Tracing the Bible's Storyline Through 66 Books
Of course you love the Bible. I mean, you are a believer, so loving the Bible is part of that, right? Like yesterday, you saw this verse on Pinterest: “He heals the broken hearted. Psalm 147:3” or this one on Facebook: “Everything is possible for one who believes. Mark 9:23.” How can those verses not warm your heart and have you calling out: “Oh, the powerful Word of God.”
You’ve seen portions of the Bible - maybe you’ve even done a read-through - but there are so many different texts, you are still wondering: What is the Bible about? Now you hear me saying there is actually one storyline in the Bible, and your sceptic radar is going off. How is that possible when every page you turn seems to talk about a different topic?
I remember being in your boat. I wasn’t aware there was a storyline. They call them books of the Bible, right? It makes sense they’d each be about something else. I had even read through the Bible once cover to cover and still didn't see the connections. Here may be some reasons; maybe you can relate:
- I’m what you would call an oral learner. I learn more easily from listening than reading. I’d rather have somebody explain it to me in plain English than have to pay attention to line after line of difficult text. It’s not like I don’t stretch myself to learn that way also - sometimes it’s the only available option - but its not my preference. Statistically, the majority of people are like that so that may include you.
- I was often reading through large passages simply to get through the whole Bible and say that I did. I know that’s totally missing the point and you will hear me advice against it time and time again. God has grown me in this area over the years but once upon a time, that’s what I was like. Is that you? You’ve read through the Bible but weren’t really listening?
- Quite frankly, a lot of the Bible is hard to understand. Let’s just admit it. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Open up Isaiah and try to find something you understand. Oh, you’ll find some hidden gem verses to turn into Pins but what’s the guy talking about? Who is he warning? You? Israel? What’s going on?
- The Bible is not set up chronologically. That means the books of the Bible are not listed in the order that the accounts took place. Rather, the Bible is structured by genre. That makes it even harder to catch the storyline.
So it came about that I sat in my first Bible class in college. All of us had to fill out a little survey with questions about the Bible designed to test the incoming freshmen’s Bible literacy. I vividly remember the question “Was Daniel a pre-exile, exile, or post-exile prophet?” I was so completely confused, all I could do it laugh to myself: “What exile?”
I tell people this story as a Bible nerd party joke and often get that blank look that says, “I don’t know either.” So if I made you feel like you’re not in on the joke, know you are not alone. And: you are about to be in the know.
While it’s true that the Bible is made up of 66 books written by different authors over a long span of time, as a whole they teach one cohesive storyline with a powerful message. Let’s call it the “story of redemption.”
Now is that the only thing the Bible teaches? Of course not! The Bible speaks into many different areas of our lives. Lots of themes spread widely throughout Scripture, such as truths about God: God is worthy of our devotion. God is both gracious and just. As believers, we live to bring God glory.
These are truths that exist alongside the Bible’s main message. You can study Scripture your whole life and keep learning new things about God, about faith, about yourself. God’s Word is that powerful! Zero in on the story of Joseph to learn about forgiveness or on the book of Philippians to learn about the joy-filled life. But first, let’s zoom out and look at the whole.
I am a big picture person to the core. Seeing a detail and not knowing where it fits makes me nervous. Are you like me? You love coming across a heart warming verse but deep down, a voice is crying for some true understanding?
So let’s look at what each book of the Bible contributes to the whole. For today’s purpose, I’ll keep it precise. So keep in mind: It’s not a comprehensive summary of each of these books. This is a synopsis of how each book of the Bible contributes to the overall storyline of redemption.
Here we go…
The Old Testament
Genesis: God creates the world and everything in it. This great account is immediately followed by sin entering the world - sin and the consequence of sin. Sin enters through humans being deceived and deceiving themselves away from God's commands and wisdom. The consequence is death, meaning that we no longer have eternal life. This is the premise with which our journey begins. The story continues with a number of patriarchs, eventually leading to the family at the core of the nation Israel - the family of Jacob (renamed Israel) and his twelve sons (whose families became the 12 tribes).
Job: In the midst of this, there lives a man faithful to God even in the face of great turmoil. He struggles through many losses and interacts first with friends, then with God on the subject. It is the powerful story of one man's faith in times of trial. God deserves glory at all times, more than we can give in our own strength...
Exodus: God frees Israel from Egyptian oppression by the hand of a faithful but anxious servant named Moses.
Numbers & Deuteronomy: Israel wanders through the dessert led by God. They constantly struggle and fail to trust in God. (Don’t judge; we all do it!) God punished but forgives upon repentance. (Yup, we’ve experienced that ourselves, too. Praise Jesus!)
Leviticus: Mostly laws God gave to Israel. (Others are found in Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.) These ultimately show our inability to remain holy and live completely by God's holy standards. They are meant to point us to our need for a Savior. But we are getting ahead of ourselves...
Joshua: A young man named Joshua takes over the leadership of Israel after Moses; another example of a timid man used by God. God leads His nation to take over the land of Canaan. This a.) fulfills God's promise to give Israel this fruitful land and b.) serves as a punishment to Canaan.
Judges: God puts leaders in place as Israel begins to live in their new land. Some of these leaders do better than others. Israel struggles to stay faithful to God.
Ruth: A story of a gentile woman coming to faith and becoming a part of Jesus' bloodline. Faith was always available to all.
1 & 2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles: Samuel leads the country in a revival for God but they soon turn again and demand a king. Why is that such a big deal? They demand a king "like the other nations" have one, a ruler they can see, a visible person in charge. God provides Israel's first king: Saul. He quickly fails to give God the glory and claims all victories as his own. David is appointed as his successor. He spends the rest of Saul's life hiding from his attacks. David is considered the king after God's own heart and yet, he sins plenty. None of us are quite capable of defeating the power of sin, even with our heart in the right place.
Psalms: These were written over a period of time, many by David. While some are prophetic or speak of the coming Messiah, others are calling out to God for help or praising Him for who He is.
1 Kings (part 1): Solomon, David's son, follows as king. He is wise, wealthy, and often disobedient of the rules God set up for kings. Even all the privileges of the world don't guarantee us devotion to our faithful God.
Proverbs: Wisdom for the every day, some likely written by Solomon.
Song of Solomon: A love story written by or for Solomon about love and marriage.
Ecclesiastes: Solomon realized nothing on earth brings true meaning and happiness aside from God.
1& 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles: After Solomon’s death, the kingdom divides into the tribe of Judah, who followed Solomon's son as their king, and the rest of Israel. Each have a number of kings, many who lead the nations to more wickedness but some who remain faithful and/or bring about faith revolutions. However ultimately, Israel is invaded by Assyria and scattered. Judah is invaded by Babylon and taken into captivity.
Pre-exilic prophets (Amos & Hosea to Israel; Joel, Micah, Isaiah, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Jeremiah to Judah; Jonah, Nahum, Obadiah to foreign nations): These prophets warned Israel and Judah repeatedly of the coming exile - a godless nation will take over God’s people if they do not repent and turn from their disobedience. In the midst of this, God's faithfulness remains as He promises to one day restore His nation and to ultimately send a Savior.
Exilic prophets (Daniel & Ezekiel): Daniel and his friends are part of the Babylonian captivity where they remain faithful to God among much tribulation. Daniel also prophecies about the end times. Ezekiel warns of the destruction of Jerusalem. After that event, he prophecies that Judah and Israel will once again be united and restored as a nation of God.
Ezra, Nehemiah: These pioneers are among the first the return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and city wall as a foundation for a restored Israel, the nation of God.
Esther: Esther is among those who stayed behind. She becomes queen and is able to save God's people from a defenseless attack.
Post exilic prophets (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi): Haggai and Zechariah encourage God's people as they rebuild the temple and their nation. Malachi is warning the people not to go back to their forefather's ways but to remain faithful to God. He prophecies of the coming of the Messiah.
The Old Testament ends here with one clear message: We cannot save ourselves by keeping the law, by being wealthy and wise, or by being a part of God's nation. We need a Savior.
Years of 'silence' follow.
The New Testament
The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John): These four books tell of Jesus' time on earth. He came to seek and save the lost. He came to show us how to live. He came to ultimately die for our sins. Christ is the Savior long awaited who alone has the power to restore us to God.
Acts: The good news is spread among Jews and gentiles by the apostles, their disciples, and many new believers.
Epistles (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1 & 2 & 3 John, Jude): Letters written to encourage the new churches and some of their leaders to live out God's will. Specific issues are addressed as churches struggle to remain obedient or don't understand aspects of the faith. Most of the churches and individuals have backstories in Acts.
Revelation: Eternal life with God is promised for believers in Jesus Christ, Who will stand up for us on judgement day. His blood covers our sins.
God is our holy Creator, worthy of our undivided devotion. Sin separates us from God. Nothing we do can close that gap: no good deeds (already owed to Him in the first place), no wealth, no power. We need a Savior, Whom we have received in Jesus Christ. We need only believe in Him for our salvation to be eternally reunited with God. As we once again live in communion with God, we ought to obey and worship Him and spread His good news. One day, Jesus will return, God will end life as we know it. Each of us will stand before God in judgement and only the blood of Christ will be able to cover our sins. Believers in Christ will spend eternity in communion with God. Praise Him, the Faithful One, the Just, the Gracious!
What a powerful message! Aren’t you all the more eager now to delve into one of the books, understanding how it fits?! Next time you are reading the Bible, check back to see where within the storyline your passage is located. Ask yourself how it contributes to the overall message. Contemplate how seeing the text as a piece of a puzzle - one that you’ve now seen put together - helps you better interpret and apply this passage.
Is your skeptic radar still going off? Wondering if that’s really the storyline of the Bible? Well, don’t take my word for it; read it yourself. I have more tools for your:
- Check out this much more detailed article series by "Bible Study Tools": A Guide to Bible Study
- Not there yet? Get the FREE ebook "10 Steps To Approaching God's Word with Confidence".
- Journey through this storyline while learning how to study the Bible. The Scripture Confident through the Bible course is the perfect resource for you.
I hope this article helped you answer those nagging questions: What’s the Bible really about? How do the pieces fit together? So many books - how can I make sense of them?
What other questions do you have? How can I help you study the Bible with more confidence? Comment below to let me know.