How to Approach Reading the Bible: 66 Books, One Focus
A Daunting Task
There are around 1200 pages in the average Bible. Those pages make up 66 separate, yet unified, pieces of literature that we call books. The books aren’t always arranged topically or chronologically and often one book will assume the reader knows the content of the other books. This can present a seemingly insurmountable challenge to the newcomer to the Bible’s pages. It can be equally as daunting to the one who’s grown up learning and memorizing its verses. Is it possible to see the one overarching focus that holds all of it together? Indeed, it is. And seeing this overarching focus, that we call the meta-narrative of the Bible, will change the way you read it forever.
Stories Or A Story?
What comes to mind when you read these names?
Adam and Eve, Noah, David and Goliath, Joseph and his brothers, Samson and Delilah.
If you’ve grown up in the Bible Belt of America, you could probably match these items to the names: Sling and stone, long hair, colorful coat, apple, and a boat. But here’s the real question – what do those stories have to do with one another? And what do they have to do with Jesus? The Bible is often treated more like Aesop’s fables than the Word of God: disconnected moral stories that make good decorations for children’s Sunday School classrooms. But that isn’t what the Bible is. The Bible is a collection of writings, inspired by God, revealing the story of His creation and redemption of mankind through the death and resurrection of His Son.
There are many ways to break the meta-narrative down, but a simple explanation would be: creation, fall, promises of restoration, the outworking of those promises through covenants between God and man, the coming of the Promised One, the fulfillment of those promises in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, and the final consummation of the restoration. Or even more simply: creation, fall, promise, restoration, consummation. What does that sound like? It sounds like the Gospel! When you see the Bible through this lens, it becomes apparent that the Gospel is not something that came along in the New Testament. The Bible itself, as a whole, is the Gospel!
Ok, But How?
How do we see this overarching focus, this meta-narrative, while we’re actually reading it? Here are 3 tips to help you:
- Find out where you are on the timeline of Redemptive History, in whatever passage of scripture you may be reading. Most Bibles have an introduction page at the beginning of every book. That page will typically tell you when the book was written, by whom, and usually more. Bible timelines are also easy to find online. Once you establish where you are in Redemptive History, think about questions like these:
- Where is this in relation to the creation and fall?
- Where is it in relation to the coming of Christ?
- Where is it in relation to the final consummation (Christ’s return)?
Sometimes all you need to do is zoom out a bit in order to see where you are in the bigger picture and things become clearer.
- Find out who the passage is dealing with and ask those same questions above. For instance, if you’re reading Exodus 12 here’s how this would work:
- This is after creation and fall, after the first promise of a Savior in Gen. 3:15, after Noah and the tower of Babel, after God’s promise that the Savior would come through the line of Abraham. The people that are enslaved in Egypt are the Israelites (Abraham’s descendants) and God is saving them from judgment by the blood of a Lamb.
- This is before the coming of Christ, so the Israelites are still looking for the Promised One to come.
- This is before the final consummation.
- Once you’ve determined where this is in Redemptive History and who the passage deals with, find out why this passage is significant in relation to that information. In this instance, we can see that Exodus 12 is a type or foreshadowing of the work that Jesus would later do. We said that this was before the coming of Christ, so the Israelites were still looking for the Promised One to come. When the Promised One did come, how did He save? By His own blood. And John the Baptist called Him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn. 1:29)
To Whom Much is Given, Much Is Required
The Bible is one of the most precious gifts that God has given to humanity. It’s humbling to think that the Almighty Creator of all things would care to reveal Himself and His plan to us. As He said, “to whom much is given, much is required” (Lk. 12:48). In our time in history, we have more access to the Bible and more resources to help us understand it than any other generation. If God has spoken, and He has, and if His Word was recorded and preserved for us, and it was, then we have an obligation to know, understand, and apply that revelation. Understanding the Bible’s overarching focus of God’s creation and restoration of man will help you do just that.
Nick Judd is the Kids Pastor at The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN. He is also the co-host of the "Everyday Apologetics" podcast. Nick is passionate about growing people in their knowledge of the Word of God and in their ability to defend it in the midst of a culture fighting against truth.
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