The Bible’s Story in 1000 words

I’ve been thinking a lot about scripture lately, how God’s Word shapes our life together, and how challenging the Bible can be for so many of us to crack-open and get excited about reading. I also realize people come to the Bible from different places. For some the Bible is an old friend known well; the pages are worn and highly used. For others the Bible is foreign, complicated, confusing and intimidating. There may be a desire to read it outside of worship – but it is hard to know where to start, or how it all fits together. So here is one pastor’s attempt to present the overall narrative of the Bible in 1000 words as an introduction.

Here we go:

Genesis means – beginnings. God creates the world good. People – Adam and Eve created in God’s image. Sin enters. God calls a people – Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob whose name is changed to Israel – meaning wrestles with God, Joseph and his brothers. The story starts with a good world torn apart by sinfulness and ends with forgiveness and possibility.

Exodus means – departure. God rescues the people out of slavery in Egypt, first by calling a reluctant leader in Moses. God reveals “I Am.” Ten plagues against the Egyptians, including the Passover. Israel passes through the sea. God gives the Commandments. The people continue to wrestle with God for forty years until approaching the promised land. The books of Exodus-Deuteronomy recall this story.

Joshua and Judges tell the story of the conquest of the land.

Ruth tells a story of an outsider with an insider, “going where you go, your people becoming my people, your God becoming my God.”

The history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah are told in 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, and retold in 1-2 Chronicles. The people wanted a king like the other nations. The prophet Samuel anoints Saul. David fights Goliath and a power struggle unfolds. David who is strong in faith, but far from perfect becomes the king around the year 1000 BC. The kingdom grows in power under David’s leadership, but is bloody and full of turmoil. David’s son Solomon is wise and brings the kingdom to the height of its power, influence and builds the Temple in Jerusalem. After Solomon the kingdom divides in 922 BC– Israel (in the north) and Judea (in the south). There are good kings and evil kings.

During this time the prophets call people to repentance, justice and faithfulness. Many prophets have books in the Bible recording their teaching. The northern prophets include Elijah and Elisha, Amos, and Hosea. The northern prophets include Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Ezekiel. The northern kingdom falls to Assyria in 722 BC and is wiped off the map. The southern kingdom falls to Babylon in 587 BC. The Temple is destroyed and the people are taken away into exile.

Jonah records the story of a reluctant prophet sent to Babylon.

Lamentations recalls the fall of Jerusalem.

The book of Esther tells the story of a young girl who saves the people from extermination under foreign rule.

Daniel tells stories of remaining faithful to God even when the surrounding culture is not.

Job contains the story of a righteous man who loses everything, except his faith.

The Psalms serve as the Bible’s hymnbook – with prayers of praise, lament, faith, and doubt. (Many of the Psalms are attributed to David.)

Proverbs contains wisdom for faithful daily living.

Ecclesiastes is the musing of someone who has everything, but cannot find meaning in any of it.

Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) contains love poetry.

In 539 BC Persia conquered Babylon. Cyrus declares that the people can return to their land. The second part of Isaiah (ch. 40-) is composed around this time. Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the rebuilding. Prophets Haggai, Zechariah, Obadiah, and Malachi are active during this time period. The Persians are defeated by Alexander the Great. Eventually the Romans conquer the Holy Land, setting the stage for what is to come.

The New Testament is centered on the life, ministry, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus in the first century of the Common Era (or Ano Domini – Year of Our Lord).

Four different authors give witness to his story as Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The word Gospel means Good News. Each contains the story of Jesus from different perspectives. Many of the same stories are found in each Gospel, but each Gospel also has stories unique to its presentation of Jesus. Each of them draws upon Old Testament themes and references. Each of them utilizes John the Baptist to introduce Jesus and his ministry. All of them claim the week of Jesus’ death and witnesses of his resurrection as the centerpiece of the story. The Gospels present Jesus as the Son of God ushering in a new kingdom, calling disciples to be his witnesses of his teaching, death and resurrection to the whole world.

The Acts of the Apostles chronicles the life and ministry of those first followers after Jesus’ resurrection. The first part centers on the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the ministry of Peter and the disciples, and then almost exclusively shifts to tell the story of Paul’s missionary journeys throughout the Roman Empire.

The rest of the New Testament is correspondence (much of it written by or attributed to Paul’s authorship) written either to communities of believers or to individuals – outlining Christian faith in Jesus, and dealing with the implications of what that means among life’s challenges.

The final book in the Bible – the Revelation of John – is also written as a letter. John’s vision of the future, the battle with evil, and the eventual culmination of God’s reign in a new heaven and earth “where there is weeping and crying and pain no more” is addressed to seven churches. As continued readers of the Bible, these letters continue to guide the church as we find ourselves in the whole story of God and grow deeper into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.

What is the overall message of the Bible?

1. God creates the world, and everything in it – calling it “good.”

2. God initiates an ongoing restoration project to redeem creation and all people.          We have turned away from him, each other, and are constantly destroying the “good” creation around us. We are people in need of redemption. The world needs that message and hope.

3. God calls us to repent (turn around) from sin and evil and join our Father’s restoration project. By the aid of the Holy Spirit we are sent as witnesses to Jesus claim that “he makes all things new.”

There it is: The Bible in 1000 words…Phew!

The Bible is a big book, and there are many entry points. If you haven’t read much of it, and you aren’t sure where to start I offer three suggestions.

1. It may sound counterintuitive – but don’t start with Genesis. Many a Bible reader has gotten lost once the long lists of names begin, get discouraged and give-up. The Bible has an overarching story, but you can jump in anywhere. To make a recommendation I would say start with a Gospel. It might be the most familiar, and help you ease into it. The Psalms are also good to read and reread as prayers.

2. Read the Bible in bite-sized pieces, but stick with the same book. Read a passage until it seems like a natural break. Take notes, write down your questions or reactions and think on those for the day. Then pick it back up where you left off, and add more notes and questions to your list. Write down your further thoughts about a passage.

3. Read your Bible with others. You don’t need a seminary degree to read scripture, but some tools might help. You might even start a Bible study – not as one who has it all figured out, but as a fellow explorer. (These are often the most fun!)

Here are five questions for a simple yet challenging Bible Study:

A.) Ask: What is going on here? Outline the story, people, places, action, etc.
B.) Ask: Who is God in this passage?
C.) Ask: Why does this matter? List your questions or curiosities. Share them.
D.) Ask: How is this passage calling you to task or asking you to do something?
E.) Ask: Where do I hear good news in this passage? [Martin Luther used to say that Scripture acted like the manger holding Jesus, so we see that him as the treasure being held by whatever part of Scripture we are reading.]

I’ll close with the blessing I inscribe in Bibles when we give them either to children at church or to newcomers in need of one.

“Receive this Bible. Hear God’s Word with us. Learn and tell its stories.
Discover its mysteries. Honor its commandments. Rejoice in its Good News!
May God’s life-giving Word, sweeter than honey, inspire you and make you wise.”*

Peace,
Pastor Geoff
__________
“Indeed, the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.”
(Hebrews 4:12a)

Resources:

Bernhard W. Anderson. The Unfolding Drama of the Bible, 3rd Edition. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press), 1988.

John Bright. A History of Israel, 3rd Edition. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press), 1981.

*Holy Baptism and Related Rites. Renewing Worship, Vol. 3. (Chicago: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), 2002, p. 28

Martin Luther. “Preface to the Old Testament (1545).” Word and Sacrament I. Luther’s Works. vol. 35. ed. Helmut. T. Lehmann. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press), 1960.

About geoff sinibaldo

Follower of Jesus, Husband, Father, Son, Friend, Volunteer Firefighter, Teacher, Mission Focused Church Leader, Camp Lover, Change Proponent, Seeking Faithfulness in the 21st Century
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1 Response to The Bible’s Story in 1000 words

  1. Tony says:

    Pastor: Once again a great post. I have often gone thru a similar exercise and have not come out with such thorough and insightful results. Thank you for the lesson!

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