What follows is part 10 in a series by Dr. Ronn Johnson. – MSH


I have been away from this blog for some time, though it has been constantly on my mind. Since my last post, I have written and presented a course at our church on the big story of the Bible. It was rewarding, yet undoubtedly the toughest challenge I had ever faced as a Bible teacher. As I told the class several times, sometimes out of desperation, it’s one thing to teach a passage of the Bible, or even a survey of books within the Bible—most of us have tried that—but something entirely different to approach the text with the sole intent of tracking its largest narrative. Sometimes I felt like I knew where I was going, while at other times I felt very unsure of myself, even within an hour of walking into the class. Now that it’s over I look forward to stepping back and reviewing what I said, thinking through where my work needs improvement.

I would like to return to this blog for such a purpose, in fact: to review what I said in the class and hear myself talk. I invite your response if you have the time. In previous blogs my thinking has been largely negative, pointing out perceived problems with evangelicalism’s traditional understanding of the big story of the Bible. It will feel good to turn the ship around at this point and head in a positive direction. As you could guess, my understanding of the story will be categorically different from the Sin Paid For model that I have been talking about—where the punishment required for sin by God was voluntarily paid by a behaviorally perfect individual, with this payment then being applied to those who accept this gracious provision of Christ on their behalf. I realize that many people like this story because it offers God a way to relieve the tension between his justice and love through Jesus while remaining true to his own demands of grace and impartiality. But as I’ve recommended, this does not seem to be the tension played out in the biblical story. And once we change the tension or crisis of a story we are in effect writing a different story altogether.

In my class I developed the biblical story by working through the chronological flow of the text. This is easier said than done, I came to realize, and I’ll talk more of this below. But in general I tried to not give away what happened until it actually happened. I did this for those in the class who were unfamiliar with the Bible, as well as to experiment how this would work within my own presentation. For purposes of this blog I will lay out the whole story right up front, from beginning to end, then return back to go through the details in upcoming posts. I presume that readers of this website are familiar enough with the Bible to not be annoyed at being given the end of the story too soon.

I have used the analogy of a brick wall before, so I will continue the analogy here. What follows are the one hundred bricks which make up, in my opinion, the big story wall of the Bible. Ending up with this round number is not accidental, as you could guess, but mostly because I didn’t like the idea of ending on an odd number, like 89 or 105. I constantly reworked my pile to keep it at the century mark, which is unimportant in the long run. The number can certainly change. Here are my bricks listed in the order in which they appear (or occur) in the story, starting with Genesis 1:1:

  1. God creates the universe
  2. God creates elohim above humans
  3. God creates humans below elohim
  4. Humans fail a loyalty test
  5. Humanity dies and awakens
  6. Creation is sentenced to frustration
  7. Adam’s family shows divided loyalties
  8. Elohim interfere in human affairs
  9. God destroys the earth
  10. Elohim receive territorial rule


  1. Elohim abuse their authority
  2. God judges ruling elohim
  3. Abraham switches spiritual loyalties
  4. Abraham is promised blessing
  5. Elohim come to earth as messengers
  6. God designates loyalty as right
  7. God designates disloyalty as wrong
  8. Abraham’s family shows divided loyalties
  9. God’s family is named Israel
  10. Jacob bears twelve tribes


  1. Joseph saves the family in Egypt
  2. Pharaoh enslaves the family
  3. God reveals his name
  4. Passover redeems Israel
  5. Israel accepts Torah
  6. Israel worships Baal
  7. God clarifies his jealousy
  8. Loyalty is demanded
  9. Disloyalty is predicted
  10. Sacred space is institutionalized


  1. Ritual is explained
  2. Moral behavior is clarified
  3. Rebellion is disallowed
  4. Israel wanders for forty years
  5. Israel reaffirms its loyalty
  6. Joshua defeats Canaan
  7. Tribal hostilities intensify
  8. A Moabitess enters the family
  9. David is chosen as king
  10. David models loyalty


  1. David is promised a king
  2. David publicly sins
  3. David is forgiven
  4. Solomon welcomes idolatry
  5. Idolatry divides the kingdom
  6. A Gentile nation repents
  7. Assyria conquers Israel
  8. Babylon conquers Judah
  9. Sacred space is destroyed
  10. Jews are taken into exile


  1. A new covenant is promised
  2. A human is appointed to rule with God
  3. A remnant remains loyal
  4. Torah is reexamined
  5. Judea is recolonized
  6. Gentile destruction is assumed
  7. God goes silent
  8. Israel fights for independence
  9. Jewish purity is recognized
  10. Herod paganizes the temple


  1. Righteous people await the messiah
  2. John announces the messiah
  3. A unique theos is born
  4. God declares his love for Jesus
  5. Jesus models loyalty
  6. Satan cedes his authority to Jesus
  7. Elohim recognize Jesus
  8. Jesus exorcizes elohim
  9. Jesus fulfills Torah
  10. Jesus clarifies ritual


  1. Jesus welcomes the impure
  2. Jesus teaches in parables
  3. Jesus confers authority to disciples
  4. Jesus suffers
  5. Jesus dies
  6. Temple veil is torn
  7. Jesus resurrects
  8. Jesus ascends
  9. Disciples preach Jesus’ lordship
  10. Jerusalem believers scatter


  1. Paul meets Jesus
  2. Peter refuses Cornelius
  3. God declares Gentiles pure
  4. Holy Spirit confirms Gentile favor
  5. Paul explains the shape of Abraham’s family
  6. Jesus’ death is interpreted as spiritual victory
  7. Jesus’ death is interpreted as new Passover
  8. Jesus’ death is interpreted as ritual cleansing
  9. Torah becomes redundant
  10. Paul clarifies Jewish ethics


  1. Paul collects Gentile money
  2. Jesus’ kingdom is here but not here
  3. Disloyalty remains a temptation
  4. Paul appears in Rome
  5. Believers battle defeated elohim
  6. Believers anticipate Jesus’ return
  7. Believers are ‘born again’
  8. Believers switch roles with ruling elohim
  9. Non-believers face God’s wrath
  10. God restores creation


I believe these ideas form, when read from left-to-right, the story of the Bible. I am curious what you think of the list as it stands. I fear that something is being left out, or that I’m including something that doesn’t belong. I will explain my way through this list in future posts, tackling five to ten at a time, depending on how much explanation I feel they need. In the end I hope that my journey through this process leads you to develop your own list and your own big story of the Bible.

Some thoughts:

  1. The best way to judge the accuracy of anyone’s big story of the Bible is not to ask whether we like it, or whether it is a good story, but to ask whether the story actually presents itself within the narrative. That sounds basic, but this has been the burden of my previous posts. The Sin Paid For model fails in the details. So my purpose in developing my list comes from taking my burden to heart and literally starting over. I simply tried to notice what happened in the Bible while keeping in mind that a larger story was being told.
  2. As I said, I found the process of looking for the Bible’s larger narrative to be a unique exercise. It generally felt uncomfortable. When teaching the Bible we try to give account for nearly everything that is said; in looking for the Bible’s story, however, we jump from text to text, leaving out large portions along the way. This is because not everything said or done in the Bible moves its story forward.
  3. This naturally presents a chicken/egg problem: How am I to know if an event in the Bible is important if I do not have a larger frame of reference by which to judge the importance of the event? Take, for example, the communion meal of 1 Corinthians 11. Christianity has traditionally interpreted the “Lord’s supper” as mentioned by Paul (11:20) to be a significant event, even to the point of treating it as a sacrament. So I was tempted to include it as a brick in my wall. But as I kept reading I noticed that outside of two chapters of this one letter (1 Corinthians 10-11) the supper is never mentioned again in the NT. So should communion be important to the story of the Bible? Judging by church history, we would have to say yes; judging by the Bible’s own story I would say no. My point is that it is difficult to know exactly when something should be considered important to the story of the Bible until the whole story is told, and even then difficult judgment calls still have to be made. There is no easy solution to this problem.
  4. To make sense of my ideas you will need to understand the material found on the Naked Bible website. We are all indebted to Mike for explaining the divine council worldview so well to so many people. He has done the heavy lifting in making a very simple point: read the Bible the way it was meant to be understood. This includes a divine council worldview, or the idea that multiple created gods (elohim) have been assigned rule over the cosmos by the will of Yahweh. I have been sitting in a plural god worldview for almost twenty years myself, and my list assumes this kind of language and worldview right from the start (e.g., #2: God creates elohim above humans).
  5. As foundational as a divine council worldview is to understanding the Bible, those of us who use it will still find ourselves disagreeing on many parts of the bigger story. This is to be expected, as the Bible is long and complex, and we have to navigate literally hundreds of decision points along the way. So expect my big story to be my own, and your story to be yours. We cannot inherit our story from someone else. I was once asked which theologian I agreed with the most, and I quickly said “myself.” My friend was a bit offended at this, but I made the case that we all think this way. We take a bit from this person, and bit from that person. We never believe everything someone says (or at least we shouldn’t), and in the end this means that we are forming our own theology as we go through life. Right now the theologian with whom you are most content is yourself, and this is fine. I know of no better alternative. It just means that your work is never done.
  6. In working through my list, remember that many of the more popular evangelical bricks have already been set aside during my previous posts (e.g., original sin, God’s demand for moral perfection, God’s acceptance of substitutes, etc.). Do not add these bricks back in out of habit! One of the major differences this will make will be in the development of the OT storyline (#’s 1-53) where I will maintain that the first testament actually worked, or accomplished what God wanted it to accomplish, even prior to the appearance of Jesus. Evangelicals often assume that God’s story was corrected with the coming of Jesus, treating the OT like a problem that needed solution. I do not take this view.
  7. My list generally follows the chronological flow of the text, though this is not always the case. There are times that I needed to place an idea into the story when it actually happened as opposed to when the canon finally got around to explaining it. For example, my 11th point (elohim abuse their authority) seems to begin to take place in the time period of Genesis 11, but it will be much later before biblical writers examine the idea with any clarity. So in trying to be a storyteller I felt I had to reveal some parts of the story before the original reader would have been told about it. This is another reason why reading the Bible beats reading someone’s story of the Bible!
  8. At times I have included in my list a historical event or idea that did not happen in the Bible but which directly affected how biblical characters perceived their world. Herod’s embellishment of Ezra’s temple (begun in 20 B.C.) is not recorded in our canon, for example, though his work remains one of the most ambitious and impressive building projects in world history. More important to the Bible’s story, however, was what Herod accomplished in the negative sense: by openly displaying Roman symbols throughout the courtyard, and by importing Egyptian and Mesopotamian priests to conduct temple rituals, Herod thoroughly paganized Israel’s most sacred shrine. Though none of this is recorded in the Bible, all the stories of the NT need to be read in light of this sad reality. So it made my list as #60.
  9. Every story of the Bible, including my own, will ultimately be judged by how it presents Jesus and what he came to do. God’s investment in Jesus is indescribable, quite frankly, leading to the honest fear that if we miss the meaning of Jesus we miss the story of the Bible. But here is where we need to be careful and not overreact or overreach. What specifically did Jesus’ ministry set out to accomplish? Answering this question brings with it the temptation to credit Jesus with things he never intended to do. For example, did Jesus’ advent make it possible for people to finally become righteous in the sight of God? While many versions of the Bible’s story would say yes, I am sensing otherwise, as the NT will begin with a group of already-righteous people awaiting the Messiah (#61). I use this situation to inform the question of how Jesus’ appearance relates to the question of being righteous.
  10. So what is the point of getting the story of the Bible right? At least one benefit would be getting the gospel right. God has promised to work through the story he is telling, even to the point of compelling people to find it ultimately true—so true, in fact, that they want to become a part of it themselves. This may even be what becoming a Christian actually means: joining a story already in progress.

Thanks for listening, and I welcome your emails to ronnjohnson7@gmail.com. I will try to reply.