Introduction to the Bible: An Introduction to the Bible
by Rev. Ralph A. Smith
The Central Theme of the Bible
What is the central theme of the Bible? To answer this question, we must consider one that is more fundamental: Does the Bible have a central theme? For the Bible to be truly one book, the answer must be yes. Certainly this is the answer of Christian people from every land, language, and culture who, for almost 2000 years, have confessed that the Bible is a unified revelation from God. The Bible itself confirms this testimony. Although written by over 40 different authors over a period of about 1500 years, the Bible presents an integrated worldview in its doctrines of God, man, law, history, and salvation. The harmony of the Biblical teaching is all the more wonderful since it represents an organic growth of revelation in the historical outworking of God's covenant relationship with His people from the original creation to the end of the world.
Christians from all ages have confessed the unity of the Biblical message, but they have not all found the unity of the Bible in the same themes. Some, for example, have suggested the idea of redemption. Now the Biblical story surely is the unfolding of a redemptive drama. The Bible tells us how man fell into sin and how God in His grace saved man (Gn. 3:1-15). It tells us of God's great love for sinful men and the death of Jesus to redeem man (Jn. 3:16). The Bible teaches us that the Holy Spirit was sent into the world to apply Jesus' redemptive work to man (Rm. 8:1-14). At the climax of history, we will see the world redeemed and the full manifestation of God's glory (1 Cr. 15:22-28).
Redemption is certainly one of the grand themes of the Bible. But redemption does not seem to be a broad enough theme to include all other subjects. To be specific it does not seem broad enough to include topics like creation, which occurs before there is any need for redemption and seems to be more important in the Bible than just background information for redemption. It would be difficult with a central theme as narrow as redemption to find a proper place for other themes such as angels, Satan, fallen angels, hell, and so on.
Others have suggested that the central theme of the Bible is Christ Himself. This must be true in some sense for Christ is the Creator of the world and the Word of God incarnate (Jn. 1:1-3). From the fall to the consummation of redemption, the Biblical message centers on the person of Christ as the Savior of the world. He is prefigured in types, and predicted in prophecy (Lk. 24:25-27). Whatever answer one gives to the question of the main theme of the Bible, Christ must be a part of the answer. But is it possible to find an answer that is more concrete? In what sense should we think of Christ as the center?
The idea of the covenant is also suggested as the most important theme in the Bible. Again, the covenant is definitely a main theme. The Bible tells the story of God's covenants with Adam and Christ (Rm. 5:12 ff.). It tells us how Adam broke the covenant and brought the human race, which he represented, into sin and judgment. Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David were all given covenantal promises that represented a renewal of the covenant with Adam and the promise of a better covenant to come. That better covenant, of course, is the new covenant in Christ. He came to be our new representative, to succeed where Adam had failed. By His death on the cross, He redeemed us from sin and judgment -- the Adamic curse. In His resurrection, we are given life. Thus, from creation to redemption, the whole Biblical message is covenantal.
Like redemption, the covenant is definitely a unifying theme of the Bible, but it also seems to be inadequate to bring together the full range of Biblical revelation. By itself, the notion of covenant tends to be abstract and difficult to define. What is needed is a theme that is broad enough to embrace every major Biblical idea, a theme that includes redemption, gives proper honor to Christ as the Creator and Savior, and also does justice to the centrality of the covenantal idea.
Such a theme is the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God, all of the other suggested major themes are included and given proper place. In addition, the kingdom of God includes other themes important for our understanding of the Bible, such as creation, the Biblical teaching about angels and demons, the doctrine of final judgment and everlasting punishment. Christ Himself remains a central theme of the Bible because as the King, He is the center of the kingdom, its very essence. Redemption as a central theme is understood as the drama of God's restoring the kingdom to its original purpose. For after God created His kingdom, man led it into sin through covenantal rebellion.
Also, the theme of the covenant finds its proper place when it is recognized that the covenant is the constitution of the kingdom, the definition of the Heavenly King's relationship to His people. In the Biblical story, kingdom and covenant are almost synonymous and at least mutually dependent conceptions. The covenant defines and establishes the kingdom; the kingdom in its essence is an extended covenantal relationship.
Genesis begins with the creation of the kingdom of God and the rebellion of man under Satan. The rest of the Bible tells how God restores the kingdom to Himself and brings man back into the position of kingdom glory that God originally designed for him. History is the story of God's war against Satan. God defeats Satan and reconstructs His kingdom through Christ, bringing to pass His original purpose for the creation.
The Gospel that Christ preached was the Gospel of the kingdom of God: "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people" (Mt. 4:23; cf. 9:35; 4:17; 5:3, 10; 6:33; 10:7; 12:28; 13:11ff.; 16:19, 28; 18:3-4; 19:14; 21:43; 24:14; 25:34). Paul, the great apostle, preached the message of the kingdom: "And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him" (Ac. 28:30-31; cf. 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23). The last book in the Bible celebrates the everlasting establishment of God's kingdom: "And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15; cf. 1:9; 12:10). The very end of the book of Revelation describes the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city, the fulfillment of God's purpose for the creation and the final manifestation of the kingdom of God (Rv. 21-22).
Christ as the head of the new covenant brings in the kingdom of God, fulfilling the promises made to Abraham and David, accomplishing all that God had designed for man in the original creation. Satan's attempt to destroy the kingdom is defeated by the Messiah who saves the world and establishes the everlasting kingdom.
Thus, the covenantal kingdom of God is
the central theme of Biblical revelation. All the other suggested
central themes are naturally included within this for the covenant
is the constitution of the kingdom, Christ is the king, and redemption
is God's work of restoring the kingdom so that man as God's viceregent
may fulfill his original purpose.
The Covenantal Structure of the Bible: Introduction to
Berith.org is dedicated to applying the covenantal worldview to modern-day issues. It is a ministry of the Covenant Worldview Institute and the Mitaka Evangelical Church of Tokyo, Japan. The essays and books at Berith.org are (mostly?) written by Reverend Ralph Allan Smith, who has laboured as a teacher, pastor, and missionary in Tokyo since 1981, and as the director of the Covenant Worldview Institute since 1988. All feedback is welcome. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.