One of the most important questions that Christians ask is, “How do we interpret the Bible?” Or, “What is the Bible really all about; what is its center?” Not surprisingly, there have been loads of differing answers given to these questions. Some say the Bible is chiefly about God. Some say the Bible is a book of morals, a divine list of do’s and don’ts. Some say it is all about covenant. Some say it centers on the church, or the people of God. Some define the center as Israel. Some point to grace. Some say it is all about redemption. And we could find a countless number of differing answers if we wanted. Finding so many different opinions regarding what the Bible is all about often leaves us with another question, “Is the Bible really about one thing?” We may even ask in our despair, “Is the Bible really about anything?”
In one sense, we can understand all of the answers given above to be emphasizing different aspects of a more basic answer to our questions of biblical interpretation; however, to say any one of these things is the core, or center, of the Bible is to say that it is the most basic answer we can give. On the one hand, we need a very broad answer. On the other hand, we need an answer that is narrow enough to actually say something. Part of the problem may be in our attempt to boil the teaching of such a complex book down to just one word, but a bigger part of the problem may be that we have overlooked how the Bible answers our questions of interpretation. The most important rule of biblical interpretation is, “Let Scripture interpret Scripture,” so let’s look to the Word to find out what it is all about. Here are seven passages that help answer our questions of interpretation. There is of course far more that could be said.
Gen 3.14-15 (ESV)
14The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
Genesis 3.15 gives us a promise that the head of the serpent will be crushed by the seed of the woman. This is a reference to Jesus Christ and his work of redeeming the people of God. Dr. John Currid sums up this argument as follows, “…contained in Genesis 3 is the prophecy that God will send a Redeemer to crush the enemy. Jesus is the seed who is descended from Eve and went to do battle against Satan. The remaineder of Scripture is an unfolding of the prophecy of Genesis 3.15. Redemption is promised in this one verse, and the Bible traces the development of that redemptive theme.”* Further, when this idea is traced through to the book of Revelation. we see this story come to a glorious end in the last chapters of Revelation when Jesus Christ comes on his white horse and brings victory for his people.
Deut 30.1-14 (ESV)
1“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, 2and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. 4If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. 5And the LORD your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. 7And the LORD your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. 8And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today. 9The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
11“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
This passage comes at the end of the giving of the Law. Just prior to this passage, the covenant blessings and curses are given along with the conditions for receiving blessings rather than curses. Notice that in this passage there is the promise that God will deliver his people from a future exile. In other words, this passage has a prophetic element to it. God is saying to Israel through Moses that they will fail and he will deliver them. In addition, Paul quotes from this passage in Romans 10.5-13 where he is setting out God’s plan for redemption through Jesus Christ. That is to say, Paul, an inspired biblical author, interprets this passage, which is one of the key passages for understanding the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament properly, as pointing to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
Matt 11.11-15 (ESV)
11Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Luke 16.16-17 (ESV)
16“The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.
The passages in Matthew 11 and Luke 16 are clearly very similar. Both passages teach that the Law served a specific purpose through the time of John the Baptist who came to announce the coming of Jesus Christ. Some theologians refer to this specific purpose of the law in terms of “planned obsolescence.” In other words, the Law was intended for a specific and bound purpose. The specific purpose of the Law is also seen in other passages such as Galatians 3.15-29 (more on that below).
Luke 24.27 (ESV)
27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Jesus is the one doing the interpreting mentioned in this passage, and he is instructing his disciples. The meaning here is relatively straight forward. Jesus goes through the Old Testament, summarized here as “Moses and all the Prophets,” and explains to his disciples how they point to himself. Jesus interpreted the Scriptures as pointing to himself.
Rom 5.12-21 (ESV)
12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned- 13for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
18Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 5 is a very helpful passage because it tells us that Adam was a type of Christ. “A type is a shadow cast on the pages of OT history by a truth whose full embodiment or antitype is found in the NT revelation;”** it is a specific kind of foreshadowing rooted history. In this passage Adam is a type of Christ in his covenant or federal headship. This helps us to understand that all of Scripture points to Jesus Christ rather than only that which comes after the fall. An important conclusion regarding history can be deduced from this passage as well. Since Adam, the first man, was established as a type of Christ it follows that there is a specific end toward which all of history flows, the consummation of Christ’s kingdom. This is also seen in passages such as John 1.1-5 and Colossians 1.15-20 where Christ is established as not only active in creating, but also the end or purpose of creation.
Gal 3.15-29 (ESV)
15To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
19Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
21Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
23Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
While there are many more passages that could be referenced to help make the case for a Christ-centered interpretation of Scripture, Galatians will be the last one considered here. Galatians 3.15-29 outlines in part the theological system called covenant theology. Within this rich passage there are a few key phrases regarding the current discussion. First, verse 18 clearly teaches that the offspring to whom the promises were made and in whom the promises are fulfilled is Jesus Christ. Second, Paul asks in verse 19, “Why then the law?” He answers, “It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made.” Remember, Paul just defined the offspring as Christ. This affirms the passages in Matthew 11 and Luke 16 mentioned above, as well as the planned obsolescence of the Law mentioned above. Paul elaborates on this point in verse 24 writing, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” Third, in verse 29 Paul states, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” So, the promises given to Abraham are fulfilled and realized in Christ and extended to those who are united by faith to Christ and thereby made heirs with Christ.
When all of these passages are considered together, it becomes clear that the revelation of Jesus Christ is the point of Scripture. Right from the beginning, God is working out his plan of salvation for his people through his Son, Jesus Christ. The Christ-centered nature of Scripture is important to understand. It helps guard against legalistic, moralistic, and spiritualistic interpretations of Scripture, especially of the Old Testament, and it helps to guard against a formulation of God that leaves him impotent in the salvation of his people. From beginning to end, when we read the Bible, we are reading the story of our Savior. Read the Bible, and bow before the King revealed in its pages.
*John D. Currid, Genesis: Volume 1 – Genesis 1:1-25:18
, EP Study Commentary (Webster: Evangelical Press, 2003), 131.
**Everett F. Harrison, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Carl F. Henry, ed. Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 533.