“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
Over the last couple days I’ve been thinking a lot about the passage, quoted above, from John 5:39-40. It’s often easy to view the Bible as an end in itself, as a flat text giving us rules and regulations on how to live. The problem is that if we read the Bible in this way we’ll miss the point. Like the Pharisees, we would be looking for eternal life in the wrong place. For God did not merely communicate to us through a book, but through his Son. The purpose of the Bible, like the purpose John the Baptist, is to point beyond itself to the true Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. John the Baptist was not the light, and neither is the Bible, they both point to the light found in Christ.
When we forget that the main purpose of the Bible is to point us to Christ, we can run into all kinds of problems. In his book, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, Mark Noll highlights the tragic consequences of this kind of mistaken hermeneutic. Noll shows that conservative Christians in antebellum America not only used the Bible to defend slavery, but actually came to see the abolitionist movement as an attack on biblical orthodoxy! The pro-slavery Christians defended their views based on the “plain reading” of the text, but failed to see that the entire Bible points to the suffering servant, the one who laid down his life for his friends.