Avoiding Bias (Part 2)
It is imperative for all of us to approach the Scriptures with much humility and willingness to learn something new.
In the last article, we considered the problem of reading God’s Word with bias, using the example of using 21st century scientific understanding to interpret the Bible. How we read the Bible text, not just what it says, is an essential aspect of Bible study.
Consider this example from Colossians 1:6:
When reading with a Trinitarian bias, it’s easy to see what this verse means—Jesus, the pre-existent eternal God the Son, was the Creator of the Universe. Leaving aside the fact that we can also read the Bible with our Christadelphian bias, let’s consider how we can help our Trinitarian friends remove theirs and enable both of us to grow in grace and understanding.
We all can be guilty of so-called “confirmation bias.” So it is imperative for all of us to approach the Scriptures with much humility and willingness to learn something new. There is a fundamental hermeneutical question regarding a verse like Colossians 1:6. It is easy to see from the context that the apostle had Genesis 1 in mind when penning his epistle.
The question, however, comes down to how the apostle uses the Old Testament.
The verse in question uses creation language, but perhaps the clearest example is in the verse before, which says Jesus “is the image of the invisible God,” an echo of Genesis 1:26 when man was created in God’s image and likeness. So far, the Trinitarian and Christadelphian will agree: this section in Colossians 1 is based on Genesis 1.
The question, however, comes down to how the apostle uses the Old Testament. The Trinitarian interpretation suggests that Paul is reinterpreting or shedding light on the meaning of Genesis 1. He’s telling us to read the chapter with new eyes—the one creating all things at the beginning was none other than Jesus Christ. Now, every time a Trinitarian reads Genesis 1, they will see Jesus there, literally, saying things like “let there be light.” (Gen 1:3). The problem with this way of reading the New Testament is that it denies its primary purpose.
When taken in its overall historical context, while the New Testament was written to reveal who Jesus of Nazareth was, it was done concerning the great controversy of the first-century Jewish world: that salvation does not come by the following of law but by faith. And not only that, because it is by faith, the gospel call applied to all people, including Gentiles. Therefore, our opposing premise to the Trinitarian reading of texts like Colossians 1:16 is this: instead of the apostle reinterpreting the Old Testament, he uses it as a type to explain the New Creation in Christ Jesus.
Let’s think of another passage to test our theory. In Matthew 2:15, the apostle quotes Hosea 11:1 with the words, “Out of Egypt I called my son,” referring to Jesus leaving Egypt to return to Nazareth. If we were to apply the Trinitarian bias to Matthew’s quotation, we would have to say Matthew is reinterpreting Hosea 11 and applying it to Christ. However, there is a crucial problem with reading the text in that way.
If you read the context of Hosea 11, you will find the “son” referred to is Israel. Not only that but backsliding Israel, with the prophet telling us that same son “kept sacrificing to the Baals” (v. 2). No amount of reading that verse with any bias, let alone a Trinitarian one, will lead us to conclude that Matthew wants us to see Jesus in Hosea 11.
Many Trinitarian scholars struggle with Matthew’s use of Hosea 11. How can the apostle use a passage about idolatrous Israel about Christ? For example, Martin Pickup says of the passage in Matthew, “the most troubling case… of NT exegesis of the OT.”²
Other scholars say Matthew was mistaken (Beegle), manipulated the text to make it sound like Christ (Boring) or that Matthew employs a faulty Jewish hermeneutic (Longenecker). On the other hand, Anglican scholar R. T. France realizes that what Matthew is doing is using Hosea typologically about Christ.
He isn’t saying, “look at Hosea 11, and you will see Christ!” Instead, he says, “look at the Son of God in Hosea 11, the backsliding people of Israel. Now I will show you how Christ succeeded where Israel failed.”³
The New Testament brings out the lessons for the New Testament ecclesia based on what happened to God’s people in the Old Testament.
Based on this and many other passages, we have a rule of thumb for reading the New Testament. When Peter, for example, uses passages from Hosea and Exodus and applies them to the ecclesia in 1 Peter 2, he is not saying, “You need to reread Exodus and Hosea and realize they are talking about the church, not about Israel.”
If we read the New Testament like that, we are guilty of supersessionism (or replacement theology), which says that the New Testament ecclesia has replaced Israel as God’s people. However, what Peter is doing is what Paul and Matthew were doing— using passages about Israel typologically.
Hosea and Exodus are about Israel; that hasn’t changed. But the New Testament brings out the lessons for the New Testament ecclesia based on what happened to God’s people in the Old Testament.
One more verse can help solidify the principle. In John 3:14, we read, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Nobody will say the serpent Moses made, recorded in the Book of Numbers, was the pre-existent Christ. But it indeed pointed forward to him. Reading the Bible with this “as…so” principle helps clear up many otherwise tricky passages. Like that passage in Colossians 1:6, which we can summarize by saying, “as the Genesis Creation… so the New Creation.”
Colossians 1 is using Genesis 1, but it isn’t explaining it. Instead, Paul uses the Genesis creation as a type of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ and the creation of God’s family through his death and resurrection.
Simi Hills, CA
1 All Scriptural citations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.
2 Pickup M. New Testament Interpretation of the Old Testament: The Theological Rationale of Midrashic Exegesis. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51/2 (June 2008) 353–81
3 France R.T. The Gospel of Matthew. Eerdmans; New International Commentary on the New Testament edition (July 27, 2007)