In this episode Tim and Jon discuss the big narrative arcs of the Bible. What is the Bible really talking about?
The Bible can often seem like a weird ancient book that many people use to say different things. These things can even sometimes lead to using the Bible to oppress or hurt others or the world. And on top of the confusion, reading the Bible can also be tedious and confusing, so most of us just stick to the parts we know and understand.
But what is the story of the Bible? Like the big, meta story? The ideas in this episode might surprise you.
In this episode Tim and Jon discuss the big, narrative arcs of the Bible. What is the Bible really talking about? Sin? Salvation? Judgement?
Tim and Jon first discuss the importance of the, oftentimes overlooked, Old Testament, which is essential in understanding the overall narrative of the Bible.
They then discuss the centrality of the texts (the Bible) to second temple Jews, Jesus, and the early Christian church, and the uniqueness of such texts.
The Bible is BIG and can be confusing. Tim and Jon cover the major movements of the Old Testament, and the over-arching point!
What is this Kingdom of God Jesus is talking about, and how is this in contrast the default condition humanity finds itself in?
This episode is designed to accompany our new video series and our new video called "The Story Of The Bible". You can view it on our youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_CGP-12AE0
"The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence" by Dacher Keltner
"The Prince" by Nicollo Machiavelli
Defender by Rosasharn Music; Good Morning by Unwritten Stories; All Night by Unwritten Stories; Chilldrone by Unwritten Stories
Podcast Date: May 26, 2017
Speakers in the audio file:
Jon: Welcome to Bible Project podcast. On today's episode, Tim and I are going to be
asking the question, how would you summarize the entire story of the Bible?
Tim: The Bible is big and complex and has way too many characters. How can it possibly
keep all this straight?
Jon: The Bible is one unified story, a story about humanity's role to rule the world on
God's behalf. This vocational calling is what we refer to as the image of God. And it's
a high bar. It gives humans a lot of authority and a lot of power.
Tim: A question that's on everybody's mind right now is, what does it mean to use power
Jon: The story of the Bible is how that calling's been corrupted and how God's on a
mission to fix it.
Tim: How Jesus redefines power in his teachings and his life is scandalous but it's also
wise. It's as he claims the only way forward.
Jon: The entire story of the Bible summarized. Thanks for listening in. Here we go.
We're going to talk about the Bible as a unified story, and we're going to try to walk
through the whole story and make a video that tells that story in five minutes. That's
Tim: One video telling the whole story of the Bible.
Jon: We've been asked to make this before.
Tim: No pressure.
Jon: Yeah, no pressure.
Tim: We have been asked to make this video and I think we've both always wanted to
make it at some point. It was just about the right timing and the right series.
I'm excited that we're doing it as a part of the How to Read the Bible series. Because
I think that understanding how any section of the Bible contributes to and fits into
the broader overall story, it's a really important skill to develop. And if you don't
have it, it really makes reading the Bible hard. Or you just end up not knowing how
to read anything in context.
Jon: I'm not really sure how we're going to do this because every time we do a theme
video, what I notice is that the Bible is much more nuanced and sophisticated than I
had realized. And by just tracing that theme through the narrative of the Bible, you
get this really beautiful story arc.
What we can do is make a video that's a summary of every biblical theme and how
they all tie together into this one epic narrative.
Tim: That's a good point. For a long time, I used to hang my hat on some of those real
general outlines of the story of the Bible, like creation, fall, redemption, new creation,
something like that. But inevitably, those schemes just...like, even that one by nature,
just leaves out so much.
Jon: Creation, fall, redemption, new creation, I mean, we kind of go through those
movements in every theme video. It seems like. We always are like, "Okay, let's
remember this is what creation was about, and then this was the problem, and then
this is what God was doing with Israel. Here's how it all has its climax in Jesus
redemption and then realized fully a new creation. So we go through those beats.
Tim: Yeah, we do. But even just what you did right there, the Israel part, which in terms of
page numbers takes up vast majority of the story kind of lives in this hazy in-between
spot. In between fall and in between redemption.
Maybe the story of redemption begins with Abraham, but really, it's about Jesus. I've
just become dissatisfied with versions of retelling the Bible story that skips the actual
majority of the Bible.
Jon: Well, here's the thing though with that majority. It's an ancient culture that's very
different than anything we've experienced. So that's difficult.
Tim: It's true.
Jon: It's difficult stories oftentimes that aren't very clear-cut. Like why did David cut off
the four skins of those Philistine? Is David and Goliath a story about how I'm
supposed to tackle my own giants in my life? That's difficult to navigate. They're just
all these questionable stories and questionable characters and I thought the Bible is
about being a good person and...
But then on top of all that, it seems like, well, if Jesus is really coming to fulfill all that
and really my focus is on following Jesus, why do I need to care about all of that
history? It just becomes this big prelude that I can skip and just go to the main
event. It's a lot easier to navigate the main event. It makes a much smaller book too,
just carry around the New Testament. And it's a small...
Tim: Totally. I've done this in large group settings before a classroom setting, where I
have people get out the Bible and I use that for part scheme. I put it up, right it up
or something and then I'm like, "Let's account for the pages of the Bible, creation,
Jon: 1 through 11.
Tim: Actually, in most people's minds, that's just the first three pages of Bible - Genesis 1,
2 and 3. Then redemption skips forward to the New Testament. Maybe test down at
one page of Isaiah, a child is born to us. And basically skip forward to Matthew and
then the New Testament.
Then if you just hold the Bible, like get both your hands out and hold in your left
hand Genesis 1 to 3, and then hold the New Testament and then just look at what's
in front of you, it's bizarre to say this four-part scheme is a summary of this book.
And then to realize that it leaves out...It's not even funny. It's not even you could
maybe mistake it for being the whole thing. It's four-fifths of the Bible isn't
accounted for in that scheme. One.
Two, even when we say that that scheme where Jesus is the fulfillment of
redemption, but if you simply actually read the four accounts of his mission, and life,
and preaching and death and resurrection, he's constantly appealing to that part
that you skipped over as the way of explaining who he was, what he was doing, why
he says what he says.
Jon: Not only him but the writers. The gospel writers are referring back to that.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Then on into the writings of the apostles. Jesus and the apostles
firmly believe that knowing how to read this majority section of your Bible that
Christians call the Old Testament is a part of discipleship to Jesus. And it takes a lot
of work and the cookies are not on the bottom shelf. But there's just nothing for it.
If a person wants to say they're representing the Bible, they need to be able to retell
the story in a way that accounts for all of it.
Jon: Take a step back, though, and it's strange that as a community of Christians, a group
of people to say, "Hey, part of our identity is to really care about these ancient
stories from another culture." And they're difficult to read and difficult to
understand, for many reasons. One, it's a different language, different culture, but
also, it's literary genius. So literary genius is hard to—
Tim: It's not always easy reading.
Jon: It's not always easy reading.
Tim: Like Moby Dick and East of Eden, it's intense. It's rewarding but it's intense.
Jon: If you just take a step back, it just feels like—
Tim: How many of your friends...
Jon: ...have their identity around something that requires them to have a mastery of
ancient Hebrew texts?
Tim: Or at least to like, this is some part of my life is becoming a more wise reader of an
ancient text. It's unique. There's nothing for it.
If I didn't follow Jesus, there's no way I'd be compelled to read the Bible, especially
the Old Testament. And I say that as someone who's dedicated most of their adult
life at this point learning how to read the Bible. But it's not simple.
When it's foreignness and its otherness really begins to stand out to you, you can't
unsee it. You're just like, "Oh, this is odd." A whole community with this practice of
reading a text from millennia ago on the other side of the planet, I don't have any
friends who do this except people who are part of my community. Maybe people
who care about Shakespeare.
Jon: If someone came - like a friend you haven't seen since high school or something -
and they come up and they're like, "Man, my life's really been changed by this figure
in history, so I'm mastering Egyptian hieroglyphics. I'm reading all these stories in
ancient Mesopotamia. It's bringing meaning to my life now and hope for the future,
and it's helping me understand myself and the world I live in," you're just going to
be like, "Wow. That's such a weird, geeky niche thing for you to get into."
Tim: "I didn't know you were like that. I thought you were normal." It's unique and it's
something that has marked the early Jesus movement from the beginning.
Oh man, last fall I read one of my favorite New Testament scholars. A guy named
Larry Hurtado wrote this excellent history of the early first century to Christianity
called "Destroyer of the Gods." It's the best book title ever. That's like a heavy metal
band name. But it's called "Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World" -
What made the early followers of Jesus odd and the object of mockery in the Roman
One of them was their obsessions with written texts. There was no connection
between being religious or being a devout worshiper of the gods and having a
personal habit of reading ancient texts connected to that God. Apart from ancient
Judaism, that was totally foreign.
But the early Christians, because it was such a universal movement spreading across
the world, the reproduction, and reading, and studying of these biblical texts
became part and parcel of the movement itself.
Jon: Which is a discipline they learned as second temple Jews.
Tim: Correct. The first generations all grew up reading the Hebrew Scriptures and they're
immersed in it. But then the movement goes viral through the Jesus the Messiah,
and that spreads throughout the Roman world. Then it's Hebrew texts and Aramaic
translations, those go east and Latin translation, those goes west, and Egyptian
translation, and Greek translations. And all of a sudden you have a religious
movement that the world's never quite seen before.
One of the things that marks it is its obsession with literature and texts. This was a
brand new thing in human history.
Jon: I mean, other religions wrote down their stories?
Tim: Yes, but they weren't part of personal devotion or community devotion. You could
go to the temple, and the priests would bring out some tablets with the stories
about the god worshiped in that temple. But the idea of mass production of text so
that every house church can have something of its own writing of Isaiah and Genesis
and Matthew and—
Jon: And before that, the devotion of the scribes who came together to form the texts
and just that literary culture that even created the Jewish history.
Tim: Yeah, it was the minority.
Jon: And that's the thing. This is all Jewish history.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Early Christian history is Jewish history. That's right.
Jon: There were Second Temple Jews who came out of this culture of obsession with their
sacred texts, which seems unparalleled that the amount of genius that was all
concentrated in one people group at one time in history.
Tim: That's right. We have lots of literary texts from ancient Egypt or ancient Assyria and
they survived on tablets and parchment or some papyri. But the Hebrew Bible is an
utterly unique phenomenon in the ancient world in terms of its size and
intentionality and interconnectedness. There were prophets in Assyria, but there was
no such thing as a book of Isaiah.
Jon: An Assyrian version of the book of Isaiah.
Tim: An Assyrian equivalent of the book of Isaiah, nothing even close. Second Temple
Judaism was a texturally immersed culture. Jesus was the part and grew up in that
culture and he made a radical claim that all of these texts that Christians call the Old
Testament were about him and what he was doing.
Jon: When he started ministry, he opened the scroll of Isaiah and he read from it and he
said, "This is being fulfilled?"
Tim: This is being fulfilled. So Jesus made sense of everything he did by appealing to this
greater story told in these sacred texts.
Jon: I guess my experience of the Bible has been this. Let me give you a clear theological
framework. You're put on earth to glorify God, you have screwed that up, you've
missed the mark, sin. Because of your sin, you deserve death, but Jesus came, and he
took that penalty for me. And if I believe, have faith, then one day I can go to
Tim: Pay attention. That's an individualized version of creation, fall, redemption, heaven.
Jon: Heaven. Yeah, new creation. And it's all about me, and my individual, and it skips
Jon: Over and over, that's theological framework. And then it's like, "Cool. Now go read
the Bible with that in mind."
Tim: Yeah, exactly.
Jon: So I'm drawn to read the New Testament because everything else it's just like, I don't
know where this fit.
Tim: And maybe just illustrations of bad people and good people, right?
Tim: Or what else can you do with it?
Jon: So I'm reading the epistles and then I'm drawn to certain verses. It seems like
conversations are always about how does this fit into that framework. A different
framework is trying to put yourself in the perspective of a first century Jew who has
grown up with the scriptures. Their identity is with the story of the Scriptures, and
they’ve seen and heard what Jesus is doing and saying, and now they're trying to
make sense of it for what it means for the Jesus movement.
Tim: Though in that equation, the Hebrew Bible has already existed in your life and your
community for a long time. Already it tells a story that you're living in. You see
yourself as living the story.
Jon: When you say Exodus, that means so much to you. And when you think of the
Messiah, that means so much to you.
Tim: And Israel's unfaithfulness leading to exile in Babylon, so then our ancestors came
back to our land and rebuild the temple, and we're waiting for the promises of the
prophets to come true. There you go. That's the story you see yourself as a part of if
you're Matthew or John before you've met Jesus or Simon Peter. So yeah, there's a
preexisting story. Then Jesus comes saying, He's bringing that story forward, but
how he does so rocks your world.
Jon: Yeah, it rocks the world that you're living in.
Tim: And it rocks everything you thought you knew about that story. It forces you to go
back and say, "Oh, I see. Now I understood what this story of the Old Testament
was." But actually, it was pointing towards the strange thing that happened with
Jon: And so you get the story of the road to Emmaus. When Jesus opens up Hebrew
Scriptures with them, I guess they're walking, so I don't know if they're just talking
Tim: Yeah, they are talking about it.
Jon: And he's just pointing out everything. He's like, "Hey, you remember this part of the
Hebrew Scripture? This is how it's about me. We don't have the conversation. I know
what you did."
Tim: "I know it's bummer." A little drone flying above them.
Jon: If I think about reading the Bible, my main concern is, how do I do this in a way that
doesn't thoroughly confused me. So we got to get people over that. We got to get
them into this video.
Tim: A very simple way is just the hook is the Bible is big and complex and has way too
Jon: Some of them have names of people you are friends with but some of them have
names that you can't pronounce.
Tim: Yeah. There's Adam and Jacob, and then there's Jezebel and Cain. The point is, is
that cast of hundreds over millennia. What? How can possibly keep all this straight?
So not only is it old, it's huge and complex.
But despite that, if you look at the first page and if you look at the last page, you'll
notice something. The first words "in the beginning." The second to last paragraph
of the final page of the Bible is "and they reigned forever and ever." So the opening
and closing movements, you don't even have to be an intellectual or like reading
Jon: "Beginning" and then "forever."
Tim: Yeah. "In the beginning," and the story goes on. Then the concluding of the narrative
movement of the whole thing is, "and they range forever and ever." What kinds of
books begin like that? Obviously, narratives. But what kind of narrative will a huge,
thick, with a cast of hundreds? And so it's an epic.
The literary category for this is literary epics, which were more common in the
ancient world, even in the medieval world. Someone like Tolstoy's. The great epic
novels of like "Les Miserables," "War and Peace" or something - Those are epic
novels with lots of characters. That's what we're talking about here. A large narrative,
but that has interwoven main plots and subplots, but it all ties together and it finds
its unity and coherence in the person of Jesus.
Once you see what that main story is, the main movements of it, you can recognize
where you are no matter where you drop in. If you have the big picture in mind, and
the main movements of the story, you'll always be able to know your address, know
your spot on the map.
Jon: Yeah, coordinates.
Tim: Coordinates. Then here's how the story works.
Jon: There's something about the Bible because it's so large, it's kind of a rarity to read
through from beginning to end. You're usually jumping in somewhere in the middle.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: Which means you kind of need to know where you're at.
Tim: Yeah, "where am I right now?"
Jon: Basically, let's just create that grid so that any moment you're jumping in scriptures
is you plug in the coordinates, and you're like, "Okay, I'm in this part of the story."
Tim: If I were trying to do it - and I've done this in a few different classrooms and sermon
contexts - the movements or something like this, obviously, pages 1 and 2 are really,
really important. Jesus on a number of occasions refers back to pages 1 and 2.
Jon: We've probably spent more time anywhere in the Bible in pages 1 and 2.
Tim: And there's a reason for that. They set the narrative world, they set what the purpose
of all of this is, what the purpose of humans are in the story, what the problem is.
There's a reason.
Jon: By the way, how did you get in the habit of saying pages 1 and 2 whereas it's
chapters 1 and 2?
Tim: Well, I just like it more.
Jon: I know, but where did you get it?
Tim: I think I just made it up one day. Because we don't think of it that way. I don't know
why. For some reason, it makes me think about the Bible on the different way to just
say pages 1 and 2. I don't know. Somewhere in the last couple of years.
So God makes a good world full of potential. He wants to share it because that's
apparently the nature of this God. He appoints humans as this is divine image to rule
it and take care of it on his behalf. That's page 1 and 2.
But it's all about the job given to humans. God wants to share the world and rule it
through humans, and their job is to rule the world and harnesses its potential
towards positive ends. This whole story isn't just going to be about some sort of
paradise where humans live in relationship with God.
Then plot conflict is relationship is broken. That's a very common Christian way of
doing it. It's all about the perfect relationship. The relationship is broken; the plot
resolution is going to be the restoration of relationship.
That's true, but it's not quite how the story actually goes. And what kind of
relationship? It's a working relationship. It's about a business partnership gone
wrong. That's the nature of the plot conflict is humans have a job and God's
committed to humans doing this job. So it opens with the job "rule the world."
The introduction of the plot conflict then, on a cosmic level, is the humans forfeit
their opportunity to do the job in a way it creates life. Instead, they rebel and fall
prey to death and moral corruption and so on. The nature of the plot conflict is, "Oh,
no, now humans can't do their job rightly. And when they do their job, calling the
shots on their own and redefine a good and evil it creates death instead of life."
That's the plot conflict. Not just that they aren't doing their job, it's that they're
doing it in the wrong way and introducing all of these horrible results.
Jon: It's like giving a two-year-old a dart gun. It's not going to end well. Paxton got this
new Nerf gun thing for Christmas, and it shoots really fast.
Jon: It's powerful and it's just tiny little thing.
Tim: Just typical little Nerf dart?
Jon: Well, it's this Nerf dart and on the front is hard plastic.
Jon: Actually, if it gets you a point blank on your skin, it stings. This thing flies. And it's
like this little revolver. I corked it for him because I was like, "I don't even think his
little finger can pull this trigger." Then I stopped paying attention and he's just
aiming at me. He pulls the trigger successfully and that thing flies right into my eye. I
just barely had time to close my eye. For the next two days, my eye was throbbing.
After it happened, I was like, "I think I'm going to go blind. This might be it. From
now on when people ask me how I lost my eyesight, I have to say, "From a Nerf
gun." That's all going through my mind is how bad it hurt.
I'm okay now, but that's humanity. It's a three-year-old with a Nerf gun.
Tim: The story is, that's humanity thinking that it can define good and evil by the
standards of what will survive and protect me and my group. As long as that's the
only goal that we have in mind, defining Good and Evil is a destructive weapon in
Jon: That's the fall.
Tim: Whether that's one movement or two movements, you have creation and humanity.
I'm not pleased with that title, but we could find a different way. Creation and the
human calling or something, and then rebellion and the fallout. No story can be told
without introduction and introduction of plot.
Jon: It's the premise.
Tim: Premise and then plot conflict. You've seen me do that drawing - you were doing it
earlier - of the multi-tiered plot. This is the cosmic background, so to speak, of the
story of the Bible where it's God and all humanity.
The story goes off the rails on page 3 and it culminates. It goes to Cain and the
flood, all leading up to Babylon, which is all a diagnosis of the problem. It's very
cosmic. All nations, many generations, long periods of time.
Then all of a sudden, in chapter 12, the story takes a very clear turn to focus it just in
on a few generations of one man and his family. That becomes the calling of
Abraham as the way that God is going to restore his divine blessing to the nation's
becomes the branch off of a subplot.
Jon: When you say divine blessing, you do mean that initial vocational call to be business
partners with them?
Tim: Yeah, right. The job given to humans on page 1 is a blessing. God blessed them and
said, "Be fruitful, and multiply and fill the earth, subdue it, rule over the fish of the
sea. That kind of thing." So the job is a gift. It's a blessing. I want to do this with you.
This is our responsibility or privilege now.
When God says to Abraham, after all the nations have run things into the ground to
say, "I'm going to bless you, make you into a people group, and you'll be a blessing,
and I'm going to bless those who bless you, and I'm going to protect you from those
who curse you, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessing or will
discover blessing," this is five times the word "blessing."
Jon: It's a lot of blessing.
Tim: It's a lot of blessing and it's literary device. It all points back to that blessing on page
1. That the blessing that was for all humanity was forfeited. And so God's going to
take one family and give them that divine blessing and invite them to experience
themselves, and somehow through them, it will spread again to all humanity a
That's the storyline of the Bible, how God is on a mission to bless his enemies
through the family of Abraham somehow. Even then, many people would then just
hop to Jesus at that point. But in my mind—
Jon: Great, great, great grandson of Abraham.
Tim: Yeah, totally. In my mind, there's still some more things that are crucial to who Jesus
is that you need to account for. This is fairly quick. You have creation and human
calling, human readable and the fallout of that, and then you have the Israel part of
God chooses the family of Abraham. Through him, he's going to bless the nations.
The problem is the family keeps failing.
It happens in Abraham's lifetime, he fails, most of his children fail, great
grandchildren all try to kill each other or sell each other into slavery. God rescues the
whole family out of slavery and invites them to be faithful to Him and follow the 10
commandments and 603 or more.
Jon: And they build a golden calf.
Tim: They build a golden calf. Every part of Israel story is a failure that mimics the failure
of the humanity on pages 1 and 2. So the story of Israel it's not just that it's an
illustration of what all humanity undergoes or underwent in the garden. It's actually
the story of Israel intensifies the problem.
An analogy would be like a high school teacher. The Bible Project studio is in the
lower floor of an old refurbished high school. This was the wood shop. We're in what
was the wood shop of an old high school.
Jon: That's what I've been told. So smell the sawdust.
Tim: It would be something like high school shop teacher puts out an assignment for all
the students and they all fail. And that's a bummer because he's been trying to teach
them how to use the wood lathe or something like that. That's disappointing
because he like, "Man, I showed them how to do it." So that's Genesis 1 through 11.
But then the story of Israel is like the shop teacher takes one student and for
Jon: Just apprentices him.
Tim: Yeah. The student comes after school gets out and they work till dinner time, and
he's teaching, and you have all these investment months. And they become really
close. Then semester final project comes and this student not only fails again but
intentionally fails and make some lame object that's misshapen. It's even more
Jon: Like, "He knew better."
Tim: Yeah, he knew better. That's not just, "Oh, that's just another illustration of lazy high
school students." No, it's more. It's that even when God shows extra measures of
grace, human nature is so bent that we still find ways to twist God's words, and to
doubt God's goodness, and to think God's holding out on us, and to act in really
destructive, disrespectful ways. That's how the story of Israel works.
So you finish the Old Testament story and you go, "Man, I thought we were in a bad
situation on page 3." But then you get to page 593 at the end of the Old Testament,
and you're just like, "Oh, man, we really need help." And that's only the story.
Then you come to the prophets of the Old Testament, and they're like, "Yeah, that's
right." And God promises that he will send help. It's so thoroughly clear that
humanity needs help. Made even more clear from the story of Israel that the
solution has to be something remarkable, some close joining of God and humanity -
a king, a leader, this ideal human who's close to God that like King David, he would
call God his Father. He's so close to God that this leader is infused with God's Spirit
and personal presence. That if humans are ever going to get it right, they have to
have God's transform them into different kinds of humans.
This is all what the Old Testament prophets are talking about. You need a recreation
of the human heart, mind. Total renewal and transformation.
The story of the Old Testament ends and you're waiting for this leader. You're
hoping that God will do something to just change humans on a fundamental level.
And you think that's the only hope for humanity. It seems to me that that's all very
important for understanding who Jesus is.
Then if you didn't have that, it just half of what Jesus and the apostles are saying.
Just doesn't land. That was my not so short summary of the Old Testament.
Jon: It was pretty short.
Tim: So here's the movements: you have God creation and the human calling, human
rebellion and the fallout. Then God and Israel. God chooses Israel to spread his
blessing to the nations. Israel fails at every step of the way.
Israel's sitting in a mess of its own making and the prophets come in and announced
that they're still for coming leader, a transformation of the human heart and then a
brand new world that God's going to bring about. That's where you sit then, at the
end of the Old Testament.
Then the movements flow right into Jesus. Everything Jesus said and did connects
right on to the Israel part of the story. And it makes sense of why Jesus came not
announcing that you can go to heaven, but announcing that heaven that God's reign
and rule, that humans rejected and Israel rejected is now on an invasion mission - to
invade Earth. It's a similar theme that we've explored before.
But you have the Jesus and the kingdom mission. The death and resurrection fulfill
that. Then the spreading of Jesus's Kingdom people into all of the nations, that
accounts for most of the New Testament. And then the Return of the King and new
Jon: All this king and kingdom language comes from a very specific part of Israel story
where they get a king. It's a highlight in their story because it's when they were the
most unified under King David, and successful and awesome. Powerhouse. No one
ruled over them, they're united.
Tim: In Israel's whole history, there was only one king who successfully unified all of the
tribes of Israel and brought abundance to the land.
Jon: And he loved their law of God.
Tim: Yeah, he was faithful to God of Israel. He had some serious failures from which he
never fully recovered, although he did turn.
Jon: But he gives us the poetry of "how I love your words, O God." All the stuff that we
sing and worship songs, at least in my tradition, he was referring to the—
Tim: The Scriptures and the poem that existed in his day.
Jon: As you're saying, king and kingdom, we have to talk specifically about that for that
to have any meaning. Because what Jesus isn't talking about is an actual kingdom
like we know it. Like a kingdom of Israel going into all that. When you say Kingdom
people, it becomes like a metaphor in a way.
Tim: When Jesus uses Kingdom language, he's tapping into the Pope of the prophets,
that God himself would come and appoint a new leader for Israel to reconstitute
them. But what Jesus doesn't seem to have in mind is that takes the form of a new
nation-state. But he does have it in mind that it forms actual body of people who
live by a code of conduct and who follow him as their leader. He does have that in
mind. So that starts to look like a kingdom.
Jon: Like a kingdom.
Tim: Exactly, yeah.
Jon: All of a sudden becomes "like a kingdom" which is metaphoric language, right?
When something is like something, you're describing a metaphor now.
Tim: You're right. He said following him was entering God's kingdom and experiencing it.
But it didn't have the structure of what was recognizable as the state in the eyes of
Rome, although Rome still did see the Jesus movement as a threat.
Tim: Like when Paul is in Thessalonica, this is Acts chapter 17, he's accused of defying
Caesar's decrees and spreading trouble all over the world by announcing that there
is another king, one called Jesus. So the early Christians were heard and viewed as...
Jon: Had their real-world identifications.
Tim: ...as having what we would call implications. In that sense, it's not a metaphor. Jesus
came talking about a kingdom, he acted like a royal figure, and he called people to
give their allegiance to him, and to no other God or king or actually, to express their
devotion to Jesus by honoring every other God and King. Actually, that was the
moves that they made.
Paul would tell people to pray for Nero and pay taxes. And Peter would say, "Honor
the king. He might be sending soldiers to kill you but honor the king." But that's all
about the paradox of power in Jesus' kingdom. If there's anything that gets at what
you're talking about, "it's like a kingdom," it's that it doesn't behave like a kingdom
as we know it.
Jon: Yeah. Because a kingdom as we know it, the king would be here, I suppose.
Tim: Not invisible?
Tim: Let's be honest.
Jon: Yeah. Not some life-giving spirit.
Tim: Who's presence is through his people and so on.
Jon: That's not a normal kingdom. Then the values of the kingdom are completely wonky
and their perspective of a normal kingdom, as you say, upside down. In a way, is that
why you're saying, "Like a kingdom," because it's different than kingdoms but it is—
Tim: Yeah. I guess it's its own category of a kingdom, the people of Jesus spreading
throughout history and through the nations. But it ought to be recognizable as a
distinct group of people who live with a different set of allegiances and by a
different ethic. But they aren't a threat to the rulers, aren't a military threat to the
rulers, whatever Kingdom they happen to live in. That's what I mean by people of the
Jesus comes announcing the kingdom, then the people of the kingdom spread
throughout the nation's awaiting the return of the world's true king.
Jon: That's a phrase that becomes important. It seems like really unpacking this idea of
Tim: I understand. Well, okay, that's a good point.
Jon: Which is slightly different than anchoring in on vocation.
Tim: That's true. But what is the vocation? To rule.
Jon: To rule.
Tim: That's Kingdom language. What the humans are called to do is a royal task of being
royal rulers over a creation.
Jon: Got it.
Tim: So we could choose ruling kingdom stuff as an anchor. I mean, there's a strong
argument to be made that that is one of the main themes. The red threads that ties
the whole story together, who's going to rule the world?
Jon: Who's going to rule the world and how will it be ruled?
Tim: Yeah, how will it be ruled?
Jon: Am I going too far to say, Adam and Eve eating the tree of the knowledge of good
and evil corrupts their power? Because now when they use their power, and they're
deciding what's good and bad, they do a bad job. And inevitably, it's because of
self-protection and self-preservation. That's just the natural way for humans to
define good and evil, but we need God to define it for us.
So Jesus comes and says, "Here's what's good. It's self-giving love and this is how
this kind of goodness exerts its power." Even now, as I think about it, it's absurd,
right? Because I'm still a human who's trying to define good and evil on my own to
some extent. Then Jesus said, "Here's what's good. It's laying down your life for an
enemy." And I am thinking, "Really?"
Tim: That's stupid.
Jon: It's actually kind of stupid.
Tim: But this is third part of our mission statement is that the Bible's unified story that
leads to Jesus that has wisdom taught for the modern world. You were just telling
me about a book you're reading called "The Power of Paradox." And it's talking
about how real influence is very different than our main cultural conceptions of
influence and power. That's what came to my mind.
Jon: That's why I've actually really been interested in that book. It's not from a Christian
perspective. It's just this...I don't know can’t remember where it’s from…Stanford or
somewhere. But he's a psychologist and for 20 years. He's been studying power.
And he would say that the way we think about power really comes from this famous
book written by Machiavellian, I think is his name. It's basically the premises to really
have power, you need to lie, cheat and kill, basically. That's what true power is.
That's really seeped into our subconscious that in our epic stories of powerful
people...Think of House of Cards, I don't know. You probably haven't watched that.
But it's all about this politician who gains power through corruption.
We have plenty of stories, but his point is, those are our stories, but if you look at
how the world really changes, and who really gets influenced in the long run, people
that we actually still really celebrate and that have moved the human story forward,
had a different kind of power - Martin Luther King, or Mother Teresa, or Gandhi -
that kind of power comes from seeking the greater good. He just makes really good
case for that, which is kingdom language.
Tim: It sounds like Jesus.
Jon: Yeah, it sounds like Jesus. He's basically like, "Hey, I've discovered after 20 years of
Tim: Real power looks like Jesus of Nazareth.
Jon: ...real power looks like what Jesus is talking about."
Tim: You described for me. It was empathy?
Jon: Yeah. Well, some of the characteristics of maintaining this kind of power is empathy,
generosity, celebrating other people's stories. What was the other one? The fourth
one is escaping me.
Tim: Anyway, nonetheless.
Jon: It's called "The Power of Paradox" because that's how you gain power. But when you
have power, what it does is it makes you more insular, it makes you feel important, it
makes you feel self-sufficient, and naturally, you become less empathetic of other
people. You begin to now think, "How do I protect what I've gained?" becomes
something you worry about more. It makes you tell grand stories about yourself and
your success, which really minimizes kind of other people.
So the natural implication of power is to then become the kind of person who
wouldn't ever be given that power. And that's the paradox is that once you have
power, we don't know what to do with it. It destroys us.
Tim: It distorts our ability to think straight.
Jon: And I've thought about this before. I couldn't be president of the United States. It
would destroy me. When I was helping run a company that was doing really well, it
just messes with you a little bit because all sudden, you're making these more
important decisions that affect people, you're spending amounts of money that you
know, most people don't even make in a year on business decisions. Different things
that just makes you feel just to kind of other and more important and it kind of
outside of the rules.
It just ends up distorting your view of things and inevitably makes decisions that will
oppress people. That's the human condition.
Tim: That's precisely the Bible's diagnosis of the human condition. That you get on pages
3 to 11 in miniature and that you get explored in depth with amazing literary
portraits in the story of Israel. That's exactly it.
Jon: But what we really truly want, if you think about what do you really want as a human,
it's not power. I think I want power, but I think I want power because that's going to
bring me happiness and freedom and joy and security and stability. Those are the
things I want.
But the power, if you knew the corrosive of it, that's not what you really want. What
you want is the friendship that brings stability. Think about stability of community
that cares about each other.
Tim: You want to make a meaningful contribution to the people that you care about or
the people that you think need help.
Jon: And you want to know these other people intimately, and you want to be known by
them, and you want to think that what you're doing is meaningful. Those are the
things you want and those are the things that bring happiness not power. But the
people who do that well and are building those communities, they're the ones that
the communities then give their power and then what do you do with it.
And Jesus is saying, "This is what you do with that power." So it does start to make
sense. But still, if you came to me and said, "Jon, you're going to have to die for
these guys so you don't like...," I'd be like, "I would rather hang out with my kids for
another couple decades. I'd rather fight that guy and kill him if I had to, if it came
down to it and be with my family. My kids need me." That makes way more sense
intuitively that lay down your life for your enemy.
I hope I'm never in a position like that. But that's what Jesus has message is. In the
long run, that makes sense if you think in terms of Big History, and generation after
generation and the systemic problem. But when it comes down to me, and just this
Tim: That's right.
Jon: I guess a lot of things are that way. I mean, if you think about it with the
environment, if everyone just decided to make a couple small changes, we could
really clean things up. But am I going to do that in my life?
No, I'd rather—
Tim: That's right. It's the nature of a broken system. As you're talking, I think that's the
heartbeat of the thing. I think we want to create a video that makes clear that
coherent unified story of the Bible and how Jesus, he unifies the whole thing.
What you just described to me, is a really compelling story. I think we could make
the video about that. About humanity's capability and task, royal task, powerful task,
Jon: We were given God's breath.
Tim: Yeah. We're given divine authority that no other species has what our species has
the capability of doing here in our world. And how that's corrupted according to the
story, which is very true to human experience. Then the unique role of the family of
Israel within it has an even deeper diagnosis of the problem.
Then how Jesus becomes the one who shows us true power by totally reinventing it
almost and taking that reinvention, or upside down to the full extent by embodying
it in his death.
Jon: That's the CliffsNotes version of the Bible?
Tim: Yeah. Then it's about the launch of that new kingdom or new different kind of
humans who are called to rule—
Jon: If humans come together to rule in that way, in an organized fashion, what would
that look like? And that's supposed to be.
Tim: It's at least the ideal of what the church is called to in the New Testament as they
anticipate the return of that King.
Jon: And what does it look like when you're destroyed doing that? Like Martyred,
Tim: Yeah. According to the book of Revelation, that's how you win. I think there's a really
Jon: That's a very natural question that Revelation addresses through this lens, which is,
"Okay, great. I'm going to be a part of that kind of movement. But what happens
when the big bad guy comes and decides to just be evil? I'm over." And it's like,
"Yeah, that's how you're going to conquer."
Tim: You stand up and you bear witness, and you call it out, and you name the beast. It
will anger the beast, the beast might kill you because you won't give the beast your
allegiance, but you'll have died bearing witness to the real king of the world. And
he'll vindicate you when you're raised from the dead.
I think there's something here. What I brought up the wisdom for the modern world
is, to me, like I looked up that book, Machiavelli's book. It's called "The Prince." But
Jon: Is it Machiavelli not Machiavellian?
Tim: Machiavelli. Then his nouns, his name becomes an adjective. Machiavellian
Jon: So I said it wrong.
Tim: But the Bible is on par with these great contributions to human thought and it’s
diagnosis of the human condition. Essentially, it's one of power. It's about power. I
just think that's really profound. If you hurt yourself, like summarize that book, it's
really, really interesting and compelling and relevant.
I think it could be a cool opportunity with this video both to serve people and seeing
the Bible as a unified story, but to see that it's about something that is relevant as—
Jon: Very relevant.
Tim: Like the political climate that we as Americans are living in right now, that the whole
world's in right now and has been as far back as we can possibly tell. Anyway.
Jon: Well, you could see how upside down it is in that, what seems to make the most
sense for a nation-state? Like when things get tough, you go, "We just need to
protect ourselves." That makes a lot of intuitive sense and it's really hard to argue
against it in a lot of ways.
Tim: A question that's on everybody's mind right now is, what does it mean to use power
Jon: Yeah. What does it mean to use the power of organized group of people?
Tim: To gain power and then to weld it, use it.
Jon: The Bible speaks to it so closely, and Jesus talks about it so much.
Tim: The whole story of Israel is about that.
Jon: It's so much wisdom, which is scandalous. It's absurd.
Tim: In a way. But that's why I brought up that book. It's also wise.
Jon: But it's also wise.
Tim: We were speaking about Les Miserables earlier, but, you know, that's the hinge if the
whole plot is Jean Valjean is shown the scandalous act of totally irresponsible
generosity, and grace and forgiveness.
Jon: I love that. Irresponsible generosity.
Tim: And he doesn't experience it as an act of kindness in the classic paragraph that
describes Jean Valjean’s response. He scandalized, he's angered because he knows if
he continues being on the same horrible human, he'll be even more damned after
having been shown this act of love and grace. It's amazing paragraph.
It was like it confronted every part of his being and he knew this was the moment to
overcome or be conquered forever. He chooses to let it transform him and his view
and what he does with the rest of his life, which was—
Tim: Yeah, it is. It's amazing. But it's that. It's how Jesus redefined power in his teachings
and his life is scandalous but it's also wise. Like it's, as he claimed, the only way
forward for any of us. And he offers his wisdom. And then along, come to Stanford
professor, he writes a book and says, "You know, the most powerful people in our
world are people who end up behaving like Jesus."
Jon: "The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence."
Tim: Who's it by?
Jon: Dacher Keltner. Professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Tim: UC Berkeley?
Jon: Yeah. And he's the director of Greater Good Science Center. That's kind of why he
puts his money where his mouth is, I think.
Tim: It's cool.
Jon: That's a part of UC Berkeley.
Tim: How did you hear about it?
Jon: Gosh, I was just browsing Barnes & Noble and I just saw the title. I was like, "That
sounds like a really interesting title." Then I started skimming it, and I was like, "This
Tim: That's an argument for your local bookstore. Just go walk around and you'll never
know what you find. It could change your life. I think we've put our thumb on it. I
think this is what we've got to do - break the biblical story and the main movements,
but under the whole unifying thread about rule and power.
Jon: Isn't the Bible about salvation?
Tim: Yeah, totally. I was just thinking that. It makes it feel less religious and more like a
work of moral philosophy.
Jon: It's refreshing in one way, but in another way that's potentially problematic because
the Bible is more than just a book of philosophy.
Tim: That's true.
Jon: It's making a claim about how the world actually is.
Tim: You're right. It's not a moral philosophy in terms of just "Here's how you ought to
be." It's almost like, "Here's how basically, you're incapable of being and here's one
who was there for you and wants to be the source of power for you to become that
Jon: And then it becomes mystical.
Tim: Yeah, it's a good point.
Jon: Then it becomes religious again.
Tim: Then becomes religious again.
Jon: It's not like have a new state of mind. It's like have an encounter with the God of the
Tim: Something happened in the person of Jesus. And to understand that, you need to
know the story. Once you know the story, and that it is leading you to Jesus, you
have a decision to make of whether or not you're going to connect yourself to this
Jon: Connect to the source of this power. This resurrection power.
Tim: You're right. There's always a choice that's put before you that you can't avoid. But
at the same time, it's as a diagnosis to these problems, this crisis of power. It's very
much a contribution to the question of our day, the anxiety of our day.
Jon: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bible Project podcast. The Bible Project is
a crowdfunded studio in Portland, Oregon. We make videos and resources that show
how the Bible's one unified story that leads to Jesus and has profound wisdom for
the modern world.
You can see our videos. They're free on YouTube, youtube.com/thebibleproject. And
all of our resources are free on our website, thebibleproject.com. Everything's free
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Thanks for being a part of this with us.