The Bible Has A Main Character & A Main Message
In the age of Biblical illiteracy, many people think the Bible is a choppy collection of books with differing messages about who God is and what he wants for his people. But the truth is, the Bible is a cohesive whole, with one main character (God, three in one) and one primary theme (the redemptive story of His people for His glory). When studying the Bible inductively (full tutorial here), it's important to recognize these themes (or main ideas) to correctly interpret the more detailed passages and individual books of the Bible.
Although the Bible as a whole has one main character and one primary theme, each book, chapter and passage has secondary themes which more clearly flesh out God's redemptive plans for his people. While bible scholars can cite hundred of themes in scripture, we've laid out a few common ones to help you to focus on the gospel message and its application in everyday life.
Keep an Eye Out for These Gospel Themes:
- What does the text say (explicitly or implicitly) about the gospel message? Look for statements about God's holiness, man's sin, redemption through Christ, and our future hope in the full restoration of creation.
New Self / Identity:
- What does the text say about who we are in Christ, after we are filled with his Holy Spirit and living free from the penalty of sin? Often, this is seen in context of our "old self," in passages that compare and contrast qualities of a believer versus an unbeliever.
The Great Commission:
- What does the text say about Jesus' command to go and make disciples of all nations? (Matthew 28:16-20) Where and how does this text encourage us to love our neighbor, witness to unbelievers, and help other believers mature in the faith?
The Great Commandment:
- What does the text say about loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? (Matthew 22:37) What does this love look like and how do we obtain it?
- What does the text say about God's establishment of, purpose for, and mission for the church (globally and locally)? It's sometimes helpful to note where a passage is speaking to the church (general), the church (specific), or a believer (as an individual).
- What does the text say about God's promises to us as redeemed followers of Jesus? What can we look forward to, be confident of, and have unchanging hope in?
"Types" of Jesus:
- How do the main characters or themes in the passage point back – or forward – to the person and work of Jesus? (As the Jesus Storybook Bible says, "Every story whispers His name.")
These might feel overwhelming and confusing at first...don't let that discourage you! If you aren't ready to mark these themes, you can at least have this list (with descriptions) for reference as you work through the interpretation part of the inductive bible study method. Over time, you'll start to see these themes more and more, better comprehending the cohesive nature of God's redemptive plan for His people in the person and work of Jesus.