An Introduction to the Bible – Its Contents (1)7 min read
The Contents of the Bible
The Central Message of Scripture. The Bible, though it is a unique document, is not only a unique document. It has a message to convey. It has a purpose to fulfill. From beginning to end, the God of Creation is seen as progressively manifesting His intrinsically holy Being, especially emphasizing His greatness, His glory, and His grace. Through the initial fall of man and the succeeding ages of failure in which man exposes his complete depravity, God manifests His judgment upon sin and yet His faithful compassion in spite of it. Such reached its climax when God manifested His Person in His Son and his character of both extreme justice and extreme grace in the cross of Christ. Subsequent to this work, God exalted His Son with a view toward His recognition as Messiah to the Jews, Saviour and Master of Gentiles, and Bridegroom of the Church. Christ is the center of Scripture. He is its message; He is its purpose.
But to appreciate this purpose, the Bible student must understand the various means by which God portrays this purpose. In other words, we must understand how the Bible divides itself on a broad scale. This can be done by noticing the three people groups dealt with in Scripture, the main themes which are developed, the various epochs of time emphasized, and the different covenants made. These will give a comprehensive summary of the Bible’s contents.
Main Themes Developed. Though Scripture has many sub-narratives and addresses many topics, it has a handful of identifiable overarching themes. Three are obvious from the outset of Genesis. In chapter 1, God’s power through Creation was displayed. In chapter 2, the necessity of relationships was established. In chapter 3, God’s remedy for and judgment of sin were predicted. Such themes recur constantly throughout the text of Scripture. Of course, there are other themes to be noticed, which will be touched on briefly.
First, one can notice the glory and revelation of God in His Creation. What would be the purpose in designing creatures of cognition were it not for His own fame and glory? God Himself is the ultimate purpose of all things, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever.” (Romans 11:36). He promises, “I will not give my glory unto another.” (Isaiah 48:11).
Secondly, there is the obvious emphasis of God’s justice in light of man’s depravity and wickedness. From the beginning, man fell into sin and thus ruined his standing before God. Romans 1-3 prove the depth of his wickedness on every hand. The day will come when God will finally judge sinners and their sins at the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15).
Third, we find the incarnation and exaltation of God’s Son as a constant anticipation. In Genesis 3:15, He is called the “seed of the woman,” which cannot but emphasize His humanity. In Deuteronomy 18, God speaks of a Prophet, Who would both be like the people and rule over them. In Isaiah 52, He is predicted to be “Exalted, extolled, and very high.” Such is the anticipation of the entire Old Testament. And the New Testament only enlarges on this, as Hebrews 1 shows.
In line with this, there is the theme of redemption through Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Animal sacrifice has been from the beginning (Genesis 3:21); it was emphasized further in Israel’s Law (Leviticus 1-7). These sacrifices never truly satisfied God (Micah 6:6-8), but they only pointed to and illustrated the ultimate offering, which Christ made (Isaiah 53 / Hebrew 9:14). He is the only Mediator between God and man; He is the only true Ransom price which could save man (1 Timothy 2:1-6).
This sacrifice is what brings us into a relationship with God – the ability to enjoy and please Him. Psalm 63 illustrates the fact that man’s ultimate occupation is satisfaction in God. “For Christ also has suffered for sins once for all, the righteous One for the unrighteous ones, that he might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18). Ephesians 2:1-10 is a perfect overview of our transition from being unable to serve God to actively bringing Him pleasure. Service to God and satisfaction in Him an obvious theme throughout Scripture.
Finally, the ultimate direction of time is much taken up in the Bible. In fact, it is popularly estimated that one-third of Scripture is prophetic in nature. In Isaiah 46 God says, “I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” In the beginning, God created; in the end, God’s creative acts are perfected and consummated (Revelation 21-22). In the beginning, God set up man as head; in the end, Christ is Head over all things, given unto His Bride (Ephesians 1). As well, there is coming an ultimate day when God “will have put down all rule and authority and power.” (1 Corinthians 15:24). In this day, He will be fully recognized and submitted to by all.
People Groups of the Bible. The narrative of Scripture can also be neatly divided into three main people groups: Gentiles, Jews, and the Church of God (1 Corinthians 10:32). Each people group has a distinct place in God’s purposes, but each will recognize Christ as Lord and Saviour. God dealt mainly with Gentiles in the first 2,000 years of human history, the Jews for the next 2,000, and the Church for the next 2,000.
God primarily dealt with Gentiles in Genesis 1-11, and from Creation this people group proved that man only grows more wicked as he multiplies further. In Genesis 6:5, we find this as we read, “And Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Thus God destroyed mankind by a worldwide flood, saving only 8 people (Noah and his family). But even with the progeny of this godly family, only a few generations were needed for man to form a pagan religion (Genesis 11). Thus, God scattered the Gentiles into the whole earth so they could not congregate and infinitely multiply their wickedness. Nevertheless, in spite of the general wickedness, God still had a godly line descend from Adam’s third son, Seth. In the future, God promises that the Gentiles will recognize Him and come into a state of blessing (Isaiah 2:2-4).
In Genesis 12, God calls a Gentile named Abram out of paganism. Out of this man’s family, God formed the nation of Israel. The progress of Israel’s history takes up the entire Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. Initially, the nation was formed out of three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After Jacob moved to Egypt with his family of 70+, Israel grew dramatically – into the population of millions in only a few generations. Seeing this as a threat, Pharaoh enslaved the nation. God brought the people of Israel out of this bondage that they could function as a true nation in their promised land. Israel’s time in the land exposed man’s general wickedness yet again, as they sunk into darkness, division, and idolatry. As judgment upon them, God brought the nation into captivity in Babylon, after which the nation would never be the same. Following the ministry of the last prophet (Malachi), there were 400 years of silence, in which God gave no new revelation or message. The silence was broken by the coming of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. But they in their darkness rejected Him and plunged themselves into collective blindness that to this day has not been lifted. God will in a coming day restore Israel to a position of blessing and leadership among the nations (Romans 11 and Zechariah 11-14).
After the rejection of Christ, God formed an entirely new people, called the Church of God, made up of ethnically Jew and Gentile people (Ephesians 1-3). This is a body which finds its identity and destiny in Heaven, as opposed to Israel which found those things on earth. Though there will be false confessors amongst the Church, those who make up the true Church will never collectively reject God. Rather the Lord promises to gather this people unto himself (1 Thessalonians 4-5) without any sort of separation from its link with Him in any way. Ephesians and Colossians are vital in understanding the nature of this body, which Christ has called His Bride.