What is a book about?
Take the last book you read. Can you succinctly state what it’s about in just a few sentences?
In How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren list the second rule of analytical reading: “State the unity of the whole book in a single sentence, or at most a few sentences (a short paragraph).” What they mean is that, if you understand a book, you should be able to summarize the main idea (if it’s an expository work) or plot (if it’s a fictional or historical work).
That got me thinking: what is the unity of the Bible? Do we think of the Bible as one cohesive whole? If we don’t, we should. While it has multiple human authors over a 1,500-year period, it ultimately has one Author who unites it.
Here’s how I would state the unity of the Bible: “This is the true story of God building and establishing his kingdom. He creates man, who then rebel against him, meriting the penalty of death. But God takes on the form of a man and dies in the place of his people (not all people, but those whom he has chosen), coming back to life to show he accomplished that purpose. This God-man returns in the end to finish establishing his kingdom, with his redeemed people dwelling there with him for all eternity.”
Obviously we could then nuance that with finer points of theology. I didn’t mention hell, or Israel, or prophets, etc. I tried not to make it universalistic, but that’s difficult when summing it up so quickly. But, as Aristotle says, “This is the essence of the plot; the rest is episode.” The many stories in the Bible are episodes in this history-spanning epic of God building his kingdom. They foreshadow it. They lead up to the finale, when Christ returns and finishes it. That hasn’t happened in history yet, but in the written Bible, that’s the end.
The authors go on to talk about how details, and an understanding of those details, are important to understanding a book. That’s where deep Bible study comes in.
What do you think? How would you state the unity of the Bible?