In a recent White Horse Inn roundtable discussion, hosts Michael Horton (MSH), Ken Jones (KJ), Kim Riddlebarger (KR), and Rod Rosenbladt (RR) discussed the "Big Picture" of the Bible. How do we invite new Christians into the strange world of the Bible and encourage them to see it, first of all, as one story from Genesis to Revelation, instead of as a hopeless collection of texts that don't seem to coalesce, that don't seem to hold together?
MSH: First, let's address the expectations that a lot of people have when they read the Bible. Time magazine once published a series of nuggets to summarize the Bible called, "The Bible: 50 Ways It Can Change Your Life." Here are a few examples:
- "The gift of patience."
- "Leave no room for despair."
- "Maintain an outward focus."
- "Be awed every day."
- "Treat money as a tool, not a treasure."
- "Enjoy God’s presence."
- "Choose hope."
- "Keep your books balanced."
- "Keep your nostalgia in check."
- "Know when to let others help."
- "Let peace start with you."
- "Spend some time with nature."
- "Choose your associates carefully."
- "Be unstoppable."
- "Show kindness."
If these are the things most of us are looking for when we come to the Bible, how will we ever see it as a historical drama unfolding from Genesis to Revelation with Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the promise in Genesis 3:15?
KR: If that's your expectation when you pick the Bible up, it's going to remain a closed book to you.
Putting the Pieces Together
MSH: When did each of you begin to read the Bible differently, especially in terms of seeing Christ through all the Scriptures? How did the lights come on?
KR: I became a five-point Calvinist in my early years of running a Christian bookstore, when one of the people delivering my books challenged me on why I was selling so many Hal Lindsey books. I began working through the whole question of predestination and election and all those issues. I ended up studying under Rod’which was the first time I'd met anyone with historic Protestant roots’and he kept talking about law and gospel. I didn't embrace his beloved Lutheranism’I'm still a Calvinist’and then I went to Westminster Seminary California and read Geerhardus Vos, Dennis Johnson, and Meredith Kline.
I remember being depressed while I was in seminary, and it was because everything I had believed about the way the Bible should be read on how the Old Testament related to the New was coming unraveled and by godly men who were wiping out my best arguments. I stayed after class and asked questions, and professors patiently answered those same questions over and over. I gave my best arguments and got clobbered by the Scriptures. Finally I said uncle.
RR: I had an advantage growing up being catechized. It was awful Norwegian Pietism, but they didn't fool with the text of Scripture or catechism. I didn't listen because I was angry the whole time. All my friends were up on Mt. Rainier on Saturday mornings learning to ski, and I was in catechism class, so my attitude was pretty bad. By the time I was a senior in high school, I had mentally bowed out of the faith and went to the University of Washington, pre-med, joined Animal House, didn't darken the door of a church and was glad not to. Then my father died in open heart surgery and a couple of guys from Young Life picked me up. There was a pastor who loved C. S. Lewis and therefore knew what it was to have somebody say, "I don't believe this stuff." The same thing was true of the Young Life leaders behind the guys I was talking to. They were trained at Young Life Institute in the summer by Bernard Graham, a Baptist. Graham's writings were lucid, biblical to the core, organized better than almost any other author I've read, and those guys had trained under him. I began to read and found out that the story was a different story than I had heard.
MSH: Rod, you said once that while growing up you remember your dad in the dining room with his Bible spread open.
RR: That's right. I would sit as a child watching my dad argue with his Baptist friend the issue of baptism, with all these English translations laid out on the dining room table. This was serious stuff to argue. My mother was in the background, brewing coffee, because they were going to be talking late into the evening. Here was a surgeon saying in many ways to his son, this is really important.
MSH: This is something you can't necessarily get out of a curriculum. A bad curriculum can really mess things up, but a good curriculum won't always do the trick either. You need to eat, smell, and breathe the air of Bible around you in the home.
KJ: Discovering the single message of the Scriptures or reading the Scriptures in a new way was part of my journey into Reformational thinking over all; but once I embraced the basic tenets of Reformed theology, it probably took a little longer. I wasn't thinking consciously about how I was reading the Bible; I was just reading it. I was like any other Baptist who discovers the sovereignty of God and election, which I think is probably one of the most dangerous creatures on the planet. It was really through two things. One was reading sixteenth-century writers, like Stephen Charnock, seeing how he made a point about the person and work of Christ for the church but fleshed it out with Old Testament Scriptures. The same thing happened to me with Herman Witsius in The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man. It reshaped how I looked at certain portions of Scripture. But it didn't really hit until I started talking to you’Mike, Kim, and Rod’to be perfectly honest. That was the biggest shift in terms of putting it together. Before I just had a bag of parts; but when we started working together, I could see how the pieces fit. I remember in college that I had to write a paper on the one story of the Bible. I shudder to think what I probably wrote, but it's probably similar to the list you just read from Time. I later came to understand that all of the Scriptures were about Christ, and I often revisit that question: What is the one story of the Bible? The one story of the Bible is God's promise of salvation through the person and work of his Son, and the Bible is God's revelation of that salvation and of that Savior. I got all of that really through reading dead guys and hanging out with you three.
MSH: In my case, it's a very similar story. There were a lot of wonderful living people in the community and the church I was raised in and in my family. I'm really grateful that they gave me a love for the Scriptures, so that I could go to the Scriptures believing I could find something valuable there. They talked about the "scarlet thread" and the Romans Road and so forth, but I didn't hear much about the Old Testament unless it was a character study. I'm afraid we didn't quite know what to do with the Old Testament; nor did we grasp the significance of the fact that Jesus opened up the Scriptures and, starting with Moses, explained the story, ending not with the book of Revelation but with the book of Malachi. We're talking about the importance of reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in the way that Jesus and the apostles themselves told us to read it: With Christ at the center. There are so many movements, trends, directions, and trajectories out there that use the Bible’a biblical view of this, a biblical view of that. But we're talking about a biblical view of the Bible: not taking anything for granted and going back over those wonderful sacred pages maybe with different questions this time.
Standing before God
MSH: With such a big topic like this, you could spend days and weeks just plotting the Old Testament references in the New Testament. Let's look at some of the motifs running from Genesis to Revelation. First of all, the trial and temptation in the Garden: How do the Old and New Testaments converge in the theme of humanity being on trial in the test before the Lord?
KR: The obvious one is the use of the two Adams by Paul in Romans 5. The first Adam fails the test, but the second Adam passes through his obedience. A reference back to an intermediary text would be Matthew 4 where Jesus in his temptation in the wilderness is recapitulating Israel's temptation in the wilderness. We can go from front to back with that one, and it makes whole blocks of the Bible come alive.
MSH: When Satan offered the first Adam the food he craved, and Eve saw that the food was pleasing to the eyes and desirable to make one wise, this was basically autonomy. Forget what God has said’you decide what is good and evil; you decide what is true, good, and beautiful.
RR: The serpent had a simple response: "Did God really say’¦?" The answer was yes!
MSH: With Israel, we see the same thing. Because they demanded the food they craved, they rejected the promise of God in the wilderness and wandered for forty years.
KR: That generation died in the wilderness.
KJ: They, like Eve, were not satisfied with the sufficiency of what had been given; they craved something else. In fact, in Numbers 11, when God gives quail to them until it comes out of the nostrils, the literal name of the place where it happens is the "Graves of Craving."
MSH: They're consumers. It's the same thing we find in the temptation of Jesus when Satan thinks that what he did with the first Adam will work again with the second Adam. Instead Jesus replies, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God." Then in John 6, he says to the people, "You're just following me because you ate the loaves and had your fill. You don't really believe I am who I said I am." Jesus preached himself as the bread that came down from heaven. So we see these echoes back and forth in the Old Testament.
Prophet, Priest, and King
MSH: Another way to connect the dots biblically is the motif of Prophet, Priest, and King. Jesus is the ultimate prophet, like Moses. What's the background there? Already in Exodus a prophet is coming, like Moses, but different from Moses and all the other prophets.
RR: All the Old Testament prophets used the formula, "Thus saith the Lord." But Jesus made the bold first-person statement, "You've heard it said’¦but I tell you’¦"
KR: That's what Israel in the Old Testament couldn't see. Because they had a human fallible prophet like Moses, they were expecting God to put the words in a human prophet's mouth in such a way that he would be just a better Moses’as opposed to God incarnate speaking the words the Father gave him, but speaking them as God clothed in human flesh. They couldn't have conceived of that category until it happened. Until Jesus was the Word made flesh, this just wasn't on their radar.
KJ: That's what makes that introduction to John's Gospel so powerful: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and there was nothing made that was not made by him." If we go back to Genesis, we see how God creates the world: by speaking. Then we are told that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. If the Word is divine, and the Word is speaking, this is not just the word of God’God is the Word.
MSH: How about the role of priest? How is Jesus the greater priest?
KR: The book of Hebrews is dedicated to arguing how Jesus fulfills everything the Old Testament priests pointed forward to: offering a sacrifice that did what the blood of bulls and goats couldn't do’that is, make men perfect.
KR: Hebrews basically shows us the priesthood of Christ, his once-for-all sacrifice that finishes the work of redemption.
MSH: With the priesthood of Christ, too, we really want to see what the difference is between the priests of the old covenant and Jesus as the high priest. What stands out for me is that Jesus is described in Hebrews as the "one who sits down." The high priests never sat down when they were officiating.
KJ: And the Hebrews writer says that these priests ministered daily, while standing; but this priest, once he had made his offering, entered in and sat down.
MSH: Not only because the priests were working, but also because they never sat in the presence of the king. They stood or bowed but they never sat; the king sat. What's amazing is that Jesus sits down on the throne and folds his arms because he is finished. He has accomplished everything. So how does he fulfill the role of King?
KR: There are a couple of ways: there's Melchizedek, that mysterious figure to whom Abraham pays tithe, who shows up apparently outside the covenant. We don't really know much about him, the "king of Salem."
MSH: What's significant about Abraham paying the tithe to the king of Salem?
KR: Abraham acknowledged that he is the king of Salem.
KJ: To pay tithes’the lesser pay tithes to the greater.
KR: His rank is such that he's pointing ahead to a king far greater, and then there's the whole Davidic Kingship; so we see those two things running throughout the Old Testament.
MSH: Aside from the reference in Genesis, where does Melchizedek pop up?
KR: Besides Hebrews, in Psalm 110:4, which I believe is the most widely quoted verse in the New Testament: "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: 'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'"
KJ: Hebrews quotes from this Psalm 110 mention of Melchizedek; but specifically in the Hebrews passage, it says that he is without beginning and without end, which is not a way of saying that Melchizedek is eternal, but that Christ is eternal. Now the reason Melchizedek is described as being without beginning and without ending of days is because there is no genealogy, and also both his priesthood and his role as king is prior to the establishment of the nation of Israel. So in one sense, Melchizedek is like Christ because his authority is not derived from the Mosaic Law, which would have really shocked the Jews of his day or in the New Testament. His authority is greater than that, because he's called the priest of the Most High God, which is even before the law was or before Israel was established.
RR: With newcomers to the Bible, it's important to walk through these themes and explain that they come from the text itself, that we're merely recognizing these motifs.
KR: A building is the perfect analogy. From the outside, you don't see the arches and the posts. The architect has hidden them so that when you walk in the room, you're not staring at the beams and the posts. And yet, those are the things that are holding up the building. The same is true with these motifs in the Old Testament. They're not necessarily the first things you notice, but those are the things that hold up the whole.
The Lamb of God
MSH: In another echo from the Old Testament, Jesus is not only the priest offering the sacrifice; he is the sacrifice, the Passover lamb. What is the significance of that motif? How do we draw that throughout the Scriptures?
RR: The most direct, of course, is the Exodus and the lamb without blemish. The Jews were told that if they put the blood of that lamb over the lintel of their doors that the angel of death would pass over their houses when he came through Egypt.
MSH: That lamb was to be male, the firstborn, and unblemished.
KR: This works with Genesis 22, where Abraham is told to sacrifice Isaac but God intervenes and provides a lamb.
KJ: We can even go back to Genesis 3:21, where God took the skins of an animal and covered Adam and Eve’an animal that is sacrificed so that they might live. That's what sets the pace for the animal sacrifice we see in Genesis 4, and then with Abraham, and then also later with the Passover lamb.
MSH: So God is basically saying: How many times must I preach the atonement to you? I've given you from Genesis 3 all the way to the enormously elaborate laws of the sacrificial system in Israel’everything you need to point you to Christ.
KR: It's so clear that when we read the pages of the Bible’the Old Testament and the New Testament’we see that the death and resurrection of Christ is the central event of the entire story. The "Big Picture" is so clear. Look at the box top to the puzzle’there's a cross on it.