An overview of the Bible narrative

The Bible is a complex compilation of literature composed over almost 2,000 years. A good way to get an overview from a Christian perspective is to read it in terms of a drama in six acts:

  • Act 1 – The good creation

  • Act 2 – The broken relationship with God

  • Act 3 – God's people and his rescue plan

  • Act 4 – The coming of Jesus

  • Act 5 – The new people of God

  • Act 6 – The completion of God's purposes.

The good creation

The Bible commences with God who, out of the primordial chaos and darkness, forms a world. This world is one of beauty, order and light, which is populated at his command with plant, bird and animal life. Finally, he creates humankind in his own image. This may indicate humankind's responsibility to manage creation for God, rather than suggesting that human intelligence or even physicality mirror God's. God declares that the whole of his creation is very good and celebrates this with a day of rest – The Sabbath.

The broken relationship with God and its effect on all creation

Humankind is represented by Adam and Eve, who are told to enjoy their environment (the Garden of Eden) and use everything in it, apart from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. They are given immense freedom but it is conditional upon a relationship of trust and obedience towards God.

Falling for the seductive language of the Serpent, Eve and Adam eat the forbidden fruit and cause the break-up of their idyllic existence. God drives them out of the garden, life becomes harsh and the ripple effects of this fragmentation are shown spreading outwards:

  • Adam and Eve no longer trust each other

  • The first murder occurs as their oldest son Cain kills his brother Abel

  • There is drunkenness (see Noah) and sexual immorality (see Sodom and Gomorrah)

  • Urban arrogance (see the Tower of Babel) leads to the scattering of the nations and the breakdown of communication and understanding between peoples.

God's people and his rescue plan

The Bible teaches that God always operates to redeem – put right and even transform evil for good. With God's call of Abraham, and the promises to him that all peoples will receive God's blessing through him in Genesis 12:1-3 this becomes evident. God miraculously provides a son, Isaac, and through his descendants (the patriarchs) the growing tribe end up in Egypt (Joseph). Later they are made slaves and Moses is sent to rescue them. Moses promulgates ten plagues on Egypt. He then leads the Israelites from Egypt through the wilderness for forty years where they receive God's law, including the Ten Commandments, eventually reaching the Promised Land.

The books of Joshua2 Samuel describe this process of settlement and the formation of the twelve tribes as a nation (Israel) which soon splits into two (Israel and Judah) following the reigns of David and Solomon. The rulers of both kingdoms commit apostasy and first Israel (around 700 BCE. by the Assyrians) and then Judah (around 600 BCE. by the Babylonians) are captured and the leaders deported. Is this another failure for God? No. Amazingly the people are eventually allowed to return from Babylon and rebuild their temple and city.

The coming of Jesus – the fulfilment to God's purposes

Through the last centuries of the Old Testament and beyond, there was a growing sense that God would start again through a chosen person – the Messiah. The New Testament presents Jesus as this Messiah – and indeed the Son of God. His birth, his ministry as a miracle working teacher and especially his death – crucified by the Romans in Jerusalem but at the insistence of the Jewish religious leaders, are seen as the new way God is working to rescue his world and its people. Has he failed again? No. The resurrection of Jesus is shown shattering human categories and limitations and his disciples are sent out with the task of sharing the good news with all peoples.

The new people of God – the church

The rest of the NT describes the formation of God's new people, empowered by the Holy Spirit. This new people includes the Gentiles and even those considered ‘barbarians' as well as Jews. The letters of the Apostle Paul and others provide insights into their thinking and community life as well as the ongoing mission. But still the end has not come. Humans are invited to be part of this drama, living with faithful innovation in the redemptive power of Jesus.

The ultimate completion of God's purposes

The Book of Revelation (the final book in the Bible) provides readers with a picture of cosmic struggles which are always going on and both impact- and are impacted by- human behaviour. But ultimately God redeems – he gathers up all human efforts and performs a new creation, resulting in a new heaven and earth. The cosmic experiment is complete.

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