In the spring of 1967 when I was 13 years old the epic movie “The Bible: In the Beginning” was still in the theaters. This was a major Hollywood film directed by John Huston and that starred the likes of George C. Scott as Abraham, Ava Gardener as Sarah, Richard Harris as Cain, Join Huston himself as Noah and Peter O’Toole as the Angel of the Lord. Mother promised me that we would all go to see it, but in the car, on the way to the theater, my sister protested that seeing a movie about the Bible felt a whole lot to her like going to church, and that’s how we wound up seeing “Thoroughly Modern Millie” instead!
A few weeks later, my mother made good on her promise that we would see “The Bible” – a thoroughly forgettable film – but by then the damage was done. For at least one afternoon, Julie Andrews mattered more to my older sister than did God Almighty, and I’m still hoping that she’ll have to answer for that someday.
I love the Bible.
From my days as an acolyte in the church of my childhood when I was part of the procession that brought the Gospels out into the center of the sanctuary where it was read by my priest surrounded by incense and candlelight, to the Lenten evenings I spent at the parsonage each year with a group of church members (I was always the only youth in attendance) reading a book of the Bible out loud together, to the very first Bible study group I joined as a high school sophomore taught by a very cool social studies teacher off campus at a fellow student’s house, to my fascination with the Seventh Day Adventist Radio Broadcast – The Voice of Prophecy – whose studio I passed everyday growing up where every year, beginning a few days before New Year’s Eve and finishing at the strike of midnight, they would read the entire Bible from cover to cover, to taking my first New Testament class from Dr. William Richardson at Northwest Christian College in which he taught without notes directly from his Greek New Testament and deciding then and there that he was the standard of Christian scholarship to which I aspired, I have loved the Bible. The only thing I love more than teaching the Bible is studying the Bible. But I know that this is not true for everybody.
I know that for lots of people the Bible is a formidable and forbidding book. C. Leonard Allen, a professor of Biblical Studies over at Abilene Christian University, puts it well when he writes –
The Bible is a collection of writings rooted deeply in a world that is remote to us. It reflects languages, cultures, and world views as strange to us as those of rural Kenya or Kurdistan (43)… Entering a strange culture is always a challenging and somewhat disorienting experience. One finds that things are not often what they first appear to be, and that one’s own long-assumed framework of meaning cannot be counted on to make sense of things (44)… [But] even for insiders the Bible retains a kind of strangeness, for it reveals a God who works in strange and surprising ways. The God of Scripture time and again shatters conventional views of the possible and the impossible. God breaks open new, often unimagined vistas, bestows hope where none remain, does impossible things with impossible people. Strange indeed. (43)
Randomly dropping into a Biblical passage thinking that it will give up its meaning easily, even effortlessly, leaves many readers feeling discouraged and confused. And those hardy readers who set out trying to read the Bible straight through from Genesis to Revelation rarely get past the Holiness Code of Leviticus, or the slaughter of the Canaanites in Joshua, before throwing up their hands in disgust and quitting for the sake of conscience.
To have any chance of making sense of the Bible, one needs to understand what it is that holds together this library of sixty-six books that were written over a period of more than 1500 years by 40 different authors who spoke two different languages and lived in five distinct cultures. And to do this one must know the Bible’s plot, its “meta-narrative,” its “root story.” Think of this as the skeleton beneath the meat of your body. It’s what holds you up and keeps everything in place. And the Bible has one. It’s called the “redemptive history structure” of Scripture, and when it is neglected, the Bible reader quickly loses her way. But when it is kept in mind and heart, it keeps the Bible’s stories, characters and truths all in their proper orbit.
My favorite resource on the Bible’s “redemptive history structure” is the work that’s been done by Graeme Goldsworthy, the now retired professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology who taught at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, an Anglican school. There is a wonderful interview with him that can be found at www.modernreformation.org called “Finding the Gospel in the Whole Bible.” I highly recommend that anyone who might be interested in learning more about this idea that the Bible has a skeleton begin here. And then to actually “see” the skeleton of the Bible’s “redemptive history structure” that Graeme Gooldsworthy has spent his life working with, go to Justin Taylor’s posting at http://thegospelcoalition.orgentitled “Goldsworthy: The Main Chapters in the Biblical Storyline.” In “chart” form, it looks like this –
|Creation by Word||Genesis 1 and 2|
|The Fall||Genesis 3|
|First Revelation of Redemption||Genesis 4–11|
|Abraham Our Father||Genesis 12–50|
|Exodus: Our Pattern of Redemption||Exodus 1–15|
|New Life: Gift and Task||Exodus 16–40; Leviticus|
|The Temptation in the Wilderness||Numbers; Deuteronomy|
|Into the Good Land||Joshua; Judges; Ruth|
|God’s Rule in God’s Land||1 and 2 Samuel; 1 Kings 1–10; 1 Chronicles; 2 Chronicles 1–9|
|The Fading Shadow||1 Kings 11–22; 2 Kings|
|There Is a New Creation||Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Daniel; Esther|
|The Second Exodus||Ezra; Nehemiah; Haggai|
|The New Creation for Us||Matthew; Mark; Luke; John|
|The New Creation in Us Initiated||Acts|
|The New Creation in Us Now||New Testament Epistles|
|The New Creation Consummated||Revelation|
Justin Taylor’s blog then proceeds to provide some very helpful summaries of the Biblical content of each of these components of the “redemptive history storyline.” And as you work your way through them, you begin to see what Jesus meant when he said in John 5:39 – “the Scriptures… bear witness of Me,” and how He could, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets” explain to His disciples “all things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27), “in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44).
The Bible is not about everything; it’s about Jesus Christ and Him crucified (I Corinthians 2:1-5). And it’s only when you open the Bible knowing this that it is going to be read with understanding and appreciation. DBS+
A young English preached a message before a renounced pastor of many years. Upon finishing his sermon, the young man went to the old pastor to ask how he had done: “What do you think of my sermon, sir?” he asked. “A very poor sermon indeed,” he said. “A poor sermon!” said the young man, “it took me a long time to study it.” “Ah, no doubt of it.” the old pastor replied. “Why, then, do you say it was poor; did you not think my explanation of the text to be accurate?” “Oh yes,” said the old preacher, “very correct indeed.” “Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon? Didn’t you think the metaphors were appropriate, and the arguments conclusive?” “Yes, they were very good, as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon.” “Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?” “Because,” he said, “THERE WAS NO CHRIST IN IT.” “Well,” said the young man, “Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.” So the old man said, “Don’t you know, young man, that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?” “Yes,” said the young man. “Ah!” said the old preacher, “and so from EVERY TEXT in Scripture there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is CHRIST. And, my dear brother, your business is, when you get to a text, to say, ‘Now, what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis – Christ. And,” he added, “I have never yet found a text that had no such road. A sermon is not fit for anything unless Christ in it.” (Charles Spurgeon)