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.

Advertisements

Scripture among the Apologists: Justin, Logos, and Paul

The Gospel of JohnOn Justin’s conception of the logos, much has also been written. Perhaps most important is that prior to the Apology, only in Johannine literature is Jesus identified with the logos.[i] On this Pryor writes that, “Outside the Johannine tradition there is no evidence of an explicit Logos Christology in the first century. Indeed, even here the explicit evidence is narrowed to three places: John 1:1-14, Rev. 19:3, and 1 John 1:1.”[ii] While Justin never explicitly quotes from the prologue of John, there are numerous allusions to language from that passage, as well as multiple theological connections.[iii] Contextually, it is imperative to recall that Justin would receive no assistance from naming his sources, for the Emperor would not have granted any sort of authority to John’s Gospel.[iv] Justin’s reliance on Logos theology pervades his Apology. To again cite Pryor, “There simply is no evidence that the apologists derived their initial impetus for developing a Logos Christology from any other source except Johannine Christianity.”[v] Thus, it seems very likely that Justin found the Fourth Gospel and its Logos doctrine a formative source for his Apology. Continue reading

In the Mail: An Anomalous Jew

image1Upon arrival at Saint Louis University this morning, I was pleased to find Michael Bird’s An Anomalous Jew: Paul among Jews, Greeks, and Romans (Eerdmans, 2016). I am most thankful to Eerdmans for sending this my way, and look forward to reading and reviewing what promises to be a stellar read.

From the Eerdman’s catalogue: “Though Paul is often lauded as the first great Christian theologian and a champion for Gentile inclusion in the church, in his own time he was universally regarded as a strange and controversial person. In this book Pauline scholar Michael Bird explains why.

An Anomalous Jew presents the figure of Paul in all his complexity with his blend of common and controversial Jewish beliefs and a faith in Christ that brought him into conflict with the socio-religious scene around him. Bird elucidates how the apostle Paul was variously perceived — as a religious deviant by Jews, as a divisive figure by Jewish Christians, as a purveyor of dubious philosophy by Greeks, and as a dangerous troublemaker by the Romans. Readers of this book will better understand the truly anomalous shape of Paul’s thinking and worldview.”

What Happened to the Apostles?

Apostolic Fathers IconWhile Christians often think about the death (and resurrection!) of Jesus, many Christians (especially Protestants) rarely consider how the earliest followers of Jesus lived out their last moments on earth. In part, this is because–unlike with Jesus–we have relatively few historically credible accounts of the death of the earliest leaders of the Jesus Movement. What we do have are various church traditions and accounts of the martyrdoms and deaths of the Apostles and Evangelists. Below are short renditions of some of the more widely attested accounts of the testimonies of the deaths of the apostles.

Perhaps the most widely known tradition concerning apostolic martyrdom is that of Peter who is said to have been crucified in Rome upside down during the reign of the Emperor Nero (typically dated around 64 CE). According to tradition, Peter felt unworthy to die in the same manner as the Lord Jesus, and thus was apparently crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross. Continue reading

The Trinity in the Early Church (Part II)

Holy SpiritHistorian J.W.C. Wand argues that the orthodox belief of the early church included the deity of the Holy Spirit, as it was essentially argued along with the deity of Christ in the Christological debates and was held as popular belief among Christians.[8] Yet as Rebecca Lyman argues that one cannot merely accept popular opinion as orthodoxy, for while popular belief in the church did play an important role in the defeat of Arianism, popular piety was a more divisive factor in later historical Christological debates, such as that between Cyril and Nestorius.[9] While one certainly cannot unwittingly conflate popular opinion as orthodoxy, the uniformity that existed between the orthodox Church Fathers and the general Christian population seems to indicate that worship and theology were intricately related in early Christianity, that belief and formalized doctrine were the same confession.[10] Often times the “differences” in doctrinal belief were simply a matter of use of “mutually confusing theological terms.”[11] Early Christians then used worship as the locus of their theological beliefs – how they worshiped is what they confessed. Continue reading

The Trinity in the Early Church (Part I)

Icon of the Holy Trinity (Rubilev)

Icon of the Holy Trinity (Rubilev)

The doctrine of the Trinity–espoused by the Cappadocian Fathers as “God is one object in Himself and three objects to Himself”–is commonly understood to be one of the more difficult concepts to grasp in Christian theology. Much of Early Church history revolved around debates concerning the Person of Jesus Christ and His relationship to the Father, and doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit was often not explicitly discussed. However by the time of the Cappadocian Fathers and Augustine, an explicit doctrine of the Trinity was emerging in Christendom (Kelly, 252). In her essay entitled “Why Three?” Sarah Coakley engages the Maurice Wiles’ perspective on the Trinity as espoused in his The Making of Christian Doctrine. Continue reading

Thinking about Salvation in Early Christianity (Part II)

Byzantine JesusMost early Christians seem to have lived with a fairly basic understanding of soteriology. Beginning with Tertullian of Carthage, however, deeper investigation into specific aspects of soteriological doctrine began to circulate within the Church.[14] Philosophical language and concepts began to find more frequent use among the Fathers, and soon after the Fathers began teaching that “Christ suffered for our sins, healing our wounds and destroying death by His blood, and that we have been restored to life and our sins purged by it.”[15] In the East, theologians such as Origen and Methodius debated the effect of Adam’s fall and its impact on human freewill, death, and the new Adam of Christ.[16] This eventually coalesced into statements indicating that, “sin called for a propitiation, and Christ stepped forward as ‘a victim spotless and innocent,’ propitiating the Father to men by His generous self-oblation.”[17] The developments in thought, influx of philosophical language, and challenges of geographic distance eventually led to different Christian centers processing different (at least slightly) beliefs regarding the person and work of Christ in human salvation.[18] Continue reading

Thinking about Salvation in Early Christianity (Part I)

diamaid-macculloch-christianityBy the early fourth century, the Christianity had spread across the Roman world with surprising speed, tenacity, and relative uniformity of belief. While the early Church was by no means completely uniform in doctrine, belief, or practice, the vast majority of Christians professed what has become known as Christian Orthodoxy.[1] Heresies such as Docetism, Ebionism, Gnosticism, Marcionism, and Montanism, while threatening the fledgling Church, were never serious threats in the way that the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries were. Chief among the divisions in the fourth century was the question of the deity of Jesus of Nazareth:[2] was the founder of the Church human? Was He divine? Was He somehow both? The answer to this question was important for historical reasons, but was even more important for its soteriological implications. Continue reading