The Bible in Thirty Chapters

What If…

The Bible is a pretty large book. Although we might not immediately think of it as such, how many other 2,128-page1 books do you have laying around your home? Or which reader has four different versions of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare on their bookshelf? The Bible is unique, not only for its contents, but also for its construction and history.

Though rightly regarded as the most important book you could ever own or read, modern Christians often fail to recognize the unique place in history we inhabit when it comes to accessing and understanding the Bible. For much of history, most Christians did not have access to the entire Bible. The first pandect (Bible in one book) was produced in the 8th century.2 Even after the invention of the printing press and the proliferation of Bibles in vernacular languages, many Christians only had access to particular books or collections of books in the Bible.


This reality got me thinking: what if I only had access to a couple of biblical books? Which ones would I want to have? My particular fondness for Luke and John would make those gospels priorities for me. Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy are vital for understanding God’s covenant with Israel, so those would be useful too. I might be a terrible theologian if I did not have a copy of Romans and a terrible 21st century Christian if I did not at least consider having Revelation. Simply imagining life without the whole canon serves as an important reminder of how blessed and privileged we are to live with access to multiple copies and versions of the entire Bible.

Thinking Smaller

However, as anyone who has read extensively in the biblical text knows, no biblical book contains within its scope the entire story of God’s People, the whole history of salvation, or even every key doctrinal point.3 Having access to certain books, therefore, might still leave a reader relatively uninformed about the biblical metanarrative, the overarching story of the Bible. This reality led me to reflect further: what if, instead of whole books, we only had access to certain chapters of the Bible? What if we only had access to, say, thirty chapters of the Bible: which ones would we want to have?

Before proceeding, I want to note a couple of things about what follows. First, this is an exercise in theological reflection. Far be it from me to suggest stripping the Bible down for parts or ignoring chapters which do not appear on this list. Second, I hasten to note the importance of reading all portions of the Bible in their literary contexts. Chapters in the Bible were not original to the text, having only been added in the 13th century.4 Even though this exercise is somewhat arbitrary, then, the process of focusing and limiting the Biblical text does reveal much about our theological commitments.

Finally, this list arises from my own concerns and contexts. The foci of these chapters are the biblical metanarrative (creation, fall, redemption, restoration), the history of Israel, the life and work of Jesus, and the message of the Church. Of course, there are plenty of other themes and messages to be highlighted by this type of exercise. Without further preparation, these are the thirty chapters I would use to summarize the Bible:

The Bible in Thirty Chapters

Genesis 1-3: Creation, Fall, and Curse

Genesis 12, 15: Call and Covenant with Abram

Exodus 12: Passover Initiated

Exodus 14: Crossing of the Red Sea

Deuteronomy 5-6: Ten Commandments and Heart of the Torah

Psalm 23: The Good Shepherd

Psalm 106: Summary of Israel’s History

Isaiah 53: The Suffering Servant

Ezekiel 37: Dry Bones and Restoration of Israel

Matthew 5-7: Sermon on the Mount

Luke 22-24: Lord’s Supper, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus

John 3-4: Born Again of Living Water

Acts 7: Summary of Israel’s Rebellion and Stoning of Stephen

Acts 26: Life of the Apostle Paul

Romans 9: God’s Continuing Covenant with Israel and Inclusion of the Gentiles

1 Corinthians 11(17)-12: Lord’s Supper, Spiritual Gifts, and Ecclesiology

Galatians 3: Abraham, the Law, and Faith in Christ

Hebrews 1: Christology and Superiority of Jesus

1 John 3: Children of God and Law of Love

Revelation 21: New Heavens and New Earth

What do you think of this list? Which chapters would you remove? What other chapters would you include?


1 The number of pages the in NRSV Bible on my desk.
2 Codex Amiantinus, a Vulgate edition prepared as a gift for Pope Gregory II.
3 Arguments for a Protestant reading of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans or a liturgically-informed reading of the Gospel of John fail to entirely convince me here, as both of these approaches present considerable contextual problems and often neglect important components of Israel’s story.
4 Alternative systems were devised by Archbishop Stephen Langton and Cardinal Hugo de Sancto Caro, with modern Biblical chapters deriving primarily from Langton’s system.

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The Resurrection

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. Continue reading

Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Bibliography

This post is the final in the series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

Ancient Sources

Clement of Alexandria. Quis Dives Salvetur. Edited by P. Mordaunt Barnard. Texts and Studies 5, 2. Nendeln: Kraus Reprint, 1967.

English Standard Version Bible. New York: Crossway, 2010.

Epistle of Barnabas. Translated by Bart D. Ehrman. The Apostolic Fathers: Volume Two. Loeb Classical Library 25. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003. Continue reading

Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Conclusions

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

RevelationThis study has undertaken an investigation of the Christology of the Apocalypse of John, seeking to fill a lacunae that has only been rarely and partially addressed in contemporary scholarship. This project has not sought to exhaustively address any of the issues mentioned above, only to draw together piecemeal existing studies and offer a unified argument for Revelation’s portrayal of “Jesus as Lord.” Much work remains to be done on this topic, especially the expansion of this project into a more detailed and comprehensive examination of the names, images, and actions of Jesus in Revelation.[1] Continue reading

Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Implications for Modern Christianity (Part III)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, Long BeachRevelation also highlights the importance of doxology in the contemporary world. Throughout the history of Christological development, interpretations of who Jesus is necessarily took place in the context of the place given him in Christian devotional practices.[1] While there are obviously limits to defining doctrine based on the sensus fidei, the fact remains that contemporary Christian doxology may fruitfully inform understandings of who Jesus is and how he is appropriately worshiped. Revelation also encourages active and vibrant doxological practice in today’s church communities, calling Christians everywhere to join in the worship of God and Jesus along with the saints across time and place. Continue reading

Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Implications for Modern Christianity (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

Sacred ScriptureThe Apocalypse holds a unique position within the Christian scriptures, being the only piece of explicitly Christian prophetic material to make the canonical cut. First and foremost, Christians must engage Revelation’s prophetic utterances within a context of Old Testament prophecy, much of which ultimately points towards the coming of Yahweh’s kingdom on earth. Second, interpreters should take seriously Bauckham’s dictum that, “Biblical prophecy always both addressed the prophet’s contemporaries about their own present and future immediately impending for them and raised hopes which proved able to transcend their immediate relevance to the prophet’s contemporaries and to continue to direct later readers to God’s purpose for their future.”[1] Third, a preterist approach to Revelation—arguing that most of the Apocalypse’s prophetic material has been fulfilled—should find value in Revelation as not only as a demonstration of the faithfulness of God and how he works in the world, but also as a source for purging and refurbishing the Christian imagination. Continue reading

Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Implications for Modern Christianity (Part I)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

Early Church FathersAs a professing Christian standing in the Great Tradition of the Church, I believe that the faith and practices of early followers of Jesus form an important authority for contemporary expressions of Christianity. Regarding devotional practice, worship of Jesus remains not only acceptable, but is in fact required for those professing orthodox Christian faith. The appropriateness of Jesus devotion remains not only a facet of Church tradition, but also of the earliest Christians faiths recorded in the New Testament, which testify to the fact that Jesus was and is Messiah, Redeemer, Coming Judge, and Lord, all within the context of monotheistic belief in one God. The identification of Jesus with Yahweh was not a later accretion. Rather, Jesus’ identification with God—Yahweh come to earth—was a hallmark of the earliest Christian communities. Those who diverge from this (minimally) “binitarian” understanding of God-Jesus stand outside the boundaries of orthodox Christianity. Therefore, contemporary followers of Jesus are called to affirm with the Great Church of history that “Jesus is Lord” and worthy of worship. Continue reading

Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Implications for Early Christianity (Part III)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

Chester Beatty Papyrus (Romans)While early Christian literature remains maddeningly obscure in its identification of source texts, theological influences, and employment of traditional materials—thereby rendering futile many attempts at identifying a single source as the genesis for any given idea or practice—Revelation’s general conception of the boundaries of Jesus devotion nonetheless seems to have coordinated with other now–New Testament writings in the formation of limits concerning what constituted acceptable Christian confession and practice. Continue reading

Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Implications for Early Christianity (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

New TestamentOf course, the profusion of Jesus devotion in Revelation is not unique to the Apocalypse alone, but rather stands in continuity with other now–New Testament literature. John’s Christology—especially the implicit recognition of the divinity of Jesus, his identification with Yahweh, and worthiness of devotion—unsurprisingly parallels most closely the Christology of the Fourth Gospel, although Hurtado’s consideration of high Pauline Christology contains numerous similarities to the Christology of the Apocalypse as well.[1] Continue reading