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The Storyline of Scripture

The Bible is not one book. Rather, the Bible consists of 66 books: 39 in the Old Testament, and 27 in the New Testament. When you first start reading the Bible, it can seem like a bunch of isolated messages. But there is a continuity to the whole thing. The more you study it, the more you’ll discover the consistency of the storyline of Scripture.

The storyline of Scripture

There’s many ways to understand this, but in this post, I want to look at how from the Old Testament to Revelation there is a key theme in each section, and each one of these themes builds on the others. 1

It goes like this:

Old Testament: Anticipation
Gospels: Incarnation
Acts: Proclamation
Epistles: Explanation
Revelation: Glorification

Here’s a quick look at each one.

Old Testament: Anticipation

You can say that the Old Testament is filled with promises, and the New Testament is the fulfillment of those promises. If you promise someone that you’ll do something, naturally there will be a sense of anticipation from the other party. And such is the case between the relationship of the Old and New Testament. The Old Testament, with many of its rites, rituals, and rules, often anticipates what will come with the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

That’s not to say that the Old Testament message did not have a special purpose for the people of its day. It did. Many of the books were penned for the specific purpose of relating to the Israelites in their specific situation. But it doesn’t stop there. It eventually points to the New Testament — where there are continuities and discontinuities from the original message. And it eventually points to Jesus, who is the perfect fulfillment of the promises of the OT (Luke 24:27).

Gospels: Incarnation

The Gospels are biographies of Jesus’ life. It’s a mistake to think that Jesus is only central in the Gospels, as he is the point of all of Scripture. Nevertheless, we get the incarnation, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus up close and personal in these four biographies. The time between the Old Testament and the New Testament is about 400 years. Theologians call this the intertestamental period. This time builds even more anticipation (going back to the Old Testament). So when Jesus gets on the scene, he is the fulfillment of so much waiting for God’s people (even though he arrives in a way in which people did not expect).

Acts: Proclamation

The book of Acts is a unique and special book. In this book, we see the church of Jesus Christ moving forward through proclamation. This comes primarily through preaching, evangelism, and church planting. Despite threats and obstacles, the early church proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ with all boldness. The Apostles proclaiming Jesus and the acts of Jesus through the Apostles — that’s what this book is about.

Epistles: Explanation

Epistle means “letters.” Paul wrote 13 of them. We also have Hebrews, whose author remains nameless. The Pastoral Epistles are 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. And then we have what is called the “general epistles” which consists of James, first, second, and third John, first and second Peter, and Jude.

This part of the Bible is largely explanation and rules for New Covenant living. In light of the OT, Gospels, and Acts, the authors answer the question: “How then shall we now live?” This along with the Gospels are my favorite part of Scripture.

Revelation: Glorification

I was sitting in a class once when a professor asked if we could summarize the book of Revelation in one sentence. I didn’t raise my hand, but was thinking a good answer could be, “Jesus wins.” Shortly thereafter a student rose his hand and said, “Jesus wins.” The professor affirmed his answer. I should have raised my hand.

Revelation portrays the unseen spiritual war between the devil and the church. Jesus and his bride win. But there is still a war. We don’t always understand every detail of the book, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it altogether. In the end, Jesus and his bride will be glorified. If you’re interested, Richard Bauckham’s book, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, is a good book on the subject if you want to understand Revelation better.

Broad themes like this help me understand the Bible better. Another one is what some call the meta-narrative of Scripture — Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. Some sort of way to get a big picture understanding of the Word of God is always helpful.

You may also like: 

  1. Is the Old Testament Still Relevant Today? 
  2. What Did Jesus During His Earthly Ministry? 

Notes:

  1. This method of explaining the storyline of Scripture is something I’ve heard before, but I’m not sure who coined this original idea. It’s something I was reminded of when I read an interview with John MacArthur and TGC, in which MacArthur mentions this.

About David Qaoud

David Qaoud (MDiv, Covenant Theological Seminary) is associate pastor of Bethesda Evangelical Church in St. Louis, Missouri, and founder of gospelrelevance.com. His work has appeared on The Gospel Coalition, For the Church, and Banner of Truth. He lives in St. Louis with his wife and son. Learn more>