Seeing the Big Picture

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart comment that there are two key skills in reading the Bible: the ability to see the big picture; and the ability to see the distinctive detail of each passage, in particular to recognise its genre.

Here is my list of resources to help with the ‘big picture’ side of things. Do add yours in comments!

  • Scripture Union has developed the  E100 project which offers 100 Bible passages, 50 from the Old Testament and 50 from the New, to give you an overview of the Bible. It come with a range of supporting resources.
  • It might sound odd for adults, but we have found Children’s Bibles great for giving readable, accessible overviews of the whole Bible. The Lion Storyteller Bible is a good one for older children and adults.
  • Lesslie Newbigin gave an overview of the Bible in a series of talks at Holy Trinity Brompton several years ago, and these have been written up in the short booklet A Walk Through the Bible.
  • Philip Jenson and I have written an overview of the Bible in a Grove booklet What’s the Bible All About? It includes two schemes for understanding the big picture—one theological and one historical—then in a a few pages gives the story of the Old and New Testaments, with verses down the margin for references, and concludes with some reflections on the significance of seeing the whole story.
  • When teaching this in the local church, I made use of Simon Jenkins’ delightful The Bible from Scratch which covers all the books of the Bible with a series of cartoons and text. It is has been reprinted quite recently and is not only great fun but is also well researched.
  • Terence Copley’s The Story of the Book was published by Bible Society some years ago and has been reprinted by Scripture Union (without the original Taffy cartoons). It answers all the questions you would want to ask about the Bible, including things like ‘What is in it?’ and ‘How did it get to us?’
  • The Lion Handbook to the Bible was given to me as a teenager and has a wealth of resources, including really helpful diagrammatic overviews of the Bible story. It has just been reprinted in a revised, fourth edition.
  • I contributed to a volume edited by Philip Johnson called The IVP Introduction to the Bible which has been written by scholars to give an up-to-date and accessible introduction to sections, books and themes of the Bible.
  • Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen have expanded and reflected on Tom Wright’s ‘five act drama’ understanding of the story of the Bible (which we mention in What’s the Bible all About?) in the helpful volume The Drama of Scripture.
  • Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for all it’s Worth explores the different kinds (genres) of literature in the Bible, and explores them in turn.
  • Beyond that, you really need to start getting into introductions, and there is no better place to start than the SPCK volumes Exploring the Old/New Testament. I contributed to the second New Testament volume, on the letters and apocalypse, along with Howard Marshall and Stephen Travis. The format is very accessible, being half-way between a book and distance learning material as it includes questions for reflection and further exploration along with essay questions and resources. The Gospels volume is by Steve Walton and David Wenham.

9 thoughts on “Seeing the Big Picture

  1. I’m slightly ashamed to say that I used The Picture Strip Bible (Scripture Union) in two Old Testament classes this year. It’s interesting though that in it the NT is slightly longer than the OT.

  2. I’m doing the whole bible in an hour on Sunday to my congregation most of whom know little of the bible – I’m hanging it on the idea of the Tardis – it’s much more interesting on the inside than it looks on the outside! As are all our families, and essentially the bible is our family story. I’ll let you know how it goes…!

  3. Reading large chunks at once helps with the big picture – using some of the resources mentioned above, plus maps to see where the action is, plus on-line bible websites that let you compare different versions.

    I think the detailed picture depends on reading what’s actually there and asking for a bit of Holy Spirit interpretation/revelation as you go.

    Studying a passage with a small group of people is really rewarding.

    Writing my own summary is a good way to help it “stick” in the mind.

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