Sometimes we need to step back and see the big picture. Grasping the overall theme of the Bible will help us understand and apply its teachings and will provide direction for deeper study.
First, let’s consider some amazing facts about the Bible:
- The Bible is not just one book. Rather, it is a collection of 66 books of law, poetry, history, narrative, and prophecy. The Bible has two main parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament.
- The Bible was written by more than 40 men with varying degrees of education, different nationalities, and diverse cultures.
- The Bible was written in 3 different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek
- The Bible was developed over a period of about 1,500 years.
The Gospel: A Central Bible Theme
One of the most intriguing and convincing evidences for the inspiration of the Bible is the fact that (in spite of the multiple languages, diverse authors, and long time span) the Bible is unified in its teachings and themes, especially in regards to God’s amazing plan to save His fallen people. All of history unfolded to accomplish God’s purposes, and each book of the Bible is a single thread woven into this incredible tapestry. Ordinary men could never have created this book. Time, history, and human nature would have prevented its existence and unity…unless it was supernaturally directed by God.
God’s amazing plan to save His people is anchored in the writings of the Old Testament but finds its fulfillment in the New Testament, where it is called the “gospel” or the “good news.”
Jesus Thought the Gospel was Important
As Jesus prepared to leave earth, He gave His final verbal instructions to His followers. These final words represented something of critical importance to Him; there was nothing trivial here! In His parting command, known as “the great commission,” Jesus instructed His followers to go all over the world and preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15) In His last words on earth, Jesus commanded His followers to go and tell His story – the gospel.
The Gospel has the Power to Save
Jesus’ instruction highlights the importance of the gospel, and Paul (one of the apostles) tells us why. In Romans 1:16, Paul explains he isn’t ashamed of the Gospel because the gospel is the means God uses to save people.
Beware of False Gospels
The gospel is so important that God gave a special warning to well-meaning Christians in the region of Galatia who were beginning to change it. In an inspired letter written to the Christians in Galatia, the apostle Paul expressed amazement that the Galatian Christians were trying to follow a different ‘gospel’ (Galatians 1:6). He was astonished that they were following something other than the true gospel and believing there was a way to be saved that was different from what they had originally been taught! Paul warned that there was only one gospel, and said that anyone who preached a different gospel (even if it was an apostle or an angel) would be condemned (Galatians 1:8).
The problem of different gospels still exists for us today! Consider:
- One of the reasons why there are so many different churches today is because different leaders are teaching different gospels, that is, different ways of being saved.
- Even good, sincere people and churches may teach or follow different gospels.
- People with considerable knowledge, education and influence (remember Paul’s statement about apostles or angels) may teach different gospels.
- Being a religious person, even a sincerely religious person, is no guarantee that one is teaching or following the true gospel. As Jesus indicated: not everyone who merely calls Him “Lord” will enter Heaven, but only the people who actually obey Him. (Matthew 7:21)
- Each person needs to be able to recognize the true gospel for himself or herself.
- The gospel belongs to God, so we shouldn’t mess with it at all!
So where does this leave us? Following the real gospel will save us but following a false gospel will result in our condemnation. Even educated, famous, religious and sincere people might be teaching gospels different from the one Jesus wanted to be taught. We need to figure out a way to recognize the one true gospel out of all the false gospels which exist in the world. And the only way to do that is to learn the true gospel for ourselves in the Bible!
Old and New Testament are both Necessary
Some Bible students want to focus on learning the New Testament and don’t pay much attention to learning the Old Testament. But the Bible is really just one big story, and it’s awfully hard to figure out the characters, plot, and ending of a story if you’ve never read the beginning! We need to know something about the WHOLE Bible, including the Old Testament, if we want to understand the true gospel.
Though the gospel itself is explained in the New Testament (the 2nd part of the Bible), the New Testament can only be completely understood when we also understand something about the events, characters, laws, sacrificial system, prophecies, covenants, and promises of the Old Testament (the 1st part of the Bible). There’s a sense in which all of Old Testament history was a teaching or training period to prepare us for the arrival of Jesus Christ (described in the New Testament) and His role in the plan of redemption. (see Galatians 3:24)
In the next few lessons, we’ll learn some things about the character of God (revealed in both of the Testaments) and our relationship to Him.