Knowing the Bible
Spiritual growth objective
Learn the structure and content
of the Bible as a unified narrative
and learn to interpret the Bible
with the right questions.
Introduction to the Bible
Importance of knowing the Bible
Spiritual growth requires the renewal of our mind so that we can know the true God and discern his will (Romans 12:2). Therefore, the Bible is an essential foundation of Christian spiritual growth. The Bible (or Holy Scripture) is the written word of God and provides God’s inspired account of his identity, his purposes, and his work in creating and redeeming the world through Christ and the Holy Spirit. Through the Bible, God also shows us what it means to be a human being and how we can know him and fulfill our purpose in loving him and participating in his mission in the world. Since we are inclined to see ourselves and the world in distorted ways due to the curse of sin, the theologian John Calvin rightly describes the Bible as a set of “glasses” that correct our vision and enable us to see God and ourselves more clearly. Therefore, knowing the Scriptures is vital “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” in order that we may be “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Challenge of knowing the Bible
One major challenge in knowing the Bible is its size and its diversity. It is not just a single book; rather, it is a library of books of many types of literature composed by many different authors over the course of many centuries. Yet, these many books of the Bible combine in a coherent way to tells a single, unified story. This single, grand narrative is a story about God the Father working to create, save, and glorify the world through his Son Jesus by his Holy Spirit.
In other words, the Bible is one big story composed of many smaller stories, and thus we need to know the Bible at both levels. We need to know the details of the smaller stories, because this is part of the glory of God’s work: he works through very particular people in particular times, places, and cultures. But the details will not make sense unless we see how they fit together in a unified pattern to form the one, big story that integrates all of the smaller ones.
Resources for Study: Overview of the Bible
Where to begin? The best starting point for knowing the Bible is seeing the big picture of the big story. The following resources provide an overview of the grand narrative of the Bible as a whole.
(1) The Bible Project
What Is the Bible? (5 min.)
The Story of the Bible (5 min.)
Overview of the Old Testament (12 min.)
Overview of the New Testament (8 min.)
Nine short videos (about 10 min. each) from his book by the same title. You can download an outline of each talk, if that would help you. You don’t need to read the book in order to benefit from the videos.
(3) Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, 2nd ed. (Baker, 2014).
This is one of the very best introductions to the content of the Bible.
A shorter version of this book for study groups has been published as The True Story of the Whole World. Each major section concludes with points of contemporary application and discussion questions. For
1. Get an overview of the Bible.
Watch the Bible Project videos and/or the videos by Vaughn Roberts.
Read The Drama of Scripture or The True Story of the Whole World by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen.
Resources for Study: Reading the Bible
Before reading Genesis–Deuteronomy, read "Introduction to the Pentateuch."
Before readingJoshua–Nehemiah, read "Introduction to the Historical Books."
Before reading Job–Song of Solomon, read "Introduction to the Poetic and Wisdom Literature."
Before reading Isaiah–Malachi, read "Introduction to the Prophetic Books."
Before reading Matthew–Acts, read "Reading the Gospels and Acts."
Before reading Romans–Revelation, read "Reading the Epistles."
Resources for Study: Interpreting the Bible
Grammar: What do the words and grammar mean?
Genre: What kind of text is it, e.g., narrative, song, law, letter, prophecy, etc.?
Literary context: How does surrounding text (sentences, paragraphs, chapters, books) help understand a given statement?
Date: When was it written?
Author: Who wrote it?
Historical setting: What was happening in the time period discussed in the text?
God: What does this text teach about God and about relating to God?
Humanity: What does this text teach about people and about relating to people?
Christ: How does this text lead us to Christ by showing us our need for salvation in Christ or showing a pattern of God’s work that is ultimately fulfilled in Christ?
Ethics and spiritual formation: What does this text teach me to desire or to do? How does this text shape me into the image of Christ?