Written by Tyler R. Wittman |
Wednesday, May 11, 2022
Biblical reasoning is a way of reading Scripture that is first and foremost a way of being taught by Jesus, about Jesus, for the sake of enjoying Jesus and belonging to Him. Jesus teaches us about His divinity and humanity alike, so that we may taste the depths of our salvation in the depths of our God.
Scripture is not disinterested in its readers because God is not disinterested in his people. God binds His people to Himself by binding them to His Word–a gift that creates covenant fellowship between them. God’s Word carries the promise of a further gift: holiness. His people will be holy as He is holy as they are sanctified through God’s Word by His Spirit (Lev 19:2; Jn 17:17). Most importantly, being made pure, they shall one day behold His glory face to face (Matt 5:8; Jn 17:24). This is the desire of Moses and of so many of the psalms: to see the LORD’s glory, to see His face (Exod. 33:18; Ps. 11:7; 17:15). This end, and the purification necessary for it, requires an all-encompassing orientation for one’s life, with duties enjoined upon God’s covenant partners. That is to say, the covenant’s fellowship is irreducibly religious–shaped by love and therefore justice and obligation. Those who read Scripture do so in this covenantal context, which is to say they do so under certain obligations and with certain promises, in pursuit of certain ends. God initiates the covenant and centers its fellowship on Himself because at its heart is God’s gift of Himself. Therefore, Scripture does not entertain disinterested readers because Scripture, like the covenant of which it is a part, is all about God.
So what difference does that make for what Scripture is, who its readers are, why they read it, and how?
Answering these questions is the work of “biblical reasoning,” a shorthand concept coined by the late John Webster for the complex interaction of systematic theology and biblical exegesis. According to Webster, biblical reasoning is “the redeemed intellect’s reflective apprehension of God’s gospel address through the embassy of Scripture, enabled and corrected by God’s presence, and having fellowship with him as its end.” This definition joins two things which are often separated in practice if not in theory: doctrine and exegesis. However, it does so by emphasizing the primary actor in the covenant: God, the Alpha and Omega of all things, including Scripture and its reading. What this suggests is that Scripture should be read with a view to knowing, loving, and beholding God above all things. Only with such a fixation on God do other important concerns come into view with the proper focus. The gospel is very important, so too is eschatology, or practical Christian living. But their importance is relative, not absolute. The consuming fire at the center of these mysteries is the Holy Trinity, their author. Fixated thus on the Lord in whom all things hold together, we discover what Scripture is, who its readers are, how they read it, and to what end.
Consider the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35), and how it sheds light on these matters. The details are well known. On the third day after Jesus was crucified, Jesus joins two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus and asks what they’re talking about. The disciples don’t recognize Him, so they recount His passion, apparent failure to redeem Israel, and the odd reports about His possible resurrection. At this, Jesus rebukes them: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Lk. 24:25). Their foolishness suggests they lack wisdom (Deut. 32:31 lxx; Prov. 15:21). So He proceeds to instruct them about the necessity of His suffering and subsequent glory: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Lk. 24:27). Later, at dinner, Jesus breaks bread with the disciples and in that moment “their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him” (Luke 24:31). Did not their hearts “burn” while Jesus opened the Scriptures to them? Quickly, they rejoin the other disciples in Jerusalem to confirm what they’ve been taught, only to find themselves once again standing before “Jesus Himself” (Lk. 24:36)!
At its most general, this episode shows us that reading Scripture rightly requires an encounter with the risen Lord, who is present and actively teaching us so that we might behold him with open eyes. Two qualities of this encounter deserve particular attention.
First, this encounter is pedagogical, a schooling in which we are trained and formed. As we watch Christ school his two disciples, he also schools us. Part of this is not surprising: Jesus belongs to first century Jewish scribal culture, so, as a Rabbi, He has a school with students whose curriculum is Holy Scripture. Yet the curriculum aims beyond itself. Unlike other teachers, Christ’s pedagogical aim is knowledge of Himself. Jesus causes His disciples’ hearts to burn and their minds to open as He directs their attention to Scripture and therein to Himself (Lk. 24:32, 45). He opens their eyes to matters of “first importance,” namely, His resurrection that happened “in accordance with” the Old Testament (1 Cor. 15:3-5). The resurrection not only manifests His Lordship but also the redemption of His people. And what is the aim of this redemption? “This is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Jesus desires for His disciples that they behold the eternal glory that is His with the Father (John 17:24).