I love to read. I also love Jesus. I must confess, however, that I do not always love to read about Jesus. I would wager that most Christians (and many non-Christians) know that the Bible is a book about Jesus. I would also wager that many of those same people might struggle to explain how a long list of “begats,” hundreds of detailed Levitical laws, and Joshua fighting the Battle of Jericho are about Jesus. It’s not their fault, though; they have never been taught that the Bible has a story. Just one. It is a story about Jesus. But it’s not easy to read.
Thank God for Jeff Cavins and Tim Gray. Along with several other gifted writers, they have developed The Great Adventure: a series of books and Bible studies that reveal the narrative story of Scripture. I had the opportunity to participate in a summertime study of the short version of the Bible Timeline at Emmaus Catholic Parish a number of years ago. Those eight weeks changed the way I read the Bible. It makes sense now! If you’re thinking, “But I don’t have time for eight straight weeks of homework and driving to meetings,” then I know Walking with God: A Journey Through the Bible is for you. It’s a book. You can read it at your own pace. You don’t even need to read the referenced verses in order to understand (although that will help). No more excuses.
If you’ve ever tried to read the Bible cover-to-cover and become a “Genesis expert” because you never made it any further in, you might have wondered if you really needed to read every single page to get the story. The good news is that you don’t. By focusing in on fourteen narrative books (which keeps you from getting bogged down in Psalms later), you can get the overall picture of the story of salvation (a.k.a. salvation history):
|Period||Book(s) of the Bible|
|Early World||Genesis 1–11|
|Egypt & Exodus||Exodus|
|Conquest & Judges||Joshua, Judges|
|Royal Kingdom||1 and 2 Samuel, 1 Kings|
|Divided Kingom||1 Kings, 2 Kings|
|Maccabean Revolt||1 and 2 Maccabees|
The journey from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to the Catholic Church of today passes through a series of covenants. Explaining the full meaning of “covenant” is beyond my abilities, but a basic definition is that a covenant is a sacred promise that forms a family relationship. There are rules to follow the keep the covenant, blessings for obeying it, curses for disobeying it (marked by shedding blood at the establishment of the covenant), and a permanent familial bond for those making the covenant. The ultimate penalty for breaking a covenant is death. Therefore, when Adam and Eve break their original covenant with God, they bring death into the world. The entire story of the Bible is God’s offer of covenant after covenant, attempt after attempt to re-establish his eternal bond of love with his people. That comes to fulfillment in Jesus’ death and resurrection. The story begins and ends with God’s overarching, unshakeable love for his people.
Cavins and Gray offer an excellent balance among all the ways to approach Scripture. There are some novel interpretations, for sure, but they don’t claim to be the final word on anything. They include important historical details that unlock information Jewish readers would have understood immediately. Each period of the Timeline begins with an outline of that period, and then the narrative is broken down into easy-to-follow “acts,” like a movie. They highlight specific words and phrases that clarify meaning. It’s like the best, most eye-opening homilies you’ve ever heard—but in book form, so you can take your time, re-read, and double-check the verses.
Perhaps the best aspect of this packaging of salvation history is the persistent message that Jesus is coming. Once he shows up, Cavins and Gray remind us that we knew he was coming all along. Throughout the early narrative, they draw the outline of the portrait of the coming Messiah. Thus, when readers reach the New Testament, myriad references to stories from Israel’s history are fresh, clear, and illuminating, filling in the outline to form a full image of our Faith. It’s all about Jesus; it was always about Jesus.
Here are some of the gems I learned from this book:
- After the film-worthy story of the Exodus from Egypt and wandering through the desert, the Israelites finally approach the Promised Land. Yet they are afraid to enter, not believing that God will give them the military might and supernatural strength they’ll need. They would rather go back to Egypt and be slaves again. So God speaks to the few faithful followers, asking why they won’t believe him, even after watching the Nile turn to blood and eating manna that fell from the sky (Numbers 14:11). God doesn’t speak directly to people now like he did in the Old Testament, but even when he did speak directly to them, and bread fell from heaven, they didn’t believe him. No wonder he is less audibly communicative these days.
- Have you ever heard readings from the prophets and wondered why they seem to be referring to Israel and Judah as separate places? Judah was one of the twelve tribes of Israel, so they’re the same place, right? Nope! After Solomon’s flagrant unfaithfulness to the covenant (despite asking for wisdom and building the Temple), the kingdom split into two groups: ten tribes formed the kingdom of Israel to the north and two tribes formed Judah to the south.
- The archangel Gabriel makes his first appearance in Scripture not to Zechariah, but to the prophet Daniel (9:21). When he later comes to Zechariah, it’s at the same time of day.
- During Jesus’ battle with Satan over temptation (Matthew 4:4ff), every Scripture verse Jesus quotes to counter Satan is from Deuteronomy.
I could go on, but my best advice is to just read the book. Take it slowly; it’s a narrative story, but it’s not a novel. Pause to reflect on what you’re learning. Share it with others. Use your background knowledge to contextualize the readings at Mass. Read through the narrative books in your Bible and follow the story that leads to Jesus. His story is your story. His glory is your glory.