As part of my preparations to teach an Apologetics course this Fall, I recently read Rachel Held Evans’ essay An Evangelical’s Response to Homosexuality, in which she shares her personal turmoil over the nature of homosexuality and the church’s treatment of homosexuals. As she wrestles with William Webb’s distinctions between ‘cultural’ and ‘trans-cultural’ statements in scripture, she states:
I think I’d have a lot more clarity on this issue if I knew what Jesus had to say about it. But unfortunately, if he did address the issue, we have no record of it.
Ouch. This is a problematic response, but is symptomatic of an all-too-common hermeneutic— a hermeneutic that limits the words of Jesus to those sometimes writ in red.
John begins his Gospel this way:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
This is an exposition of who Jesus Christ is. He is eternally God. Son of God. Member of the Trinity. Word, integral to all creation’s existence. Co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit. Source of life and light for men. Is Christ’s incarnation a new grace to the world? Yes. His incarnation, his presence on earth, not to mention his work completed on earth, is unquestionably pivotal in redemptive history. However, Christ is not the new Word of God. Christ incarnate is not the first proclamation of the Word of God. Christ is the eternal Word of God, now incarnate. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh.” Jesus says of himself that all the prophets and writings of scripture speak of him. Not only does this mean that Christ’s coming has been prophesied through the ages, but this means it is him, as Word, his truth, that has been proclaimed through all of scripture. This is why the Gospel was proclaimed first to the Jews, even. Because Jesus was the Christ they had been promised centuries ago. Because the incarnation is not God doing something new and novel, but bringing to further completion that plan which he began before time.
To suggest that the only words of Jesus we have are those transcribed in quotes in the Gospels is to deny him the very identity which he claimed for himself and which the rest of scripture ascribed to him. And if he isn’t who he said he is, he should be of no interest to us.