If you’ve been a Christian for very long or were raised in a Christian church, chances are that you’ve heard that the Bible is really about Jesus. That cliché has some truth to it, but it’s misleading.
The truth is that there’s a lot in the Bible that isn’t about Jesus. Procedures for diagnosing and treating leprosy (Lev. 13:1–14:57) aren’t about Jesus. Laws forbidding people who’ve had sex or lost blood (Lev. 15) from entering sacred space aren’t about Jesus. The spiritual, social, and moral corruption in the days of the Judges (Judg. 17–21) wasn’t put in the Bible to tell us about Jesus. The Tower of Babel incident (Gen 11:1–9) doesn’t point to Jesus. When Ezra commanded Jews who’d returned from exile to divorce the Gentile women they’d married (Ezra 9–10), he wasn’t foreshadowing anything about Jesus.
The point is straightforward: No Israelite would have thought of a messianic deliverer when reading these or many other passages. No New Testament writer alludes to them and many other portions of Scripture to explain who Jesus was or what he said.
So why is this idea so prevalent?
In my experience, the prevailing motivation seems to be to encourage people to read their Bible. That’s a good incentive. But I’ve also come across other factors, namely that it serves as an excuse to avoid the hard work of figuring out what’s really going on in many passages. People are taught to extrapolate what they read to some point of connection with the life and ministry of Jesus—no matter how foreign to Jesus the passage appears. Imagination isn’t a sound hermeneutic. Not only does it lack boundaries that prevent very flawed interpretations (and even heresies), but it makes Scripture serve our ability to be clever.
Recognizing the inaccuracy of this assumption is important for some simple but important reasons.
First, if we filter passages that aren’t about Jesus through something Jesus did and said, we won’t have any hope of understanding what those passages were actually about. Nothing in Scripture is there accidentally. The Bible is an intelligent creation. Our task as those with a high view of Scripture (not to mention God) is to discern why God wanted a given passage in the Bible in the first place.
Second, the assumption can lead to minimizing or ignoring passages in which we can’t clearly see Jesus. Since Jesus is central to God’s sovereign plan of salvation, passages that don’t add some detail about his teachings or the gospel story are considered peripheral or optional. Why bother spending serious time in a passage that “doesn’t matter” for having eternal life. Giving us the Bible as we have it was a providential, intentional decision on God’s part. We either believe that’s true and act accordingly (i.e., studying the whole counsel of God) or we’ll act as though God’s decision was random and unintelligent.
Third, becoming skilled at seeing Jesus in places where he isn’t can discourage others from Bible study or lead others under one’s spiritual charge to believe we have special (even authoritative) insight. When “Jesus stuff” isn’t obvious in a given passage and we’ve been taught that it’s somehow about him, it’s easy to just give up and let pastors and others tell us what they “see.” People shut off their brains when they are led to believe they can’t think well about Scripture.
The bottom line is that we can talk about the inspiration and authority of the Bible all day long and still fall prey to marginalizing its content with familiar clichés that let us off the hook from doing the hard work of interpretation. While the drama of the biblical epic ultimately leads to Jesus, he isn’t the ultimate focal point of every passage. That’s homiletical flair, not the reality of the text.
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Be sure to check out Dr. Heiser’s Mobile Ed course, OT 291 The Jewish Trinity: How the Old Testament Reveals the Christian Godhead.