Recently, some of my students both (pre-believers and new followers of Jesus) asked me to teach them a brief overview of the Bible. They wanted the Bible “in a nutshell.” They didn’t want an in-depth history of the Old and New Testaments, nor did they want a verse-by-verse exposition of the Bible. They simply wanted a broad, general overview of what the Bible is all about. Why is a Bible overview important? When I was first discharged from the United States Armed Forces, I was privileged to attend a world famous Bible Institute in Chicago. One of the first required courses at the Bible Institute was similar to a Bible overview course; Christian schools generally call them “Bible Survey” courses. The course gave me the broad sweep of the Bible—the “big picture,” from which I was later able to fill in all the details I wanted to learn. The course gave me a foundation upon which I could later sort out details I could glean from the Bible as a whole.
An overview is like having the finished picture available as you are working on a jigsaw puzzle. The finished picture makes it easier to fit the correct pieces into the puzzle. It can also be compared to a set of blueprints used to build a house. That’s what an overview is. That’s why an overview of the Bible is important—assuming you’re a student of the Bible, of course.
When Is A Book Not A Book?
Before I begin the actual overview, however, here are some introductory thoughts. For example, the Bible is not one large book beginning with chapter one and going chronologically through to the last page of the last chapter–like a novel. The Bible is a compilation of 66 small and large books (actually scrolls and letters) written by 40 authors over a period of 1,500 years. For the most part, those 40 writers were just ordinary people like you and me. Those 40 people were guided by God’s Spirit to write what He wanted them to write—using their own writing styles and personalities as they wrote.
The first book of the Bible was written approximately 3,500 years ago—1,500 years before Jesus—and the last book of the Bible was written in 65 or 66 A.D., about 30 years after Jesus’s death and resurrection in 33 A.D. There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. They’re not necessarily in chronological order. Some of them are books of history, some of poetry, some of prophecy, some of biographical information, some of teaching, some a blending of various types of literature.
Some things written in the Bible are literal, some aren’t. Some are clear, some aren’t. Just as any other literature does, the Bible uses various forms of writing: hyperbole, metaphor, symbolism, parables, figurative language, etc. As you study, you need to know from the context which forms of writing are being used at any given time.
The Old Testament is about God before the time of Jesus. The New Testament is about Jesus and events in his life and in the lives of his followers for about 30 years after Jesus died, was raised from the dead, and returned to heaven. The Bible was written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The Bible in its present form was compiled and completed about 400 years after the time of Jesus. If you intend to be a serious student of the Bible, I strongly recommend you take the time and effort to memorize the names of the 66 books of the Bible so you can more readily look things up as you study the Bible.
The Bible is basically a book in which God takes the initiative in revealing himself to humankind. God also reveals himself to us through Jesus. The Bible is God’s written revelation of Himself to humankind; Jesus is God’s living Word or revelation of himself in human form. If you want to know what God is really like, look at Jesus! Symbolic hints and prophecies—alongside clear teachings—about Jesus are found in every book of the Bible.
And, Jesus, during his time here on earth, taught his disciples that the Old Testament was really all about him in veiled and shadowy form. The written word and the living Word blend and interact; they are interwoven together. They are one. If you dig deep enough you will find “Jesus in every book of the Bible.” So . . . in veiled form Jesus can be found in each of the 39 books of the Old Testament. And in clear form the 27 books of the New Testament are all about him.
One other minor matter. Originally, the Bible was not divided into chapters and verses; those chapters and verses were added many years after the Bible was put together in its present form.
Look Through The Windows
Now here’s our overview. I’m presenting this overview to you in 5 different SCENES or “WINDOWS” you can look through and see what’s happening during your journey through the pages of the Bible. Just imagine you are standing in front of a history panorama or diorama such as can be seen in many museums in large cities. Imagine you are strolling along looking at the panoramic museum exhibit through five separate windows. The panorama is continuous, but each window you look through as you move along the exhibit shows a different and distinct part of the panorama.
Scene One opens “in the beginning,” when God created the entire universe, including the earth. He also created two individuals, the very first humans. There is no definite information in the Bible when all that happened, just that God created everything in the beginning. And the Bible doesn’t furnish a lot of detail about how God created all things, just that he did. The first humans were a male and a female: Adam and Eve. They became the first parents of the entire human species, including the various human races. Adam and Eve enjoyed being God’s close friends and working with God in caring for the newly created earth.
God freely gave them the entire earth as their dominion; they were assigned to be good caretakers and overseers of it. God did this because he loved them very much and appreciated their friendship. He placed only one restriction on them: for reasons known only to God, Adam and Eve were not to eat of the fruit of one particular tree (there is disagreement over whether this was a literal tree or a symbolic one). They disobeyed God’s restriction, and as a result sin (disobedience to God; living for egocentric self rather than God) entered the world. All succeeding generations of humans—to this very day—have suffered the effects of Adam’s and Eve’s wrong decision. So . . . there you have the creation of all things, the story of the first two humans, the early beginning of human history . . . and sin.
Most of this information is contained in the first 5 chapters of the first book of the Bible, Genesis, but other books of the Bible also give us glimpses into God’s creation of the universe and humankind. Put all the references together and you have a very vivid and detailed Scene One about the beginnings of all creation, including the human race. Another teaching on this web site contains more about the original condition of Adam and Eve; the teaching is entitled “Let There Be Light.” There you will find some surprising information you’ve probably never read anywhere else. Another teaching entitled “Satan: From Beginning To End” sheds even more light on these early years of the human race.
Let’s label Scene One: “God’s Creation and His friendship With the First Two Human Individuals, Adam and Eve.” It’s important for you to be able to “picture” these scenes in your mind. Close your eyes and picture this for Scene One: In your imagination, you first see the universe exploding into being like the greatest fireworks display you’ve ever seen. Everything is beautiful and colorful as the new universe expands in all directions in an atomic second of newly created time. In the midst of all that splendor, you picture our sun, our solar system, and our earth. Then you see a man and woman working in a lovely garden covering the entire earth, surrounded by beauty, harmony, and vivid color, and pleasant scenes and sounds. They walk toward a big, beautiful tree and eat a piece of it’s fruit; a dark raging storm immediately ensues, and the man and woman—aged, bent over, and sobbing—are scurrying away toward the edge of the scene, trying to hide from God.
In Scene Two God now moves from creation and dealing with just a few people—individuals—to dealing with humankind in general—and with the various ancient nations mentioned in the Bible. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and plunged humanity into sin-darkness, humans acquired a penchant or taste for disobeying God and wanting their own way.
Speaking of sin, if you want a good “working definition” of that phenomena, here’s one: Sin is making conscious choices and decisions to live a self-centered, self-absorbed life instead of a God-filled life. Do you see your self anywhere in that definition? If you do, then you are a sinner. If you don’t . . . well, then you’re unique: the only human among billions of us who is different from every other person on the planet.
Continuing with Scene Two, we now see the beginnings of many of the early nations of the earth as humankind scatters all over the globe. People continue to go their own way, disobeying and disregarding God and all the good things he wants for his human children. In fact, humanity becomes so corrupt that God seems to be on the verge of abandoning the entire human race and wiping them all out. But one “righteous” family stands out from all the others—the family of a man named Noah. From Noah’s three sons and their wives God again populates the earth. They have many different languages and are scattered throughout the Middle East, the Mediterranean area, Northern Africa, and lower Europe. This scene ends with most humans again disobeying God and wanting to go their own way.
Scene Two is found in chapters 6 – 11 of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. Let’s label Scene Two “God’s Dealings with the Early Nations of the Bible.” To “view” Scene Two, close your eyes again, and picture these scenes on the “viewing screen” of your imagination: You see earth covered with humans as you might picture ants spreading out from an anthill. Then you see a tremendous deluge of rain sweep across the planet, flooding everything. Next you see a giant boat (with the capacity of over 500 railroad cars!) filled with numerous animals, floating on the floodwaters with Noah and his family leaning over the side searching for dry land.
They finally find dry land, leave the ship, and again you see vast numbers of humans spreading all over the globe, going their separate ways and speaking many different languages. You can feel how sad God is that the amazing humans he created in his own image are still sinning and disobeying him, going their own way, living for self, and leaving Him out of their daily lives. Thus far, we have seen how God began working with one family and then moved to working among many early nations of the earth, generally those we now know as the Middle East, the Mediterranean area, and southern Europe—the nations of the Bible.
Scene Three reveals God beginning to deal with just one nation instead of many. So far, we’ve gone from 1. God dealing with individuals, 2. to ancient nations, 3. and now to one Bible nation in particular. Remember it this way: Individuals-Nations-Nation. Scene Three begins in chapter 12 of Genesis and goes clear to the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, covering a time period of approximately 2,000 years. In one sense, it also includes the last book of the Bible, Revelation, which contains much information about the last days and destruction of a nation—the Jewish nation. The book of Revelation was written about 66 A.D., just a few years before the final destruction and dissolution of that nation.
In Genesis 12, God finds a man named Abram (about 2,00 years before Jesus) with whom he establishes a warm, friendly relationship. It seems that out of all the humans on the earth at that time, perhaps Abram’s family was the only family that worshipped the one true God; there were thousands of false gods at that time, but God found Abram whom he led out of an ungodly nation into a land that later came to be known as the land of Israel.
God used Abram (later re-named Abraham) and his wife, Sarah, as the founders of an entire nation of 12 tribes whom God wanted to represent him and take his message to the surrounding nations who did not recognize and worship God as the one true God. Abraham had a son named Isaac, and a grandson named Jacob. Jacob was later re-named Israel; he had 12 sons who were heads of the 12 tribes of Israel.
It took about 400 years for this original family of Abraham’s to grow into 12 tribes numbering in the millions. Those 400 years were spent in Egypt where the 12 tribes were disciplined by God as slaves to the Egyptians. When the right time arrived, God selected a man named Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and back into the land of Israel. God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments and entered into solemn covenants with them, appointing them to be his personal representative nation to tell all the remaining nations of the earth about his love for all humanity.
Unfortunately, the nation of Israel (comprised of the 12 tribes of Israel) also began to sin, to forsake God, and to misrepresent Him to the other nations. They became contaminated with the false religions of the surrounding nations who worshipped and served false non-gods.
In one sense, the nation of Israel thrived and prospered (even though they were in the process of forsaking God—which took hundreds of years) under kings such as Saul, David, and Solomon. Because of sin, within 300 years after leaving Egypt, the nation of Israel was split into two parts—the northern and southern parts. The southern part consisted of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin while the northern part consisted of the remaining 10 tribes. The southern part came to be known as Judah, while the northern part retained the name Israel.
About 700 years before Jesus, the northern 10 tribes were taken into captivity by a powerful, savage nation. Most of the people from those tribes migrated into what is now northern Europe and the British Isles and never returned to the land of Israel. About 150 years later, the remaining southern tribes were also taken into captivity because they, too, disobeyed God and worshipped false, non-gods. The southern tribes were allowed to return to the land of Israel about 70 years later and came to be known as Jews (so named because most of the returnees were from the tribe of Judah). Thus the entire nation of 12 tribes known as Israel was reduced to a small nation of two tribes known as Judah.
This returned Jewish nation was weak and unfaithful for a few hundred more years and never again became a significant nation. They continued to worship the one true God, but their worship became corrupt and very displeasing to God. One very significant thing came out of this little “remnant” Jewish nation, however: Jesus of Nazareth was born 2,000 years ago as a member of the tribe of Judah. As God in human form, he would free humankind from the sinful mess it had made going clear back to Adam and Eve.
This Jewish nation spent its last few years as a puppet nation under the iron rule of the Roman Empire. They kept looking for a Saviour-King to be born who would restore the nation’s former glory. They did not accept the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was that great Saviour-King.
The Jewish nation and religion with all its ceremonies, with its great Temple, with all its marvelous history, with all its religious activities, with its covenants with God, was invaded by the Roman armies and completely destroyed in 70 A.D., 37 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. During that horrible destruction, over a million Jews were slaughtered. Four books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are biographical books about Jesus—God in human form—when he was on earth for 33 years.
To view Scene Three in your imagination, close your eyes again and see these events: First, you see one man, Abram, arriving in his new homeland, Israel, after a long journey. You see Abram’s son and grandson. His grandson has 12 sons. Those 12 sons grow into 12 tribes numbering in the millions. God gives them the Ten Commandments and other instructions and they finally settled in the land of Israel where you first pictured Abram at the end of his journey. [If you don’t know where the land of Israel is, look it up in an atlas]
The 12 tribes become a great nation split into two parts: north and south. The northern kingdom was invaded and most of its people migrated into northern Europe. The southern tribe gave birth to Jesus who lived, died, was resurrected, and returned to heaven. 37 years later in 70 A.D., the remaining southern nation of Judah was destroyed along with all its religious rituals and its great Temple.
Scene four overlaps with Scene Three near the end of that scene, and takes us back 37 years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the scattering of the remaining Jews throughout the known world. Scene Four is about the Church from approximately 33 A.D. to 70 A.D.—37 years after Jesus. Jesus founded the Church just before he died and was resurrected in 27 A.D. The Church is Jesus’ many-membered “Body” on the earth; He is the Head of the Body. The Church was commissioned by Jesus to spread the Good News about God’s love to the entire world before he returned. The Church didn’t spread God’s Good News all by itself, using its own initiative, ideas and plans—and with its own strength. No, the Church was empowered by God’s Spirit living in all its “members” to spread God’s Good News to everyone living throughout all the succeeding generations of time.
Beginning with the New Testament Book of Acts and ending with the Book of Revelation, we find the story of the early Church and all the wonderful, power-full, amazing things God did in and through those early Christians from 27 A.D. to 70 A.D. Today, the Church has the same function of continuing to spread God’s Good News all over the earth, but since 70 A.D. that work is subsumed and carried out within the larger scope of spreading the Kingdom of God on earth.
The church is a part of the larger Kingdom of God. The Church consists of “everyone everywhere and everywhen in whom Jesus lives in the ‘unbodied form’ of God’s Spirit.” If you “fit” within that definition, you are part of the Church and should be allowing God’s Spirit to empower you to tell people about the great things Jesus is doing in you, through you, and as you in your day-to-day life as a “member” of the Church and citizen of God’s Kingdom.
Here are the four windows so far: Individuals-Nations-Nation-Church.
Here’s how to “view” Scene Four: Picture the nation of Judah in the Middle East. Millions of Jewish people are going in and out of a great Temple in Jerusalem, attempting to worship God with all sorts of sacrifices and rituals. Jesus is born, lives, dies, and is resurrected. He gathers a little group of his followers and instructs them to tell the world about him. His followers begin to travel to all the nations of the world, telling everyone about what God has done for them through Jesus. Many thousands of people become new followers of Jesus. Just at the end of the scene, you see great destruction in Judah, the great temple destroyed, millions of Jews slaughtered by the Roman armies, the remaining Jews scattered, and the Church triumphantly continuing its march across the world.
Scenes Four and Five also blend and overlap and are found in the same books of the Bible, Acts to Revelation. But there are also many veiled references to Jesus’ Kingdom in many Old Testament books as well as clear references in the first four books of the New Testament. Put the veiled references and the clear references all together and you have a clear picture of God’s ever-expanding Kingdom throughout all time and eternity. During the last three years of his life on earth Jesus of Nazareth founded the Church. But at the same time, He planted the Kingdom of God on the earth—beginning inside of people—and began to oversee it’s growth and spread by means of God’s Spirit living in people and empowering them to spread the Good News about Jesus and his Kingdom.
The Church and the Kingdom of God blend and fuse together until Jesus returns and fully establishes his reign as King over the Kingdom of God. To this day, Jesus continues as Head of his Body the Church, but he also reigns as King over the ever-expanding Kingdom of God. He is now King of kings and Lord of lords and will be for all time and eternity!
Here are the one-word summaries of the five scenes: Individuals-Nations-Nation-Church-Kingdom. Just remember “INNCK.” Just think of the word “INK” with a two extra letters in it.
The significant factor about Scene Five as we look through our window is that as Head of the Church and as King of the Kingdom, God is now fully present—fully “housed”—among humankind, slowly and inexorably drawing all people back into a redeemed, restored, reconciled, best-of-friends relationship with Himself. God no longer lives in buildings made by human hands, i.e., temples, churches, cathedrals, etc. He lives inside of people—you and me—now and forever.
I hope you understand God fully lives inside of you in the “unbodied form” of his Spirit. He fully loves you. He fully embraces you. He fully extends all his grace to you. He is fully your friend. No one is closer to you than God. He will never be “closer” to you or more “in” you than He is now. You are “face to face” with Him now as he lives his life in you, and through you, as you. When you die, you simply continue that relationship with God for the remainder of time and then on into eternity, but in eternity, that relationship is unencumbered by your sin and your mortality.
Here’s a three-sentence summary of our Bible Overview: God began his plans and purposes for all humanity by creating the universe and a pair of humans –male and female—on planet Earth. He then worked among nations of people. Then He began to work through just one nation, and now he is working through individuals in the Church to fully establish his eternal Kingdom: INNCK. Scene Five ends in the last two chapters of the last book of the Bible—the Book of Revelation—wherein we read that God is fully present among people, constantly drawing them to himself with his amazing grace and love. This scene ends with God’s Spirit and the Church lovingly pleading for all people to come to God. They call to everyone who is thirsty for real LIFE to return to God.
Here’s how to “see” Scene Five on the “viewing screen” of your imagination: The Church is on the move across the earth. Picture Jesus sitting as a King on the “throne of your heart” and on the heart-thrones of millions of others. Then see “beyond” that to the deepest regions of your interior life; look into your mind, your spirit, your soul, your personality, your character, your emotions, your will. See God fully living his own life inside you, guiding you, directing you, loving you, encouraging you.
Through you—using your voice, your life, your mannerisms, your gifts and talents, your personality—see God calling out to others to come and establish a deep, loving relationship with Him. See thousands—no, millions!—of people responding to God’s loving summons from inside you and other citizens of his Kingdom. See his Kingdom growing and spreading over the entire earth. See his Kingdom fading into the distance—into eternity. See God filling every human being completely full with his loving presence!
There you have it: five scenes or windows through which we have given you a brief overview of the Bible. If you can either memorize the major points of each scene or at least remember them well enough to be able to look them up in the appropriate parts of the Bible you will be well on your way to becoming a serious, lifelong student of the Bible—able to fill in all the details in each of the five scenes we have given you.
The primary purpose for any of us to study the Bible is so we will invite Jesus into our lives, and then begin to have a deep, loving, eternal relationship with God. Please don’t study the Bible just for facts and information. Rather, learn to study the Bible so you will have a closer relationship with God through Jesus. Anyone can learn facts and information, but we need to cultivate a lifelong and eternal relationship with God. God didn’t give you your Bible merely to inform you with facts and information, but to transform you!
That’s what Bible study is all about. That’s what a Bible overview is all about—to help you establish and maintain a lifelong (and eternal) relationship and close friendship with God through Jesus. You can study the Bible all you want for facts and information, but such a study will do you no personal good unless you let it’s author, God’s Spirit, lead you deeper and deeper into a loving, eternal relationship with God, your loving Heavenly Father!
Life Enrichment Services, Inc
Revised and Updated January 2022