I began this series by stating my first presupposition when it comes to the Sermon on the Mount, which is that Jesus actually meant what He said.
My second presupposition is somewhat broader in nature as it has to do with the way we read Scripture altogether.
Scripture should be read Christocentrically.
I believe all Scripture should be read through Jesus. That is, I believe all Scripture points to Him. The written word exists to bear witness to the Living Word. This makes Jesus the primary lens through which we interpret Scripture. Not the only lens, but the primary one. As a disciple of Christ, I want His words to be normative in my life.
Placing a premium on the words of Jesus leads us into dangerous territory. Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” I’ve already stated that I think He really means that. But I also have to reconcile the words of Jesus with the “eye for an eye” language that is also represented in Scripture. I mean, doesn’t it seem that Jesus is at odds with His own Jewish tradition, especially Psalm 137.9 where the prayer is for YHWH to dash the Babylonian infants’ heads against the rocks?
What I want to argue is that being a disciple of Christ means I interpret everything — the text, my life, my understanding of death, etc. — in light of His words and His life. Take nonviolence, for instance. Based on the words of Jesus, I believe nonviolence is the methodology of the Kingdom of God. (Note the difference between nonviolence and pacifism. I believe following Christ requires a commitment to nonviolence, but I cannot accept the full tenets of pacifism in light of the greater balance of Scripture. See the prophetic vision of the Messianic age as the day when swords are beaten into plowshares [Isa. 2; Micah 4]; see also the dramatic reversal of this image in Joel’s call to arms [Joel 3].) But those who are opposed to the way of nonviolence are often quick to bring up the examples of David or Samson or any of a number of OT figures who wielded the sword on behalf of righteousness. Can violence really be such a great offense to God? Isn’t God the same God that commissioned the conquest of Israel? Isn’t the David who slayed his tens of thousands also known as the man after God’s own heart?
All of this is true. But the point I want to make is this: I am not a disciple of David. Nor am I a disciple of Samson. I am a follower of Christ. And I follow Him because I believe He shows us a better way. The Sermon on the Mount is full of “You have heard it said…But I say unto you,” statements, indicating that in Christ, we have a fuller, more complete revelation of God’s will. Paul puts it this way: “He is the image of the invisible God….For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” (Col. 1.15, 19). The one who IS our peace (Eph. 2.14) calls us to the way of peace (Rom. 12.18; 1 Thess. 5.13; Heb. 12.14).
But we never get there if Christ is not our primary lens through which the balance of Scripture must be interpreted.