The Bible is the all time best selling book. Nothing comes close. But it might also be the least read book. In the last few months I have read numerous reports bemoaning the lack of biblical literacy in the church.
The American Bible Society also reports that most Americans believe that the Bible is inspired and that 88% of American households own a Bible, but sadly only about 14% read it daily.
There are many reasons why the Bible is not read more, but one of the main reasons is that it is a difficult book to read. It is an ancient book about an ancient culture with many strange practices that seem bizarre to modern readers. It’s also a very long book.
Consequently, many people just don’t read it much. It doesn’t seem relevant. That’s really sad because the Bible is the Word of God and we desperately need God’s message for life.
Surely, the most important thing in life is knowing God. If God is real, and I believe deeply that he is, then nothing can be more important than knowing him. The only problem is that we can’t know God as deeply as we need to unless he makes himself known to us. Thankfully he has made himself known to us.
God reveals himself in nature, the created world, but most fully in the Bible. This is often called General Revelation (Nature) and Special Revelation (the Bible). This is seen wonderfully in Psalm 19, but also in other places in the Bible, like, Romans 1:18-20; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:1-2; 2 Peter 1:20-21, among others.
If knowing God is the most important thing in life, and God most fully makes himself known in the Bible, then it is critical that we read and understand our bibles. It follows that as we come to know and understand the Bible, we come to know and understand God.
Because of this, I want to do a series of blog posts giving an overview of the Bible. It will help us to read the Bible profitably by realizing that it is not just a bunch of stories to give us examples on how to live, but is also one overarching story, a message from God. When we understand the overarching story of the Bible, we will be more motivated to read it and know God and his plan of salvation better. This first post will be an introduction so that we can see where we’re going. Then we will get into the meat of the Bible.
1. The Message of the Bible
One of the wonderful things about the Bible is its unity and diversity. The Bible is actually a library of books. There are 66 books in the Bible by about 40 authors written over a period of around 1500 years, yet the Bible has one overarching story line and one overarching message that God wants to communicate to the world.
The Message of the Bible is Jesus
The message of the Bible is the person and work of Jesus Christ accomplishing the plan of salvation that comes through him. In Luke 24 the resurrected Jesus encounters two discouraged disciples walking from Jerusalem to the small village of Emmaus, but they do not recognize him. They are discouraged because they thought Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, but he has just been crucified and put is a tomb. Jesus rebukes them for not knowing that the Messiah had to suffer and then be glorified. He then shows the two disciples from the whole Old Testament what was said about him. He is the message of the Bible! We see similar things in many other place in the Bible, such as, Luke 24:44-49; John 5:39; Acts 28:23-24; Romans 1:1-3 and Galatians 4:4-6. As we work through this overview of the Bible, we want to see Jesus throughout the Old Testament. The Old Testament is the promise of the coming Messiah Redeemer, while the New Tetsament is the fulfillment of his coming.
2. The Basic Story Line of the Bible
Since the Bible is a story, it has a story line. The basic story line of the Bible falls into four main parts that are easy to put together and remember.
- Creation (Genesis 1-2)
- Fall (Genesis 3)
- Redemption (Genesis 4-Revelation 20)
- Restoration (Revelation 21-22)
The story of the Bible begins with God creating the entire universe and humanity as the crown of his creation. The creation is good and beautiful. God puts the man and the woman into a wonderful garden and gives them everything they need, but he also gives them one command to obey. They are tempted and soon disobey the command of God, plunging the world into sin, brokenness and death. God ‘s good creation is now fallen. It’s broken into a million pieces. Rather than full and immediate judgment (though there is some immediate judgment), God sets into motion his plan of redemption. The largest part of the basic story line of the Bible is Redemption. This part of the story is about God sending Jesus to be the redeemer. God will redeem his fallen creation! When the world is redeemed, all things will be restored to God’s eternal, purposes.
3. The Central Theme of the Bible
In the unfolding story of redemption in the Bible, we find many major themes that thread their way through the Bible forming the great tapestry of God’s plan of redemption. These themes put the meat on the bones of the Bible’s story. They also give us the application of the biblical story into our own story. Some of these major themes are holiness, sacrifice, love, judgment, temple, grace, atonement and many others. But the central theme of the Bible is the Kingdom of God.
The Central Theme of the Bible is the Kingdom of God
All other themes relate to the central theme of the kingdom of God. This theme is the main thing Jesus taught about (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:43; 8:1; John 3:3). The ups and downs of the kingdom of God is the plot line of the story of the Bible. God set up his kingdom in creation with humanity as the stewards of his kingdom. The kingdom fell into ruin when humanity rebelled. Throughout the Old Testament the struggle is to re-establish the kingdom of God. Finally, in accordance with God’s eternal plan and the prophecy of the Old Testament, Jesus comes to re-establish the kingdom and set all things right.
4. The Covenantal Structure of the Bible
The Bible’s story line is built on five main covenants that God makes with his people. These covenants form the framework or skeletal structure of the Bible’s story. A covenant is a special relationship between God and his people that involve promises and responsibilities. God reveals his plan of redemption and brings it to fruition through the covenants. The five main covenants are:
- Adamic Covenents (Edenic, Redemption, Noahic)
- Abrahamic Covenant
- Mosaic Covenant
- Davidic Covenant
- New Covenant
The covenants are a good way to remember the story of the Bible, by remembering five men and their stories as parts of the overarching story. The five men of the covenants are, of course, Adam, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. There are many other people involved with these stories, and other stories, but this helps us put together the big picture in our minds.
The Story Line and the Bottom Line
In the future posts we will look at each covenant in order and see the way God gave them, how they connect to the story line, the major themes in each and how Jesus is foreseen in all the Old Tetstament. The chart at the head of this post will give you a good visual grasp of the Bible’s story line. At the end of this series of posts we will have a pretty good handle on the story of the Bible and its message to the world and to us personally. Because we took the time to work through this overview of the Bible, we will be able to read the Bible with greater understanding and actually know with a high level of confidence that God has spoken to us and just what he has said. The bottom line is that we will come to see the depth of his love for us in Christ and the path of walking with him in a daily love relationship. The Apostle Paul said it best in Ephesians 3:16-18,
“That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the capacity to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth, and to know the love of Christ that transcends knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”