Are you a member of the Perpetual Bible in a Year Club? I am. I know several people who have read through the entire Bible. Some have even managed it in a year. About ten years ago now, I set out to join them… and like many others, I fell behind. I promised I wouldn’t give up, though, and I didn’t restart, so I am technically still trying to read the Bible in a year.
Along the way to Revelation, however, I realized that I could learn about the whole Bible without necessarily reading cover-to-cover. Thanks to a variety of excellent Bible teachers and writers, I discovered that salvation history is laid out in the Bible quite nicely, and you can get through it much more quickly than you might think. If you’re ambitious, you can do it in an hour.
Thus, I present for your edification a recording of an Ave Maria Press webinar presented by Dr. John Bergsma, author of Bible Basics for Catholics. You can read my review of Bible Basics very quickly, or take some time to read the whole book, but if you’re aiming for the middle ground and short on time, give this video a try:
And if you don’t even have that much time, my highlights follow.
As Bergsma explains, the primary focus on any Catholic study of salvation history is the concept of covenant. A covenant is “the extension of kinship by oath”: you weren’t related, but since you made a promise, now you are. The most common covenant we’re familiar with is marriage, which takes two otherwise unrelated people and turns them into family.
In Scripture, we find a number of covenants. If we count the prophets’ proclamation of the new covenant, we get seven covenants from Adam to Jesus. Although the story of Adam and Eve never uses the word “covenant,” we know that Adam was party to a covenant with God thanks to a number of signs. Among them is the seven-day period of creation, signifying that God was “seven-ing himself” with man.
However, Adam experiences the great Fall, and that family feud takes a long time to restore. Humanity deteriorates to the point that God starts over with Noah, forming a second covenant. Noah experiences his own fall almost immediately after leaving the Ark. By the time we get to Abraham, the covenant is greatly expanded, and the stakes are much higher. Abraham’s descendants multiply into a nation, but they don’t have any land. When God frees them from Egyptian slavery, he gives them commandments via Moses to outline the covenant like a set of family rules. The golden calf incident and multiple rebellions in the desert demonstrate that the people can’t be faithful to that covenant, either, and things descend in horrifying terms until King David enters the scene, earning an eternal throne by his fidelity.
Of course, the God-and-man family relationship continues to decline after David and Solomon, leading to the Babylonian exile. Although the people are suffering, the prophets promise that a new covenant is coming. Finally, it does, in Jesus, who establishes an eternal covenant in his blood. This covenant includes all of the faithful by way of baptism, the Eucharist, and the Holy Spirit. The original family is finally restored.
But that’s just an overview. Even Bergsma’s stick figures give you more detail than that.
Personally, I have found such grace and spiritual fulfillment every time I’ve studied salvation history and covenant theology that I try to share it every chance I get. If your new year’s resolution has already fallen by the wayside, maybe this is your opportunity to accomplish something big in a very short time. Set aside 60 minutes to watch this webinar. Take notes. Pause and rewind to look up the Scripture references as you go. Print (or draw!) the mosaic of all seven covenants. Don’t let this be just another year when you wish you could understand the Bible—do it!