So what is the central message of the Bible?

Yesterday, in my post No, Mr C, that’s not the central message of the Bible, I wrote that Prime Minister David Cameron doesn’t seem to know what that central message is. But I made no attempt to state what I think it is. So it is with good reason that Archdruid Eileen, in her own post The Central Message of the Bible, asks:

But if some nice words about being good aren’t the central message of the Bible, what is? Is there a central message at all?

A family Bible from 1859Now those are very good questions, especially the second one. Does the Bible have a central message? Or is it just a collection of different documents each with their own central message? It certainly is such a collection. But it is not a random collection: the books were chosen, under God’s providence, to convey an overall message, the story of God’s dealings with humanity from the beginning to the coming end. And this message, as it is a coherent one, can be summarised and its central point can be found.

So what is this central message? The Bible does include the words which Cameron chose to write out, and also some rather different sentiments which the Archdruid notes. How can we say which, if any, of these are central? I suppose that is a matter for literary analysis, a subject in which I would not consider myself an expert. But I can still offer my tentative opinion. And this is based on the idea that the focal point of a narrative is usually not at the centre but towards the end, after an extended build-up, but also not at the very end because there is usually some kind of epilogue.

On that basis, the focus of the Bible is not on the Old Testament, which is an extended build-up, but also not in the latter parts of the New Testament. That tends to suggest that it can be found in the four gospels. Then within each of these gospels we can look for the central message. Each of them (at least if we include the longer ending of Mark) consists of a long build-up and a short epilogue, and in the focal position there are two climactic events, the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Is one of these two more central than the other? Well, that is the point of the series which I recently started, and intend to continue, Cross or Resurrection. So here I will only give a sneak preview of the conclusions I expect to reach in that series, that these two are equal in importance, in the Bible as well as in the Christian life.

I note also what the Apostle Paul considered too be “of first importance”, with the cross and the resurrection given equal place:

that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.

1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (NIV)

So, I would conclude that the central message of the Bible is very simple: Jesus was put to death on the cross and rose again from the dead.

16 thoughts on “So what is the central message of the Bible?

  1. I agree and disagree, Peter. Yes – it is. But without stating WHY, the statement falls flat.

    Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead to restore to God and mankind ALL that was lost in the fall of man.

  2. Yes, I would say you have hit it Peter!.

    If we want a simple mission statement your chosen passage says it for me.

    To take up what I understand Kay is saying, the rest of the Bible explains the background, reasons, necessity, process, consequences etc. That would be in the back up explanations often behind a mission statement.

  3. Kay, I take your point. Yes, what you say is certainly an important part of the message of the Bible. If the question had been “what is the overall message of the Bible?”, I would have agreed with you. But what is central is not that interpretation but the underlying story. That partly reflects the truth that the Bible is not a theological textbook but primarily a story, that of God’s dealings with humanity.

  4. That statement is sort of like defining breathing as “air moving in and out of the lungs” – a person who knows what breathing in will say “duh” and move on, unchanged … but more importantly, a person who doesn’t know what breathing is will say, “why bother?”

  5. Kay, I don’t dispute that the Scriptures have a lot to say about the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s just that I think this is secondary in terms of the literary structure of the Bible. I could also argue that the mere event of the Resurrection has great significance apart from any explanation, and gives significance also to the preceding death.

  6. Again, Tim, I take your point. Of course the life and teaching of Jesus is important. Note that I did say that the gospels were central to the whole Bible, and Jesus’ death and resurrection to them. But the question was looking for one central point. Jesus’ death without his life is cheap grace, but his life without his death is no grace.

  7. I think that you may be trying for two concise a statement, Peter. After all, when your namesake had to give the central message of the Bible in Acts 10:34-43, he didn’t try to fit it on a tee-shirt!

    I agree with the statement that Jesus’ death without his life is cheap grace, but his life without his death is no grace (well, to a point – he lived gracefully as well as dying gracefully!). But of course God has not asked us to choose between these alternatives. I think I would like to construct a statement that includes the whole story – something like ‘Through the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus, God has acted decisively to set the world free from evil and sin and to re-establish his loving rule over all creation, and this work continues today through the power of the Holy Spirit. We’re invited to trust and follow Christ, receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness’.

    I know, it’s two wordy and it fails the tee-shirt test, but the tee-shirt test is not in the Bible either!

  8. Well, Tim, perhaps I was trying to be too concise. I’m more often guilty of being too verbose, and I think that’s what my namesake was being in Acts 10, when the Holy Spirit got bored and interrupted him! Your statement is a good one if you want something that length. But there are plenty of T-shirt length summaries in the Bible, such as “The kingdom of God is here”.

  9. Paul’s offers the summary “Christ Crucified.” – This covers what you have said. (The resurrection is implied since that is how we know Jesus is God’s annointed ie The Christ.)
    However it also has another edge. “Crucified” implies cursed and condemned in the eyes of the world. Thus putting these two words together implies God’s turning upside down of the world’s values, which in turn links back to the call for true & radical justice which is central to many of the prophets and elsewhere in both OT & NT (eg Magnificat.)

  10. Thank you, Davigoss. Yes, “God’s turning upside down of the world’s values” is a very important part of that central message. I’m sure Paul intended to imply the Resurrection, although I am concerned that some modern preachers who concentrate on the Cross leave the Resurrection so implicit that in practice they ignore it.

  11. When we take into consideration GOD’S ENTIRE STORY:

    Jesus (as an angel destroyer) whom the people of Sodom and Gomorrah wanted to rape.

    Jacob’s warning to us in Genesis of the Benjamin Wolf tribe Devouring and Dividing his enemies.

    Judges chapters 19-21, The Concubine Story of the Evil Pervert Wolf Benjamites Raping Jesus to Death Whom God the indifferent (Isaiah 53) Levite Husband locked out of heaven. “You make me feel like, I’ve been locked out of heaven” – Bruno Mars song

    The emergence of evil King Saul (1 Samuel) from the evil Benjamite 600 man remnant.

    King Saul’s replacement after 40 years by King David of Judah – The tribe that fought so hard against Benjamin in Judges 19-21.

    Jesus descending from King David of Judah Tribe.

    Saul of Tarsus coming along from the Benjamite Wolf tribe as a Pharisee Persecutor of Jesus’ Sheep.

    Paul (Saul) taking on the form of a Benjamite Pharisee Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, claiming to have had more than one contact with Jesus after Jesus’ 40 Days (ACTS 1:3) Complete Appearances to his Apostles accomplished by ACTS 1:11 (Ascension).

    Saul (aka Paul) receiving the Mark of the Beast in his hand (ACTS 28), shaking the Beast off into the fire in a sign of contempt for Moses and Jesus (Numbers 21, John 3), Saul not dying, Saul believed by the people to be a god, Saul not denying being a god, Saul receiving many gifts from them, Saul performing many healing miracles for them in his own power instead of in the Name of Jesus.

    Paul(Saul) condemning the Israelites (Numbers 21) in 1 Corinthians 10, for sinning instead of pointing them to the GRACE of both Moses’ and Jesus as snake-on-a-pole (Numbers 21 and John 3)

    Revelation telling us about the Mark of the Beast in the hand (Snake Fangs – ACTS 28) and the
    Mark in the forehead (WWSD – What Would Saul/Satan Do) instead of taking the Mark in the forehead (WWJD – What would Jesus/Jehovah Do)…

    Then GOD’S STORY becomes apparent that WE must CHOOSE THIS DAY WHOM WE WILL SERVE: Satan/Saul aka Paul (or) Jesus/Jehovah?

  12. Eric, that is an interesting perspective. But your assessment of Saul/Paul relies largely on the book of Acts, in which Paul is clearly presented as the hero, not the villain as you would paint him. Paul clearly points the Israelites of his own day to God’s grace, but it was too late for the past generations whose sin he describes.

  13. Jesus warned us:
    “Beware the yeast(false teaching) of the (murderous, perverted, wolf, Benjamite) Pharisees”
    Saul of Tarsus: wolf
    Paul of Tarsus: wolf in sheep’s clothing
    The Math of MARK 8 verses 19-21 was never done.
    Here it is:
    5 loaves+5[000] fed+12 baskets fragments = 22
    or 22000
    7 loaves+4[000] fed+7 baskets fragments = 18
    or 18000
    40 Days points to ACTS 1:3, 1:11, 3:21, 10:41
    40000 warriors points to Judges chp 19-21
    where 40000 warriors of Judah died fighting
    evil murderous perverted Benjamite wolves.
    King Saul and Saul of Tarsus are of that stock
    of Benjamin.
    King David and Jesus are of the stock of the
    warriors of Judah killed fighting Benjamin.
    It is plain that Gods message of the Bible is
    Beware of the murderous, perverted, Benjamite

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