Bible Connections: A Summary of the Bible, and How the Material Fits Together

Exploring the Landscape 

When I was a young person, in Sunday school in our small town church (1), I pictured the long biblical text in an unusual way: as if it was a landscape for exploring. My dad was a truck driver who hauled gasoline and fuel oil, and so images of travel and “the open road” come naturally to me. (The Bible contains 66 books, and Dad regularly drove Route 66 in Illinois … how providential!) Perhaps I was also inspired by the well-used maps at my church of Bible lands, maps which seemed as interesting as the folded maps, free at filling stations, in the glove compartment of our family car. I imagined the Bible as a large area, not of Palestine, but of sections of landscape, like states, laid out for more or less eastbound travel—even if you began with the New Testament but then backtracked to the Old, as I’ll do in a moment. (When I read my favorite translation of the Torah with its Hebrew text, I begin to imagine the right-to-left text as westbound.)

At the Bible’s beginning, the “scenery” is interesting from Genesis through about 2/3 of the way through Exodus. A few places become tedious—the genealogies, for instance—but the reading moves along, peaking in cinema-ready excitement with the Red Sea crossing, the Ten Commandments, and the Golden Calf.  The reading slows as you journey through Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. But you’ve encountered some of the Bible’s high points: the Creation, the Flood, Abraham’s call, Egyptian slavery, the Exodus, and the revelation at Sinai.

You continue on a varied landscape though the historical books: some good parts, some dry. Judges and 1 and 2 Samuel contain violence and intrigue. Beyond, as you pass through the books of Kings and Chronicles, the “travel” becomes tougher again. Do I really need to know all those kings—who sinned and how badly—and lists of names, in order to be saved, to love the Lord?

But in this landscape, too, we find high points: the conquest of the Land, the establishment of the monarchy and kingdom (with David and Solomon as the key figures), the destruction of Jerusalem, the Exile, and the Restoration. Understanding the Bible requires some grasp of these events.

After the historical books, the journey becomes more interesting again. Among the writings, the Psalms alone are worth many revisits; Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, too. Then you embark on journey through the prophets. The prophets contain fascinating material, but without the narrative structure of the historical books, and without a clear chronology, the prophets’ writings can seem scattered and hard to grasp. A person can lose her bearings there.

You reach the New Testament, which—again, in my young imagination—I pictured as a wonderful landscape that gradually narrows. That’s because the New Testament books tend to become shorter and shorter. Little-bitty 2 John, 3 John, and Jude have only one chapter each, compared to Matthew’s 28. It was as if God was focusing your spiritual travels toward the end times and salvation, the subject of the longer, finally book of Revelation.

I still like that informal image of the landscape.  I’m spending several weeks studying the different sections of the Bible—thinking about them as “places” to linger and explore.(2)

Gospels and Acts 

I’ll start with the gospels. Leafing through my old Bible, I find all my jottings from college and seminary when I studied the Bible (on my bed rather than at a desk), with commentaries close at hand. I can scarcely convey my excitement I felt when I discovered that the gospels contained evidence of early oral traditions, possible antecedent written sources, and intentional compositional ordering of material about Jesus.  I poured over the book Gospel Parallels, which lays out the Synoptic Gospels—Mathew, Mark, and Luke—in order to show textual similarities and differences.(3)

I learned that over 90% of Mark’s gospel is also found in Matthew and Luke, and that the latter two gospels have material in common that is not found in Mark: the so-called “Q” material. Matthew and Luke also have material unique to their own gospels, implying other sources that they used.  I hadn’t doubted Jesus’ historical existence, but I was fascinated by the shaping of the material, the use of sources of Jesus’ words and deeds to put forward theological convictions. That the Gospels were not straightforward biographies, factual in all chronology and detail, didn’t matter to me in the least.(4)

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” begins Mark’s account. Hasty, simply written, the gospel contains a key verse, 10:45: “the Son of man …came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Who is this Jesus, though?  As the gospel proceeds, Jesus’ friends don’t seem to “get” him. He confuses those closest to him. One of the saddest verses is 14:50, And they all forsook him, and fled. (I’ve written in my Bible beside, now they understand!)  Meanwhile, the people on the “outside” identify Jesus right away: the demons, outcasts, and Gentiles.  The first post-crucifixion person to “preach” Jesus is a Roman soldier who participated in his execution (15:39). And yet, for all its darker qualities, the gospel seems written to those already Christian for their guidance and comfort, as I’ve jotted in the margin. Mark’s gospel omits birth stories, devoting chapters 1 through 13 to Jesus’ ministry (chapters 1-9 in Galilee, chapter 10 on the way to Jerusalem, and 12-13 in Jerusalem), and then chapters 14 through 16 for Jesus’ passion.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus addresses his mission to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24).  In spite of Jesus’ bitter diatribe in Matthew 23, we get a strong vision of Jesus the Jew in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus is presented as the fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures. Jesus by no means repudiates the Torah, but interprets it by his own authority. At the same time, Jesus provides hope for Gentiles, too (12:18, 15:28, 24:14, etc.), and among the gospels only Matthew uses the word “church” (ekklēsia).   Matthew retains Mark’s basic geographical framework (the Galilean ministry, chapters 4-18; the journey to Jerusalem, 19-20; and the week in Jerusalem, 21-28:15), but unlike Mark, Matthew includes a birth narrative (including the stories of the Wise Men, the flight into Egypt, and the slaughter of the innocents).  The gospel presents Jesus’ teachings in five discourses (chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25), and uniquely gives us teachings such as the wicked slave (18:21-35), the landowner (20:1-18), the ten virgins (25:1-13), the talents (25:14-30), and the narrative of the last judgment (25:1-46).

Luke’s gospel is the first of two writings addressed to a person named “Theophilus,” which means “God-lover.” (That was Mozart’s middle name: “Amadeus” is the Latin translation.) In the gospel, Jesus addresses his concerns for the poor and disadvantaged; Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 61:1-2 (Luke 4:18-19) doesn’t spiritualize the blind, oppressed, and imprisoned, but he proclaims liberty and release to them.  “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20)—not “poor in spirit” which you and I might be able to claim. Unique to Luke’s gospel are the story of the good Samaritan (10:25-27), the story of Mary and Martha (10:38-42), the parables of the lost coin and the prodigal son (15:8-32), the story of the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31), not to mention the stories at the Gospel’s beginning: the birth of John the Baptist, the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the song of Simeon, the shepherds in the field, the story of young Jesus in the Temple.

How is John’s gospel related to the other gospels? Is it a different historical tradition or does it assume the traditions of Mark?  This is a debated subject; the basic outline and facts of Jesus’ life are there, but the stories are different: the water into wine, the Samaritan woman, the raising of Lazarus. John focuses on seven “sign” miracles, five of which are not found in the other Gospels. John’s is a “high” view of Jesus, a view that helps us understand him theologically. We don’t find parables and pericopes here, but rather long reflections and dialogues. While Jesus’ Synoptic parables do not deal directly with Jesus’ identity, John’s gospel contains numerous “I am” sayings. While the other gospels announce the Kingdom of God, in John, Jesus’ announces the Spirit that will guide Jesus’ followers.

Acts provides stories of the first (approximately) thirty-five years of the early church.  Peter dominates the first portion of Acts, Paul the second half.  Notice that Luke frames the stories of Acts with affirmations about God’s kingdom (1:3, 28:1); Jesus had preached the kingdom, and after his ascension, the life-power of Jesus is given to people through the Holy Spirit, and so for Luke, the kingdom of God exists wherever people accept that ever-available life-power.  Thus the disciples are instructed not to fret about the signs and portents of Jesus’ second coming, they have what they need for the present time, the Spirit promised in Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:17-21).

In spite of its connection to Luke, I tended to think of Acts as a stand-alone historical account between the gospels and the epistles. But eventually I realized that Acts is as important as the gospels because the book provides the way that we know Jesus today. We’ll never know Jesus in the flesh—and judging from Jesus’ own words, we shouldn’t even long to have known him in the flesh (John 16:5-15). Now, Jesus is now fully present to us through the Holy Spirit.(6) Jesus’ story continues, if not in a scriptural way, in the innumerable book-length stories of us, his disciples (cf. John 21:25).

An explorer of this “landscape” will notice the way different gospels accounts are shaped, and how placement of stories and teachings elucidate meaning.  She’ll learn about God’s love from the many “pictures” of God (Mt. 18:10-14, 35, 19:13-15, Luke 7:36-50, 15:3-32, and others). She’ll try to regain a sense of childlike openness and wonder (perhaps lost in adulthood), which Jesus says is essential for understanding him (Mark 10:13-16). She’ll understand that those who are good, upright, Ten Commandments-following people are often the ones who can’t or won’t follow Jesus, and the sinners and strugglers may get into the kingdom first (Matt. 21:31-32, Mark 10:17-31, Luke 15:11-32).

The explorer should try not to isolate Jesus as a teacher and healer from Jesus as risen Lord upon whom she can call for help and guidance.  As I wrote earlier, Jesus’ teachings had characteristics of healing and vice versa. When Jesus taught, he aimed not just at ethical standards but also at the healing of our hearts. When Jesus healed people, he not only showed a concern for people’s physical needs but also wanted to teach people about God’s hope and salvation (Matt. 12:15-21).(7)


The Bible has many different kinds of literary genres.(8) In the two testaments you find history, poetry, legal codes, prophecy, songs, letters, sermons, gospels, and even one book of erotic poetry. Ideally, we should understand the different genres as we read, and genres overlap within books. Ezra contains autobiography, letters, and history; several of the prophets contain oracles and narratives. The gospels and Acts are history, but they’re also preaching. Hebrews is a sermon with an epistolary conclusion (though no epistolary greeting).  Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy form a long history and contain accounts of individual incidents, but the books also encompass ancient legal codes and cultic (worship) instructions.

We find very letters in the Old Testament, but letters form the largest body material in the New Testament.  The canon includes letters of James, John, Peter, Jude, the author of Hebrews, and Paul.  Paul’s several letters are arranged in order of length, although 1 and 2 Thessalonians were probably the earliest letters, and Philippians and 1 and 2 Timothy seem valedictory.  All these letters were written to individuals or churches in order to address particular issues, to deal with needs and problems, to convey information and greetings, and to communicate feelings. Although not intentionally written in an epigrammatic way, we can lift epigrams, slogans, and promises from the letters for our own needs, for within these letters are treasures of biblical proclamation and pearls of wisdom. If I were to give someone a single Bible book to convey the Gospel, I’d tell them to read Romans or Ephesians. Galatians is also excellent for communicating the Gospel, although it was written in frustration and anger; if you’ve a good commentary to help you, Galatians might help renew your faith.

The letters have different purposes and viewpoints. Like the Gospels, they’ve changing facets in which God’s light beautifies, changes, and illuminates. Reading in turn through my various marginal notes and scribbling:

Romans is Paul’s self-introduction to a church he wished to visit soon.  He argues that God accounts us righteous by faith rather than works of the law.   The righteousness of God is revealed in God’s justification of sinners through the atonement of Christ.

1 and 2 Corinthians is largely Paul’s words of teaching, advice, and reprimand to a congregation swayed by impressive teachers, confident in their own wisdom, and yet lacking in love and spiritual maturity.

Galatians is Paul’s frustrated letter to a Gentile church. Paul points out that the Galatians already evidence of God’s power and acceptance in their lives through the gifts of the Spirit.  They must not add anything on to God’s work, especially rites like circumcision.

Ephesians and Colossians are similar letters, written (if Paul did write them) while he was imprisoned. He shows the sufficiency of Christ and God’s free salvation. In Christ we are built up as a church; Christ has removed barriers between God and us.

Philippians, another “prison letter,” is a joyful letter, warm and affirming for a congregation Paul clearly feels gratitude.

1 and 2 Thessalonians concern the second coming of Christ and the need to be watchful, though the first letter is warm and the second letter, though also warm, contains more admonishment.

1 and 2 Timothy concern the qualities of church leaders and provides advice and encouragement to Paul’s young colleague.  Titus also deals with church leaders and the need to deal with false teaching.

Philemon concerns a runaway slave, Onesimus, whom Paul has helped convert, and so Paul writes Onesimus’ master about the matter, hinting strongly that Onesimus should be freed.

Hebrews is an epistolary sermon by an unknown author to an unknown group of people. The title, which is a latter addition, is based on the fair assumption that the original audience consisted of converts from Judaism, who, more than a Gentile group, would have grasped all the many references to the Hebrew scriptures and traditions. The sermon is beautiful, intricate, and argues the sufficiency of Christ compared with the angels, the prophets, and the temple.

James stresses the validity of one’s faith through the good works of one’s personal growth and one’s relationships with others. The book only mentions Jesus twice and is similar in style to Old Testament wisdom literature.

1 and 2 Peter concern the steadfastness of one’s faith in times of persecution and also in regard to false teachers.

1, 2, and 3 John all provide glimpses into the lives of the early church. 1 John, especially, teaches the need to demonstrate one’s faith through love.

Tiny little Jude, which quotes a non-canonical writing (1 Enoch 1:9), is closely related textually to 2 Peter and is concerned false teachers and apostasy.

After these brief epistles, we come to the final book, Revelation, which concerns the final times. It’s actually a letter, too (1:4), to seven Asian churches.  John must be a different man than the apostle, for the book’s style is quite dissimilar from the gospel and the letters, and this author does not identify himself as an apostle. The book chronicles the many signs of the end times and is written in symbolic language that harkens back to Old Testament prophecies.

The letters, like the gospels, aren’t just “about” Jesus but also witness to his living reality. “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:16. This verse used to bother me; aren’t Jesus’ life and teachings important? They are, but Jesus’ life and teachings can’t be disconnected with his death and resurrection, and his earthly life cannot be disconnected with the eternal life that he now shares with us, And so it is not inappropriate that much of the New Testament deals not with specifics about Jesus’ life and teachings (the letters scarcely quote Jesus’ teachings explicitly, as I mentioned in chapter 1) but the grand fact of his salvation and gifts of the Spirit. Now, as readers of this material, we too receive the first-century preaching of the Gospel of Jesus, and our lives, too, become guided and maintained by the Spirit.

For some Christians, that’s enough material to read, explore, pray about, and study. But that’s only a third of the Bible!  So far, I’ve saved several important New Testament themes and ideas so I can show interconnections between the New Testament and the Old.

A Jewish Book

First century Christians taught that Christ is the mystery of God now revealed (Col. 1:26, 2:2); all the promises of God in the previous centuries find their fruition in Christ (Heb. 1:1-2). But the people of that time were closer to those previous centuries than we are! We’re likely to feel less connection to the promises and purposes of God as recorded in the Old Testament.

A Jewish friend finds the New Testament very unlike the Tanakh (the Jewish term for the scriptures). That’s a point most of us Christians miss, because we’re accustomed to the two testaments being adjacent and related.  We assume that the New Testament grows self-evidently from the Old, whereas, for Jews, a good deal of the New seems foreign to concerns of Judaism, especially passages that seem to repudiate the Torah and denigrate Moses. Not only that, but the New Testament seems addressed to Gentiles rather than to Jews and is, indeed, very hostile and dismissive of Jews and Judaism; even the most positive passages about Judaism (Rom. 11:11-32) would not seem so to Jews.(9)

So how can anti-Jewish writings be self-evidently scripture to Jews?  Certainly Christians through time have harbored prejudices and hatred toward Jews based on the content of the New Testament.

A Bible explorer should be sensitive to these facts.  While we read the Old Testament in connection with the New, the Old can also be read in very different ways as a diversity of different witnesses. The New Testaments arises out of the experience of the risen Lord Jesus, but for those who do not see evidence of his lordship in the world,(10) the New Testament seems a radical reading of the Old. The New Testament, though, is not something brand new; in fact, its special witness was shaped and verified by the divine authority of the Jewish scriptures. (Recall that verse I discussed earlier, 2 Timothy 3:16-17. If you take the verse literally, and if you assume Pauline authorship of that letter, the verse was actually referring to the Old Testament.) So we need a suitably respectful view of the Spirit’s witness through the Old Testament.

I think that the Christian aversion to Judaism is a bit like new members of an organization who, once they’ve been included in the fellowship, now think they own the place and consider the former members foolish. One time, in a Sunday school class, the classmates tried to think of similarities and differences between Judaism and Christianity. All the folks could remember were differences: Jesus, of course, and also different holidays. Looking back, I sigh, because now I know that almost everything important in Christianity originates from the Old Testament. (Major exceptions include the Eucharistic consumption of blood, very contrary to Torah kashrut teachings, and the Cross, a Gentile way of killing people. But early Christians affirmed that even the crucifixion is foreshadowed in Hebrew scriptures, e.g., Ps. 22:16-18, Ps. 69:21, Isa. 52:13-53:12, Zech. 12:10, et al.). We find key ideas right away, in the Torah.


The Torah has five books.

Genesis takes us from the Creation to the death of Joseph. Along the way, we read the familiar stories of the first generations of humans, the call and covenant of Abraham, the stories of his descendants, and the emigration of Jacob’s family to Egypt.

Exodus explains the Israelite slavery, the call and ministry of Moses, the Passover and Exodus, the entry into the wilderness, the Sinai covenant, and the creation of the Tabernacle.

Leviticus contains numerous laws: laws of sacrifice, the consecration of priests, laws of holiness, kashrut (kosher), purification, holy days, and atonement, among others.

Numbers continues the Israelites’ travels in the wilderness. The people travel from Sinai to Moab but fail to believe the counsel of Joshua and Caleb concerning the inhabitants of the Land. God punishes their rebellion by forbidding that generation from entering the Land. Thirty-eight years passes between chapters 19 and 20, and Moses himself is forbidden from entering the Land as well.

Deuteronomy concludes the Torah’s long story in the fortieth wilderness year as Moses addresses the people in two discourses (1:6-4:40 and 5:1-26:19). Moses reiterates the law (the name of the book means “second law”) and reminds the people of the necessity of faithfulness to God. After speaking his parting words, Moses dies and is buried.

It’s a shame that we tend to disconnect portions of the Bible from other sections. For instance, we tend to isolate Genesis 1-2 when we think about God’s creation. But the stories of creation connect with the beginning and spread of human sin and God’s plan of salvation. Genesis 1 connects with the Jewish Sabbath, which, as I considered in chapter 5, is a sign of God’s covenant with Israel (Ex. 32:12-17). In turn, Genesis 1-11 can’t be set apart as separate stories, for those chapters are necessary for understand how the story of humankind has a “twist” that alters everything else: God’s great call to Abraham.

I love reading Genesis. The stories of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants always seem like small gospels, in the sense of the “good news” of God’s favor and blessing to people who, though deeply flawed, respond in faith to God’s unmerited grace. But I can’t isolate the book from Exodus 1-15, for everything is necessary for understanding who the people of Israel are and why they are in Egypt. So in Exodus we find more stories of God’s history of his people: the reasons for Israelite slavery, the story of Moses, the liberation of the people, their deliverance across the Red Sea, and the beginning of Moses’ long leadership of the people in the wilderness as they approach the Promised Land.  So the basic story forms a long “arc” from creation to God’s great work in the exodus and the parting of the sea.

But the Exodus, movie-worthy as it is, isn’t just the climax of a drama!  In fact, it’s a beginning that marks a turning point, the great event by which God creates his people. Interestingly, the prophets do not evoke Abraham and his covenant but instead evoke the Exodus as the great event by which God established his covenant people (e.g., as Anderson and Childs respectively point out, Amos 2:10, 9:7, Hosea 2:15, 11:1, 13:4, Isa. 43:16-21, 51:9-11, Ez. 2:5-6, 20:33-44, and also Deut. 5:6, 6:20ff, 26:5ff, Psalm 78, 81, 95, 105, 106, as well as the allusion in Joshua 3:1ff, and later in Neh. 9:6ff, Daniel 9:15, 2 Chr. 7:22, and also references to the plagues and rebellions in Psalm 78, 95, 105, 106, and in Wisdom of Sol. 16 and Sirach 45:1ff.

This connection of the exodus and subsequent history is possible because the exodus and the covenant of Sinai are connected, as in Ex. 19:3-6.(12) As Anderson puts it, “…Yahweh’s initiative evoked a response from the people. It placed them in a situation of decision, summoned them to a task within the divine purpose. What Moses had experience earlier at Sinai … was experienced by all the people at the same sacred mountain, and with far-reaching implications for the future.”(13) In Exodus 24, which binds two traditions (verses 1-2 and 9-11, and 3-8), the covenant is ratified between God and the people. But the covenant, too, can be tied back to creation. Scholars note that the building of the sanctuary parallels the six days of creation (Ex. 24:15-18), alerting us that God’s work, after resting on the seventh day, continued in the creation of God’s special people.(14)  Not only that, but the covenant and law comprise a new “Eden” in which the people can live, close to God.(15)

The material from the 10 Commandments on is not just a collection of statutes. The Israelites’ story continues and if you’re tenacious, you notice things. In the middle of Leviticus, you encounter a family tragedy: Aaron’s two sons are killed by God’s fire. Later on, in Numbers 16, you find the story of Korah’s rebellion, which resulted in casualties—inflicted by God—greater than the bloodiest Civil War battles, if you take the biblical statistics literally.  Also in Numbers, Moses is forbidden to enter the land; and he loses his siblings, Aaron and Miriam, who have shared the journey. Reading hastily through this material, we’re liable to miss the poignancy of Moses’ circumstance.

If you read this material closely, you notice certain “story arcs.” Exodus 29, which concerns priestly ordination, connects to Leviticus 8-9. The covenant of the Sabbath, Exodus 31:12-17, connects back to Genesis 1: the God who created all things has created a beloved people whose very lives reflect God’s pattern of creation. The laws of Leviticus connect back to the events of Mount Sinai in Exodus 19-24.(16) The stories of the spies and the rebellion of Israel in Numbers 12-14 connect us forward to the book of Joshua and set the stage for the long sojourn in the wilderness (which is not recorded but which happens between the end of the story at Numbers 17:13 and the beginning of Numbers 20. The story of Numbers 20 connects us back to Exodus 17, two similar rebellions of Israel.

Finally, in Deuteronomy, Moses gives a long farewell message, instructing the people again about the importance of following God’s will and commandments.  With the death of Moses at the end, we conclude this most part of the Scriptures that faithful Jews hold most precious.  But the death of Moses is not the end, for Deuteronomy looks to the future. In chapters 29-30 Moses reiterates the covenant to the people and promises that God’s word is not remote in time and space but always very near (Deut. 30:11-14). The reminder and promise of the covenant takes us back to the beginning of the covenant (Ex. 19-24).

Deuteronomy circles back even further, toward the beginning.  “A wandering Aramean was my father,” says Deut. 26:5, meaning Jacob, and the passage 5-10 remembers Egyptian bondage, God’s salvation, and circles back again to the promise of the land, which the Israelites are about to enter.

The conclusion of Numbers circles back even further, for as commentators note, the passage describing the land of Canaan and its settlement (chapters 34-36) belongs to the “priestly source” which was the source of Genesis 1. Thus the promise of land for God’s people reflects God’s love of all creation and God’s desire for new human relationships.(17)

The Torah may be the most ambivalent portion of the Bible for Christians. Some Christians won’t touch the statutes with the proverbial long pole—unless, of course, some of the laws are suitable to prove a point, and the laws become God’s eternal word which other people have violated.

We Christians should remember a few things about the Torah. The first is that much of material was not originally meant to be applicable for us Gentiles (Acts 15, Gal. 3:3-5). These are laws for Jews to do God’s will and to set them apart as God’s people. The distinction you often hear—the moral laws are applicable for Christians but the ceremonial laws are not—is not a biblical distinction at all, because in the Torah, all of life—worship, legal translations, daily behavior, diet, and so on—are of a whole piece. In his love, God has given the Hebrews a precious expression of his will.  God shares this religious heritage with us Gentiles because of his love and this material is part of our religious heritage because of God’s favor (Rom. 11:17-24).(18)

Israel has made no distinction between the moral, civil, and ceremonial laws: all are of a piece, although today, many of the ceremonial laws are obsolete because there is no temple or priesthood in Judaism. Judaism has not historically viewed the law as a means of self-justification and self-salvation; the law has been God’s wonderful gift to follow. Paul, however, was adamant that the laws were unnecessary for Gentile converts to Christianity; even more than the moral law, he stressed the law of the guidance of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-26). Now, we see the law through Christ, who fulfilled all righteousness and took the consequences of our law breaking onto himself (2 Cor. 5:21). But Paul upholds the law (Rom. 3:31), to show how Christ’s perfect (law-keeping) life is now a gift of life to us; thanks to Christ, the Torah is precious to us Gentiles, too.(19)

Arguing thus, Paul stayed within the Torah and went back before Moses to Abraham to show how God’s favor touches people through their faith apart from the law (Rom. 4). (Jesus did a similar thing, going prior to Moses to God’s first intentions: Matt. 10:2-9). The question remains for Christians: how does the law still apply? A classic solution is to view the law in three ways: as a restraint to the wicked (the political use), as the law that brings us to Christ’s salvation (Gal. 3:24, the theological use), and then the “third use of the law,” which is to give content to the love of Christ which we display as we’re transformed by the Spirit (Gal. 6:2).

The Torah is foundational for Christians in other ways so obvious that we take them for granted.  A Bible explorer will discover interesting “arcs” and connections between the Torah and the New Testament. One is the idea of the covenant, for now God has extended his covenant to include non-Jews (Rom. 3:29-30). Another is the idea of blood for atonement forgiveness of sins (Rom. 3:25). Christ’s blood was shed and now there is no longer need for sacrifice (Heb. 9:11-14).

Still another idea is the faithfulness and righteousness of God, a Torah theme strongly defended in Romans 3 in Paul’s preaching of Christ.

Here are a few additional connections:

  • The Creation and New Creation (2 Cor. 5:17, Rev. 21:1)
  • Adam and the Second Adam (Rom. 5:12-21)
  • The faith of Abraham, in some important ways the key to the whole Bible (Gen. 12:1-3, Rom. 4, Heb. 11:8-22)
  • The manna in the wilderness and the Eucharistic bread (Ex. 16:1-21, John 6:25-40).
  • The covenant, the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and the Eucharist (Ex. 24:3-8; Lev. 7:12, 22:29, Ps. 107:22, 116:17, Amos 4:5, Mark 14:22-25 and parallels, 1 Cor. 11:25)
  • The healing serpent and the healing of Christ (Num. 21:8-9; John 3:14-15)
  • The condemnation in Deuteronomy of a condemned criminal “hanging on a tree” (Deut. 21:22-23; John 19:31, Gal. 3:13)
  • The salvation of Noah’s ark (1 Peter 3:20-21)
  • The role of Moses (Heb. 3:1-6, 11:23-28)
  • Moses’ shining face (Ex. 34:29-35, 1 Cor. 3:12-18)
  • The drink offering (Ex. 29:38-41, Lev. 23:12, 13, 18, Phil. 2:12-18, 2 Tim. 4:6-8)
  • The priesthood of Aaron (Heb. 7:11-14, 9:1-10:18)(20)
  • The “rest” of the Promised Land (Heb. 3:7-4:13)
  • The Pascal Lamb (Ex. 12:11; 1 Cor. 5:7)
  • The two great commandments (Deut. 6:4-5, Lev. 19:18, Mark 12:28-34, Gal. 5:14).


The historical material is a varied “landscape.” Two main historical periods are represented, the fulfillment of God’s promise of land to the Israelites, from Joshua to Solomon, and then the period of national sin and decline (and the rise of the prophets) from Solomon to the exile.

Joshua concerns the conquest of the land following the death of Moses.  The first twelve chapters concern the conquest of the land, and chapters 13 through 21 record the partition of the land.

Judges is an account of a succession of leaders (“judges,” or shofetim) with the Israelites’ history degenerating into civil war.

Ruth is a lovely, familiar story of two women, a Hebrew and a Moabite, devoted to one another in a terrible circumstance.

1 and 2 Samuel concern the beginning of the Israelite monarchy with a focus upon the rise and rulership of the greatest king, David.

1 and 2 Kings takes us through another long history, that of David’s successors. The stories of Solomon and the construction of the magnificent Temple provide a positive beginning to the history. But the Hebrews suffer a succession of unfaithful kings, the division of the kingdom, the fall of the northern kingdom in about 722 BC, the fall of the southern kingdom in 586 BC, the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, and the beginning of the Babylonian exile (586-536).

These books are called “the former prophets” in the Hebrew Bible and are listed along with the prophets Isaiah through Malachi. The Hebrew Bible places other historical books—Ruth, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Esther—in the final section called the Writings. The Christian Old Testament includes these books among the “former prophets,” so that, for instance, the story of Ruth—a Gentile ancestor of David and Jesus—provides a glimpse of hope amid the warfare and desolation of Judges and the stories of Samuel and the monarchy. Though beginning with Adam himself in long genealogies, 1 and 2 Chroniclescover similar ground as the books of Samuel and Kings, but “the Chronicler” reinterprets the history. Notice the difference between David’s farewell speech in 1 Kings (2:2-9) and in 1 Chronicles (28:1-29:20). During a seminary class, I wrote in my old Bible: Unlike Samuel and Kings, the Chronicler assigned each generation with complete intimacy to God, losing the unity of Israel’s history.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the period after the Hebrews return to the land following the Babylonian exile. The Temple is rebuilt, Jerusalem is rebuilt and repaired, and the covenant is reestablished. These books show how God’s people made the first transitions from their former existence as a kingdom to a new existence as a worshiping community.

Esther is a story of a Hebrew woman who becomes the Persian queen and, with her adoptive father Mordecai, saves the Hebrew people. The book gives another side of the post-exilic history: Jews who did not return to the land but remained among Gentiles.

The history of God’s people obviously does not end there. We have more of their story reflected in the book of Daniel (probably from the 100s BC), in apocryphal books like Maccabees, in the Mishnah and Talmud, and in all the history and witness of the Jews during the subsequent two millennia, as Second- and Post-Temple Judaism transformed into Rabbinic Judaism. The New Testament provides scriptural history of the messianic subgroup of Jews known as Christians, a faith that eventually became prominently Gentile.

I was a kid when I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in the theater. Recently I watched a documentary on the director Stanley Kubrick. One of the interviewees commented that part of the ongoing fascination with the film is that the sections of 2001 fit oddly together; for instance, we move from the deactivation of HAL to the arrival at Jupiter and the long Star Gate sequence and the cryptic ending. What does it all mean?

It occurs to me that the sections of the Bible are a little like that: you have to think about how they fit together. Following verse after verse of laws, statutes, and material for Hebrew worship, you’d expect to find historical accounts of these laws and cultic practices carried out. We do get some: Joshua refers to the law of Moses, 1:7ff, 8:30ff; the stories of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba also reflect concerns for cleansing rituals; and the sins of Solomon are also connected to the laws (Deut. 17:1-17 and 1 Kings 9:26-11:40).(21)

Then, in Ezra and Nehemiah, we see the emergence of a more obviously religious community. This apparent omission of cultic practices within the historical accounts alerts us to a topic debated in scholarly circles: the development of the law and practices before and after the Exile, the impact of the rediscovery of at least part of the law during Josiah’s reign (2 Kings 22:8 and following) and the uplifting of the law as a community standard during the post-exilic period (Ezra 3:2, Neh. 13).(22)

Scholars hypothesize a “Deuteronomistic history” that now forms the basis of the material from the beginning of Deuteronomy to the end of 2 Kings.(23)

Among the themes of this history is the keeping of the covenant: God will reward faithfulness and will eventually punish wickedness and apostasy. So the connection of the historical books and the Torah is, at one level, the failure of the Israelites to keep their part of the covenant faithfully; thus God’s judgment in the form of the Babylonian conquest and exile at the end of 2 Kings. But throughout these centuries, God has remained faithful.

The historical books have several major themes.  One is the experience of the Land (ha-aretz)—the land promised to Israel since Abram in Genesis 12. As we saw in the Torah, God guides his people, establishes his covenant with them, gives them his law, and leads them to the Land under the leadership of Moses and then Joshua.  Holding and keeping the Land, though, remains a challenge across the centuries: the campaigns and conquests of Joshua are far the end of the story.(24)

Connected to the Land is the history of the monarchy. Commentators like Anderson note that while the tribal confederacy of the Judges period had problems with faithfulness and idolatry, those problems were different from other nations in that they were defined by their covenant to the Lord. But once Israel had a king, an additional temptation was added: becoming a nation like any other nation. Certainly God’s power was operative, for instance, in the selection of Saul and David and the ongoing life of the people, especially in light of the Philistine threat. But, as Anderson notes, “the religious faith of the Confederacy [the Judges] survived its collapse and found new expression in Israel’s prophetic movement. Israel was not allowed to identify a human kingdom with the Kingdom of God, for Yahweh alone was king.”(25)

Unfortunately, that meant that Israel had eventually to collapse, too, in order that they become truly faithful to the covenant.

As you explore the stories of David and his successors, you see difficulties building. Although Israel became a renowned kingdom (occasioning the famous Queen of Sheba’s visit in 1 Kings 10:1-10), we also hear of the horror of the hanging of Saul’s seven sons (and the tragic figure of the concubine Rizpah: 2 Sam. 21:1-14), continued conflict with the Philistines (2 Sam. 21:15-22), terrible results of David’s census (2 Sam. 24), the rebellions and difficulties within David’s own family (2 Sam. 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2), and eventually the division of the kingdom following Solomon’s death.(26)

On the other hand, the possibilities of monarchy gave rise to the hope for a future king who would reunite the people and regain and surpass the possibilities of peace and prosperity, as we read in the famous messianic passages that we specially embrace during Advent and Christmas: Isaiah 7:10-17, 9:2-7, and 11:1-9.

Within these stories, David emerges as a kind of “typology” for God’s rule.(27) The two mountains, Sinai and Zion, stand for the two covenants of God, and Nathan’s prophecy (2 Samuel 7) links David’s descendants to God’s Sinai covenant. Earlier ambivalence about a monarchy changes to a confidence in God’s rulership through David’s line. Since David is identified with Jerusalem (Zion) in his selection of that place as capital, Zion became identified with God’s own city (Ps. 46, 48, 76, and others).(28)

Of course, the line of David, also celebrated in the psalms (2, 20, 31, 45, and others) connects to the later messianic hope that grows in Israel’s history and, for Christians, finds fulfillment in Jesus.

Another theme of these biblical books is the Jerusalem temple. The Temple, promised to David and constructed during Solomon’s reign, is connected to the history of the Tabernacle before it (Ex. 35-40) and, of course, to the Land itself. David’s hope for a great, permanent house in the Land for God is not fulfilled, but his son Solomon constructs the facility (2 Sam. 7, 1 Kings 5-8). Like the monarchy, the Temple did not survive the collapse of Judah and Jerusalem in 586 (1 Kings 25:8, 9, 13-17), but the Temple serves in Israelite memory through the exile in, for instance, the dynamic vision of a restored Temple in Ezekiel 40-48. Following the exile, the high priest Jeshua and the governor Zerubbabel, helped by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, supervise the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 3-6). After the Old Testament period, Herod the Great began work on a restored temple in 20-19 BC, a building effort still going on during Jesus’ time and beyond. Herod’s temple was finally completed, ironically, just a few years before the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD.

I’ve been referring to the exile: the fall of Jerusalem in about 586 BC and the subsequent exile of the people in Babylon in 586-536 bC  (2 Kings 24:18-25:30 and Jer. 52:1-34) are key events for the entire Bible.(29) Even if you’re a regular Bible reader you may miss the tremendous significance of the exile; the whole Bible radiates before and after that catastrophe.(30)

We know little about the forty years in the wilderness (passed over in silence between Numbers 17:13 and 20:1), and we have comparatively little history in the Bible about the exile itself, besides 2 Kings 25, Jeremiah 52, Lamentations, Psalms 79 and 137 and some other scriptures.(31)

But the whole biblical history beginning with God’s promises to Abraham comes to a catastrophic turning point at the exile; much of the prophetic writings in the Bible reflect issues before, during, and after the exile; and the promises of God to David for a future Davidic monarchy become a great hope of Israel following the exile. As I said above, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the post-exilic efforts to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple and to reestablish the people on the Land. (32) That post-exilic hope is understood in the New Testament as being fulfilled in Christ.(33)

We find numerous connections within the historical books themselves.

  • The connection of Noah’s curse of Canaan (Gen. 9:25-26) with the Canaanites.(34)
  • The ongoing theme of the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8-16, Num. 13-14, Deut. 25:17, 19, Judges 3:13, 1 Sam. 15, et al.), connecting Joshua with Saul and later Hezekiah (1 Chr. 4:41-43).(35)
  • The ongoing theme of Bethel (Josh. 18:21-22, Judges 1:22-26, 20:18, 26-28, 1 Sam. 7:16, 1 Kings 12:26-32, 2 Kings 17:27-28, 2 Kings 23:15-23, Ezra 2:28, Neh. 7:32, 11:31).(36)
  • The connection of the places Gilgal (Josh. 4:19-5:12, 1 Sam. 11:15, 13:1-10) and Gibeon (Josh. 9:3-27, 2 Sam. 2:12-3:1. As one commentator puts it, “The story [of Gibeonites] signals radical Davidic centralization by highlighting Joshua’s fulfillment of Yahweh’s command.” But also these Joshua stories connect to the law of herem (Deut. 7:1-6, 20:16-18), wherein God requires the annihilation of the people and prohibits the taking of spoils.(37)

We also find interconnections with the New Testament, some mentioned already.

  • The great theme of Yahweh’s salvation.  The name “Joshua” is in Hebrew the same name as “Jesus,” meaning “Yahweh saves.”
  • The theme of the Land. The Land is not spiritualized in the Old Testament the way that it tends to be in the New. In the Old, we speak of the actual land and its possession. Deutero-Isaiah begins to move in a more spiritual direction (Isa. 44:24ff, 49:14ff), and in the New Testament, Jesus himself becomes the “place” where God dwells (John 1:14).(38)
  • The theme of the Kingdom of God.  The phrase is not used in the Old Testament, but the kingdom of God is the principle theme of Jesus’ preaching and connects with God’s sovereignty through Israel’s history. As Graeme Goldworthy puts it, “While the Old Testament is everywhere eloquent in describing the sovereignty of God in history to work out his purposes, Jesus declares that he is the goal of that sovereign working of God.”(39)
  • The theme of a new kind of monarchy under David’s descendant, Jesus.  In his person and work, Jesus brings themes like the Lamb of God, the sufferings of David, and the suffering servant of Isaiah into the theme of the king of Israel: thus, when Jesus is killed, the charge against him is “king of the Jews.”(40) But in his suffering and death is victory over sin and death, and the ambiguities of the Israelite monarchy are understood to be resolved.(41)
  • The theme of the Temple. The New Testament never explicitly mentions the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, an odd omission. Jesus quotes Jeremiah concerning the Temple, and he himself is understood to be the new temple (John 2:20-22). Paul, in turn, calls each of us “temples of the Holy Spirit” in that God’s presence dwells within us (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
  • The realities of post-exilic Judaism provide a more subtle connection. Groups like the Pharisees and Sadducees , as well as the Essenes and Zealots, formed in response to the needs of the people during the post-exilic time, as did institutions like synagogues, Sabbath requirements, and festivals to which Jews—many living in different parts of the world after the exile—came to Jerusalem (e.g., John 11:55 and also Acts 2:5-11).
  • Not only is the exile a decisive turning point for the whole Bible—a climax of a long drama but also a new beginning for Jews and later for Christians—scholars hypothesize that the compilations and editing of law codes and historical materials happened as during and after the exile, as Doorly discusses. Thus, the exile and the restoration necessitated the composition of the Bible itself!(42)
  • Of course, the Jews who became the first Christians were post-exilic Jews who, like other Jews, looked to an even greater restoration of Israel’s fortunes. The Christians saw that restoration and monarchical fulfillment in the Jew Jesus, and they based that hope upon exilic texts like Isaiah 40-66.
  • It is worth noting that exilic language flavors many Christian hymns, especially those that refer to our heavenly home to which we live in hope. In childhood Vacation Bible School I learned that peppy song “Do Lord” with its evocation of “Glory Land.” I also learned “Bringing in the Sheaves,” based on the post-exilic Psalm 136 and the struggle of returning exiles to reestablish agriculture.

During my divinity school years, I copied a chronology into my old Bible of the several biblical rulers, but since I don’t remember the original source, I’ll not recopy that chronology here. My Halley’s Bible Handbook and other resources give an approximate resume of the time period (43), as do my various textbooks, for instance, Bernhard Anderson’s, a favorite supplemental text during my div school years.(44) Flipping through my new NRSV study Bible, I find a helpful two-page chart with all the rulers of Israel and Judah, from Rehoboam (reigned 930-913 BC: 1 Kings 12:1-24, 14:21-31) through Zedekiah (reigned 597-586: 2 Kings 24:18-25:26), and their location in 1 and 2 Kings.(45)

Rather than list those several names here, I’ll simply refer you to one of these or other sources of biblical reference.  The monarchs of Israel and Judah form a depressing story—so few of them were good kings—but a story integral to the overall biblical story.

Imagine a history that begins with King John and the Magna Carta, Genghis Khan, Marco Polo, and the Fourth Crusade, and ends at the present time: that’s (very roughly) the length of time from the conquest of the land in Joshua, down to the post-exilic Nehemiah, at the end of biblical history. But the Bible extends back yet another 800 years, if we assume Abraham lived about 2000 BC. So from Abraham to Nehemiah we’ve a span similar to time of the decline of the (western) Roman Empire to today.

Prayers and Wisdom 

Between the historical books and the prophets, we have several books that, in the Jewish Bible, appear in the final “writings” section (which also includes Ruth, Lamentations, Daniel, and 1 and 2 Chronicles).(46)

Job is the well-known story (a long poem framed by short narrative sections) of a righteous man who suffered terribly.  He and his friends try to plumb the mysteries of God’s providence.

The Psalms are 150 songs of praise, complaint, lamentation, penitence, and supplication. They were used in the rebuilt Temple and, eventually, in synagogues and churches.

Proverbs is a collection of sayings, many attributed to Solomon, on topics like morality, knowledge, justice, and other issues of right living.

Ecclesiastes is a deeply moving reflection upon the seasons of life (including the famous 3:1-8), the difficulties of gaining wisdom, and the ultimate vanity of human striving.

The Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) is an emotional poem of love and longing between two people.

Some of this material is connected to Jewish festivals.  Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther are known as the Five Scrolls (Hamesh Megillot) and are read in synagogues on Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), Tisha be-Av (anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem), Sukkah (feast of tabernacles), and Purim, respectively. What enrichment these books bring to the Bible! In Ruth, we find not only a story of family love and loyalty, but also a warm illustration of how God can work through faithful people, including Gentiles like the Moabite Ruth. Esther is a counterpart to Ruth: in Ruth, a Gentile survives within a Jewish majority, while in Esther, a Jew must survive (with more ominous stakes) in a Gentile world.(47)

Esther also is a reminder that God’s people the Jews have and will endure as God’s special witnesses.

Ecclesiastes and Job provide a check against any theology that takes a flippantly “sunny” approach to life: as if our walk with God was a victory-to-victory process. Although you wouldn’t want this material to “have the last word,” we need material in the Word of God that, paradoxically, rise the issue of the difficulties of knowing God—and the difficulties of managing the tragedies and pain of life.

Song of Songs can be interpreted as an allegory and as such is beloved by many as a religious paean. As I’ve written (school notes) in my old Bible, though, its interpretations have been many, and reading it as erotic poetry—in the Word of God—is also quite permissible. Anyone who’s been in love can be happy that God so blesses mutual human love, including physical attraction. (In fact, the prophets depicted the relationship between God and Israel in often startling terms that we might feel inappropriate if we were writing the Bible.)

The term “wisdom literature” refers to different biblical material, not only to Proverbs but also Ecclesiastes, Job, the Song of Songs, and such Psalms as 1, 19, 37, 49, 73, and others.(48) Wise men and women are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible (Gen. 39:1-6, 41:8-32, 2 Sam. 14:1-20, 16:23, 20:14-22), and King Solomon, of course, the designated author of many of the proverbs, earned a reputation as the wisest man of all (1 Kings 4:29-33).  But wisdom literature has a different “flavor” than some of the material we’ve seen. Here again, we have to think about how this material fits with other biblical literature.

In wisdom writings (as Anderson puts it), “The prophetic themes that dominate the Pentateuch and the prophetic writings—Israel’s election, the Day of Yahweh, the covenant and the Law, the priesthood and the Temple, prophecy and the messianic hope—are dealt with hardly at all.” In fact, wisdom seemed to be criticized in prophetic passages like Jeremiah 8:9 and Isaiah 29:4.(49)

Wisdom authors did not address legal and religious obligations (as did the priests of Israel), and usually they did not explicitly communicate God’s own oracles, like the prophets.  Only in the Apocrypha’s wisdom books, like Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) and Baruch, do we find more linkage of wisdom with law and covenant.(50)

Wisdom literature, instead, aims to uncover some of the lessons a wise person would have learned about “life.” Life experiences, rather than the law per se, guide to moral behavior and correct judgments.  Remember, for instance, that Job seeks answers to the problem of his suffering in a series of conversations with his friends, since his religious and moral uprightness implies that his suffering is undeserved.   Remember, too, that Ecclesiastes reflects on life’s meaning after long reflection on the problems of suffering, human pride, and God’s providence.  The Song of Songs, a much happier and more confident book, also reflects the meaning of life as discovered through the experience of God’s creation and human love.

Proverbs, too, is a confident book. A person’s growth in wisdom and knowledge (compared to the fool who is lazy and unconcerned) is not only recommended, but also ordained by God. As an author in The Interpreter’s Bible puts it, “The highest type of family life is extolled; monogamy is taken for granted; the respect for mother and wife is emphasized throughout; chastity and marital fidelity are enjoined for all.   The glutton, drunkard, and sluggard, the robber and oppressor of the poor are all roundly condemned.  Those who live in accordance with wisdom’s laws are prosperous and happy.  A belief in the one true and living God who rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked permeates the book from cover to cover.”(51)

I’ve saved the psalms till this point. When Gideons hand you small Bibles on the stress or on campus, these usually include the New Testament and also Psalms and Proverbs.  In these two Old Testament books, we do get wisdom for living that seems far from the storm and stress of the historical books or the (for us Gentiles) uncertain applications of some of the Torah laws.

Brevard Childs notes that, “the psalms function to guide Israel, both as individuals and as a community, in the proper response to God’s previous acts of grace in establishing a bond. The psalmist can praise God, complain of his sufferings, plea for a sign of vindication, but through it all and undergirding his response, lies the confession that life is obtained as a gift from God. His conduct is not seen as a striving after an ideal or toward fixed ethical norms, but a struggle to respond faithfully to what God has first done on Israel’s behalf. The response of the psalmist is so intense and directed so personally to God because the possession or loss of life is measured in terms of his relation to God who both ‘kills and makes alive’. Although the terminology of the Old Testament psalms often differs strikingly from Paul’s the theological understanding of man’s relationship to God as one of sheer grace shares much in common.”(52)

Connections of these writings to the New Testament are many.

  • As pointed out in my old commentaries The Interpreter’s Bible, Proverbs is often quoted or alluded to in the New Testament.   In fact, some of the New Testament’s most well known passages allude to (and sometimes directly quote) particular Proverbs.  Jesus’ words about the wise man and the foolish man who built their homes on rock and sand echo Proverbs 10:25 and 12:7. Jesus also echoes Proverbs 3:28, 11:4, 11:17, 11:28, 16:19, and 30:8-9 during his Sermon on the Mount.  Proverbs 25:21-22 admonishes the wise to take care of one’s enemy rather than retaliate, and the Apostle Paul makes use of the saying in Romans 12:20.   Jesus’ maturity (Luke 2:52) echoes Proverbs 3:4   Jesus also alludes to Proverbs 16:1, 18:21, 24:12, 25:6-7, 27:1, 28:24, 29:23 in the course of his teaching (see Matt. 10:19-20, 12:36-37, 16:27, Luke 14:7-11, Luke 12:16-21, Matt. 15:4, 6, Luke 14:11 and 18:14b, respectively).(53)
  • The Psalms are also frequently referenced in the New Testament: 2, 22, 34, 69, 78, 89, 110, and 118 especially, but also 33, 35, 39, 50, 102, 105, 106, 107, 116, 119, 135, 145, and 147. Several psalm passages are understood to be fulfilled in, or connected to Jesus (Matt. 13:35 and Ps. 78:3, John 19:24 and Ps. 22:18, John 19:36 and Ps. 34:20, Acts 2:25-35 and Ps. 16:8-11, 132:11, and 110:1).(55)
  •  We also find connections in Acts 4:11 and Psalm 118:22, Acts 4:25-26 and Psalm 2:1, Hebrews 1:8 and Psalm 45:6-7, Hebrews 1:10 and Psalm 102:25, and notably Hebrews 1:13 and Psalm 110:1.
  • The blamelessness and suffering of Job and of Christ’s. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, without specifically referencing or alluding to Job, is in harmony with Job’s values and also promises grace to those who suffer.(56)
  • As I stated earlier, the traditional, allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs with Christ and his church.

The Prophets

The sixteen prophetic books below (except for Daniel) are grouped in the Hebrew Bible with the historical books (Joshua through Kings) because the prophets figure strongly during the historical period covered by those books. These are not the only prophets in Israel’s history: for instance, Moses himself, Miriam, Deborah, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, and several others.

Surveying my notes in my old Bible, plus the annotations published there, I can develop a very basic resume of the prophets, which a Bible explorer can supplement.

Isaiah: The first 39 chapters contain words of judgment about the Northern Kingdom, as well as other nations, and also words of promise. Chapters 40 and following seem to be another prophet, or possibly two, writing during 500s BC, as God, acting through the Persian king, restored the people. Here we find wonderful poetry of assurance concerning God’s redemption.

Jeremiah: The prophet preaches judgment upon the Southern Kingdom, and also promises of a renewed covenant in the future. We find tremendous pathos in Jeremiah, as also reflected in the following book.

Lamentations is a short, poetic book, attributed to Jeremiah and written in sorrowful response to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians.

Ezekiel: A prophet (also a priest) of the time before and during the exile. Ezekiel has weird visions and prophet actions bordering on, and sometimes crossing over to, the perverse. But the book also has lofty more theology concerning problems such as human accountability.

Daniel: The book focuses on events in Daniel’s life and also apocalyptic visions of God’s kingdom, the “Son of Man,” and the last days, though many of the visions deal with the time of Antiochus IV, the evil Greek ruler who persecuted Jews. This book is included in the last section of the Jewish canon rather than among the prophets.

Hosea: A Northern Kingdom prophet of the 700s, Hosea used his own family crises to describe the unfaithfulness of Israel and, in addition to words of judgment, the heartache and tenderness of God. (Hosea and the eleven prophets after this book are called “The Minor Prophets” because the books are short. These are considered one book in the Jewish Bible and, together, have interrelated themes, as I write about at

Joel: Joel has aspects of both prophecy and apocalyptic, because he speaks of the Lord’s judgment against sin (in whatever time period he’s writing) as well as the last days. We get the wonderful prophecy of the coming of the Holy Spirit here (2:28-29).

Amos: A Southern prophet who spoke to the sins of the North; he speaks judgment against the kingdom of Israel: their apostasy, wealth, and oppression of the poor. His classic call for justice and righteousness is well known (5:21-24).

Obadiah:  A short little book, by a prophet about whom we know little. The Edomites were descendants of Esau who were enemies of Judah, and Obadiah’s prophecies are directed at them.

Jonah: Unlike other prophetic books, this one is a story, almost like a parable. The fish is not the point of the story, but rather God’s patience and forgiveness as well as Jonah’s reluctant prophetic work, which was surprisingly and highly successful.

Micah: A contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea. His two themes are doom and promise, and his statement about Bethlehem (5:2), his lovely depiction of God’s kingdom where swords will become plows (4:1-4), and his requirements of anyone who loves the Lord (6:8) are also well known

Nahum: A counterpart to Jonah; Nahum pronounces doom upon Nineveh.

Habakkuk: An interesting book in that the prophet “dialogues” with God about the classic question: why do wrongdoers prevail? God may use an evil nation like the Chaldeans to accomplish his purposes, but they, too, will suffer the consequences.  Habakkuk 2:4 is a classic text; Paul quotes it in Romans 1:17 as a beginning of his argument about the primacy of faith.

Zephaniah: The last minor prophet prior to the exile, Zephaniah preaches judgment and wrath, but also hope for the future.

Haggai: His topic is the rebuilding of the Temple following the end of the exile. Not a lofty writer, he straightforwardly urges the Temple’s completion. Interestingly, he praises the great king by name, Zerubbabel, who eventually disappears from the record.

Zechariah: He also discusses the rebuilding of the Temple, but he writes with visions, symbols, and images of the coming messianic age.

Malachi: The last Old Testament prophet, from the 400s, who (with his interesting question-answer format) also posed Habakkuk’s question, why do the wicked prosper and the good suffer?  Malachi’s innovation: his announcement that a messenger will herald the last days.(57)

One of the basic literary units of the prophets is the proclamation: God announces judgment or salvation. These proclamations are addressed to God’s people but sometimes also to neighboring nations. The proclamations in turn made use of different kinds of discourse: indictment and verdict, hymns and songs, collections of sayings, and others. Later prophets also use longer kinds of writing like sermons and narratives. The prophets also record visions, and some include descriptions of their own call.(58)

The prophets can be difficult reading, with their seemingly random collections of proclamations, oracles, stories, sermons, and sometimes, enacted prophetic signs. Layers of traditions are often challenging to discern.(59) The prophets use metaphors, allusions, and shifts of narration, which makes good commentaries essential for the modern Bible explorer.  The prophets are also difficult in their tone and themes.  The prophets express God’s anger at the Israelites, who have broken the covenant; in chapter after chapter, we find descriptions of wrongs, promises and descriptions of dreadful punishment, but also tender words and promises for the future.

Because the prophets preached during the time of the historical books that I discussed above, we find familiar themes in the prophets: the land and the covenant, the threatened loss of the land, the failures of the monarchy, the role of the Temple (and, in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, its loss), and others.  The prophets connect back to God’s promises in Abraham and also the exodus, and also to the promise of David and of Jerusalem as they (the prophets) preached about God’s kingship and covenant.(60)

The relationship of the prophets and the law is complex and is debated by scholars. We Christians are liable to read prophetic passages like Jeremiah 7, think of Jesus’ criticisms of the religious leaders of his time, and dismiss “Jewish legalism”. The prophets, however, do not deny the law but sharply warn that religious ritual must go hand in hand with justice, mercy, righteousness, and the repudiation of idols.  Even passages that seem very “anti-law” (like Ez. 20:25, Jer. 7:21-26, and Jer. 8:8) do not abrogate the law and the covenant but call for a deeper faithfulness. Within Judaism, the view has prevailed that “the primary role of the prophet was to serve as a vital link in the transmission of the law from Moses down to the present.”(61)

For instance, Deuteronomy defines the role of prophets (13:1-5, 18:15-22) and upholds Moses himself as the greatest of the prophets (34:10); many scholars consider the “Deuteronomic Code” (Deut. 12-26) as a product of the 600s BC and deeply influenced by Jeremiah’s preaching.(62)

We find many, many connections of the prophets and the New Testament.  Prophetic scriptures became crucial for understanding who Jesus is and how his coming fits within and fulfills God’s plans of salvation. A Bible explorer can spend months and years tracing and delving into the prophetic roots of the New Testament.  Here are just a few.(63)

  • John the Baptist (Isa. 40:3-5, Mal. 4:5-6, Mark 9:1, Luke 1:17)
  • Jesus’ birth (Isa. 7:14, 9:6-7, 11:1-5, Mic. 5:2, Matt. 2:6, Luke 1:30-33.
  • Jesus’ authority and teaching (Isa. 6:9-12, 9:1-2, Matt. 4:14-16, 13:14-15)
  • Jesus the shepherd (Ez. 34:11-16, John 10:7-11)
  • Jesus’ ministry (Isa. 32:3-4, 35:5-6, 33:22, 42:1-4, 61:1-2, Matt. 9:32-35, 12:17-21, Luke 4:17-21)
  • Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9, Matt. 21:4-5)
  • Jesus’ sufferings, betrayal, and death (Isa. 52:13-53:12, Zech. 11:12-13, 12:10, 13:7, in addition to Ps. 22, 69, and others)
  • Jesus’ resurrection (Ez. 37:1-14, Jonah 1:17, Matt. 12:40, and among the psalms Ps. 16:10 and Ps. 110:1)
  • The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34, Matt. 26:26-29, Rom. 11:26-36, Heb. 8:8-12)
  • The Temple in relationship to Jesus (Isa. 56:7, Jer. 7:1, Mark 11:15-18, John 2:13-23, Acts 7:47-51)
  • “The righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17)
  • The Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:16-21)
  • The redemption of all nations (Isa. 2:1-4, 1 Peter 2:10)
  • Related to the redemption of the nations: the metaphor of marriage between God and his people (e.g., Hos. 1-3, Rom. 9:25-26, 1 Pet. 2:10, Eph. 5:25, 32, Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 9)(64)
  • The end times (Daniel 7:1-12:13, much of the book of Zechariah, Ez. 38-39). In fact, in a previous chapter I noted several Old Testament references in Revelation and noted that no other New Testament book quotes or alludes to the Old Testament as often.
  • The issue of the covenant becomes a key for Paul as he preaches about Jesus and the law. For Jews today, the prophetic criticism of faithlessness remains a call for contemporary faithfulness, as I said above; the prophet’s stress upon justice and suitable worship are as timely a Word of God today as in the ancient world. Paul understands faithless as a more basic flaw in both human nature and the law; we cannot keep the law faithfully, and thus we need Christ (Rom. 3:21-26). A passage such as Jeremiah 7:21-26 points to the need for new beginnings (Jer. 31:31-34).
  • The prophet’s concerns for the poor and for justice are not as apparently strong in the New Testament but are certainly there.  In both the Torah and the prophets, God is a God of justice. (The Greek word dikaiosunê, corresponding to tzedakah, means “righteousness” and “justice.”) God takes the side of the poor, downtrodden, and powerless. Luke’s gospel and Matthew 25:31-46 very much echo God’s care for the needy.  You could also think this way: in the Old Testament, God demands justice for the poor, outcast, and powerless. In the New Testament, God also takes the side of those who are spiritually impoverished, the Gentiles, bringing them into the circle of blessing.
  • Although Christians are quick to stress that Jesus is “more than a prophet,” he was frequently understood to be a prophet (Matt. 21:11, Mark 6:15, 8:28, Luke 7:16, 24:19, John 4:19, 6:14, et al.) and possessed the Spirit in a way that people considered prophetic (Matt. 12:28, Mark 3:28-29, Luke 4:18-20, et al).

The End and Beginning

The Tanakh ends with books that, in the Christian Old Testament, are positioned earlier: Ezra-Nehemiah, which provides history of the return from exile and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple; and 1 and 2 Chronicles, which recapitulate Israelite history and emphasizes the Jewish worship and temple. In this way, the Tanakh opens to the future of Jewish life and worship. The Christian Old Testament ends with Malachi and the prophecy of Elijah’s arrival prior to the Messiah. And so, moving from Old to New, we proceed immediately to Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, which connects Jesus to Hebrew history.

As I wrote earlier, although the whole Bible witnesses truly to our relationship with God, we should not read the Bible with the idea that each verse carries equal weight and value. For instance, Brevard Childs writes, “certain chords were sounded by Jeremiah and Deutero-Isaiah which resonated strongly in the New Testament (new covenant, vicarious suffering, new creation, suffering servant). Conversely, other notes grew in intensity on which rabbinic Judaism sought to construct its faith (temple, cult, priesthood, law).”(65)

We can appreciate the Bible more deeply when we discern these chords and understand the scripture’s overarching themes and purposes.

We should be humbled by the way the Bible witnesses to the imperfection of human efforts, including (perhaps especially) religious efforts. The Israelites, in their centuries of life with God, provide example after example of doubt, complaint, loss of faith, idolatry, wrongdoing, and judgment. Because the New Testament reflects a much shorter time period than the Old Testament (fewer than a hundred years, depending on the conjectural dating of some of the epistles, compared to 1600 years between Abraham and Nehemiah), we don’t see the same kind of patterns of sin-judgment-repentance in the New compared to the Old. But in the New Testament, the early Christian congregations also struggled with problems: divergence from sound teachings (2 Tim. 4:1-5), the threat of apostasy (Heb, 6:1-8), factions (1 Cor. 1:10-17), unchastity (1 Cor. 6:12-20, 1 Thess. 4:1-8), incest (1 Cor. 5:1-5), lawsuits (1 Cor. 6:1-7), disrespect of the Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:17-22), and others. All seven of the churches of Revelation received a scold or a warning or both. The sad history of Christian smugness and persecution toward Jews is one of the worst examples of our failure to forget that Christians are as reliant upon God’s providential care and mercy as God’s people Israel (Rom. 11:21-24).

But the daily news along verifies for us the sinfulness, pathos, and folly of human beings.  The Bible gives us more: contrasted with human sin, we see the faithfulness of God’s care and mercy, the Good News to the poor and imprisoned and oppressed, the victory of God over Satan, sin, and death, the love of God that never gives up on us. The Bible has many dark places, but it is filled with hope and grace; it is a “bright” book, beginning middle and end.

Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light (Gen. 1:3)

The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple 
(Ps. 119:130)

If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you
 (Ps. 139:11-12)

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am
 (Isa. 58:6-8).

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5)

And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever (Rev. 22:5).

When we read the Bible, we’re seeking not only information but promises, but also, in important ways, an interpretation of reality on which we can base our lives.  Faith is both intellectual ascent and trust; faith is acceptance and understanding of doctrine, and also it is the way in which you enter a kingdom where you have peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and access to God (Rom. 5:2).  You don’t have to pretend with God or bargain with God (Ps. 130:3, Rom. 3:21-30). The love of God controls you (2 Cor. 5:14); you needn’t remain a slave to wrongdoing (Rom. 6:12-23), you’ve victory over death (1 Cor. 15:56-57); you’ve eternal life which begins right now and not just later (John 3:17-21); your daily interpersonal contacts are characterized by love and kindness (Luke 10:29-37), you’re motivated by compassion for the poor, lonely, and needy and strive to help them (Matt. 25:40, et al.).  A Bible explorer can learn the book’s content while also seeking and growing in the qualities required in that kingdom: prayer, worship, faith, kindness, eagerness for justice, a righteous life, committed service to those in need, and an eagerness to learn and share God’s promises.


1 I write more about my childhood church in my book You Gave Me a Wide Place: Holy Places of Our Lives (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2006).  

2 I’ve adopted the image of landscape exploration from John R Silgoe, Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places (New York: Walker & Co., 1999).

Several good books provide a survey of biblical themes and theology, for instance, Dominique Barthélemy, O.P., God and His Image: An Outline of Biblical Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007); Michael D. Williams, Far As the Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005); Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004); Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible: An Introductory Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1991); Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2002).

A small, handy book worth searching for is John Marsh, A Year With the Bible (New York: Harper & Bros. 1957).

3 Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr., ed., Gospel Parallels: A Synopsis of the First Three Gospels(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1973).

When we study the Gospels, it’s difficult not to mentally harmonize the material. For instance, we think of the “seven last words of Jesus,” but no single Gospel contains all seven; we mentally conflate the material.  In fact, a second century Christian named Tatian harmonized the content of the four gospels into a continuous life, called the Diatessaron, which we now know through variant versions of ancient copies. Howard Clark Kee, Jesus in History: An Approach to the Study of the Gospels (second edition, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977), 281-292.

4  I still have some of my favorite seminary paperbacks like Günther Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Harper & Row, 1960); The Crucified Messiah and Other Essays(Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1974), Studies in Paul (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1977) and Jesus in the Memory of the Early Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1976), all by Nils Alstrup Dahl; and Klee, op. cit. A good recent text is Richard A. Buridge, Four Gospels, One Jesus? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1994).

Among the many New Testament studies, two excellent ones are Luke T. Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), and Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

5 Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1993), 643.

6 William H. Shepherd, who has published several good books about preaching (CSS Publishing Co.) has also written the book The Narrative Function of the Holy Spirit as a Character in Luke-Acts (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1994).

7 I make this point in my book, What’s in the Bible About Jesus? for the series What’s in the Bible, and Why Should I Care? (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008), 43.

8 An introduction to the Bible’s types of writings is Margaret Nutting Ralph, And God Said What? An Introduction to Biblical Literary Forms (New York: Paulist Press, 1986, 2003).

9 Julie Galambush, The Reluctant Parting: How the New Testament’s Jewish Writers Created a Christian Book (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005).

10 In terms of Jews and Christians, for instance, Maurice Friedman puts the matter well: “The Christian sees the Jew as the incomprehensibly obdurate man who declines to see what has happened, and the Jew sees the Christian as the incomprehensibly daring man who affirms redemption in an unredeemed world”: in Martin Buber: The Life of Dialogue (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1960), 279.

11 Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament (third edition, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1975), 9-10; Childs, Biblical Theology, 131.

12 Brevard S. Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 53-54.

13 Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 82-83.

14 Childs, Biblical Theology, 112, where he notes that both Genesis 1 and Ex. 24:15-18 come from the “priestly source” that is incorporated into the narrative of Genesis through Numbers and also influenced Chronicles.

15 Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 37.

16 Childs, Old Testament Theology, 53.

17 Thomas B. Dozeman, “The Book of Numbers,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume II (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1998), 267-268.

18 The 613 laws of the Torah are set forth and discussed in Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Biblical Literacy: The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas of the Hebrew Bible (New York: William Morrow, 1997), 513-592 and passim; and William J. Doorly, The Laws of Yahweh: A Handbook of Biblical Law (New York: Paulist Press, 2002).

Doorly describes the four pre-canonical law collections that were incorporated into the Torah text after the exile: the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 21-23), the Deuteronomic Law Code (Deuteronomy 12-26), the Holiness Code (Leviticus 17-26), and the Priestly Code (spread through Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers). Doorly calls attention to the reform of Judahite religion during the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC), when the book of the law was discovered in the temple and then the keeping of the law was enjoined (2 Kings 22-23). After Josiah’s tragic death, soon followed by the fall of Jerusalem, the work of preserving and editing the laws continued during the exile.  Scholars believe that the law discovered in the temple comprised at least part of the Deuteronomic Law Code.

Doorly notes that the Levitical priests, connected historically to the Shechem/Shiloh area in the northern kingdom of Israel (which fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC), are associated with “the Deuteronomic circle,” but meanwhile the Aaronic (or Zadokite) priests associated with the temple also compiled laws (p. 4-5). During and after the exile, laws were preserved by both groups and eventually edited into what we now know as the Torah or Pentateuch.

The Book of the Covenant contains cultic laws about altars and images, 22 secular laws about restitution, bodily injury, and property, 20 cultic and social laws (including God’s demand for justice) and finally 6 more cultic laws, including three festivals (p. 12). While not the oldest laws, they may be associated with the reform work of Hezekiah and then were preserved by the Aaronic priests during the exile from the Jahwist and Elohist sources (J and E) (7-9).

The Deuteronomic Code, much longer than the Book of the Covenant, includes laws about the destruction of Canaanite holy places (ch. 12), apostasy (p. 13), food and tithes (ch. 14), sabbatical year (ch. 15), annual pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Pentecost, and Shavuot, ch. 16), and many other laws about Levites, cities of refuge, rules of warfare, murder, livestock, and so on (29-30). While some laws (especially Deut. 13) seem cruel (and were not known to have been carried out), many laws reflect justice issues protecting people’s rights and encouraging social interdependence (32-33).

The Holiness Code contains laws about the slaughter of animals, sexual taboos, priests, several annual festivals, sabbatical years and jubilee years, and others.  Doorly believes that this code was a pre-exilic stroll intended for education of Judahites, separate from the Priestly Code (49).

The Priestly Code is found in Ex. 12-13, 25-30, Lev. 1-7, 10-15, 27, Num 5-6, 9-10, 18, 27-30, and 35-36. This code includes laws about Passover (Ex. 12-13), the tabernacle (Ex. 25-30), offerings and sacrifices (Lev. 1-7), priests (Lev. 10), dietary laws (Lev. 11), diseases and discharges (Lev. 12-15), vows, tithes and offerings (Lev. 27), uncleanness (Num. 5-6), Passover (Num. 9-10), priestly laws (Num. 18), inheritance laws, festivals, and vows (Num. 27-30), and Levitical towns, more inheritance laws, and laws concerning murder (Num. 35-36) (65).  This code was probably laws intended for the Jerusalem temple priests (49). While some scholars believe the Aaronic priests preserved these laws in order to assert their superiority to the Levitical priests, Doorly points out that both the Aaronic and Levitical schools sought to preserve laws in light of their creative rewriting of Israel’s history, with the Levites beginning with the events of Deuteronomy, and the Aaronids beginning with the time of the Exodus (72-73).

19 Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible, 159.

20 Here is some additional history of the ancient priesthood (see note 18 above). Brevard Childs discusses the distinction of Aaronic and Levitical priests. Childs notes that in Ex. 28-29 and Lev. 8-10—where we find much information about the biblical priests—Aaron and his sons are consecrated to an eternal priesthood. The Aaronic priests performed cultic rites while Levites were responsible for maintenance of the tabernacle (e.g. Num. 1:47ff). But, Childs notes, we don’t find that distinction in Deuteronomy, which describe “Levitical priests” who have cultic responsibilities. We also find no Aaronite clergy in Judges and Samuel; Eli is the chief priest but he is from the Ephraim rather than the Levi tribe. When we get to Chronicles, we return to the separation of priest and Levites that we saw in Exodus and Leviticus.  Scholars like Julius Wellhausen explains the discrepancies in terms of the time period of the material: Ex. 25-40, Leviticus, and Numbers are post-exilic, while Deuteronomy is pre-exilic (i.e., late monarchy, from the time of Josiah), but Childs sees the historical development of the priesthood as largely irretrievable background history for the canonical text, in which the post-exilic form of priesthood has become normative. Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 145-150, 152-153.

21  Solomon’s sins vis-à-vis the Law are discussed in Marc Zvi Brettler, How to Read the Jewish Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 122-123.

22 Childs, Biblical Theology, 137.

23  The first of several books on this subject is Martin Noth, The Deuteronomistic History(Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002; originally published in 1943).

24  An excellent study is Walter Brueggemann, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith (second edition, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002).

Gordon J. Wenham writes, “The [book of Genesis] begins with the triumphant account of God creating the world in six days and declaring it ‘very good’, and it ends with Joseph confidently looking forward to his burial in the promised land. Judges by contrast opens with the rather ineffective efforts of the Israelite tribes to conquer that land and closes after a most dreadful civil war with the gloomy reflection, ‘In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes’ (21:25).” Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narrative Ethically (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000), 45.

25 Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 162-163.  Brevard S. Childs notes that the Old Testament has a presumed “pro-monarchial” source in 1 Sam. 8-12, specifically 9:1-10:16 and 11:1-5, compared with anti-monarchical sources (1 Sam. 8:1-22, 10:17-27, 12:1-25) that view a human king as an act of disobedience to God, the true monarch. Childs looks at the texts’ canonical shape and concludes that, although some of the biblical traditions were hostile to a monarchy, the final form of the text affirms God’s involvement in the monarchy, even though a monarchy was not part of God’s original plan (Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1986], 115). Furthermore, he continues, the career of the greatest monarch, David, becomes deeply significant for Israel’s ongoing hope in God’s redemption (Isa. 9:6-7, Jer. 23:5ff, Ps. 45, 72, 110, and the way David’s speech in 2 Sam. 22 echoes Hanna’s song in 1 Sam. 2). In his Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), Childs sees a similar tension regarding the book of Judges. The book itself connects the moral decline of the period to the lack of a king (18:1, 21:25), but in the anti-monarchical passages of 1 Samuel (e.g. 12:12ff), the office of judges rather than a monarch was God’s intention for Israel. Yet the future hope of Israel lay not in a judge but a Davidic king (150-151).

26 Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 184. Under the kingship of Solomon’s son Rehoboam (1 Kings 12) the kingdom divides between the northern (Israel) and the southern (Judah). A succession of kings rule Israel for the subsequent two hundred years until the Assyrians conquer that land in about 722 BC (2 Kings 12).  The later Babylonians did not compel the resettlement of conquered areas but the Assyrians did. Consequently, the deportation of the tribes in the northern kingdom resulted not only in “the lost tribes of Israel” but also the beginning of the Samaritan (2 Kings 17:1-6, 24-41, 18:9, 1 Chr. 5:26). Later, those from the southern kingdom who returned from Babylonian exile came into conflict with Samaritans in the years following (Hag. 2:10ff, Ezra 10:2ff, Neh. 4:1ff). See Childs, Biblical Theology, 162.

27  A helpful book to me was Walter Brueggemann, In Man We Trust: The Neglected Side of Biblical Faith (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1972), on the freedom of David.

28 Childs, Biblical Theology, 154-55.

29 Ralph W. Klein, “Exile,” The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), 367-370.

30 As commentator Choo-Leong Seow notes, Judah was destroyed because of persistent disobedience. (2 Kings 17). The righteous Hezekiah forestalled this judgment (2 Kings 20), but his son Manasseh was the worst of all the kings, on par with the northern king Jeroboam. Even Josiah’s reforms could not reverse God’s judgment following Manasseh’s sins (2 Kings 22:1-23:30). Choon-Leong Seow, “The First and Second Books of Kings,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume V (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 5, 6.

31 See Childs, Biblical Theology, 161-163, for several aspects of the period from biblical sources.

32  A book I enjoyed in seminary is Peter R. Ackroyd, Exile and Restoration: A Study of Hebrew Thought in the Sixth Century B.C. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1968).

33 Although Israel’s hope is understood to be fulfilled in Christ, themes of the exile still shape the Bible.  As Peter-Ben Smith points out, a key biblical theme, beginning with Eden, is that we are all in exile and long to be redeemed from exile. He points out that the Christian liturgical traditions are filled with the language of exile, and also the exile functions in theologies of liberation (the struggle for freedom amid oppression) and other contemporary theologies.  The biblical language about Jesus’ death and resurrection connects to Passover, which of course concerns the earlier exile of Egyptian slavery. Peter-Ben Smith, “Ecumenism in Exile,” World Council of Churches’ website, Accessed 2012.

34 These and the following scripture references are from Robert B. Coote, “The Book of Joshua,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume II, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 559.

35 Coote, “The Book of Joshua,” 561.

36 Coote, “The Book of Joshua,” 562.

37  Coote, “The Book of Joshua,” 562, 566 (quotation on page 562)

38  Brueggemann, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith, chapter 10.

39  Goldworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible, 52.  Goldworthy notes that the political kind of kingdom extended from the exodus (and holy war) through the historical books and through the conquest of David and eventually the nation’s destruction. “After that, the Holy War and divine deliverance notion is reinforced in the account of Esther and the Maccabees, historic events occurring against the background of prophetic and apocalyptic portrayals of the victories of the people of God and the glorious restoration of the nation, its land, temple, and kingly rule. In all this the Passover imagery of the slain lamb of God, the sufferings and rejection of the anointed David before his final vindication, and the suffering servant of the Lord seem to have been forgotten.” Thus the political nature of God’s kingdom has been there but not at the expense of the images that Jesus also brought into his announcement of the kingdom (53).

40  Goldworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible, 53.

41 “King, Kingship,” in Walter A. Elwell, ed., Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 451.

42  See footnote 18.

43  Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1965), 283-284.

44  Anderson, pp. 603-605.

45 NRSV Harper Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 558-559

46 Specifically, the order of the books in the “Writings” section of the Tanakh is: Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles.

47  Brettler, How to Read the Jewish Bible, 270-271.

48  I developed these thoughts about wisdom and Proverbs in my article, “Practical Wisdom,”Adult Bible Studies, June-July-August 1998 (Nashville: Cokesbury), 8-10.

49 Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 531-532 (quote on page 531).

50 Childs, Biblical Theology, 189-190

51  Charles T. Fritsch, “Introduction to the Book of Proverbs,” The Interpreter’s Bible, volume 4 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1955), 777.

52 Childs, Old Testament Theology, 209-210.

53  Charles T. Fritsch, “Introduction to the Book of Proverbs,” The Interpreter’s Bible, volume 4, 777-778.

54  Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible, 199.  Luke T. Johnson notes how artfully Mark 15:23-27 weaves Psalm verses in his depiction of the crucifixion: Ps. 69:21, Ps. 22:18, Ps. 22:7, Ps. 109:25, Ps. 22:8, Ps. 22:1, Ps. 69:21. The Writings of the New Testament, 139.

55  J. Clinton McCann, Jr., “The Book of the Psalms,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume IV (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 672-675.

56  “Job, Theology of,” in Elwell, ed., Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, 419.

57  The Twelve Minor Prophets, Hosea through Malachi, can be profitably (I almost spelled that “prophetably,” LOL) read as a single book, as indeed they are considered in the Jewish Tanakh. See my blog post

58 James L. Mays, general editor, Harper’s Bible Commentary (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988), 534-539.

59 Childs, Biblical Theology, 178.

60 Childs, Biblical Theology, 177

61  Harper’s Bible Commentary, 540.

62  Harper’s Bible Commentary, 540.

63  One handy list of biblical messianic prophecies is found at

64  Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible, 172-173.

65  Childs, Biblical Theology, 176.

3 thoughts on “Bible Connections: A Summary of the Bible, and How the Material Fits Together

  1. Pingback: Bible in a Year: Numbers 20-Deuteronomy 34 | Grace, Place, and the Like

  2. Pingback: Bible in a Year: The Writings | Grace, Place, and the Like

  3. Pingback: Bible in a Year: Isaiah through Daniel | Grace, Place, and the Like

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