Before we can talk about the parts of the Bible, it helps to know what the Bible is. For much of my Christian life I’ve heard references such as the God’s instruction manual for Christian living. While I think there is some truth to that description, it does not adequately describe what the richness of these 66 books. Moreover, if we reduce the Bible down to a user manual or book of propositions, our tendency will be to miss the larger story of redemption.
While the Bible is comprised of many books that were written by 40 different authors over the span of 1,500 years, the Bible is one book. It is God revealing himself to us. But we have to see how he is doing this in consideration of his intersection with time and history. As I mentioned in my last post, we want to look at the Bible from a 20,000 foot angle, so to speak. It’s easy to get lost in the trees of particular passages but lose sight of the forest. But with this series I’m hoping to give a snapshot of each section to show the beauty of the forest by providing points to consider concerning how the pieces of these 66 books fit together. There are three aspects to the Bible I think are important to bear in mind.
1. The Bible is a divine book
If you have a red letter Bible, you might be tempted to think of the words of Jesus as more important or spiritual the rest of the Bible. But this would be a mistake. All Scripture is breathed out by God,
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
God moved through men as the Holy Spirit influenced their pen so that they would write in their own words the thoughts, will and intention of God. As I’ll note later, men wrote in their own styles but were guided by the Holy Spirit in accordance of what was happening. And just a side note: this means the Bible itself is spiritual, not just words on a piece of paper we make spiritual.
Throughout the trajectory of Scripture, God is revealing himself as he intersects and interacts with his creation. A few points about revelation are important. Revelation is one of those words that gets tossed around a lot as if it has something to do with us. On the contrary, revelation is totally dependent on the one revealing, regardless of whether we grasp it or not. Getting some type of insight is not revelation but could be illumination of what has already been revealed. So we must see how God is revealing himself anchored in the historical events of the Bible. As he does, he is revealing his will, character, and intent to his people.
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of the law. (Deut 29:29)
And here is the most important thing to keep in mind when examining the narrative of Scripture: the fullness of revelation is found in Christ. God’s will, thoughts, and intentions are fully expressed in Christ.
For in him [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1:19).
Also consider what Paul writes in Ephesians 1:3-14 (that is one sentence btw), particularly noting vv. 9-10
Making known to us the mystery of his will, according to the purpose, which he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
This means we must consider how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament in terms of what God has revealed to us in Christ. If we read the Old Testament as just a composite of interesting stories with characters that we should emulate, we’ll miss what God is showing us. Recently, I came across a statement a pastor made that I think demonstrates the kinds of teaching that miss the point, “my prayer is God will give you vision like Old Testament prophets whose words always came to pass, the ability to hear the voice of God like Moses to crossover your Red Sea, and give you the strength to conquer every enemy like David slaying every giant that stands in your way.”
The significance of the prophetic voice of Moses and the kingly reign of David was to show us what God would accomplish in his Son. The Old Testament gives us shadows and types of Christ, Here is a definition that I think adequately captures what this means: a special example, a symbol or picture that God designed beforehand, and that he placed in history at an earlier point in time in order to point forward to a later, larger fulfillment.
Consider how the writer of Hebrews opens his epistle;
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Heb. 1:1-2)
How and what God spoke in the Old Testament relates to how and what he spoke in the New Testament. Considering that all Scripture is breathed out by God and Scripture testifies to God’s revelation of himself and the fullness of his revelation is found in Christ, this gives us a clue to how we must read the Old Testament, especially considering what Jesus himself said about his relation to all Scripture;
Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:26-27)
Jesus did not come to abolish the law and prophets but to fulfill them. But I’ll talk more about that in part 6.
2. The Bible is a human book
As I noted above, men wrote as the Spirit moved upon them.
“Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)
Sadly, I’ve heard misinterpretations of this passage that suggest we can’t decipher what Scripture means. No, this passage refers to that fact that the prophecy to which Scripture referred were not made up by men, but by God. The prophecy concerns the testimony of Jesus Christ (see vv. 16-19). Men were testifying to this prophecy in the Old Testament. But they wrote according to the culture of that time, addressing what was happening then in a manner that would have made sense to their ancient audience. In the New Testament, men were explaining what this meant post-resurrection. That means we can’t impose contemporary definitions on to the passage but must consider what that ancient author was addressing.
Understanding passages in their proper context is especially important. Unfortunately, books of the Bible were segmented into chapter and verses, which can encourage us to treat verses of the Bible like those fortune cookie strips. But we do a disservice to Scripture if we isolate passages from the whole of what an author is addressing. The one exception to this would be the book of Proverbs, which are a collection of pithy statements about exercising wisdom as people of God.
Because men wrote the Bible, we also must read books according to their genre. That means reading the narrative portions of the Bible as narratives that tell what happens. It means reading Old Testament prophecy with the understanding that the prophets are utilizing metaphorical language to describe actual occurrences (this has implications for how we read Revelation as well). It means considering where Jesus is utilizing hyperbole and referencing Old Testament descriptions for what he is doing with respect to fulfillment. It means reading the New Testament letters as actual letters and considering who and what each author is addressing. I’ll say more about the use of language in each section.
3. The Bible is a redemptive book
The Bible is more than just a compilation of stories, a series of disparate books, and a host of propositional truths. It is the testimony of Jesus Christ. The Bible proclaims his Lordship. Starting from Genesis, the overarching theme of Scripture is the God who rescues his creation from doom. He longs for his people to experience his sovereign goodness, to trust in his hand of protection and to rest in his gracious promises. The whole point of Scripture is to know the one true God who breathed life into existence and sustains it with the word of his power. His theme of redemption is present throughout.
There’s a common saying that I think is well intentioned but misses the mark: the Bible is not about us. But in reality it is about us in that God is demonstrating is love and rescue of us. Reading it through this lens should help us see the beauty of the Lord.
Next time we’ll start with the beginning and look at what God is doing in the book of Genesis. (see part 2 here)