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I loved my kids’ Bible. It had these handy Q&A sections on every other page, revealing the Bible’s supposed answer to childhood’s biggest questions. I still remember the cartoon little boy asking big questions in a goofy-looking classroom setting. “To honor my father and mother, do I have to obey them all the time?”, or my personal favorite “If the Bible uses words like ‘hell’ and ‘damn’ does that make them okay for me to say?”
I pored over the answers, soaking them into my young heart. They were a little too helpful though, to the point that I never tried reading the actual biblical text in my kids’ Bible. Maybe you’ve shied away from the biblical storyline in a similar way, looking to other people’s commentary about Scripture. Only years later, after repenting of my sin and trusting Jesus, did I begin to understand the Bible as God’s Word—not merely a book of answers to our deepest questions. It’s not less than that, but it’s so much more.
Instead of a list of answers, rules, advice, or trite sayings—in his Word, God “reveals a person for us to know,” according to Trent Hunter and Stephen Wellum in their recent book Christ from Beginning to End: How the Full Story of Scripture Reveals the Full Glory of Christ (p. 28). In a sense, God’s answer to all of our questions is…Jesus. Hunter’s and Wellum’s book shows how the Bible culminates in the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 22:13).
What Is the Bible?
Let’s start small. What is the Bible? Put simply, it’s God’s Word for us. Hunter and Wellum explain further on p. 38:
God has given us His Word over time and in coordination with his redeeming activity in history…Scripture is best viewed as a “word-act revelation.” God’s Word is his interpretation of his acts in history to redeem.
God’s Word did not come privately, as believed in Islam or Mormonism; God acted publicly. Then he graciously provided an interpretation of these redemptive works. As David Wells describes on p. 271 in his book No Place for Truth, “God himself supplies” the meaning of his actions. Real people like Moses, David, and Paul witnessed God’s work and were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” to write Scripture, all along “serving not themselves but you” (2 Peter 1:21; 1 Peter 1:12). Even if the Bible is not to us, it’s always for us.
How Should We Read the Bible?
How then should we read the Bible? Let’s read every passage of the Bible in light of the rest of the Bible. Like a well-crafted puzzle, every piece of Scripture will fit perfectly with every other piece if we know how to put them together. This will be tough, but I’ll give you a few pointers that I wish were printed at the front of my kids’ Bible.
- Look down at the close context
- Look back at the continuing context
- Look ahead at the complete context
Since the Bible fits together like a puzzle, let’s look down at the close context to learn the shape and color of each individual piece. Looking down will involve some tools your English and History teachers taught you.
To understand the close context of a passage, you need to look at the literary form alongside the historical setting. Is this a letter with clear propositional statements, or wisdom literature with poetic structure? Also, what cultural assumptions shaped the original audience’s hearing? We need to know what a Samaritan is to understand Jesus’ good Samaritan parable (Luke 10:25-37). Free tools such as blueletterbible.org are helpful for both of these pursuits. We’re listening in to divinely inspired words from ancient authors living in different cultures than our own. Though the Bible is sufficient to illuminate itself, literary and historical tools supplement our approach to the text.
Once you know what a puzzle piece looks like, you need to look at what has already been completed, the continuing context (p. 49). When we follow the plot-line of Scripture, God starts to answer some of the most important questions a person can ask: “Where did we come from? What went wrong? What is the solution to our problem?” (p. 52).
The Bible’s narrative presents the answers to these questions in four major movements: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation. Genesis 1-2 explains that God created all things and all people, and all his creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Genesis 3, however, recounts the sin of Adam and Eve, and how that sin brought death and condemnation upon all people. “The fall establishes the terrible problem that the rest of Scripture is written to address” (p. 52). Graciously, God’s plan of redemption unfolds over thousands of years. His initial promise in Genesis 3:15 to send one who would crush sin and death is fulfilled in the substitutionary life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “We receive the benefits of the work Christ has done by grace alone through faith alone,” repenting of sin and trusting him (p. 53). In Revelation 21-22, we find “the direction of history is toward a new creation,” where God’s people will dwell with him (p. 53). So, while looking back at the continuing context, always check where you are in the story.
Finishing a puzzle finally requires looking ahead at the finished picture on the box, the complete context of the whole Bible. To look ahead, we need two main tools: typology and promise-fulfillment.
Typology and promise-fulfillment help us anticipate what’s coming around the corner in God’s plan of redemption. Types are biblical people, events, or institutions that “are real, present on the grand stage of human history, but they have a significance beyond themselves” because they point to a greater fulfillment. When John the Baptist points to Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God” his hearers would understand the connection to the Levitical sacrificial system (John 1:29). Lambs were slaughtered as substitutes for the people, atoning for their sin—a type fulfilled in Jesus. We also need the tool of promise-fulfillment. When God promises David that he would “raise up your offspring after you” and “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” we see this fulfilled in Jesus’ eternal kingly reign at the right hand of the Father (2 Samuel 7:12-13). Through typology and promise-fulfillment we start to see the Bible’s ultimate fulfillment and culmination in Jesus Christ.
Christ Came Through the Covenants
We could stop discussing how to read the Bible right there. But you may have noticed that when we looked at Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation I skipped over roughly 75% of your Bible. Yes, the Bible is about Jesus; he alone is the answer to all of our biggest questions. But how did Jesus come, and what exactly was he fulfilling? Hunter and Wellum explain on p. 39:
The Bible is centrally about what our triune Creator-covenant God has done to redeem us and to make everything new in Jesus Christ.
Did you catch that little word “covenant?” Hunter and Wellum explain that further on pp. 54-55:
The word covenant tells us something about who God is and how he acts. It tells us that God enters into relationships…A covenant is a chosen relationship between two parties ordered according to specific promises.
As you read your Bible, be amazed that the Creator of heaven and earth initiated gracious covenants with his rebellious creatures. Below is a quick reference of those covenants that are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
- God’s covenant with creation through Adam and Noah
- Genesis 3; Genesis 9
- God’s covenant with Abraham and his children
- Genesis 12; Genesis 15
- God’s covenant with Israel through Moses
- Exodus 4:22; Exodus 19-20
- God’s covenant with David and his sons
- 2 Samuel 7
- God’s new covenant in Christ
- Jeremiah 31; Luke 22; Hebrews 8-9
For a quick look at each of these covenants check out pp. 56-60 of Christ from Beginning to End, or for a more thorough exposition chs. 5-15. The authors also gave helpful sermons on these covenants at The Gospel Coalition’s 2018 Southwest Regional Conference, available for free on TGC’s website.
Read the passages above and remember them when trying to understand where you are in the narrative of Scripture. Jesus Christ is the true and better Adam and Noah, the seed of Eve, the promised offspring of Abraham, the fulfillment of Israel’s law, and the great Davidic king.
Jesus Is the Answer
You’re never finished reading God’s Word, but you must start. Please don’t settle for other people’s commentary on the Bible, your favorite celebrity pastor’s wisdom, or simply your own opinions about God.
When we come to the Bible with questions, God gives a person to know and worship. God’s answer for us is Christ Jesus.