The Secret to Understanding the Bible

Theological terminology can be a bewildering lexicon of terms, creating the impression of academia in what ought to be a non-academic area. Personally I avoid such terms wherever possible, as they can be off-putting to readers, but for the sake of this article I’m going to discuss hermeneutics in simple terms. A hermeneutic is a way/method of interpreting the Bible (or any other much-studied text). If someone were to ask ‘what’s your hermeneutic?’, they are asking how you interpret scripture. That’s all there is to it.

Personally, I’m an advocate of the Emmaus Hermeneutic, which is a reference to the conversation the risen Jesus had with two of his disciples as they walked down the road to Emmaus. I hope readers will take the time to re-read the passage, slowly and with an ear to the Holy Spirit, even if the text is familiar. There’s always a deeper layer to perceive. Luke 11:13-32

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, ‘Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’

‘What things?’ he asked.

‘About Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.’

He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going further. But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’

This offers us a wonderful chance for us to see how Jesus interpreted scripture. He didn’t treat it as a two-dimensional text, in which every verse is of equal importance. Instead he drew out a narrative, interpreting the Law and the Prophets as signposts to himself. Remember, Jesus was quick to teach his disciples that he was the true and full expression of the Father. John 14:8-11

Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’

Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.

I’ve said it numerous times in these articles – if you can’t see it in Jesus, it is not part of the nature of God. This dynamic is evidenced throughout the gospels, and with particular clarity in Luke 9:52b-55

And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”

But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.

The Emmaus Hermeneutic is a Christological approach to scripture – that all Old and New Testament writings point to Jesus. Just as he interpreted scripture to his disciples, the Holy Spirit leads us into all the truth as we read the word, pointing again and again to Jesus. Jesus IS the interpretation of scripture, his perfect, loving nature the sole catalysing agent that brings all scripture into proper alignment. When the Holy Spirit interprets scripture to us, we too will feel as the disciples on the road to Emmaus did:

‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’

What this means for you and I.

The Bible is a collection of historical writings, poems, letters, psalms, ponderings, and prophecies, written over thousands of years by people living in different cultures, with an array of perspectives and biases, living under different personal pressures. Understanding it is always going to be a challenge if we read it as a flat text, as the ‘dead letter’. If, however, we adopt a hermeneutic that puts Christ at the centre, we can begin to understand a narrative of ever-increasing inclusion and salvation.

When I come across something in the Bible that appears to clash with a Christological narrative, I stick with Jesus as the perfect manifestation of the nature of God. Truthfully, this is a necessary approach if we are to make sense of this complex anthology of ancient documents. If we fail to put Christ in the centre, and neglect to test our understanding of scripture against his character and ministry, we will be perpetually confused about the loving nature of God and his will for our lives.

I often come across double-minded believers, dreadfully mixed up about what God will and won’t do to and for his children, allowing Old Covenant confusion to muddy the waters of New Covenant clarity. We need to tell ourselves each and every day that Jesus IS the distillation of God, the interpretation of God, the perfect manifestation of the nature of God. There’s plenty of Old Testament passages and ideals that can trip believers up if they aren’t clear on the absolute centrality of Christ. Thankfully, New Testament writers grasped the importance of understanding this and teaching it among the churches. Personally I deeply value the almost blinding light shone by Hebrews 12:18-24

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.’ The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

I encourage every believer to drill themselves on what they have and have not come to. We haven’t come to judgement; we’ve come to mercy. We haven’t come to a written code; we’ve come to the gift of righteousness by grace. We haven’t come to fear; we’ve come to love.

This is the life-giving truth of a Christological approach to scripture, of an Emmaus Hermeneutic – Let Christ be central and let Christ be all!

8/24/2023 5:26:27 AM
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  • Duncan Pile
    About Duncan Pile
    Duncan Pile is a writer, author and speaker, living in Derbyshire, England with his wife and stepson. His mystical approach to faith straddles the Evangelical/Progressive divide, and flowing from lived experience, he is passionate about the deconstruction and reconstruction of the Christian faith.