I recently completed a 16×20 paint by numbers canvas. The whole project took around 20 hours spread out over five weeks. The results will never hang in a museum and speak more of persistence than creativity. But the coloring book task of brushing blobs of liquid color into those numbered places ultimately revealed a pleasing winter scene. Those blobs of color are all parts of a greater whole. But that greater whole is revealed through the parts. Parts within a context which are within a broader context which are within a whole. In a way, the Bible is like that paint by numbers project with blobs, context, and a revealed whole.
These layers of context within the Bible are important and keep us from abusing God’s Word. The grand picture, what some have called the meta-narrative or the over-arching story of the Bible is God’s redemptive work. Of all the verses of the Bible John 3:16 perhaps comes the closest to succinctly revealing that grand picture. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95)
Move closer to the picture and five grand movements become discernable. Creation and fall, the story of the Hebrews, the coming of Jesus, the establishment of a community (church), and the ultimate redemption of a new heaven and new earth. The Bible organizes these into the Hebrew scriptures commonly called the Old Testament and the New Testament consisting of four Gospel accounts and apostolic letters to the fledgling churches.
A step closer and the various books and genres appear. We begin to discern the why, who, and when of a section. A little closer and sections within the books can be seen, even changes in genre and purpose. All of which informs the particulars of the words, sentences, and verses.
But the words and layers work toward and reveal the larger picture of God’s redemptive work. Some have called this a “scarlet thread” which runs through the entire Bible. A thread which began at the fall of humanity, through the faith of Abraham, revealed in the Law of Moses and the histories of the Hebrews, felt in the Psalms, spoken in the prophets, made real in Christ, culminating in His death on the cross and resurrection on the third day, put into action through the church, and completed at the end of the age.
In a later article, we’ll delve deeper into understanding the Bible within these contexts. For the moment, it is only necessary to recognize the layers and the grand picture they reveal about God and His love for humanity in general and each individual in particular. Everything in the Bible, from the harshest of stories to the bright hope-filled promises, is understood by God’s love, His character, and His redemptive desires for each and every person.
Just think about that for a moment. God, the creator and sustainer of everything worked through the long pages of history with you in mind. If your life is in Christ you are one of those stars in the sky or grains of sand on the seashore God promised Abraham (Genesis 22:17) thousands of years ago. While the Bible reveals God’s redemptive work to us it also invites and challenges us to be God’s agents of that work today. Here I must add that there is more to God’s redemptive work than we often suspect. We discover that more as we allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us through the Bible.