The Bible as One Big Story

This is the third is a blog series I am doing about the Bible in the Christian Faith.

The Bible is primarily story. Even the law is written in the context of the story of the law. The book of Numbers is the story of the Numbers as much as it is a catalogue of the numbers. The teaching we have from Jesus is not arranged categorically or even chronologically. They are written in stories of where he was at, who he was with, and where he was going. Even the works of Paul are written in the context of a story. They are letters with instructions for particular churches at particular moments in their stories.

The Enlightenment messed up how we read scripture. Enlightenment thinkers sought to dissect passages and look for logical teaching. This is pretty much the same thing they did in science as well—break things down into their smallest components, see how they work, and understand how they fit together.

Our attempt to read the Bible as story must begin with an understanding that, though the Bible is a library of 66 books written by different authors, it is actually one over-arching story. We sometimes call this the meta-narrative or the big story. Every book of the Bible, and every periscope in those books, forms a scene in the larger movie. If you want to understand any text, you have to first get your bearings on where you are in the larger story.

The story has been described in a number of different ways. Most retellings talk about the four movements of the story as creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. In the beginning, God creates. He makes the world, then makes human beings in his image to fill the earth. They are to continues God’s creative and ordering work in the world. There is then a fall. Adam and Even disobey God, and suddenly the world changes. They realize they are naked and are ashamed. They are kicked out of the Garden. They must work harder in their labor on the land and their labor in childbirth. Following God’s plan just got more difficult. In their next generation, there is murder, and eventually there is corporate corruption and abuse. The fall is worse than it appeared at first.

Then God begins a plan to redeem his broken relationship with humanity. It begins with a man named Abraham who is called to be the father of a great nation that will be a blessing to the world. Abraham’s family has many adventures—slavery in Egypt, 40 years in the wilderness, and the conquest of the land. There is a time of judges and then a time of kings. There is exile and return. Then, “in the fullness of time,” Jesus steps on the scene. He is fully God and full human. At his birth, in his person, the healing work between God and humanity has begun. That work continues to the cross, where the sins of the world are paid for. In the resurrection, sin and death are defeated. In his ascension, God the Father accepts his saving life and work. The church is started to spread the good news of Christ’s life and work to a world, before Jesus returns. This is the ultimate restoration. All that was broken by sin will be fixed. No more death or pain.

 That is the big picture of the Bible. I tend to recap that over and over in my preaching. I want people to know when I am preaching from the Minor Prophets where we are in the story. I want people to have my Roman’s text in the larger context of the grand-narrative. In fact, I sometimes find it helpful to tell the larger story from different perspectives.

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