Interpreting the Bible through Jesus


I am looking at some of the core convictions of the Anabaptists, not because I am an Anabaptist, but because I think we learn from them. We have seen that they emphasise following Jesus, not just believing in him or worshiping him.

What does this mean for how we read the Bible?

Core conviction

Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centred approach to the Bible, and to the community of faith as the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.

Ways of interpreting the Bible

The Bible’s teachings are not always easy to apply to our lives, for there are many principles, and some seem to conflict with others. Christians have approached this difficulty in various ways:

  • The Catholic Church stresses the role of the traditions of the church, based on the teachings of christians who have gone before us, in understanding and applying scriptural teaching.
  • The Reformers tended to use creeds and confessions to guide understanding. Reformed churches often value carefully worked out theology, with Romans sometimes being the key book in their teachings.
  • Pentecostals, and some others, allow much more ‘freedom in the Spirit’, which can lead to widely varying interpretations.

Starting with Jesus

The Anabaptists prefer to give greater weight to the teachings of Jesus, and interpret other passages and teachings in the light of Jesus’ words recorded in the gospels. For example:

  • Jesus tended to oppose and criticise the religious establishment, saying they had made it more difficult for the common people to approach God. This may have been one reason why Anabaptists tend to be more critical of Christendom and the organised church.
  • Jesus’ teachings on non-violence (Matthew 5:44) and the perils of wealth (Luke 6:24) are uncomfortable to us today. Most churches today tended to regard these teachings as ideals, and opt for Paul’s more pragmatic approach, which supports the rule of law even “by the sword” (Romans 13:4) and encourages financial responsibility (1 Timothy 5:8). Anabaptists tend to take Jesus’ teachings on wealth and non-violence more literally, and have lived more radically counter-cultural lives as a result.
  • Jesus included women in his ministry team (Luke 8:1-3), and his affirmation of women was radical for his time. Until recently, the christian church has tended to follow Paul’s apparent directions about the subordinate role of women in the church, but the Anabaptists tend to more gender equality.

In all of this, the Anabaptist emphasis is on treating Jesus as the clearest revelation of God and his plans for us. Accordingly they have tended to study the gospels more intently that anything else, and use what they find there as a guide to interpreting the rest of the Bible.

The role of the community

The more established churches generally employ ordained pastors and teachers, trained in Bible College, to explain the scriptures to the lay people. The result is that teachings and Bible interpretation is given through monologue sermons which are not well remembered or acted upon (see Sermons- not how we learn best?). The Anabaptist emphasis on the christian community’s role in Bible interpretation and application can lack some theological depth, but it involves people more and utilises the gifts of the whole body, not just one person.


After Christendom

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

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