried to kill him. Then he went to Capernaum… etc, etc. The Gospels do record events. But the beauty of the gospels is that the events that are recorded were written down in a text after the event had happened, and after a whole lot of other stuff had happened.

These events that take place in space time history CHANGE IN MEANING as time goes on, and as the interpreters of the text in which the events were recorded, learn more about the significance of that event.

Jesus was crucified. This was a historical event. But by itself it is a brute fact, with no meaning attached to it. Only when we understand the story of redemption as previously laid out for us in Scripture do we begin to understand the significance of the event of Jesus’ crucifixion. The event stays the same, but the meaning of the event changes with time.

The meaning of the event also changes because of the purposes of the story teller. Interpretation is ALWAYS a part of texts. The Gospels are recorded interpretations of historical events. Inspired, Infallible, Inerrant, interpretations of historical events. The gospels do not give us just brute facts, but built into the text of Scripture, are interpretations, as well as literary creations, which in and of themselves, help shape the meaning of the text, and the events that the text is interpreting.

The more we learn about the text of Scripture, i.e. the gospels, the more we learn about the evangelist’s interpretations of the events of Jesus.

Now, is the Holy Spirit allowed to record for us 4 different accounts of historical events, and give us 4 different interpretations of those events in order that we might understand the significance and meaning of the historical events more deeply and more thoroughly?

I think that this is what the debate is about.

All we have is access to texts, not to the “in space time history” events. Our main task is not to try to “get behind the text” and find the “real Jesus”, but rather, look to the text, in all its variations, and find the Jesus that the Holy Spirit presents to us. It is this Jesus, the Jesus that is revealed in the Text of Holy Scripture, that God wants us to know.

Jesus is the exegesis of the Father. But Scripture is the Divinely Inspired interpretation of that exegesis. It is our duty and responsibility to interpret the Interpretation, and to exegete the Interpretation, in order that we might come to an interpretation which is closer and closer to God’s interpretation.

Technically this is an impossible task, since Holy Writ is inexhaustible, but it is a task that God saw fit to give to us. May we do it for His glory, and the good of the Church.

Peter as the New Moses

Peter begins his first epistle by addressing “those who are elect exiles…” He calls them “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”, which is the same language that God used to speak to the Israelites in Exodus 19:4 after He had just brought them out of Egypt. Just a few verses later in 2:11 Peter refers to them as “sojourners and exiles”, which is what God called Israel in Exo. 22:21. He encourages them to live as people who are free (2:16), indicating that they have been set free, and are no longer in bondage. This gives us a view to the “time” in which Peter was living when he wrote this. For all of these OT echoes are prior to Israel entering in to the land, and also after the Exodus. Thus, Peter and his audience are in the equivalent of the 40 year wilderness wandering just prior to entering into the land.

Just as during this time in the OT the people under went trials by fiery serpents, so too will these believers undergo some “fiery trials” of their own (4:12). It was because of such people who didn’t believe God in the days of the wilderness wandering, that the faithful had to wait until the generation of unbelievers died off before they could enter in to the land. Similarly, Peter tells them that the end of all things is at hand (4:7), corresponding to the end of ‘that generation’ in the wilderness, which in the case of Peter, is the end of “this generation” as the Lord Jesus had spoke in Matt. 24:34. The covenantal curse is upon those who rejected the Messiah and did not believe the Prophet. Thus, Peter says that judgment must begin with the household of God, which came upon Israel in AD 70, forty years after Christ was crucified, the equivalent of a generation.

Peter is like a Moses figure who is writing to Joshua type pastors, getting them ready to bring the people into the land of the new covenant. He thus tells them to “shepherd the flock of God”, just as Moses, after he was told that he would not enter into the land, appealed to the Lord for a man to shepherd the congregation of the Lord into the land (Num. 28:17). Similarly, Peter too is not going to enter into the land, like Moses, since Peter’s death occurred in AD 67, just a few years prior to entering fully into the New Covenant era. So he writes to his “Joshuas” giving them “Deueronomical” type instructions for when they enter into the ‘land.’

What is interesting is that what Peter looks forward to is not some heavenly existence in some ethereal realm, but to the New Covenant. The New Covenant is the “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” and the New Covenant is the subsequent glory that follow Christ’s death, and the New Covenant is that thing which angels long to look! Hence, Peter says, “Therefore…set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” which was in AD 70, when the Old Covenant passed away and the New Covenant came fully into existence. But just because the glorious New Covenant is here, doesn’t mean instantaneous perfection, for Peter encourages his readers to continue to long for the word, like spiritual milk, that they might grow up into their salvation.

The whole history of redemption is one of maturation, and when Peter was writing, they were essentially new-borns in the new covenant. They needed to grow up into their salvation through the word. The question then is, though we are in the “land of the New Covenant,” yet because we have not fully arrived and are not matured 100%, and are not in the New Earth after the resurrection and judgment of all things, should we consider ourselves as still in a “wilderness wandering status?” Would that be the equivalent of the “Not Yet” in the Already/Not Yet paradigm? Or is the Not Yet a qualifier of the maturation level of the Already, as is, we are Already in the New Covenant, but we are Not Yet experiencing the full maturation of it? Like how Israel was in the land but needed to cast out the inhabitants and expand dominion throughout the whole land. Similarly the Church is “in the land” that is, in the New Earth, but Christ has not yet put all His enemies under Hs feet. I think it is the latter. But in either case, we need to take Peters advice and continue to grow up to salvation by the word, and continue to be holy, for God is Holy. Amen, and Amen.