When deciding what to believe about the Bible, who should we listen to?
That’s a rather basic question, and I suppose there are many possible answers. We could listen to our friends—maybe a roommate or a co-worker. Then there are family members, maybe our parents or siblings. Surely they would have an opinion. Or we could look to our leaders, a pastor or professor who seems to be an “expert.” And there’s always Google if we really want to know what to think!
But in the midst of all the options there is one person that, ironically, Christians (and non-Christians) overlook. Jesus.
Now, of course, Christians don’t overlook Jesus generally. He is central to about everything Christians think and do. But, strangely, he is not often the ultimate court of appeal when they are deciding what to think about the Bible. But, just a few moments of reflection suggest he should be.
First, and most obviously, Jesus’ opinion about the Bible (which in his day was the Old Testament) matters most because he wrote it. Now, obviously, he didn’t literally write it—we have no evidence that Jesus himself left any written records. But, as the incarnate Lord, as the very God of Israel enfleshed, he is the divine author of Scripture. If he is who he claims to be, then he is the one who inspired the Old Testament authors. When you hear the voice of the Old Testament Scriptures, you are hearing the voice of the Lord—the voice of Christ.
Who better to tell us what to think about the Old Testament than its author?
By way of example, imagine if someone asked what we should think about the painting, The Mona Lisa. There are a lot of opinions out there, from art historians to lay folks, about the identity of this mysterious woman. Not only have numerous female names been suggested, but others have argued the painting may even be a disguised self-portrait of da Vinci himself!
But there would be one way (perhaps the only way) to settle the matter absolutely. And that is if we were able to ask da Vinci himself about The Mona Lisa. Surely the author’s own testimony about the painting would be definitive.
Of course, at this point someone will object: How can base our opinions about the Bible on Jesus’s testimony, when that testimony comes from the Bible? Isn’t that circular reasoning?
In a sense, it is circular. But not in a problematic way. When it comes to ultimate authorities there is always an inevitable level of circularity when we authenticate them. After all, if an ultimate authority is only valid because it conforms to some lesser authority, then it would no longer be ultimate!
Put simply, we can’t account for an ultimate authority without using it.
Even so, there’s another reason why this “circularity” is not a problem. Even if a person doesn’t believe the Gospels are divinely-inspired documents, there are good reasons to think they are historically reliable in a general sense. If so, then we have good historical grounds to think Jesus actually believed these things about the Old Testament. And that is still a very helpful place to start building our doctrine of Scripture.
So, if we are correct that Jesus is the “author” of the Old Testament, then that raises an additional, and very critical, point, namely that the integrity of the Old Testament and the integrity of Jesus are inevitably intertwined. They stand or fall together. If the Old Testament is wrong, then Jesus is wrong. And if Jesus is wrong, then the Old Testament is wrong.
Here we come to a debate that has been swirling the last couple of years in evangelical circles, namely the question of whether Christians really need, or should use, the Old Testament. Most famously, mega-church pastor Andy Stanley has argued that Christians should “unhitch” themselves from the Old Testament (see my response here). After all, a person doesn’t need to believe in the OT to be saved, so let’s just take it off the table.
Stanley is partly right. People don’t have to believe the Bible to be saved (at least not all of it). Indeed, they don’t even need to know a Bible exists to be saved (imagine a missionary preaching to a tribe in the remote jungle). But we can’t forget a key distinction: While a person doesn’t have to believe the Bible is true to be saved, the Bible has to be true for them to be saved.
Why? Because Jesus said the Bible is true. And if it’s not true, then he was wrong.
Just think about this verse for a moment: “For if you believed Moses you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46-47)
Sure, Moses may seem like a dusty ol’ crank that is no longer relevant for the era of grace under Jesus. But, Jesus doesn’t agree. What you think about Moses—and the five books he wrote—will determine what you think about Jesus. The two go together.
So, then what exactly did Jesus believe about the Old Testament? And did he have anything to say about a future New Testament? We will answer these questions in the next post. Stay tuned!