I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love a good story. We love being caught up in them, swept up in our imaginations, transported to another time. They make us laugh and cry. They inspire us and challenge us to live differently. Stories shape who we are.
I hope you’ve encountered some good storytellers in your time—the sort that captivate you as they slowly pull you into their tales.
We cannot forget that the Bible tells us a story. It is a story with a beginning, middle, and end. It tells the grand story Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. We are a people of this story. We are marked by it. And we have been called to live in it.
To understand the Bible properly, we need to understand its Story. We need to see how the parts of that story fit together. When we’re reading the Bible, we should ask, How does this passage fit into the overarching story of the Bible?
CASKET EMPTY is the best tool I know to explain the biblical story and keep each part of the Bible in its larger framework. CASKET EMPTY was developed by two Gordon-Conwell professors for the purpose of helping people understand the story of the Bible. They’ve used CASKET EMPTY as an acronym to describe the major highlights of the biblical story. This acronym structures the beautiful illustrated timelines for the Old and New Testaments as well as the companion study guides. If you’re looking for a thorough yet accessible overview of the Bible, you really must take a look at these.
I’ve given broad brush strokes of the Story below, using the CASKET EMPTY framework. Remember that this is a sweeping abbreviation, so you’ll want to read more on your own to fill in the gaps and details.
God creates the world and everything in it, and it is good. Adam and Eve, the first humans, are deceived in the garden of Eden, and sin enters the world. This “Fall” brings the results of sin and death, including the effects of sin on our relationship with God, with each other, and the with created order.
Genesis 12-50, possibly Job
God makes promises to Abraham (see Gen. 12:1-3, 17:1-8) and makes a covenant with him. This covenant continues to his descendants, starting with his miraculous son Isaac and moving to the entire nation of Israel.
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth
God delivers the Israelite people from slavery in Egypt, with Moses as their leader. He makes a covenant with them at Mt. Sinai and gives them the Law. They enter into the Promised Land, with God promising to dwell with them in the tabernacle.
1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah
God grants Israel a king—first King Saul (which ended badly), then King David. God makes a covenant with David, and his is the true royal line. After David’s son Solomon dies, the Kingdom is divided into Israel in the North and Judah in the south (which follows the rightful line of David). Both Kingdoms stray from God’s Law, though the Kingdom of Judah does have some godly kings, who call the nation back to worship of God alone. Because Israel and Judah have broken the Law, God promises judgment. The prophets write during this time, calling the nations to repentance, announcing judgment, and promising God’s faithfulness. The Kingdoms continue to rebel, however, and God brings judgment through the means of other nations. Israel is conquered by Assyria, and Judah is conquered by Babylon.
Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Obadiah, Psalms
After the Kingdom of Judah is conquered, the people are taken to exile in Babylon. The prophets say that after a time of exile, God will restore His people and bring them back to their land. They also promise the coming of a Righteous King, and a new covenant in which God’s people will be freed from sin and given hearts that are soft to obey Him.
Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Psalms
As God promised, the people of Judah are allowed to return to rebuild Jerusalem. They rebuild the city, the walls, and the temple.
Between the end of OT and beginning of NT, no Biblical books
The Israelite people continue to wait for the promised Messiah the prophets spoke of, as they continue to face oppression by world powers.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
Jesus comes as the Messiah and in his life, death, and resurrection fulfills the promises made to God’s people. He announces the arrival of the Kingdom of God and proves its presence with signs and miracles. He calls people to repentance and a response to the Gospel. Jesus lived a sinless life but died a criminal's death on a Cross. His death paid humanity’s penalty for the effects of sin and death brought on by the Fall and began a restoration of all of Creation. His life, death, and resurrection are the climax and ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament, and the basis for the Christian church’s teaching in the rest of the New Testament. This is the highlight and center of the Story.
After Jesus returns to Heaven, his disciples receive the Holy Spirit. They begin to spread throughout the known world, obeying Jesus’ command to baptize and teach disciples in His Name. God makes clear Gentiles (people not of ethnic Israel) and people of all nations are equally welcomed into faith. Fledgling churches spring up and expand, even in the face of persecution. Paul, once a persecutor of the church, emerges as a key leader.
Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude
Leaders of the church write letters to teach early Christians about the effects and implications of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They talk about how new life in Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit change the Christian’s thinking and behavior. They also deal with issues related to organizing the early church and wrestle with early wrong interpretations of Jesus’ teaching.
Evil is finally and fully judged, and God is shown to be the Victor and King. The Redemptive story comes to its full conclusion as Creation is fully restored. God’s people are brought together and live in God’s Kingdom in a New Heavens and New Earth.
Whenever you’re reading a passage of Scripture, locate it within this big overarching Story. Then consider how it relates to the Story, how it moves the Story along, etc. Also consider how its position in the Story affects the way you interpret it. This is all a part of reading the Bible in context—grounding each passage of Scripture within the whole Story of how God has and is working in our world.
Friend, we are a part of this story. As you sit and read your Bible and ask these questions, you sit in between the “teachings” and the “yet-to-come.” We haven’t seen the full arrival of God’s Kingdom or His full Restoration. As a part of the Church, as a believer in Jesus, you are a part of His Story and a part of His work in the world. I stand in awe of this!