A Framework for Understanding the Bible

I’ll be the first to admit that the Bible is a difficult book.  One of the reasons it’s difficult is that it’s not really even one book, but rather a collection of books.  (That’s what “bible” actually means: a collection of books.)  Over and over again people will say to me, “I’d like to read the Bible, but I just don’t understand it.”  I hope the following simple framework helps you get a little more clarity and understanding.

All of History in 3 Acts

The Bible tells the story of the great drama of History in 3 acts, with a prologue at the beginning and an epilogue at the end.

Prologue

Subject: Beginnings.  Adam to Abraham.  The Prologue tells us why the world is the way it is.  After a beautiful beginning (“And there was light….”)  the story quickly becomes a story of blood and betrayal: Cain kills Abel, and we’ve been killing our brothers ever since.

Scripture: Genesis 1-11

Act 1

Subject: Israel.  The Lord’s plan to save all of humanity begins with one man–Abraham–and it culminates in one of Abraham’s descendant’s: Jesus of Nazareth.  Act 1 is about God’s chosen people Israel, and Israel’s slavery, exodus, kingdom, exile, and return.

Scripture: Genesis 12-Malachi

Act 2

Subject: Jesus.  Act 2 is all about Jesus, from his birth to his death to his Resurrection.

Scripture: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Act 3

Subject: The Church.  Act 3 is about how the church is God’s means to redeem the world.  It begins with a small group of disciples in Jerusalem on Pentecost Sunday and it’s still going, right up to and including the present.  We are living in Act 3.

Scripture: Acts-Revelation 20

Epilogue

Subject: Forever and Ever Amen.  The Epilogue is about History’s culmination, when Jesus returns and all the bad things come untrue and evil is finally ended.

Scripture: Revelation 21-22

Conclusion

I realize that the above doesn’t answer most of our good questions about the difficult parts of scripture, but it does give us a framework within which we can at least get our bearings when reading scripture.  Keep reading–it’s worth it.

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “A Framework for Understanding the Bible

  1. Andrew- great overview. Helps put things in perspective. For years I tried to read and understand the bible – to no avail. I would start on a reading plan, and what I read was just not soaking in. Heard parts of the bible in sermons, etc., but still felt I knew so little about the Bible. Then I joined a bible study. That may not work for everyone, but it worked well for me. By studying the bible in a group, (i) it forced me to read the parts needed for each class, (ii) gave me a workbook perspective of someone well versed, (iii) gave me the benefit of a class leader who at least knew more than I did (or thought he did), (iv) allowed me to hear a variety of views expressed by classmates (some well thought out and others not so), and (v) gave me a safe place to ask stupid questions and develop my “understanding” of the bible (which continues to develop years later – and I still ask stupid questions and haveto work through the different views expressed by classmates – now it is fun).

    • What’s important in your story, Paul, is that you kept reading the Bible within the church. After all, to paraphrase Bishop Robert Barron, Doubting Thomas is most confused about the Lord when he’s off by himself. It’s when he’s back with the church that he gains clarity. Keep reading.

  2. Thank you Pastor Forrest. How timely, Act 3 to redeem the world. With respect, it seems to me the world could use some compassion and inclusion. We could begin here in East Dallas, including all people, and by that I specifically mean including and supporting LGBT in East Dallas. I mean the removal of language in the Book Of Disciplines that states that LGBT, (specifically homosexuality), is not compatible with teachings of Christianity. I pray this for UMC Conference and for Munger Place. It’s time.

    • Robert,

      It will be interesting to see what happens with that language now that the General Conference is meeting in Portland. I don’t know what to expect. The phrase to which you are referring says that the church considers “the practice of homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching.” What this means, as I take it, is that it’s not so much how one identifies but how one acts that the church is addressing. The church also talks about God calling us to “celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage.” Certainly the teaching about celibacy is a hard teaching for gay and straight folks alike!

      Certainly always be praying for the church, that’s for sure.

      Andrew