How Not to Get the Bible Wrong

The Bible is a story and like any story, it has a beginning progressing to an end. Some people treat the Bible like a static collection of “do’s” and “don’ts” or as a theological handbook on successful living or such. In fact, it is a story about God and his dealings with the world he created from the beginning to end. But to say that it is a story does not mean a fairy tale—it is a true story, but a story nonetheless.

One feature of stories is that they have a certain unity both in characters and in plot. And even if both these elements of characters and plot develop over time, they never completely lose their fundamental identifying features even as they evolve. And if characters and plot do change radically and unrecognizably into something else, then the story is not a particularly good one—and the Bible is the best of stories, so its unity is never lost even as its characters and plot unfold.

One helpful image which has been used for this unfolding of the Bible’s story is that of an acorn growing into a full-grown oak. In the early phases of divine, biblical revelation, the story resembles an acorn developing into a sapling. The transition between the two seems fairly radical even at this early stage, but the sapling is an oak sapling sprouting from an oak acorn. It is not a maple, a marigold, or a magpie. And the difference as the sapling grows into a majestic, spreading oak is impressive, nevertheless, there is an organic unity in the tree throughout its life as it branches out in all its glory.

So also, the Bible has an organic unity in its story even as it branches out into a mature presentation of God’s glorious and gracious redemption in Christ Jesus. As such, this unity in the Bible’s story is expressed in the core theme of the unveiling of the kingdom of God.

While we need to keep the organic unity of all the Bible firmly in our minds in order to clearly apprehend its message, we need also to recognize that there is true development of this unified redemptive reality as the Bible story unfolds. Both elements: organic unity and true growth in development, must both be held together in our treatment of God’s revelation to do it justice.

This means that we do not “flatten out” the Bible as if the earlier parts are just as clear, fully developed, and understood by the participants as the later parts. And while we understand far more about God’s redemption than did Noah, Abraham, Moses, or David (e.g., Matt. 13:17; 1 Pet. 1:10–12), our knowledge is not as complete as it will be when the kingdom of God arrives in its consummation glory (e.g., 1 Cor. 13:9–12; 1 John 3:2).

The organic development of redemptive revelation is easiest to see in the transition from the Old Testament era to that of the New Testament. The New Testament is conditioned by the coming of Christ who is the subject of all Old Testament prophecy and expectation. In Matthew alone this is explicitly communicated nearly a dozen times (and more in other ways) with an overt citation of an Old Testament prophecy that Christ fulfilled (Matt. 1:22–23; 2:15, 17–18, 23; 4:13–16; 8:17; 12:15–21; 13:13–15, 34–35; 21:3–5; 27:9).

Moses wrote of Christ (John 5:46) as a servant in the house which Christ built (Heb. 3:1–6). Isaiah “saw the glory and spoke of him” (John 12:41) as did all the Scriptures (Luke 24:44). In fact, the Scripture spoke to Abraham about the work of Christ (Gal. 3:8, 16) and he rejoiced (John 8:56) along with other saints in his day who confessed that they were pilgrims journeying to a city whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:8–16; 12:26–28), another term for the new creational kingdom of God.

This post is adapted from S. M. Baugh, The Majesty on High: Introduction to the Kingdom of God in the New Testament. Used with permission.

Photo of S. M. Baugh

S. M. Baugh

S. M. Baugh is Professor of New Testament at Westminster Seminary California where he has taught for over thirty years. He is the author of Ephesians: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary and he has contributed to the ESV Study Bible and the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. 

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