The Bible Is Not a Code Book

(Part 4 of a Four-Part Series)

Two more aids to interpreting Scripture are worth mentioning. First, it is crucial to distinguish covenants. We have to distinguish the law from the gospel. This does not mean Old Testament versus New Testament. Nor does it mean that law is bad and gospel is good. Both come from the mouth of God. So it is a matter of distinguishing between what God is doing and not doing when he is speaking. Is he judging or delivering, convicting or comforting, revealing his moral will for our lives or revealing his saving purposes?

The principle of inheriting everlasting life by law is totally opposed to the principle of inheriting everlasting life by promise. This is clearly stated in many places, but especially in Galatians 3 and 4. Second, it is important to interpret all of Scripture in the light of Christ. Jesus Christ is the central character in this unfolding drama. This is how Jesus and his apostles themselves interpreted the Old Testament (see, for example, John 5:39–40; Luke 24:25–27; and the sermons in Acts).

I have heard sermons that make me ask at the end, "Did they even need this particular text to preach that sermon?" It may even have been theologically sound and evangelically motivated. But they thought that preaching the law and the gospel and preaching Christ from all the Scriptures meant simply repeating the same formula every week. That is easy, but it is unfaithful to the text. Some lose the forest for the trees; others lose the trees for the forest.

To put it concretely, the command not to have any other gods but Yahweh can be heard (by someone trusting in Christ) as the promise that God has made us his own and will never forsake us. You cannot just come up with an omnibus list of "law" passages and "gospel" passages.

We do not see Christ in every passage explicitly any more than the central character of a novel or play appears in every scene. Part of the charm of a good story is that central characters impose themselves in the process of a thousand scenes that seem to be about something or someone else. Jesus also reveals the Father. He even reveals what it means to be human. There is a wealth of key teachings in Scripture, which itself impels us to seek the Trinity, the kingdom of God, and wisdom for daily living. None of them can be abstracted from the drama of redemption in Christ, but we do not get to Christ by leaping over the text. There is a passage in front of us, either as preachers or as hearers and readers.

Each piece fits into a puzzle that reveals Christ as the center, but each piece must actually fit. You can't just force it into place in order to "reveal Christ." Christ is the Rock in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:4), but that doesn't give us license to find Christ under every rock, as it were. There is a hasty—and lazy—kind of typology that ignores the immediate context and meaning of a passage in order to make it a "code" for deciphering Christ.

The meaning of a passage is not found above, behind, or beneath the text. You don't preach the categories but use the categories to preach Christ as the central character of the whole story, from every particular text.

Part 1: How to Read the Book

Part 2: The Bible Is More Like a Library Than a Book

Part 3: The Bible Is a Ruling Constitution


Adapted from Michael Horton, “How to Read the Book,” Modern Reformation, November/December 2013. Used by permission.

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Michael Horton

Michael Horton (@MichaelHorton_) is the Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. The author of many books, including Core Christianity, he is also the host of the new Core Christianity radio show, a daily Bible question-and-answer show broadcasting nationwide. He lives with his wife Lisa and four children in Escondido, California. 

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