“THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE”
by Jessica Kuzmier
The practice of using single verses and the "mix-and-match" style of Scripture to create whole doctrines is a widespread practice. It creates a sort of Cliff Notes interpretation; pick out a verse, and presto, you have instant theology. Many people justify this practice on being able to summarize what they believe is the message of the Bible, or using it to memorize verses that they feel can get them through the spiritual hurdles of life. Unfortunately, this tradition can lead to many strange theologies. The mix-and-match style employed by many preachers, for instance, linking up 1 Corinthians 2: 3 with Hosea 2:3, can lead to extremely impromptu concepts that might have nothing to do with the context of what the passage said. A common commentary on showing how ludicrous this can be
takes Matthew 27:5 and Luke 10:37, linking them together. What these verses then read is: "Judas went and hanged himself" and "Then Jesus said, 'Now go do likewise'." This mix-and-match approach now has Jesus endorsing suicide. In fact, using Luke 10:37, the mix-and-match approach has Jesus endorsing all kinds of things, from David's adultery, to the Sodomites' threat of raping the angels, to the murder of Abel. Taking single verses out of context and expounding on them is just as problematic; you could pick out almost anything in the Bible and call it valid.
Mostly what this practice minimizes is the fact that when the original writers of Scripture wrote their revelations, the current chapter-and-verse breakdown was not part of their writing. The letter to the Romans, for example, was not a sixteen chapter expose, but a letter, with the presumption that the people who read it would read it in its entirety, interpreting a general message. Chapter-and-verse breakdown only came in the later centuries, as part of the vernacular translations, to facillitate easier reading. So then, while it is fine to use chapter-and-verse as a guide, charsimatic preachers using it as a spiritual recipe book are probably misguided in their intentions. By engaging in this practice, they superimpose their interpretation of the Bible, rather than having a person read the entire text for himself and coming up with his own conclusions.
One verse that is well-trafficked in this area is John 14:6: "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me." This verse is used by many people to justify saying that everyone who does not accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior will go to hell; accepting Jesus Christ in this manner means joining the Christian church. Therefore, those who do not belong to the Christian Church is going to hell. This concept is based on the mix-and-match theory, taking the resurrection of Christ, the promise to King David that his lineage will never end, Paul's explanation of justification, and the Second Coming of Christ in Revelation all together. They are then consolidated into the theory that all must accept Christ on whatever biblical terms the evangelists happen to see, depending on the denomination, or face the Great Judgement in the end times.
At first glance, there may seem nothing wrong with this interpration. You can read the Bible the whole way through holding onto this theory, and still feel it is valid after finishing it. Yet is it really fair to claim that one must hold onto what these folks believe is the only path to salvation in order to be saved?
The entire context of John 14:6 is couched within the text of Jesus' last sermon to His disciples before He is arrested. In John 13, Judas has just left the Passover feast in the Upper Room to speak with the high priests about handing over Jesus to them. After he leaves, Jesus begins preaching by saying, "Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately." He then gives last instructions to the disciples, saying that they cannot go where He is going, and that all will recognize that they are His disciples for their love for one another. Peter asks where He is going, and Jesus replies that where He is going, Peter will not follow now, but will one day. Peter insists he is ready now, and then Jesus makes His prediction of Peter's denial.
He then tells them not to have their hearts troubled, that he is going to prepare a place for them. He says that he will come again to receive them to Himself, so that where He is, so will they be. He then says, "And where I go you know, and the way you know." Thomas then asks the question, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?", obviously confused about how they knew what the way was if they couldn't even go where Jesus was going. This is where John 14:6 follows. After this text, Jesus says, "If you had known Me, you would have known my Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him."
What Jesus seems to say in this is statement, is that if His disciples had really known who He was, they would have seen the Father in Him. Many of His subsequent words deal with the fact that the Father and He are One, and that if one remains in Him, they are also part of the Father. He says that all His words come from the authority of His Father, which presumably includes all His words, not just random verses that are commonly quoted today regarding salvation and the end times. His words in those where He sought the downtrodden and showed mercy to them. He talked of loving enemies and nonviolent resistance. He talked of preaching the gospel by showing love to one another. He talks of how He came the world to save it through believing in Him. Much of what He says seems to back the Eastern philosophy of nonduality, of all things being part of one another, and that the path to enlightenment comes from simply recognizing it.
What constitutes a belief in Christ? Is it only what the preachers say it is, or can a person be a Muslim, respecting Christ's life, and still be saved? The entire Bible seems less conclusive in this belief than just randomly taking out one or two verses. Hebrews tells us of many people in the Torah who were saved by faith, who knew nothing about Jesus. The common belief is that they believed in God's future provisioin of salvation, but in the case of Rahab, this seems less conclusive; she seems to only know that her land will be handed over to the Hebrews and that God is with them. It is pure faith in a higher power that saves her. In addition to what has been accepted as the Holy Bible, much New Testament apocrypha that was popular before the actual compiling of the Bible has Jesus saying that the answers are inside oneself. What if the answer leads a person away from the Christian Church but a deep faith in something higher than himself, and a profound respect for the words of Jesus Christ? Perhaps, in John 14:6 Jesus was saying that the way to heaven here on earth was to follow His words. That has been done by many, Christian and non-Christian alike, making the path to Him one of the heart.
The best way for someone to find the answers is to read the Bible himself and make his own conclusions. If the Bible contains a front cover and back cover, as many people contend, it makes the best sense for one to search for himself and not take the word of any one person. One must determine for himself what the way, the truth, and the life mean to him.
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