The Bible is not primarily a book about morals. Though Scripture has a lot to say about how we live and act, it’s not primarily a manual for moral living.
The Bible is not about us. It’s about God.
Edmund Clowney, who was a professor and theologian, said that if we read a particular story without putting it into the bigger story about Christ, we actually change the meaning of the particular event for us. It becomes a moralistic exhortation to try harder rather than a call to live by faith in the work of Christ.
In the end, there are only two ways to read the Bible: as if it’s all about us or all about Jesus. In other words, is it basically about me and what I must do, or about Christ and what he has done?
Who Is the Book About?
If we read David and Goliath as a story that’s giving me an example to follow, then I’m reading the story as if it’s ultimately about me. And I have to muster the strength or courage to face my giants and win my battles. But if I read about David and Goliath as basically showing me about salvation through Jesus, then the story is about him. Then I can see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin and death) for me, which is the only thing that will give me the courage and strength to face my giants.
The Bible is not a collection of fables; it is not a book of virtues. It’s a story about how God saves us. That story works out in the four movements of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.
When we read stories disconnected from the whole, we lose their grounding in the redemptive arc of the Bible and place the significance solely in the events or details of that one story.
For an example of how this works out, let’s look at John 3:14-15 where Jesus says,
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
Jesus is referencing the story of the bronze serpent found in Numbers 21:4-9:
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
In this passage, Jesus puts the serpent story into the bigger story with himself at the center. The serpent story sheds light on how Jesus saves us (it only takes a look to be healed or saved, and that he is made to be like the sin that’s killing us) — but it also means that we can’t understand the serpent story without realizing it’s pointing us to Jesus.
Jesus is the truer and better version of all the characters and stories we read about in the Bible.
A Word of Caution
Now, we do have to be careful of allegorizing when we read the Bible as one big story. Allegorizing results in strange interpretations that require a stretch in a text’s meaning.
Allegorizing has two bad effects:
- It results in arbitrary interpretations. It’s a way of getting a text to say almost anything we want, instead of living under the authority of God’s Word.
- It fails to honor the author’s original intended meaning.
We guard against poor interpretation and allegorizing by doing a proper inductive study of a passage before looking for Christ in the text and trying to connect it to the larger story of the Bible. When we keep both things in mind, we’re able to see how a passage is part of the larger story and points to Jesus. And when you understand that God has been pointing to Jesus from the very beginning, your study of the Bible becomes a whole new adventure.
Reading the Bible with the “big picture” in mind is much more than a good skill or approach to reading the Bible. The ultimate goal of reading Scripture with the one big story in mind is to grow into the image of Christ as we realize that we are a part of the Bible’s one big story.