Bible Overview (Book Review)

bible-overviewYears ago I remember hearing Bible teacher R.C. Sproul respond to one of his fans.  The man said he was so thankful for Sproul’s teacher because he made the Bible “come alive” for his students.  Nothing too unusual there.  Gifted teachers in most any subject are able to transfer their enthusiasm for their subject to listeners.  But this time, the teacher wanted to make a point about the unique nature of the Bible.  Sproul replied with a smile, “I can’t make the Bible come alive.  The Bible makes me alive!”  So it is with the Book of books.  And yet, lots of people feel boredom, dryness, and confusion when they read the Bible.  Its message seems incoherent, or at the very least vaguely moralistic.  Its relevance appears almost entirely outdated.  It has an ancient, foreign feel to modern sensibilities.  For people who sympathize with such complaints, closing the Bible and asking “What’s the point?” is probably the last and lingering thought they share about the Bible.

I am convinced that one of the main problems modern people have when it comes to reading and enjoying the Bible is the problem of understanding.  Because once you understand the nature, the purpose, and the plotline of the Bible, you can begin to sense deep down that its message is truly the Greatest Story Ever Told.  The Bible has managed to transcend time and place because it has proven to be a timeless epic and a priceless treasure trove of wisdom.  Most of all, it remains the most printed, owned, and read book of all time because it addresses humanities fundamental questions with satisfying answers:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Where did I come from?
  3. What is wrong with us and the world?
  4. What is the solution to the problems we face?
  5. What is the purpose and meaning of life?
  6. What must I do to be saved?
  7. What will happen to me after I die?

With these in mind, Steve Levy, author and pastor of a church in Swansea, Wales, has written the most entertaining, delightful, and accessible introduction to the Bible that I have ever seen.  In this book, Bible Overview (BO: a great example why you should never judge a book by its drab title), Levy explains in page after page how the Bible is about Jesus.  From beginning to end.  From Old Testament to New Testament.  Everything.  It turns out that Jesus is the interpretive key that so many people, including a great many Christians, need to unlock the mysteries of the Bible.  In crystal clear, conversational writing, Jesus is not only presented as the key but is employed constantly to unlock the meaning of the Bible.  The author’s enthusiasm is contagious as the reader glimpses not only how the Bible makes Levy come alive, but also experiences the same for himself.

In Part One of BO, Levy explains what the Bible says about itself.  This section contains five short chapters that give the interpretive key (Jesus), discuss authorship and audience, provide guidance on how to read the Bible properly, and answer the question of why the Bible is frequently difficult to read.  Part One thus serves as an introduction, but an engaging one not to be skipped.  The rest of the book is divided into ten parts.  Each Part traces the story line of the Bible from beginning to end following a rough chronological order of OT (Law, Former and Latter Prophets, and Writings) and NT (Gospels, Acts and the church, and the church in Revelation).

The format of each chapter is to begin with a very brief “slice of life” to bridge the Bible section with today’s reader.  Chapter length is always less than 10 pages (with the one exception being 10 pages total), and most chapters are 5 pages or less.  Again, this is easily-digestible reading, which makes for a sometimes difficult topic being simpler to comprehend.  The method of each chapter is to quote several passages of the Bible, sometimes as the proof for the author’s argument, other times as the argument itself.  In the latter case, Levy strings together various Bible passages with brief comments in between to show from the sources what the Bible says.  Students of the technical discipline known as Biblical Theology will recognize Levy’s approach.  The Bible is presented not as a book of morals, or a systematic theology, or a practical life handbook, but as a sweeping historical epic of God’s history of dealing with his people.  The four basic movements are Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Re-Creation.  This straightforward way of reading the Bible helps confused readers because people understand life best when contextualized in story form.  We intuitively understand life in terms of Story.  The Bible is no different as the story of God and his people.

When presenting any subject in overview format, some simplification is inevitable and even necessary.  BO has these same limitations.  More advanced students of the Bible many quibble about a few details regarding Levy’s interpretation of various Bible events.  For example, in his explanation of the Bible’s first chapter (Genesis 1; page 47 of BO), Levy quotes verse 26 “Then God said, ‘Let us make…'”  Then he writes, “Notice the plural ‘us’.  In the beginning was God–the Father, the Son and the Spirit.  This is how the creation starts.  And they create.”  Bible students may quibble whether this verse is an early allusion to the Trinity, or something else like God addressing his angelic heavenly court, but either way the rest of the Bible does teach the three persons of the Trinity were actively involved in forming the creation (cf. Gen 1:2; Mal 2:10; Jn 1:1-3, 14; Col 1:15-17).  But there should be no argument that, overall, the author gets it essentially right.  For those who disagree with Jesus being the key to the whole Bible, including the OT, because of an interpretive commitment to allowing prior revelation to interpret latter revelation (e.g., the “dispensational” reading grid), I simply encourage you to pay careful attention the method of Bible interpretative Jesus used and taught his disciples to employ.  Which is simply that Jesus and his gospel are the grid through which the rest of the Scriptures find their true meaning.  Those with such questions would do well to study the book of Hebrews and consider the reading cue its author takes from Jesus himself in the Gospel of Luke 24:27, 44-45.  This reading strategy is commonly known as “covenantal.”

There are also a number of valuable appendices included.  By the end of BO, the reader will surely have questions about how Jesus can be the interpretive key to the whole Bible, and about how to deal with particular Bible difficulties.  Paul Blackham, BO’s editor and authorial advisor, wrote the FAQs.  A most basic question may occur to the reader: since I’ve never heard of Jesus being the key to the OT, is this a new proposal in church history?  Appendix 2 thus offers a selection of quotations from church history beginning in the 19th century and work back to the post-apostolic fathers.  From Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle to Ignatius, each quote demonstrates that a plurality of important and widely recognized Bible teachers have seen Jesus as the key to understanding the whole Bible.  Appendix 3 contains sets of seven Bible readings and questions—one set for each section of BO.  Finally, Appendix 4 provides a comprehensive list of OT quotations in the NT, providing the links to the OT that the NT uses to justify Jesus as the key.  No commentary on these OT quotations is provided.  So this list is meant to be a resource for further study to investigate the nature of the quotations.

At my church we have been looking for a resource to give elder candidates to prepare for understanding and knowing the Bible.  Traditional Bible Handbooks can be helpful.  And I’m a big fan of Evangelical and Reformed study Bibles.  But I think we will start with Steve Levy’s Bible Overview.  More than any other book I know, it can serve as an affectionate and infectious introduction to the Bible.

Resources

About the author

The book’s Table of Contents

Read a sample of the book

Download group study guides for each chapter (see “Associated Media” section on the page)

Hear the author preach

Reviews

Amazon

Goodreads

Reformation Theology

Themelios (pp. 375-376)

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