Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Introduction: What Are the Major Motifs of Scripture?)

The Revelation of the Character of God

The Revelation of Divine Judgment for Sin and Disobedience

The Revelation of Divine Blessing for Faith and Obedience

The Revelation of the Lord Savior and His Sacrifice for Sin

The Revelation of the Kingdom and Glory of the Lord Savior

The Bible is a collection of sixty-six books inspired by God. These documents are gathered into two Testaments, the Old (thirty-nine) and the New (twenty-seven). Prophets, priests, kings, and leaders from the nation of Israel wrote the Old Testament books in Hebrew (with some passages in Aramaic). The apostles and their associates wrote the New Testament books in Greek.

The Old Testament record starts with the creation of the universe and closes about four hundred years before the first coming of Jesus Christ. The flow of history through the Old Testament moves along the following lines:

       1.    Creation of the universe

       2.    Fall of man

       3.    Judgment flood over the earth

       4.    Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel)—fathers of the chosen nation

       5.    The history of Israel

a.    Exile in Egypt (430 years)

b.    Exodus and wilderness wanderings (40 years)

c.    Conquest of Canaan (7 years)

d.    Era of the judges (350 years)

e.    United kingdom—Saul, David, Solomon (110 years)

f.     Divided kingdom—Judah and Israel (350 years)

g.    Exile in Babylon (70 years)

h.    Return and rebuilding of the land (140 years)

The details of this history are explained in the thirty-nine books, which can be divided into five categories:

       1.    The Law—5 (Genesis–Deuteronomy)

       2.    History—12 (Joshua–Esther)

       3.    Wisdom—5 (Job–Song of Solomon)

       4.    Major Prophets—5 (Isaiah–Daniel)

       5.    Minor Prophets—12 (Hosea–Malachi)

The completion of the Old Testament was followed by four hundred years of silence, during which time God did not speak through prophets or inspire any Scripture. That silence was broken by the arrival of John the Baptist announcing that the promised Savior had come. The New Testament records the rest of the story, from the birth of Christ to the culmination of all history and the final eternal state. So the two Testaments go from creation to consummation, eternity past to eternity future.

While the thirty-nine Old Testament books major on the history of Israel and the promise of the coming Savior, the twenty-seven New Testament books major on the person of Christ and the establishment of the church. The four Gospels give the record of his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Each of the four writers views the greatest and most important event of history, the coming of the God-man, Jesus Christ, from a different perspective. Matthew looks at him through the perspective of his kingdom, Mark through the perspective of his servanthood, Luke through the perspective of his humanness, and John through the perspective of his deity.

The book of Acts tells the story of the impact of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lord Savior—from his ascension, the consequent coming of the Holy Spirit, and the birth of the church through the early years of gospel preaching by the apostles and their associates. Acts records the establishment of the church in Judea, in Samaria, and into the Roman Empire.

The twenty-one Epistles were written to churches and individuals to explain the significance of the person and work of Jesus Christ, with its implications for life and witness until he returns.

The New Testament closes with Revelation, which starts by picturing the current church age and culminates with Christ’s return to establish his earthly kingdom, bringing judgment on the ungodly and glory and blessing for believers. Following the millennial reign of the Lord Savior will be the last judgment, leading to the eternal state. All believers of all history enter the ultimate eternal glory prepared for them, and all the ungodly are consigned to hell to be punished forever.

To understand the Bible, it is essential to grasp the sweep of that history from creation to consummation. It is also crucial to keep in focus the unifying theme of Scripture. The one constant theme unfolding throughout the whole Bible is this: God for his own glory has chosen to create and gather to himself a group of people to be the subjects of his eternal kingdom, who will praise, honor, and serve him forever and through whom he will display his wisdom, power, mercy, grace, and glory. To gather his chosen ones, God must redeem them from sin. The Bible reveals God’s plan for this redemption from its inception in eternity past to its completion in eternity future. Covenants, promises, and epochs are all secondary to the one continuous plan of redemption.

There is one God. The Bible has one divine Source. Scripture is one book. It has one plan of grace, recorded from initiation through execution to consummation. From predestination to glorification, the Bible is the story of God redeeming his chosen people for the praise of his glory.

As God’s redemptive purposes and plan unfold in Scripture, five recurring motifs are constantly emphasized. Everything revealed on the pages of both the Old Testament and the New is associated with these five categories. Scripture is always teaching or illustrating (1) the character and attributes of God; (2) the tragedy of sin and disobedience to God’s holy standard; (3) the blessedness of faith and obedience to God’s standard; (4) the need for a Savior by whose righteousness and substitution sinners can be forgiven, declared just, and transformed to obey God’s standard; and (5) the coming glorious end of redemptive history in the Lord Savior’s earthly kingdom and the subsequent eternal reign and glory of God and Christ. While reading through the Bible, one should be able to relate each portion of Scripture to these dominant topics, recognizing that what is introduced in the Old Testament is also made clearer in the New Testament. Looking at these five categories separately gives an overview of the Bible.

The Revelation of the Character of God

Above all else, Scripture is God’s self-revelation. He reveals himself as the sovereign God of the universe who has chosen to make man and to make himself known to man. In that self-revelation he has established his standard of absolute holiness. From Adam and Eve through Cain and Abel and to everyone before and after the law of Moses, the standard of righteousness has been established and is sustained in Scripture to the last page of the New Testament. Violation of it produces judgment, both temporal and eternal.

In the Old Testament, God revealed himself by the following means:

       1.    Creation (the heavens and the earth)

       2.    Creation of mankind, who was made in his image

       3.    Angels

       4.    Signs, wonders, and miracles

       5.    Visions

       6.    Spoken words by prophets and others

       7.    Written Scripture (Old Testament)

In the New Testament, God revealed himself again by the same means but more clearly and fully:

       1.    Creation (the heavens and the earth)

       2.    Incarnation of the God-man, Jesus Christ, who is the very image of God

       3.    Angels

       4.    Signs, wonders, and miracles

       5.    Visions

       6.    Spoken words by Christ, apostles, and prophets

       7.    Written Scripture (New Testament)

The Revelation of Divine Judgment for Sin and Disobedience

Scripture repeatedly deals with the matter of man’s sin, which leads to divine judgment. Account after account in Scripture demonstrates the deadly effects in time and eternity of violating God’s standard. There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible. Only four of them do not involve a fallen world: the first two and the last two—before the fall and after the creation of the new heaven and new earth. The rest chronicle sin’s tragedy and God’s redemptive grace in Christ Jesus.

In the Old Testament, God showed the disaster of sin—starting with Adam and Eve and carrying on to Cain and Abel, the patriarchs, Moses and Israel, the kings, the priests, some prophets, and the Gentile nations. Throughout the Old Testament is the relentless record of continual devastation produced by sin and disobedience to God’s law.

In the New Testament, the tragedy of sin becomes clearer. The teaching of Jesus and the apostles begins and ends with a call to repentance. King Herod, the Jewish leaders, and the nation of Israel—along with Pilate, Rome, and the rest of the world—all reject the Lord Savior, spurn the truth of God, and thus condemn themselves. The chronicle of sin continues unabated to the end of the age and the return of Christ in judgment. New Testament disobedience is even more flagrant than Old Testament disobedience because it involves the rejection of the Lord Savior Jesus Christ in the brighter light of New Testament revelation.

The Revelation of Divine Blessing for Faith and Obedience

Scripture repeatedly promises wonderful rewards in time and eternity that come to people who trust God and seek to obey him. In the Old Testament, God showed the blessedness of repentance from sin, faith in himself, and obedience to his Word—from Abel, through the patriarchs, to the remnant in Israel, and even on to the Gentiles who believed (such as the people of Nineveh).

God’s will, his moral law, and his standard for man were always made known. To those who faced their inability to keep God’s standard, who recognized their sin, who confessed their impotence to please God by their own works, and who asked him for forgiveness and grace—to those came merciful redemption and blessing for time and eternity.

In the New Testament, God again showed the full blessedness of redemption from sin for repentant people. There were those who responded to the preaching of repentance by John the Baptist. Others repented at the preaching of Jesus. Still others from Israel obeyed the gospel through the apostles’ preaching. And finally, many Gentiles all over the Roman Empire believed the gospel. To all those and to all who will believe throughout all history, God promises blessing, both in this world and in the world to come.

The Revelation of the Lord Savior and His Sacrifice for Sin

This is the heart of both the Old Testament, which Jesus said spoke of him in type and prophecy, and the New Testament, which gives the biblical record of his coming. The promise of blessing is dependent on grace and mercy given to the sinner. Mercy means that sin is not held against the sinner. Such forgiveness depends on a payment of sin’s penalty to satisfy holy justice, which demands a substitute—one to die in the sinner’s place. God’s chosen substitute—the only one who qualified—was Jesus. Salvation is always by the same gracious means, whether during Old Testament or New Testament times. When any sinner comes to God in repentant faith, acknowledging that he has no power to save himself from the deserved judgment of divine wrath, believing in Christ, and pleading for mercy, God’s promise of forgiveness is granted. God then declares him righteous because the sacrifice and obedience of Christ is credited to his account. In the Old Testament, God justified sinners that same way, in anticipation of Christ’s atoning work. There is, therefore, a continuity of grace and salvation through all redemptive history. Various covenants, promises, and epochs do not alter that fundamental continuity, nor does the discontinuity between the Old Testament witness-nation, Israel, and the New Testament witness-people, the church. A fundamental continuity is centered on the cross, which was no interruption in the plan of God but is the very thing to which all else points.

Throughout the Old Testament, the Savior-sacrifice is promised. In Genesis, he is the seed of the woman who will destroy Satan. In Zechariah, he is the “pierced” one to whom Israel turns and by whom God opens the fountain of forgiveness to all who mourn over their sin (Zech. 12:10). He is the very one symbolized in the sacrificial system of the Mosaic law. He is the suffering substitute of whom the prophets speak. Throughout the Old Testament, he is the Messiah who would die for the transgressions of his people; from beginning to end, the Old Testament presents the theme of the Lord Savior as a sacrifice for sin. It is solely because of his perfect sacrifice for sin that God graciously forgives repentant believers.

In the New Testament, the Lord Savior came and actually provided the promised sacrifice for sin on the cross. Having fulfilled all righteousness by his perfect life, he fulfilled justice by his death. Thus God himself atoned for sin, at a cost too great for the human mind to fathom. Now he graciously supplies all the merit necessary for his people to be the objects of his favor. That is what Scripture means when it speaks of salvation by grace.

The Revelation of the Kingdom and Glory of the Lord Savior

This crucial component of Scripture brings the whole story to its God-ordained consummation. Redemptive history is controlled by God so as to culminate in his eternal glory. Redemptive history will end with the same precision and exactness with which it began. The truths of eschatology are neither vague nor unclear—nor are they unimportant. As in any book, how the story ends is both compelling and critically important—and so it is with the Bible. Scripture notes several very specific features of the end planned by God.

In the Old Testament, there is repeated mention of an earthly kingdom ruled by the Messiah, the Lord Savior, who will come to reign. Associated with that kingdom will be the salvation of Israel, the salvation of Gentiles, the renewal of the earth from the effects of the curse, and the bodily resurrection of God’s people who have died. Finally, the Old Testament predicts that God will create a new heaven and new earth—which will be the eternal state of the godly—and a final hell for the ungodly.

The New Testament clarifies and expands these features. The King is rejected and executed, but he promises to come back in glory, bringing judgment, resurrection, and his kingdom for all who believe. Innumerable Gentiles from every nation will be included among the redeemed. Israel will be saved and grafted back into the root of blessing, from which she has been temporarily excised. Israel’s promised kingdom will be enjoyed with the Lord Savior reigning on the throne in the renewed earth, exercising power over the whole world, and receiving due honor and worship. Following that kingdom will come the dissolution of the renewed but still sin-stained creation and the subsequent creation of a new heaven and new earth—which will be the eternal state, separate forever from the ungodly in hell.

How Does Systematic Theology Relate to One’s Worldview?

What is a worldview? A worldview comprises one’s collection of presuppositions, convictions, and values from which a person tries to understand and make sense out of the world and life. As Ronald Nash puts it, “A world-view is a conceptual scheme by which we consciously or unconsciously place or fit everything we believe and by which we interpret and judge reality.” Similarly, Gary Phillips and William Brown explain, “A worldview is, first of all, an explanation and interpretation of the world and second, an application of this view to life.”

How does one form a worldview? Where does one begin? Every worldview starts with presuppositions—beliefs that one presumes to be true without supporting evidence from other sources or systems. Making sense of reality, in part or in whole, requires that one adopt an interpretive stance, since there is no “neutral” thought in the universe. This becomes the foundation on which one builds.

What are the presuppositions of a Christian worldview that is solidly rooted and grounded in Scripture? Carl F. H. Henry, an important Christian thinker in the last half of the twentieth century, answers the question very simply by saying that “evangelical theology dares harbor one and only one presupposition: the living and personal God intelligibly known in his revelation.” This one major presupposition, which underlies a proper Christian worldview, breaks down into two parts. First, God exists eternally as the personal, transcendent, triune Creator. Second, God has revealed his character, purposes, and will in the infallible and inerrant pages of his special revelation, the Bible.

What is the Christian worldview? The following definition is offered as a working model:

The Christian worldview sees and understands God the Creator and his creation—that is, man and the world—primarily through the lens of God’s special revelation, the holy Scriptures, and secondarily through God’s natural revelation in creation as interpreted by human reason and reconciled by and with Scripture, for the purpose of believing and behaving in accord with God’s will and, thereby, glorifying God with one’s mind and life, both now and in eternity.

What are some of the benefits of embracing the Christian worldview? A biblical worldview provides compelling answers to the most crucial of life’s questions:

       1.    How did the world and all that is in it come into being?

       2.    By what standard can I determine whether a knowledge claim is true or false?

       3.    How does/should the world function?

       4.    What is the nature of a human being?

       5.    What is one’s personal purpose of existence?

       6.    How should one live?

       7.    Is there any personal hope for the future?

       8.    What happens to a person at and after death?

       9.    Why is it possible to know anything at all?

     10.    How does one determine what is right and wrong?

     11.    What is the meaning of human history?

     12.    What does the future hold?

Christians in the twenty-first century face the same basic questions about this world and life that confronted the earliest humans in Genesis. They also had to sift through various worldviews to answer the above questions. This has been true throughout history. Consider what faced Joseph (Genesis 37–50) and Moses (Exodus 2–14) in Egypt, or Elijah when he encountered Jezebel and her pagan prophets (1 Kings 17–19), or Daniel in Babylon (Daniel 1–6), or Nehemiah in Persia (Nehemiah 1–2), or Paul in Athens (Acts 17). They discerned the difference between truth and error, right and wrong, because they placed their faith in the living God and his revealed Word.

What essentially distinguishes the Christian worldview from other worldviews? At the heart of the matter, a Christian worldview contrasts with competing worldviews in that it (1) recognizes the God of the Bible as the unique source of all truth, and (2) relates all truth back to an understanding of God and his purposes for this life and the next.

Are there any common misperceptions about the Christian worldview, especially among Christians? There are at least two mistaken notions. The first is that a Christian view of the world and life will differ on all points from other worldviews. While this is not always true (e.g., all worldviews accept the law of gravity), the Christian worldview will differ and be unique on the most important points, especially as they relate to the character of God, the nature and value of Scripture, and the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The second misperception is that the Bible contains all that we need to know in every sense. Common sense should put an end to this misdirected thought; for example, Scripture does not give instructions for how to change the oil in one’s car. However, it is true that the Bible alone contains all that Christians need to know about their spiritual life and godliness through a knowledge of the one true God, which is the highest and most important level of knowledge (2 Pet. 1:2–4).

How and in what life contexts does a Christian worldview prove to be necessary? First, in the world of scholarship the Christian worldview is offered not as one of many equals or possibilities but as the one true view of life whose single source of truth and reality is the Creator God. Thus, it serves as a bright light reflecting the glory of God in the midst of intellectual darkness.

Second, a Christian worldview must be used as an essential tool in evangelism to answer the questions and objections of the unbeliever. However, it must be clearly understood that in the final analysis, it is the gospel that has the power to bring an individual to salvation (Rom. 1:16–17).

Finally, a Christian worldview is foundational in the realm of discipleship to inform and mature a true believer in Christ with regard to the implications and ramifications of one’s Christian faith. It provides a framework by which one (1) can understand the world and all of its reality from God’s perspective and (2) can order one’s life according to God’s will.

What should be the ultimate goal of embracing the Christian worldview? Why is the Christian worldview worth recovering? Jeremiah passes along God’s direct answer:

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jer. 9:23–24)

Man’s chief end is to know and glorify God. Yet the knowledge of God is impossible apart from a Christian worldview.

Where do systematic theology and one’s worldview intersect? First, both are erected on the same shared presupposition with its two parts: (1) the personal existence of the eternal God and (2) his self-revelation in Scripture. Second, a Christian worldview is dependent on systematic theology to know and understand God’s truth, for systematic theology is nothing other than organizing all that God has revealed for the purpose of rightly knowing and living unto him. Third, a Christian worldview is dependent on systematic theology to know and embrace God’s worldview as revealed in Scripture, for it is only as we think Christianly that we learn to think God’s own thoughts after him. Finally, systematic theology is dependent on a Christian worldview in order to consistently and properly apply the truth of Scripture for living according to the will of God for God’s glory.[1]

[1] MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R., eds. (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (pp. 45–52). Crossway.