Part 6: A Practical Application for Christians
Recap to This Point:
What Is Polyfunctional Old Testament Text? (see Introduction)
A polyfunctional Old Testament text is any passage that functions in more than one context. Context includes audience, time frame, and referents. To be polyfunctional, a text need have multiples of only one of those items. For example, there may be two distinct audiences for a text in the same time frame, or there may be two referents for the same text in a given point in time. Similar to scientists’ new understanding of polyfunctional nucleotides within a given DNA strand, a polyfunctional biblical text must broaden our biblical understanding away from strict single purpose, single audience, single meaning kinds of interpretation. The same God who created the language of polyfunctional DNA is the same God who wrote Old Testament Scripture. God is the living Word. He designed Scripture with his own audiences, time frames, and referents in mind. Jesus the Son of God, one of the triune God, had to correct even his disciples for their lack of biblical understanding (see especially Luke 24). This author wants to be one of their number.
The Old Testament and Polyfunctional Texts
I. Introduction (Part 1)
II. Authorship of Scripture (Part 2)
III. Who Are God’s Audiences? (Part 3): Some Pertinent Questions
IV. Might Jesus Have Been an Audience? (Did God Write the Old Testament for His Incarnated Son?) (Part 4)
V. Johnathan and his arrow boy: If Johnathan would do this for his dearly beloved David, why wouldn’t God do it for his Son? (Part 5)
New Material Begins Here
Polyfunctional Text and Today’s Reader: A Practical Application for Christians
1. God talks.
- “And God said, Let there be light.” (Genesis 1:3)
- God’s very name and nature refers to speech. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:)
- The Old Testament is filled with records of God speaking, questioning, dialoguing, appearing to, and in other ways communicating with various prophets and people.
- In the New Testament God audibly spoke over Jesus three times.
- Mark and Luke record God speaking directly to Jesus at his baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
- Next, God audibly spoke to those with Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
- Finally, John records a less well known incident in which God audibly responded to Jesus while he was praying.
“Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:28)
- The resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus spoke directly to Saul on the road to Damascus. They even talked back and forth in dialogue.
4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (Act 9:4-6)
2. A First Principle for New Believers in Christ
One of the first principles of Christianity new believers often hear is, “What is true of Christ is true of me, because I am in Christ and he is in me.”
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, (1Corinthians 1:30)
Therefore, if God talked to Jesus in such a way that Jesus understood him, and the resurrected Jesus spoke to Saul so that this man understood him, then Christians, who are indwelled by Christ, should not be disbelieving when they discover Jesus speaking to them through the Holy Spirit in such a way that they understand it is he.
3. God Speaks Through His Word, the Bible.
Though the Bible is not the only way God speaks to his children–he has many ways of speaking–through the Bible is one of the main ways. Why is the Bible different than any other book that ever was or ever will be? The Bible is unique because the Spirit of God can speak through this written Word to believers.
The Psalter provides an example of a biblical book through which God often speaks to believers. It is far, far different for a believer to read a psalm by David and to hear God speak directly into her heart through the very words of the psalm, than it is to sit in a Bible study class and hear the teacher expound a lesson using David as an example which her listeners can then apply to their own lives. The difference is day and night.
This series of articles has sought to demonstrate that it is fully reasonable to think that God wrote Scripture specifically to communicate with his own Son in his days as incarnate Messiah. Referring back to point two above–“What is true of Christ is true of me, because I am in Christ and he is in me,”–is applicable here. If God spoke to his Son during his hours of great need, why wouldn’t he speak to each believer in Christ the same way? If God encouraged his Son through Scripture, why wouldn’t he through Scripture encourage each little one? This kind of communication academia knows nothing about. It is spiritual.
1Corinthians 2:7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”–10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1Corinthians 2:7-16)
Reader: If you are one day reading the words of Scripture and you get the unusual perception that God is speaking directly to you, that he has been reading your very thoughts and is now responding to you, know and believe that indeed he is. And that he designed this moment eons ago before you were even created. He means for those words to be an arrow into your heart. God always intended to speak to his children through Scripture. He is that much of a genius and that much of a loving Father.
Then, reader, take a further step and know that Jesus Christ is part of what you feel in that moment. Those words speaking to you are also his words; that arrow in your heart is also an arrow in his heart. Those words sent to you today as a special gift from God hand-wrapped with your name upon them were also sent to Christ in his incarnation. He willingly experienced the same sorrows you experience. He is one of us. He is like you, and he is like me.
Then turn in your Bible and read John 17. That is Christ’s prayer for you. You are included in that prayer. Jesus thought of you and prayed for you 2,000 years ago, and God is thinking of you now. I entrust you to God the Father in my prayers as well.
This article has demonstrated how God, as ultimate agent, intentionally wrote Old Testament Scripture as polyfunctional text. An identical set of words can intentionally convey different meanings to different audiences during the same time frame or different time frames. The narrative about David, Jonathan, and Jonathan’s arrow boy provide a prime example. The thesis of this paper is that God’s primary audience for Old Testament text was his then future incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. The primary application is for today’s believing Christian or for today’s about-to-be-believing child of God. God often speaks to his beloved children through words of Scripture. This is a small part of that universal testimony.