Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Secret to Understanding the New Testament.

Big claim. Yet another secret to life. No one told me this, it isn't talked about. As far as I know, there are no books about it or sermons given concerning this secret. It took me to the age of 50 to figure it out. But then it hit me- big. As far as I know it is mine, so I pass it on to you. For being a faithful reader.
Who is the most prolific writer in the NT? It is Luke, the "beloved physician" . A full 27% of the NT. He wrote a two part screenplay, if you will. . What most of us do is read part 1 and try to conclude what part 1 means without having read Part 2. This is ridiculous. Tell me if I am wrong. The secret to understanding any two part screenplay is to read part #2 like a hawk in light of what he has learned in #1. It is the sequel (if it is any good) that informs or should interpret the first part. The first part should leave us a bit baffled and hungry for more. It is the first part that gives us clues and questions on how it is all going to play out. The lead actor in a two part drama cannot be understood completely until the author completes his character at the conclusion. In some dramas there are often large twists that make one totally rethink who the lead really is. Ask yourself this- if you had to take an exam about the meaning of a book would you pick the first half or the latter? Ok, call my bluff- I know nothing about literature and drama. Help someone.

The two part drama is known as Luke-Acts. Most scholars believe it was one book written by the same author. As you know the Church fathers took the first part, namely Luke and made it the third book in the NT...Matthew, Mark, Luke- known as the Synoptic Gospels. Then they took "The Acts of the Apostles," namely part #2 and had it follow John's Gospel. So the novel was in effect broken up.

I implore you to put them back together again and read them as a unit, the way Luke intended. 

The Synoptics were always a very difficult read for me. That is because Jesus is often portrayed as a taskmaster who keeps raising the bar of the hearers. You thought the 10 commandments ( Decalogue) were tough? He now says that if you even think of these things you are guilty. It seems that we have to give more and more in order to make it into heaven...our righteousness "must exceed those of the Pharisees" . I would presume that each of us has his or her own frightening stories. It is the Synoptics where hell is introduced by Christ. No wonder I almost always preferred  to read John- where one  finds  forgiveness and atonement and eternal life. 

I have mentioned this before that for the Reformers scripture MUST be separated into law and gospel, for Paul tells us that God gave the commands (or Law) in order for us to sin more! Thus we would stop being self deluded and come to Christ for forgiveness. This is the Reformers "secret" to interpreting the Bible, the separation at all times between law and Gospel. They would say that there is a lot of law in the Synoptics; that is Christ high commands are laid out in order to bring us to him for forgiveness.

Trying to unify the bible without this separation is impossible. It turns into, "Jesus says this, but over here he says that, and we will lose our minds trying to put together.

My Luke- Acts "secret" is really a different slant on the Reformers separation between Law and Grace. Luke is often tinged with Law. Christ tells of hell in the "Rich man and Lazarus" and of radical self denial as the path to his kingdom.

The Acts on the other hand is full of Grace, of Resurrection and how to obtain eternal life. This life is clearly received through faith alone in Christ. As to Law the Jerusalem Church had a big Pawwah about whether or not gentiles had to effectively become Jews in order to follow the Law and than follow Jesus. This proposition was rejected. The council did not want the Gentiles burdened by keeping the Law! The Gentiles had only to believe in Christ. Oh- there were two other bits of advice, and this is humorous- to abstain from meats offered to idols and from sexual immorality. Obviously the first is no problem in today's society- as to the second- how are we doing?

So I urge everyone when confounded with a parable or story that Christ gives in Luke (or even Matthew or Mark)  - Read it in light of Acts- where Luke tells us what Christ must have meant because in his mind there could not have been a contradiction! Right? Either Luke himself holds to a contradictory religion or he sees ALL of it as in harmony. My argument again- is to use the Theology in Acts to understand the theology of the Gospels- in fact one could take it to the limit and say that it is a key book in understanding the entire Bible.

I will do a rewrite - it is messy- special request to get it out early.