The Interpretive Toolbox: Follow the Trail

CC Image courtesy of Ed Coyle Photography on Flickr

CC Image courtesy of Ed Coyle Photography on Flickr

My wife and I aren’t exactly avid hikers, but we like to walk easy trails. One trail, in the mountains near us, has an easy one mile loop that saunters down and around several scenic spots. Just after the trail head it cuts up through an apple orchard, runs past a small lake, and then skirts down the gentle mountain slopes that mark the edge of the property. Then a fork. Turn left and you’re led through tall reeds that brush up against either side of a suspended wooden platform. Turn right and you’re plunged into a small dell.

I stand at that fork and consider my options. What would it be like if I went down the diving right hand trail? I would come up the other side out of breath! What would it be like if I took the gentle left hand turn? I’d reach the same end, but much more composed, to be sure.

Sometimes the best way to understand a passage in the Bible is to do something similar. When we reach an interpretive fork – a place where we’re presented with seemingly similar options – we just need to stop and consider the outcomes of going down each path. What would the passage mean if we followed this train of thought? What if we went a totally different route?

Luke 22

A really interesting place to do this is Luke 22:66-71. In this little passage, Jesus is being presented before the Jewish council for questioning. It’s the last of these meetings, and the elders tell Jesus, “If you are the Christ, tell us.”

Follow the trail with me.

What would likely happen if Jesus went ahead and told them that he was the Messiah?

  • They most likely wouldn’t believe. Context tells us they’re already set on getting Jesus crucified.
  • They would have a confession from Jesus himself.
  • They would be able to tell Pilate that Jesus thought of himself (that Jesus told them) he was the “Messiah” or the King of the Jews.

Following the trail here helps us see why Jesus answers the way that he does. The Jewish leadership are not looking for evidence to weigh and consider – they’re looking for a claim to political authority that they can tell Pilate about. In this light, Jesus’ answer to them makes a lot of sense. He says, “If I tell you, you will not believe.”

In verse 69, Jesus claims that he’ll be able to permanently dwell in God’s presence – which, for a first century Jew, profanes the uniqueness of God and is worthy of the death penalty. So we see that if Jesus was going to be indicted for something, he would have it be a claim of ontological equality – not political authority. He would be known as God’s Son, not Caesar’s challenger.

If you follow the trail, you understand the passage better. What would have been the outcome if Jesus went this way? What if he went another way? When you get to a fork, stay there for a while. Consider your options. And then walk the interpretive walk.

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