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Transform Your Bible Reading

In a theology debate with the religious PhDs of the day, Jesus told those who claimed Moses as their granddaddy, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46). 

Is that how you read the Old Testament?

Biblical theology shapes our Bible reading by aligning it with that of Jesus himself—namely, reading the Word of God as historically-rooted good news about the grace of God through the Son of God for the people of God to the glory of God. 

Place it in the big story 

A biblical theology lens trains us to place any given passage in the sweep of the single story. This way of reading the Bible gladly acknowledges the various genres in Scripture—narrative, poetry, prophecy, letters. Yet while the Bible is not uniform, it is unified. 

Biblical theology reads the Bible as an unfolding drama, taking place in real-world time and space, that culminates in a man named Jesus—who himself said that “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms”—shorthand for the whole Old Testament—“must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). 

Alternatives to a biblical theology approach

What are other ways we might read the Bible?

  • The Gold Mine Approach – reading the Bible as a vast, cavernous, dark mine, in which one occasionally stumbles upon a nugget of inspiration. Result: confused reading. 
  • The Hero Approach – reading the Bible as a moral hall of fame that gives us one example after another of heroic spiritual giants to emulate. Result: despairing reading. 
  • The Rules Approach – reading the Bible on the lookout for commands to obey to subtly reinforce a sense of personal superiority. Result: Pharisaical reading. 
  • The Artifact Approach – reading the Bible as an ancient document about events in the Middle East a few thousand years ago that are irrelevant to my life today. Result: bored reading. 
  • The Guidebook Approach – reading the Bible as a roadmap to tell me where to work, whom to marry, and what shampoo to use. Result: anxious reading. 
  • The Doctrine Approach – reading the Bible as a theological repository to plunder for ammunition for my next theology debate at Starbucks. Result: cold reading. 

Don’t turn the Bible into something it isn’t

There is some truth in each of these approaches. But to make any of them the dominant lens is to turn the Bible into a book it was never meant to be. A biblical theology approach takes the Bible on its own terms—namely, that “all the promises of God find their ‘Yes’ in Jesus” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Result: transforming reading. 

Biblical theology invites you to read the Bible by plotting any passage in the overarching narrative that culminates in Christ. The Bible is not mainly commands with stories of grace sprinkled in. It is mainly a story of grace with commands sprinkled in. 

What about the weird parts?

Some parts of the Bible, of course, seem to have nothing to do with this story of grace. 

  • How, for example, do we read obscure Old Testament records of wayward Israelite kings or wicked priests? The answer from the perspective of biblical theology is this: We read them as stories increasingly heightening our longing for a true king, a final priest, one who will lead as these men were meant to—truly representing God to the people (king) and the people to God (priest). 
  • How do we read genealogies? As testimonies to the grace of God to real individuals, carrying God’s promises down specific family lines in concrete ways, promises that are never derailed, and which ultimately come to fruition in Jesus. 
  • How do we read Proverbs? As good news of wise help from another for stumbling disciples like you and me. 

A book of good news 

Imagine jumping into the middle of a novel, reading a sentence, and trying to understand all that the sentence means without placing it in the sweep of the novel as a whole. That would confuse the reader, obscure the meaning, and insult the author. 

The Bible is God’s autobiographical account of his personal rescue mission to restore a lost world through his Son. Every verse contributes to that message. 

The Bible is not a pep talk. It is good news. 

This post was originally featured on TheResurgence.

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dane@churchleaders.com'
Dane Ortlund serves as Senior Editor in the Bible Division at Crossway Books in Wheaton, Illinois. He is the author of A New Inner Relish: Christian Motivation in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards (Christian Focus, 2008) and is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary (M.Div., Th.M.) and Wheaton College (B.A., Ph.D.). Dane is married to his college sweetheart, Stacey, and they have two boys, Zachary and Nathan.