The Central Theme of the Bible
“The entire Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, are unified by a common narrative. And once our eyes are opened to see that narrative, everything in both Testaments gets into a coherent, understandable, and amazing story. And what is that story? It’s the story of Jesus Christ.”
Frank Viola & Leonard Sweet, “Jesus: A Theography.”
The theme of the Bible is not a principle, concept, set of values, ethics to be learned, spiritual sayings, collection of doctrines, snapshots of God, or a storehouse of propositions. The theme of the Bible is a person to be known. While there are many sub-themes in the Bible – like justice, peace, redemption, salvation or restoration – there’s a grand theme that begins in Genesis and weaves its way through the 66 books. The theme of the Bible, about which everything else revolves, is the One who was, who is, and who is to come. From beginning to end, the theme of the Bible is Jesus Christ.
Some people say they don’t understand the Bible. They may not understand it because the theme of the Bible may be a mystery to them. Only when the theme is known, do the contents become clear. As theologian and apologist Norman Geisler notes, “To understand the Bible, look for Jesus.” To understand the Bible we must know that, “In every part of both Testaments, Christ is to be found – dimly and indistinctly at the beginning – more clearly and plainly in the middle – fully and completely at the end – but really and substantially everywhere,” said the 19th century Anglican clergyman J. C. Ryle.
Christ Himself taught that He is the central theme of the Bible. He is the message and mediator of its meaning, the link between the Testaments, the content of the canon, and the unity of every book. This is plainly revealed in the Gospel. Walking to Emmaus with two disciples, He began with Moses and the Prophets to explain to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself (Luke 24:27).
When the religious leaders didn’t identify Christ as the main reason for God’s revelation, He confronted them saying, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” John 5:39-40. There was no wiggle-room for the religious leaders and there’s no wiggle-room for us; the Scriptures are all about Christ – and if we fail to see that, we miss the forest for the trees.
Martin Luther, the champion of sola scriptura (Scripture alone) and solo Christo (Christ alone), said, “In the whole Scripture, there is nothing but Christ, either in plain words or involved words … The whole Scripture is about Christ alone everywhere, if we look to its inner meaning, though superficially it may sound different … It is beyond question that all Scriptures point to Christ alone.” Simply stated, Stott affirms, “Jesus is the focus of Scripture.” Similarly, teacher and pastor Edmund Clowney says, “The Bible is the greatest storybook, not just because it is full of wonderful stories but because it tells one great story, the story of Jesus.”
To reduce the theme of the Bible to anything less than Christ is to miss the point of the Bible. Christ is more than a starting point for reading, reflecting, remembering, and responding to God’s Word; He’s the central point for the way we interpret and apply the Scriptures (John 1:18). This is true for both the Old Testament where Christ is veiled and the New Testament where Christ is clearly seen.
All the sub-themes of the Bible flow from Christ and fit together because of Him. Every literary form in the Bible (narrative, prophecy, poetry, teaching, etc.) unfolds a story that’s ultimately about Christ. Christ brings unity and coherence to Bible engagement. He’s the life-blood, the very pulse of the Bible. He’s the lens that brings Scripture into focus, the key that unlocks truth, the thread that secures, and the One who knits together the unity of the storyline from promise to fulfillment.
If Jesus made Himself the central theme of the Bible, then to know the Bible we must know Him. Knowing Christ is the prerequisite to effective Bible engagement. To know Him, we must align our hearts, minds, and wills with Him. The aligning of our hearts, minds and wills with Christ begins with confession of sin, contrition, repentance, and faith in Christ alone to save and sanctify us.
Not knowing Christ results in a Bible engagement malfunction. If we do not immerse ourselves in Christ by becoming what McKnight calls “a People of the Story” we cannot engage with the Bible. In fact, any misrepresentation or misunderstanding about Christ ends in a contortion or collapse in our understanding of the Bible; which in turn ends in an inability to see God as He really is.
Dutch theologian G. C. Berkouwer asserted, “Every word about the God-breathed character of Scripture is meaningless if Holy Scripture is not understood as the witness concerning Christ.” And the second Vatican Council add, “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” So when we engage with the Scriptures, let’s do so with Christ as the centre, inner reason, joyful hope, intimate friend, and compelling end.
Content from Bible Engagement Basics, credit Lawson, SU Canada
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