Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Not understanding the Scripture

“But Jesus answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God.’”(Matthew 22:29)

The Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection and believed that only the Pentateuch was the word of God were attempting to make Jesus’ view of the resurrection absurd by asking a question about marriage. But Jesus immediately addressed their very basic problem—they did not understand Scripture nor the power of God. R. T. France in his commentary points out that this is not two errors but one. Because they did not understand Scripture they did not understand the power of God.

The ultimate answer to their disbelief is that God is not the God of the dead but of the living. Therefore those who belong to God are the living. As God spoke to Moses in the verse Jesus quotes, “I Am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Jesus clarifies this “he is not the God of the dead but of the living.” But Jesus does two other things in this text that I believe are important to what I want to write. He reminds his listeners that what God was speaking to Moses he was also speaking to them:

“…have you not read what was spoken to you by God?”

Notice Jesus doesn’t say “have you not read what was spoken to Moses by God.” The words were God’s words to all readers including us in the 21st century. And then with this is the very personal question—have you not read? The implication here is that God is speaking to them, but they are not reading the words as words directed to them. They are busy with an academic exercise that is void of any real personal meaning. Because of this they failed to understand the power of God.

As France, quoting Calvin puts it:
When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had long been dead, and yet God identified himself as their God. But could he be God of the dead? As Calvin comments, ‘As no man can be a father without children nor a king without people, so, strictly speaking , the Lord cannot be called the God of any but the living.’ It is in this context that God reveals his name, Yahweh, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Exodus 3:14-16), and the object of that revelation is to assure Moses of the active, saving presence of God with his people to recue them from Egypt.
Understanding the Scripture means accepting the word as God’s word to us, allowing the Holy Spirit to enlighten us. But the Sadducees were unable to receive the great gift, the living Word, standing before them just as they were unable to grasp the ancient words of God to them. Because of this they missed what God’s love and power could do in their lives. We are fighting today partly about God’s ability to change sinners. (Of course we are fighting about sin also.) But all of Scripture is God speaking to us.

If we hate others we haven’t understood his word. If we are greedy and grasp for power we haven’t understood his word. If we love and serve other gods besides the biblical God we certainly have not understood. If we insist on calling sexual sins such as adultery, fornication and same gender sex good we haven’t understood his word. We haven’t read the word as God’s word to us.

But Jesus reminded his listeners, not only the Sadducees but also the silent crowd, of the God who was able to rescue from Egypt. Yahweh is the God who rescues even from the oppression of sin. To come full circle, Jesus, the living word offers his forgiveness and righteousness because of the power of his resurrection.


Anonymous said...

I am using France's NICNT Commentary on Matthew. it is truly excellent.

I've heard that his Tyndale commentary is also very strong.

John erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

Viola Larson said...

I am almost always happy with the whole Tyndale series. I know that they are not as technical as some but in some ways that makes them more helpful. Do you use the NIV, I like the NAS. Some fun a few years ago was listening to N.T. Wright and Gordon Fee trade information about what a word should have been translated to in the NIV. Wright would tell Fee next time … It was a pastor’s conference at Regent.