Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Interpreting the Old Testament like Jesus did

If even pagan utterances can carry a second meaning, not quite accidentally but because, in the sense I have suggested, they have a sort of right to it, we shall expect the Scriptures to do this more momentously and more often. We have two grounds for doing so if we are Christians.

Jim-Caviezel-as-Jesus-by-khinson    ii. The second reason for accepting the Old Testament in this way can be / put more simply and is of course far more compulsive. We are committed to it in principle by Our Lord Himself. On that famous journey to Emmaus He found fault with the two disciples for not believing what the prophets had said. They ought to have known from their Bibles that the Anointed One, when He came, would enter his glory through suffering. He then explained, from “Moses” (i.e. the Pentateuch) down, all the places in the Old Testament “concerning Himself” (Luke 24:25-27).  He clearly identified Himself with a figure often mentioned in the Scriptures; appropriated to Himself many passages where a modern scholar might see no such reference. In the predictions of His Own Passion which He had previously made to the disciples, He was obviously doing the same thing. He accepted—indeed He claimed to be—the second meaning of Scripture.
    We do not know—or anyway I do not know—what all these passages were. We can be pretty sure about one of them. The Ethiopian eunuch who met Philip (Acts 8:27-38) was reading Isaiah 3. He did hot know whether in that passage the prophet was talking about himself or about someone else. Philip, in answering his question, “preached unto him Jesus”. The answer, in fact, was “Isaiah is speaking of Jesus”. We need have no doubt that Philip’s authority for this interpretation was Our Lord. (Our ancestors would have thought that Isaiah consciously foresaw the sufferings of Christ as people see the future in the sort of dreams recorded by Mr. Dunne. Modern scholars would say, that on the conscious level, he was referring to Israel itself, the whole nation personified. I do not see that it matters which view we take.) We can, again, be pretty sure, from the words on the cross (Mark 15:34), that Our Lord identified Himself with the sufferer in Psalm 22. Or when He asked (Mark 12:35,36) how Christ could be both David’s son and David’s lord, He clearly identified Christ, and therefore Himself, with the “my Lord” of Psalm 110—was in fact hinting at the mystery of the Incarnation by pointing out a difficulty which only it could solve. In Matthew 4:6 the words of Psalm 91:11,12, “He shall give his angels charge over thee . . . that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone,” are applied to Him, and we may be sure the application was His own since only He could be the source of the temptation-story. In Mark 12:10 He implicitly appropriates to Himself the words of Psalm 118:22 about the stone which the builders rejected. “Thou shalt not leave my soul in hell, neither shalt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption” (16:11) is treated as a prophecy of His Resurrection in Acts 2:27, and was doubtless so taken by Himself, since we find it so taken in the earliest Christian tradition—that is, by people likely to be closer both to the spirit and to the letter of His words than any scholarship (I do not say, “any sanctity”) will bring a modern. Yet it is, perhaps, idle to speak here of spirit and letter. There is almost no “letter” in the words of Jesus.ichthys Taken by a literalist, He will always prove the most elusive of teachers. Systems cannot keep up with that darting illumination. No net less wide than a man’s whole heart, nor less fine of mesh than love, will hold the sacred Fish.

The Old Testament – more than human (Part 9, Conclusion)
C.S. Lewis, “Scripture,” Reflections on the Psalms (1958, this excerpt taken from The Essential C.S. Lewis Touchstone, 1998) 402, 405-406.

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