One of the core concepts in Lutheran and Reformed theology is the christocentricity of Scripture. When we say that the Bible is “christocentric,” we are stating that the entirety of Scripture, whether explicitly or through typology, points to Christ and His saving work. Jesus Himself said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39). We see images of Christ all throughout the Old Testament, with many of them occurring in the Pentateuch, or “Books of Moses.”
For example, Abraham’s offering of Isaac as a sacrifice to God (Genesis 22) is overflowing with imagery that points to the atonement of Christ. We also see a foreshadowing of Christ when Moses was instructed by God to set a bronze snake on a pole, so that the Israelites who looked upon it would not die (Numbers 21). These are some of the most apparent parallels to Christ found in the Old Testament. Just as the snake was lifted up on a pole, so was Jesus lifted up on the cross. All who looked to the bronze snake were spared their lives. All who look to Jesus as Savior will not perish, but have eternal life.
On the other hand, some of these undertones of christocentricity are harder to spot, buried deeper in the text, sometimes only apparent in the original Hebrew or the minor details. I think it’s worthwhile to take a look at the first few verses of the Bible, found in the first chapter of Genesis.
As a short introduction, let’s examine the Gospel of John 1:1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In his gospel account, John refers to Jesus as the Word and the Light, among other names. John makes it clear that Jesus is the Word of the Father, existing from eternity. Now, take a look at John 1:3:
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
John is stating that God the Father Almighty created all things through Jesus, a fact that we confess in the Nicene Creed. But what exactly does that mean? This becomes readily apparent when we examine Genesis 1:3:
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God spoke the universe into existence with His Word. Jesus is the Word of God. When God speaks, His words have supreme authority, having the power to create worlds and convert hearts. That same Word of God was manifest in the flesh as Jesus Christ, who delivered the gospel of God to the world. When God created, He did so through Jesus.
We shouldn’t forget the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Next we look at Genesis 1:2:
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, was present at creation as well. Even in the first chapter of the Bible, written long before the Trinity was even fully revealed to the world, we see the Triune God at work. We, of course, know that there is only one God. When the Hebrew word of Elohim (God) is used during the account of creation, and even throughout the Old Testament, the word used is a plural noun. There is one God speaking, but referring to Himself as us. All three persons of the Trinity were actively involved at the creation of the universe. We shouldn’t spend too much time trying to understand how the Trinity is possible. Even our best analogies and metaphors used to comprehend this doctrine end up bordering on heresy. Rather, we receive the Word of God in humble reverence, joyful that He has revealed this great mystery to us. And the Trinity is even found in the first verses of the Bible!
The Word of God, through which the world was created, is the same Word that now saves us.
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” —John 6:63
Very good points here and these are items I can share with some Jehovah’s Witnesses I am having a dialogue with. Q – is Lutheran theology and Reformed theology one and the same thing? Is it Calvinistic? I am curious. I grew up Lutheran but was born again at age 20. I found it difficult to attend that same Lutheran church again. It was Missouri Synod.
John – thank you for the kind comments! Lutheran theology is very similar to Calvinist/Reformed theology in several ways. They have a very similar view on justification by grace, through faith. John Calvin stood for a lot that Lutherans can really appreciate. The two deviate when it comes to the nature of predestination, the real presence in the Lord’s Supper, and the ability for someone to fall away from the faith. If you have any more questions, I would be happy to answer them!
I have been understanding more of Calvinistic theology as a result of certain verses they use. I don’t know that I agree with it though. I have seen some people who abide in this theology who seem to take the opportunity to ‘sin’ because they are saved anyway. I would doubt that Calvinism teaches such a thing because the ‘elect’ would not do such a thing?
How do you go about studying the bible? What tools do you use to do it?
Usually when I use a Bible reading plan on the “Bible” app. When I don’t understand a certain verse or want to know more, I look up the verse in the ESV Lutheran Study Bible, which has really good commentary on each verse. I also look certain doctrines up in the Book of Concord to see what the Lutheran Reformers have to say on it.
P.S. Using grace as an excuse to sin is formally known as “antinomianism” which basically believes that because Christians are saved by grace, the Law no longer applies to them. Calvinist and Lutheran theology might be accused of believing this, because we stress the fact that we can do nothing to add to our salvation. We do realize, however, that faith without works is dead.
Do you use only Lutheran version study tools?
You said ESV Lutheran Study Bible and Book of Concord to reference Lutheran Reformers. Are they giving you accurate information on biblical issues? Often time individuals will study by using teaching that is skewed towards a certain belief system instead of allowing scripture to interpret scripture and this gives me a little bit of hesitation when I see someone using tools that slide to a particular denominational value. It tends to box a person into that method of thinking and it becomes the only way the bible teaches it to be. Does this make sense?
I see this in Baptist circles and pentecostal circles and I believe it to be unhealthy unless a balanced perspective is embraced.
For the most part I do use Lutheran study tools, but I have a very firm belief that Lutheran theology does a great job of letting scripture interpret scripture – it’s essentially the entire basis of Lutheran exegesis. A lot of Evangelical study materials tend to contain some bias towards their theology and read things into the text that aren’t actually there. But I’ve generally found that the Lutheran ESV lets the plain meaning be represented in the commentary. Sometimes I check what other Christian denominations have to say on a specific verse to get a better feel for what the different branches of Christianity believe on the issue. I know it can be difficult to trust a commentary to be completely scriptural with no bias, but there’s a lot of times when it’s really necessary to figure out texts that are unclear. If I were left completely on my own to figure out the meaning of Scripture, I probably wouldn’t do a very good job. I’m not trained in the biblical languages, and I’m not an expert on exegesis. That’s why I feel like it’s a good idea to trust centuries of professional theologians to lay out an accurate interpretation. Ultimately, the individual’s interpretation of Scripture must come down to what they themselves believe, but I think it’s useful to let these kinds of resources guide me in the right direction.
Also, I have a copy of an interlinear Bible and Strong’s Concordance if I need to look up a specific word in the original languages.