Over the last couple of years, I have come to love the work of the Bible Project, and their videos on YouTube, for a number of different reasons. The project is the brainchild of Tim Mackie, a biblical scholar from Portland, Oregon, and Jon Collins, a graphics designer that Tim met as a theology undergraduate, and they have been working on it full-time (funding by donations) since around 2015.
Overall, the videos are a wonderful combination of great theology and really good communication in graphic, video form. But underlying that is a conviction about what needs to happen in order for us to understand the Bible well, and I think this the project’s enduring strength. The repeated theme is that we need to understand that whole narrative of the whole Bible, and we need to relate that to the person of Jesus. In other words, the story of the Bible is primarily a story about God, even if different parts of that story focus on different individuals and groups. And if the climax of that story (see Heb 1.1) is the revelation of God in the person of Jesus, then the story only really makes sense when it leads to our understanding of who Jesus is.
But the project videos don’t follow this through in a naive ‘Where’s Wally/Jesus’ kind of approach. They take seriously the particular distinctives of each section of Scripture, attending to both the historical and cultural contexts of each text but also to their literary forms and place in the whole canon of Scripture, and this is the other major strength of the project. Looking careful at the detail of each text, then standing back and seeing the text in its context, are the two great skills needed in engaging with reading the Bible well.
Thus the project offers videos which look at particular books (in two forms now—one with a more detailed ‘doodle’ video, packed with information, and another in a more flowing narrative style, with different graphic styles to match), but also at the wider story of the whole Bible. There are videos exploring how to read certain kinds of literature, but also that look at particular themes and ideas, including word studies, theological themes, and ideas that run through the whole of the biblical narrative. The net result, if you watch all the different kinds of videos, is that you will be equipped with an intersecting competence in understanding the particular text you are reading, its canonical significance, be aware of key ideas and theological issues in the text, and put those all together into a theological reading of Scripture. In this way is addresses the range of questions we need to look at in reading the Bible well.
As just one example of this, a few months ago our church group (which currently meets on Tuesday evenings on Zoom) watched the doodle video on Leviticus, as someone had raised this as a difficult text to read and understand. In a manageable period of time and an accessible format, it not only helped us to understand the cultural context of some of the difficult elements of the text, particularly the logic of animal sacrifice, but it highlighted how important this was as background to understanding what the New Testament says about the sacrificial death of Jesus. The videos are also helped by their honesty and humour; this one begins ‘The Book of Leviticus. We know you’ve been avoiding it, because it’s weird. So let’s fix that!’