Whose Jesus?

Gabriel and Joanne had quite the epic rap battle about biblical authority. It ended with Joanne making a poignant observation: if faced with a choice between Scripture and Jesus, “choose Jesus”. As the starting point for my question, “Whose Jesus do I choose?”, I’m going to agree with Joanne and Gabriel’s view that Christ is prior to Scripture in an authoritative sense. Scripture’s authority is derivative from the authority of God, and Christ is God.
But I do insist upon asking the question: Whose Jesus? I imagine Joanne would tell me, “the Jesus of the Bible”. To which I would reply, “But Christians reading the same Bible come to different (reasonable!) conclusions.” I think Gabriel would say to my rebuttal, “But we don’t have to agree.” Do we not? If I think Scripture tells me to baptize an infant, but Gabriel thinks we should wait until adulthood, what then? Is whether or not baptism confers justification not an essential question? Or at least consequential to our lived faith? Or what of the Eucharist? Is it not consequential to our lives if Christ really is present there? Aren’t believers in Real Presence worshipping bread if it really is just a symbol? Doesn’t this sort of thing matter?
I submit that the true reading of Scripture must be something with an external marker that can be used to gauge its exegetical accuracy, and that pluralist readings of the text are not practically possible. Sure, they’re possible in that they occur with regularity — hence my point about an external litmus test of the accuracy of one’s paradigm of interpretation. But they don’t lend themselves to a version of Christianity that can be practically applied. The Jesus of the New Testament said that those who follow Him will not walk in darkness. So if our reading of Scripture is really condemned to endless confusion, such that we cannot answer even basic questions about how to follow Jesus, then what did Christ really mean?

The Incredulity of St Thomas

This is why I think it’s so important to keep tabs not just on Scripture, but on Tradition, too. When we wonder what the authors of the New Testament meant when they wrote about Jesus and the church, we can go to their immediate disciples like Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch and find out how those people learned to practice the faith from the authors of the New Testament. The assumption is that if the New Testament authors were credible enough to write the New Testament, surely they were credible enough to appoint capable leaders who could maintain the correct interpretation of the faith.
The line of argument I’m taking is actually very similar to that of Irenaeus of Lyons, who wrote around 202 C.E. Irenaeus said that a heretic (Irenaeus wrote specificially against gnosticism) is someone who reads the Bible but rearranges its meaning, such that the image produced is a “dog” when it ought to be Christ. Having multiple ways of reading the Bible isn’t new. But according to Irenaeus, it is bad, and the way to overcome it is by looking to the men appointed by the apostles to maintain the correct interpretations of the Bible, namely, the episcopos (meaning “pastor” or “bishop”).
Whose Jesus? The Jesus that lived on after the authorship of Scripture in the Tradition and the sacraments of the Church. We meet Him in Word and Sacrament when we follow Him in continuity with the Church throughout time. As a Catholic, I think that the Church Christ founded is the Church in communion with Rome, and if you’re on the fence about that, I encourage you to scrutinize the pages of history. See what you find. Even if you don’t become Catholic, surely you will at least become a better Christian.

One thought on “Whose Jesus?

  1. Am smiling. Well done you for being faithful to the church you’ve pledged faith with. I admire your integrity.
    As you imagined, I would definitely have said the Jesus of the Bible. And I would have agreed the apostles rightly wrote of that Jesus (the writings we now agree are sacred scripture). Where you and I most likely would not be as closely aligned is on the topic of what is our litmus, our measure, our (to be ever so biblical) plumbline.
    Is it tradition? Or is it the Holy Spirit as He guides each generation of the church to continue studying, thinking, discovering, interacting, living by faith, testing, talking, being inspired and so on? The apostle John said we didn’t need teachers, since we have the author of the scriptures living within us, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, God Himself (1 John 2:27 with John 14:23).
    Traditions are static in a way the Bible and the Holy Spirit together, are not. Traditions are cemented in by the culture they arose from, whereas the Holy Spirit guides us in understanding the scriptures in fresh and powerful ways that meet us exactly where we are right now.
    I don’t know much about Catholicism, but I have heard the Pope is permitted this office of speaking the words of God to today, under certain conditions. Does he not alter what has gone before with these pronouncements? That, to me, is the ongoing conversation God intends all His people to have with each other, and with Him.
    We Protestants, by the way, also have traditions embedded in the catechisms of the mainline denominations. Those catechisms are treated with every bit the same (as far as I can tell) reverence and distinction as a Catholic might treat the traditions of the Catholic church. And many of our doctrines (most?) find their source in the church’s historical councils.
    So, there is something important about these early conversations (as reflected in the church’s councils, creeds, and other writings) that we honor and keep, while at the same time, we reserve the freedom to understand the words of God in ways that speak into our today lives. We know God is still speaking, and by His Spirit He gives us the opportunity to hear Him if only we would listen to Him.

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