Friday, August 12, 2016


Atheist turned Christian, C.S. Lewis, had observed that even skeptics readily acknowledge the wisdom of Jesus:

·       I find that when I am arguing with very anti-God people that they rather make a point of saying, “I am entirely in favor of the moral teaching of Christianity” – and there seems to be a general agreement that in the teaching of this Man and of His immediate followers, moral truth is exhibited at its purist and best. It is not sloppy idealism, it is full of wisdom and shrewdness. The whole thing is realistic and fresh to the highest degree. (God in the Dock, 156)

While I agree with Lewis’ observations – and I too have noted skeptics to speak highly of Jesus’ moral teachings – I don’t think that I understand why this is so. Why? Because most of Jesus’ teachings are highly challenging, hyperbolic, and parabolic! Consequently, they were often misunderstood. For example, after Jesus had miraculously fed the multitudes, He taught that if they wanted life, they had to drink His blood and eat His flesh. As a result:

·       When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60; ESV)

Consequently, they departed from Jesus. However, Jesus had been teaching figuratively – not about His physical body and blood but about His words:

·       It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63)

It was His words that would give life not the ingestion of His body. Nevertheless, this passage is just one small example of the challenge we face in correctly interpreting the teachings of Jesus. Even at the very end, Jesus’ Apostles still failed to understand Him:

·       So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” (John 16:17-18)

In retrospect, we know that Jesus had been alluding to His death and resurrection, but His disciples didn’t get it. Let’s add something else to this problem of interpretation. Jesus always taught in parables. His disciples asked Him why He didn’t teach more plainly, and Jesus answered:

·       And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. (Matthew 13:11)

How then can we hope to understand with any degree of confidence? These secrets have also been given to us through Jesus’ explanations of His teachings to His disciples and also through the Holy Spirit who illuminates our understanding, as He did for the Apostles:

·       And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)

·       Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:45)

Jesus promised that the Spirit would enable them to be His witnesses after His ascension:

·       But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

Paul claimed that this had been his experience:

·       These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God…Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:10-13)

As a result, the rest of the New Testament serves as authoritative commentary on the teachings of our Lord. Therefore, if we are struggling to understand the parables of Jesus, we can resort to Peter, Paul, and John.

Do our skeptics really regard these teachings as wise? I don’t see how. Instead, we are reminded of Paul’s words:

·       The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)

Perhaps they believe that to affirm Jesus’ teachings makes them seem open-minded, and perhaps their critiques of the Bible and Christianity might therefore seem more credible.

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