Until about 12-15 years ago, I thought of the bible like this:
A collection of pearls. Isolated jewels, verses that packed punch and meaning, the parts always greater than the whole.
In this way of reading the bible, the book of Ephesians, for example, means little more than this gem from 2:8-9:
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Romans finds its meaning in 10:9-10, the “dynamite” located near the book’s center:
9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
And what else could be at the heart of the Gospel of John than the most famous pearl of them all, John 3:16?
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
That’s what I THOUGHT the bible was.
But over the last decade and a half, I’ve LEARNED it’s much more and much different.
It’s not the individual pearls. It’s the string that holds the pearls together.
Ephesians, example, is less about getting individual souls into heaven and more about God creating one new humanity — his Body — out of previously alienated factions. Romans dwells on the power of the Gospel to both judge and redeem all people by the same standard — first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. And John? Well, John himself tells us why he writes, though he waits til he’s almost finished before giving us his clue:
20:31 But these are written that you may believe[a] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
No writer you know of, whether essayist or novelist, strings together unrelated sentences. No, a good writer layers his narratives, crafts his arguments, and arranges his material so all the parts contribute to the larger whole. Context is everything.
If it’s true of your favorite novelist or your most convincing editorial writer, it’s even more true of Matthew, John, Paul, Moses, and others who have not given us isolated moments of insight. They’ve given us a sustained narrative of brilliance.
I suppose that’s why when we raise the bible at Good Shepherd, we call it inspired, eternal, and true.