"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Putting my Bible Back Together

It is a cliche today to speak of the Bible as a coherent story, from Genesis to Revelation. But as I've said before, we may think of the Bible more through the lens of what is disunified rather than unified, especially between Old and New Testaments. The details of how we put the Bible together, however, is the real work of Biblical Theology. There have been multiple explanations that I have heard. What is the story about? Most will say "God" but we must be more specific than that when answering: What is the unifying narrative theme of the Bible?

Is it the Kingdom?

This is the first theme I heard when someone was trying to explain the Biblical Narrative. This sees the Bible as narrating the reign of God. This explanation, however, seems to not account for all the data. The goal of the preacher would be to declare God's Lordship, calling for obedience. But the Bible narrates so much disobedience and inability on the part of man. If the theme is God's Kingdom and God's giving man dominion, then most of the Bible is a narrative of the failure of that project.

"The movement of God towards man"

This answer was given by a professor I admire. I think this may be closer to the heart of the answer. However, it also seems to miss the narrative of man's flight from God. It is too vague.

History of Redemption

From Genesis 3 onward, man rebels. If God's kingdom was his only concern, he ought to have killed man in justice and started over with better subjects. If it is a general movement of God towards man, we can see this, but God was nearest man in Genesis. I think it is better to think of the narrative of the Bible as the history of redemption.

Genesis - man and God are in communion, but man sins.

Revelation - man is restored to an even better home and communion than the garden.

In between - the story of God's character revealed in love for His people through His Son ensues.

But how do we plug the details of the story into this narrative? A few books that have helped me:

Biblical Theology - Geerhardus Vos

Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation (Essays) by Geerhardus Vos

Redemptive History and the New Testament by Herman Ridderbos

Paul: An Outline of His Theology by Herman Ridderbos

A History of the Work of Redemption by Jonathan Edwards


Andrew said...

I was going to answer with: God creating everything in communion with himself, and then after the fall, God restoring the communion / covenant by gradually expanding his covenant family. But that's basically just a more convoluted version of what you said with the Redemptive history thing.

Casey Klahn said...


Using the phrase, "Adam, where are you?" seems to me to be a good starting point.

I like the theme of redemption, but a more thorough idea would include God's relationship towards man in the larger sense. Is covenant a broader idea? Perhaps.

I'll have to say your professor whom you quote as saying, "The movement of God towards man," has a very compelling view. IMOHO, that might be a way of describing the essence of covenant.

Jared Nelson said...

I don't think we have to choose between covenant and the history of redemption. God does move towards man, but to do what? Redeem him.

I would also see Redemption as broader than covenant. So, the fact that God interacts with man in covenant is the content (and context) to the broader theme of the history of redemption.

Casey Klahn said...

Redemption vs. covenant as a uniting theme of the scripture. Good argument and hard to draw a fine point, Jared. Good to talk about, though.

I think a unifying theme should be a thing which makes sense of each book of the Bible, in at least its far context. What makes one a canonical book vis-a-vis it's relationship to a unity of the whole?

This is why I reject the kingdom theme ( too dispensationalist, IMHO ). It is too broad - if the kingdom where the theme of the Bible, I would say that a few extra canonical works might fit better in the collection. But, they don't. I would rather test their unity in relationship to a theme of God and man.

BTW, I also reject (in humility) a description such as "history of redemption" because of the books that are other genres than history. Perhaps "story of redemption?" Just thinking out loud.


Casey Klahn said...

Excuse me, "if the kingdom were..."