2022-10-12
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If a friend who was curious about Christianity asked you to summarize what the Bible is about in one sentence, what would you say? That’s a challenging question because we often learn about various stories from the Bible, but don’t often talk about the Bible as a whole. As a result, it’s easy to get the impression that the Bible is a collection of wonderful stories, but without anything that connects them together.

There is an overarching storyline, though, and it’s this narrative that makes the Bible a single book. By understanding it, you’ll be able to grasp what the Bible is about, make sense of how the parts of the Bible fit into the whole, and gain insight into the meaning of individual books, passages, and verses.

A good one-sentence summary of the Bible is the following: The Bible tells the story of the redemption of human beings. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, paradise is lost, and in the last book, Revelation, paradise is restored. The story unfolds in four major parts, which can be compared to the acts of a play. These four acts are 1) Creation, 2) Fall, 3) Redemption, and 4) Restoration. We’ll look at each in more detail below.

Act 1: Creation

The Old Testament contains Act 1 and Act 2, Creation and Fall, but also predicts and looks forward to Acts 3 and 4 (Redemption and Restoration).

God created the world and all that is in it. He also created humans, who were made in God's image (Genesis 1-2). Adam and Eve lived happily in the Garden of Eden and enjoyed direct and unbroken fellowship with God. God also gave them the privilege and responsibility of taking care of and developing his creation (Genesis 1:28). There was only one rule to obey: they were not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The penalty for doing this, God warned, would be death (Genesis 2:16-17). But at least for a time, Adam and Eve enjoyed God’s good creation and a close relationship with their Creator.

Act 2: Fall

However, Adam and Eve weren’t alone in the garden. The serpent was also there, watching and waiting for an opportunity. Although the identity of the serpent isn’t revealed in Genesis, the book of Revelation makes it clear when it refers to “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9).

Satan engages in a conversation with Eve and contradicts what God had told her and Adam about eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan implies that God is withholding something good from the couple, and that by eating the fruit, they can become like God himself (Genesis 3:4-5).

As God had warned, this act of disobedience brought about death, which came in four different forms.

• Spiritual death—Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden and God’s immediate presence, and now all of their descendants are born “dead in [their] transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

• Physical death—They could no longer eat from the tree of life and “live forever.” From this point forward, human beings would die and “return to the ground” (Genesis 3:19, 22-24).

• Relational death—Before, Adam and Eve had lived in relational harmony, but now their relationship would be characterized by conflict (Genesis 3:16). This conflict would infect all human relationships, bringing division and disharmony.

• Creational death—“Cursed is the ground because of you,” God told Adam. The apostle Paul echoes this when he writes, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22).

This rebellion by Adam and Eve, and the consequences that resulted, are known as the fall.

Act 3: Redemption

The fall was an incredible tragedy whose consequences we still deal with today. But because of God’s love and mercy, he immediately initiated a rescue plan. Rather than leave the human race in permanent exile, he promised that a descendant of Eve would one day destroy Satan’s work: “I will put enmity [hostility] between you [the serpent/Satan] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

This verse has been called the protoevangelion—the first telling of the gospel—because it foretells that a son of Eve would one day destroy the serpent, but sustain an injury in the process. In hindsight, we know that this was fulfilled by Jesus, who defeated Satan decisively on the cross by paying the penalty for our sin, yet suffered the pain of crucifixion (1 John 3:8; Colossians 2:13-15).

Thus, Act 3 is foretold in the Old Testament, but takes place in the New Testament through the death and resurrection of Christ, as described in the four Gospels. This Act tells the story of redemption, which in Scripture conveys the idea of making a payment in order to release someone from a state of captivity, slavery, or death (Ephesians 1:7).

Act 4: Restoration

We’ve seen how paradise was lost because of the fall, but that God made a way for all people to be reconciled to himself through Christ’s redeeming work. Yet creation, as Paul observes, remains in “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:20), including our own physical bodies. So, in order to fully reverse the destruction that happened in the garden, God will create a new heavens and earth in the fourth and final Act of the Bible’s storyline, Restoration.

Act 4 takes place in the book of Revelation in the New Testament. There, we see God reversing all of the effects of the Fall, and restoring creation to his original intention. Death will be no more, once again the tree of life will be freely available, and “no longer will there be any curse” (Revelation 22:2-3). God’s people will live together in harmony, and as in the garden, we will have direct and intimate fellowship with God. As the apostle John, the author of Revelation, declares: “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3).

To sum up, understanding the four Acts of the Bible’s storyline—Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration—is the key to understanding what the Bible is all about. Determining where any biblical book, passage, or verse fits into this framework will help you to understand it better.

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