From the Letter of the Law to the Spirit of the Word – Brad Jersak

 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are qualified of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our qualification is from God, who has made us qualified to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” —2 Corinthians 3:5-6

I recently enjoyed a weekend with my teacher and friend, John Behr, a leading expert in how the first Christians wrote and read Scripture. Readers of A More Christlike Word: Reading Scripture the Emmaus Way might remember that I dedicated that book to him.

Over my next few posts, I will share some simple analogies that were eye-openers for me and may also be of service to your Bible reading.

The first was the difference between reading “the letter” and reading the “Spirit” of the Word. He compared how someone like Saul of Tarsus read his Scriptures (our Old Testament) and concluded that he should persecute and execute followers of Jesus. Then, after his encounter with the crucified and risen One, as the apostle Paul, the same man read the same texts and saw Christ everywhere. The same letters on the page had now become words of life to him.

Behr’s analogy was that we identify letters before we learn to read words. My grandchild sees the letters c-a-t on a page but doesn’t see the word CAT. He has to sound out the letters until he has the aha! moment … Oh, that says CAT!

Over time, he will identify the word CAT in his books with Ripplechips and Scully, the furry felines roaming his apartment. As his reading improves, even when he sees the word CAT on the page, he will no longer need to sound out the letters c-a-t or even ‘see’ the word CAT as a series of letters in print. Instead, his mind will auto-translate the ink on the parchment into an image of cats in his mind. He may be looking at the page, but as he reads, his mind will see something alive that purrs, meows, and scratches his Papa (that’s me).

So, too, through his encounter with Christ, the apostle Paul recognized his need to move beyond reducing the Law to the letters of an ancient legal code into a new way of reading—the Emmaus Way that sees the Spirit of the Scriptures—namely, how they anticipate and are fulfilled in Christ. It’s not that he discarded all the books from Genesis to Malachi or abolished their authority. But now he saw through and past the death-dealing letters of the word that drove him to murder—now he could perceive, by the Spirit, what was embedded there all along. Namely, the promise of the living Word, Jesus Christ, his Messiah, our Lord and Life-Giver.  

Stay tuned for my next “Letter to Spirit” post, where I share a second analogywhat John Behr showed me about “reading from the end.”

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