The person who calls himself a Christian is claiming to be a follower of the teaching and life of Jesus Christ. He is committed to a position of respect for the standard of values thus portrayed by Jesus. The Christian has the solution to every asking of the question, “What should my attitude be?” He only has to ask, “What was the attitude of Jesus in such case?”
One question, which poses a problem to every serious student of religion, is, “What about the scriptures? What respect must we have for them? Are the scriptures reliable, and can they be taken literally?” The Christian will be guided in this matter, as in all others, by the respect he has for the judgments of Christ.
Jesus Christ positively commended the historical reliability of the scriptures. The story of the great flood in the days of Noah, which is presented in the book of Genesis, is significant. Jesus took the position of confidence in this record by referring to those events as comparable to the affairs of the world at the time of his promised return for judgment. He declared, “And as were the days of Noah, so shall be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and they knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall be the coming of the Son of man” (Matt 24:37-39)
The story of the prophet Jonah is another record which skeptics have sought to brand “Unreal.” In this case, too, Jesus gives direction to his disciples by treating the story of Jonah as a thoroughly reliable historical record. He used it as a premise in predicting his own death, burial and resurrection. No sign is more significant in his claim to divine Sonship than his death and subsequent resurrection. Jesus reasoned, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40).
Jesus went on to declare the historical reality of other persons detailed in the Old Testament when he promised that the men of Nineveh as well as the Queen of the South who visited Solomon would rise up in the judgment with the men of his own generation. The certainty, then, of Jesus’ promise of judgment is predicated upon the historical reliability of these Old Testament records.
Jesus set the pattern for us with his respect for the verbal and literal accuracy of the scriptures. He took a positive stand against the position of those who would say that only the “general idea” of that which is expressed in the scriptures is dependable and of divine origin. In exposing the Sadducees’ ignorance of the scriptures in their denial of life after death, Jesus cited a passage in the book of Exodus (3:6) in which God said to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” The point of his argument was that God said, “I am” rather than “I was”. Since those men had been dead for several generations at the time of that statement to Moses, and since God is not the God of the dead, then somewhere in God’s sight these patriarchs still lived. Jesus, then, rested his argument upon the technical fact that a passage in the book of Exodus used a verb in the present, rather than in the past tense. This declares the dependence of Jesus upon the accuracy of the scriptures to the minute’ detail.
One of the attitudes that are all too common in our day is that of those who want to decide that some of the things required by the scriptures are more important and more vital than others. Some even argue that there is a conflict of principle between the ceremonial ritual of the priesthood and the moral preaching of the prophets. Jesus taught, however, that every commandment of scripture, inasmuch as it came from a sovereign God, was to be given equal respect. The position of Christ is “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19).
Jesus denounced the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees who, while they scrupulously tithed anise, mint and cumin, were guilty of omitting ” . . . the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith . . .” Jesus did not do as many modern liberals might do and tell them to reverse their emphasis. He declared the overt ritual commands were equally important with the more abstract qualities of character by telling them, “But these you ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone” (Matt. 23:23). Whatever is commanded in the scriptures, then, is to be treated with equal reverence with every other divine duty.
The tendency of some men both then and now is to feel that in some matters their traditional practices ought to be honored as equally important with the scriptures. They hold that the scriptures are sacred and must be respected, but that they can be more fully acceptable to God by going beyond the requirements of scripture in their religious practices. When the Pharisees insisted upon the washing of hands before eating, Jesus told then, “But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men” (Matt. 15:9). What God had commanded in the scriptures was entirely enough. To add to these teachings was to offend God.
When the rich young ruler came to Jesus with the question of what to do to have eternal life, the attitude of Jesus was clear: ” . . .but if you would enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17). If he would keep all the commandments, including the one that bade him love his neighbor as himself (Lk 10:27 f; Lev. 19:18), his obedience would be complete and his eternal life secure. When a person has done all that is required in the scriptures, neither God, nor the people, nor a man’s own conscience can require any more of him.
Sharing Jesus’ View
With his attitude of respect for and confidence in the scriptures, Jesus Christ set the example for us of being intimately acquainted with the scriptures and of freely applying them to every situation of life. As he told Satan, with regard to what is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).
The New Testament scripture, which were written by the disciples and apostles of Christ, are certainly no less sacred than those of the Old Testament. The pattern has been set for us. We cannot reasonably claim to have respect for the life and teaching of Jesus Christ without imitating his attitude of respect for the sacred scriptures. It is adequate to conclude that anyone who still does not know what position to take, after learning of the attitude and judgments of Jesus, admits that he does not follow Jesus Christ (1 Cor 11:1).