How would you share what the Bible is about? How does the Old Testament relate to the New Testament? How can we decide what meaning the stories contained in the Bible mean to us?
I remember sitting in Sunday School class and hearing about the stories of David and Goliath, Daniel in the lions den, and Moses parting the Red Sea and wondering what this all means. It seemed to be just a series of unrelated episodes, except for the common factor that God was intimately involved.
More recently I heard a sermon (at an undisclosed location) on Jesus calming the storm from the gospel of Luke. The speaker eagerly talked about how the storm represents an obstacle in our lives that we have to try to get around or over or under, but Jesus may call us through the storm. Does this interpretation accurately demonstrate the meaning of the passage? What did Mark intend when he wrote it? What did the event mean to those who witnessed it? Most importantly what did Jesus intend to teach when he performed this miracle?
What we are talking about here is biblical theology. It may sound intimidating, but it basically means the way that we find meaning in the pages of the Bible. We all come to the Bible with a set of assumptions and learning to properly interpret the Bible helps us to comb through those assumptions and get to what the Bible is all about, first in terms of it being God’s Word, then in terms of it being God’s Word to us.
Start With Jesus
It is no surprise to the Christian that Jesus is the central character of the whole Bible. While it was written over thousands of years before Jesus was born, it is clear from the opening pages of Genesis that God has a plan to redeem his people. He doesn’t outright tell us what that plan is, but throughout the Old Testament he gives us clues or types for Christ that tell the Israelites something of what to expect.
Jesus himself tells us that the Bible is all about him. In Luke 24:13-35 is a scene that occurs after Jesus’ resurrection from death. Two friends are walking along and talking about what has happened to Jesus whom they followed. As they talked Jesus himself walked up and entered into the conversation. He told them that the things that had happened were prophesied and were necessary to fulfill God’s plan.
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
(Luke 24:27 ESV)
Essentially, Jesus told these two men that the entire Old Testament is about him! The basic story of the Bible is the story of Jesus Christ and how God planned to bring about the redemption of his people through his own death on the cross. When we begin here and then step back through the Old Testament and move forward through the New, we have a framework for how to derive meaning from each passage of the Bible.
Road Signs to Truth
Biblical theology first begins with Christ’s own interpretation of the Bible: the Bible is a story about him. When we grasp this concept, then we can begin to work on how each story, each passage connects back to Christ in some way. I appreciate the analogy that each chapter is like a road sign that points us in the direction of Jesus.
I have often struggled with how the rules and regulations in Leviticus and Deuteronomy are about Jesus. The Apostle Paul talks in Romans about the Law of Moses and how it functions to point out our sin. Well, if we know what our sin is we then know our need for a savior. We can also assume that the Savior would be someone would could and would meet all the requirements of the Law. In some way then, the Law is a description of Jesus. You see how even those passages tell us about Jesus?
Not only does the Old Testament tell us about Jesus’ character, but it tells us about his family, gives us people who in a sense foreshadow who Christ will be by the way that they live, and it tells us all the things that God did to make his plan a reality. It is amazing how so many things could go wrong because of sin, but God was never surprised and his plan was never knocked off course.
What Does THAT Mean?
Let’s face it, there are many passages in the Bible that are hard to understand. Sometimes the Bible can even seem like it is contradicting itself. Biblical theology in expressing the unity of the story, also can help to interpret itself. When a passage is difficult to understand it may be helpful to search the rest of the Bible for other places that particular topic or story is addressed or told. If we see the Bible as being inspired by God, one singular source, then it is easy to conclude that the Bible must tell one truth, so where it is unclear it can be clarified with further study.
Back to Me
Finally, because the story of the Bible is about Jesus, it is also about each of us as Christians. Rather than an allegorical interpretation like the one I mentioned earlier about Jesus calming the storm, we are part of the story because we are the reason that Jesus came and the story came to be in the first place.
The trouble is many people read the Bible and start to interpret by asking what the Bible says to me. If we think of the Bible as a series of moral stories that help us live a better life, we miss the most powerful and true meaning of the Bible. Remember, we start with Jesus because the whole Bible is about him. When we start by asking what the passage says about Jesus and God’s plan of salvation, then we can follow-up by talking about what that means in our lives today.
Let’s take the story of Jesus calming the storm in the gospel of Mark.
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
(Mark 4:35-41 ESV)
Notice when we are told the disciples became afraid: after the storm was over. Jesus is calm the entire time, and then after he tells the storm to stop, he turns to them and asks them why they did not believe. Rather than a story about the storms of life, this story is about Jesus’ authority over the created order.
In greater terms, it is a story to demonstrate who Jesus is: that he was sent from God. To go even further, the disciples are concerned that they may die in the storm. If we believe Jesus to be who he said he is and that he will do what he said he will do, then could he possible die in a storm at sea? Hardly. When Jesus wonders why the disciples still have no faith, he asks them why they do not yet believe that he is the Messiah come to save the world!
What then does this mean for my life? Far more than what it would mean if we interpret the storms as the “storms of life” and Jesus calming those waves as my commission to calm the storms of my life. This story means that everything is under the power and authority of Christ. It means that I can trust that he was able and effective in the work he did on the cross to rescue me from my death in sin. I can trust that he is the One he said he is. I can believe that whatever happens in my life that nothing will thwart his plan.
What Have We Learned?
- Jesus is the central person in the Bible.
- The entire Bible is a story about Jesus and God’s plan of salvation.
- Both the Old and New Testaments tell us something about the character of God and his Son.
- If we see the Bible as one consistent whole, unclear passages can be interpreted based on the rest of the Bible.
- Because we are Christians, the stories in the Bible also apply to our daily lives if we first interpret them according to what they say about Jesus.
In the next several posts I will talk more about the concept of the typology of Christ in the Bible and then we will walk through the entire Bible as one complete story of God’s redemptive work through Jesus. I am eager to show you what I have learned over the years about how the whole Bible tells the most beautiful and powerful story in all of history and fiction. My ultimate hope is that you will be blessed as you see the Bible in a whole new way.