Updating Christ's References to Biblical Figures: Abraham, Moses, etc.

In reading Christ's Words today, we must think about how he meant for us to read his references to Moses, Abraham, John the Baptist, and other biblical figures. These references are mostly a challenge to the thinking of his listeners and the society in which they lived. Since we live in a very different society, it is easy to think that these references do not challenge our own thinking today. We can even think that our thinking and society is superior to that of the Jews because we have a view of Biblical figures that is closer to Christ's own. However, we can also read them in a way that challenges our thinking and society in the same exact way as Christ challenged his listeners in their day.

If Jesus's meant his words to be read down through history, every statement he made was meant to mean something important to those reading his words in their own period. While we may not think that we do not have the same prejudices as Jews living in the first century, our prejudices may not be as different as we think. All the verses where Christ refers to historical figures have a relevant interpretation given today's society and "modern" thinking.

Moses and the Law

Christ refers most commonly to Moses. While we can think of Moses as the historical figure who was the author of the five initial books of the Old Testament, Christ's references to Moses are more than that. They were references to the recognized law, the central authority of the age.

Every age has a central "legal" authority that plays the role of Moses in their society. In some societies, it is the founder of the country, in others it is the constitution of the state. In others, it was the role of reason and logic. Who or what is the central authority of our age? Who or what offers eternal laws that no one disputes?

The answer is science. In our age, most people credit science for giving us our superiority over other cultures. Like the laws of Moses in ancient Jewish society, the laws of nature as offered by science are the trump card that wins all arguments. Those laws provide a our modern framework for understanding the world as the laws of Moses gave the Jews a framework for understanding their world.

While we can still value and use the Mosaic framework as followers of Christ, it is impossible for us to use that Mosaic framework to win any argument with non-believers. To win such an argument, we must refer to the discoveries of modern science. The fact that we do not recognize this means that most Christians are very poor at arguing their beliefs to non-believers. Even though we share a belief in science with those who do not believe in Christ, we do not know how to leverage the common ground in the favor of Christ.

Fortunately, Christ shows us how to use the law to win believers. The answers are in his references to Moses. All of the references to Moses can be easily interpreted in today's terms as references to science. From this perspective, the laws of Moses become the principles of science. Christ's references to "the law" or "scripture" can be used from the perspective of referring to the principles of modern science.

A few examples to illustrate my point. Moses lifted up a serpent in the wilderness (Jhn 3:14) as a symbol for a cure for disease. Who do most people see as curing disease today? Modern science. Jews say Moses as giving people bread from heaven (Jhn 6:32). Who do most people see as creating more food today? Modern science. The Jews challenge Christ for violating the laws of Moses, and people today challenge Christ for violating the laws of science. The answer is the science violates the laws of science as well. Einstein violated Newton because this is how science advances.

Abraham and History

In a similar way, Christ refers to Abraham as an appeal to authority. Christ only mentions Abraham in the context of being the father of the Jewish people. If Moses represents the law and science, what is the modern parallel for Abraham as the father of the Jewish nation?

Who is the common father that we all look at today? Especially in a country like America, we come from many different cultures, what do we have in common?

The answer is the role of history in human progress. In the time of Jesus, there was "history" in the sense of stories of different societies in the past, but there was not history as a story of human progress, shaping our society today as the "chosen" people. Today, history plays the same role in our society as Abraham and the other Patriarchs played in ancient Jewish society. No matter what country we live in, that country has a history that we are proud of and which becomes the foundation of our self-image as Americans, the English, the French, and so on. This respect often takes the form of a belief a historical force, especially the force of historical "progress." As the Jews saw themselves as the children of Abraham, people today see themselves as the products of history and the forces of history.

Respect for history today may not be as strong as respect for science, but it is still the source for much of our identity. While many may degrade their countries because of their desire for moral superiority over their fellow citizens (see the next section), most people still take a great deal of pride in their historical roots, just as the Jews were proud of being children of Abraham.

All of Christ's reference to Abraham can be applied to us today as references to our pride in history. Just as Christ challenged his listeners to act as Abraham did, we can challenge people today to act as history dictates. Historically, Christ has proven to be the pivotal person. If we believe in history as a force, we have to believe in the importance of Christ.

John the Baptist and Moral Superiority

This brings us finally to John the Baptist. John is a little different than other Biblical figures because he was a contemporary of Christ. When we read Christ's references to him, however, we think of him as a historical figure. We also think of him as a character playing a role in the story. Beyond that, how do references to John the Baptist relate to our society today?

John the Baptist was a reformer and a popular figure. His popularity had an odd source: he condemned his society as corrupt. Could this possibly have a parallel in modern society? Are there any movements that condemn our society as corrupt? There are no shortage of them. People today, especially young people, are always drawn to new causes and movements. Why? Because following these causes or professing to follow them, gives people a sense of moral superiority over others in their society.

This viewpoint makes the relevance of John the Baptist timeless. As Jesus says, his was a "bright and burning lamp, and for a while, you rejoiced in its light." Every generation rejoices in the light of their lamps.

And every one of these lamps offers testimony to Jesus. All of these social causes may be shallow in the sense that people are drawn to them as a source of moral superiority, but people are also drawn to them for the right reasons, because they are looking for the truth. This is actually what Christ said about John, that he testified to the truth. This is what people are ultimately looking for, the truth. If we understand John the Baptist as a symbol for all popular causes where people are looking for the truth, all of those references are perfectly relevant to us today.

John the Baptist may also be described by Christ as reincarnation as the prophet Elijah in his role is as a harbinger and forerunner in Mat 17:11-12.