It’s important to remember that the Bible is both one book and many books. The word “bible” comes from the Latin “biblia,” which simply means “books.” There are 66 books in the Protestant Bible, so one could say that the Bible contains a library of books.
Within these books are dozens of stories. In Genesis we find story after story: Adam and Eve and the serpent, Cain and Abel and the first murder, Noah and the flood, the tower of Babel, Abraham and Lot, Hagar and Ishmael, Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham and the offering of Isaac. And that’s just the first half of the first book! These stories are both fascinating and captivating. They teach us much about God and his people.
At the same time, the Bible is also one book because it tells one story, God’s story. It is God’s story because it is primarily the story about God – who He is, what He is like, and what He has been doing from the beginning of time. When reading the Bible, we can get caught up in a multitude of details – the hundreds of characters and events and individual stories – and forget the One Big Story that is being told, the big picture that is being painted about God.
Bible scholars have a name for this One Big Story – “metanarrative.” This “big narrative” is all about “the whole universal plan of God worked out through his creation. Key aspects of the plot at this top level are the initial creation itself, the fall of humanity, the power and ubiquity of sin, the need for redemption, and Christ’s incarnation and sacrifice” (Douglas Stuart and Gordon Fee, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, p. 91). Other names for the One Big Story include “the story of redemption” or “redemptive history” or “salvation history.”
When reading the Bible, let’s always keep this One Big Story in mind, for everything that happens in the Bible is somehow related to it, is part of it and gets its meaning from it.
Again I quote Stuart/Fee:
“Let’s be clear: The Bible is not merely some divine guidebook, nor it is a mine of propositions to be believed or a long list of commands to be obeyed. True, one does receive plenty of guidance from it, and it does indeed contain plenty of true propositions and divine directives. But the Bible is infinitely more than that.
It is no accident that the Bible comes to us primarily by way of narrative – but not just any narrative. Here we have the grandest narrative of all – God’s own story. That is, it does not purport to be just one more story of humankind’s search for God. No, this is God’s story, the account of his search for us, a story essentially told in four chapters: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation. In this story, God is the divine protagonist, Satan the antagonist, God’s people the agonists (although too often also the antagonists), with redemption and reconciliation as the plot resolution” (How to Read the Bible Book by Book, p. 14).
Stuart/Fee go on to unpack these four “chapters” of the One Big Story in the first seven page of their book quoted above, a section entitled “The Biblical Story: An Overview” (pages 14-20). This wonderful introduction to and summary of the Bible is written brilliantly, and is reason enough to invest in this book. I have read these seven pages repeatedly over the past several years, and I never tire of seeing the big picture of the Bible laid out so well.
When reading the Bible, always be asking this question: “How does this particular passage fit into the One Big Story, God’s story of redemption?”