The Jesus Bible Review

Reality is story shaped—shaped by stories, yes, but also interpreted by stories. Human beings seem incapable of merely experiencing reality, they must also interpret it—explain and explore it—by stories. Jonathan Gottschall wrote a book a few years ago called, “The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human.” One theologian writes about “the storied quality of distinctively human existence” and “the essentially hermeneutical nature of human life.”[1]

The Function of Stories

Stories are the spectacles we put on to bring reality into focus. They accomplish this by framing our field of vision and then focusing on a point in that frame. Even such seemingly simple things like where to begin and end a story are interpretive moves that bear on the meaning of the events. For instance, the four Gospels all tell the same story but with radically different beginnings and these different starting points change our understanding of the story that follows. To begin at a different point is to change the framing of the story.

Stories, like all art, involve selection and reduction to convey what is essential—an irreducible, organizing line that runs through the whole. Think of Picasso’s The Bull. The final line drawing is the underlying form that gives shape to the whole. Everything else fills out the image and brings it to life, but this simple line is the essential, organizing thought, the thing itself.

We do this with our own life. We prioritize certain events in our life as interpretive keys, while downplaying others or at least construing them in light of other experiences. To understand what our life means as a whole, we must employ the art of story. Meaning is not so much discovered as an already-existing entity; it is construed by superimposing a narrative structure on the disparate data points that make up the experiences of our life.

Louie Giglio wonders if the “idea of story is woven into the fabric of humanity” because “we are made in the image of a story-creating God.”[2]

The Seminal Theological Task—Storyteller

This ubiquitous human tendency can be prominently seen in the Ancient Greek poets (e.g. Homer), who spun stories about the gods to account for various natural phenomena. These Greek poets were the first to be called theologians, since their poems concerned the gods.[3] In one sense then, the seminal theological task is narrative—telling the right story.

Of course, what is true of the Greeks was true of the Jews. Their theology (“talk of God”) also takes the form of stories. Barth said, “When the Bible speaks of revelation it does so in the form of narrating a story.”[4] God reveals Himself in the Old Testament not by giving lectures on His attributes but by demonstrating those attributes by living and acting among His people. Out of this history, God has set apart certain stories and given them sacramental value, that is, through their material reality (their form and content) they convey spiritual reality. God sanctifies them to reveal Himself through them. The stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and his sons, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph and his brothers—their stories, and so many others’, become templates on which God imprints divine revelation.

The Central Line of the Story—Jesus

But what binds all these stories together? What gives narrative coherence to the combination of such varied individual stories—Abraham’s sacrifice of his only son, Joseph’s betrayal by his brothers, Joshua’s military campaigns, David’s rise to the throne, Ruth’s marriage to Boaz her kinsman who redeems her inheritance? What is the narrative thread, like Picasso’s line-drawn bull, that underlies all of this, labors for expression, and seeks to be extruded in flesh?

Beneath this sprawling cast of characters, stands one character at the center, who incorporates all of them into Himself and who is therefore seen in all of them—Jesus Christ. The story is God’s, but the interpretive key to make sense of the whole is Jesus. Jesus is the Word made flesh. Witness Lee puts it succinctly when he says, “Christ is the story of God… This means that Christ is not only God Himself, but is also God’s history.”[5]

The Jesus Bible

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that testify concerning Me. (John 5:39)

The Jesus Bible is a new study Bible that takes seriously both the storied quality of reality and the claim that Jesus is the irreducible, organizing principle of this story. The Bible “is the unique story of God from beginning to end, with one central character—Jesus Christ.” The Jesus Bible is an attempt to find Jesus in every book, chapter, page, and act in the Bible, based on the conviction that “Jesus is as visible on the first page as the last.”[6] As the version’s website says, “there is no B.C.”

Main features:

  1. Book introductions highlight an aspect of Jesus in each book
  2. Short articles (300) and marginal notes (700) point to Jesus in the major themes and specific details of the text
  3. Essays (7) outline the major narrative sections of the biblical story
  4. Wide margins allow space for notes and journaling

Study notes with one purpose

A Bible designed to help readers find Jesus in all of Scripture is certainly to be commended. This is a study Bible with a spiritual, devotional bent that doesn’t try to do everything. There are no historical explanations, archeological attestations, doctrinal expositions, maps of any sort, cross-references, or verse-by-verse commentary. There is too much left out for this to be a fully-loaded study Bible. It leaves a lot of needs unmet that will require the supplement of other aids. But surprisingly, rather than this being a deal-killer, in a way it becomes a plus.

While something like the ESV Study Bible could be thought of as a full-scale army outfitted for large-scale combat operations, The Jesus Bible is more like a special ops team with one mission. That specialization is to find Jesus in the Bible. The result is a trim body of notes that can move fast and get the job done. Since every note has this task in view, notes become visual markers of Jesus’ hidden presence in the text. This becomes very handy in the OT, a place where Jesus’ presence is sometimes harder to perceive. So even though there is less total material, there is no loss of interest.

The glosses on the text consist mainly of typological and prophetic pointers to Jesus, sometimes with application, typically gospel-centered. Here are a few from Genesis:

  1. The light (p. 4)
  2. The promised offspring (p. 7)
  3. The ark (p. 16)
  4. The servant finding a bride (p. 43)
  5. The ladder (p. 50)
  6. Joseph fleeing temptation (p. 65)
  7. Judah substituting himself (p. 70)
  8. The ruling king from Judah (p. 79)

Jesus in Every Book

Here is a list showing the aspect of Jesus headlines each biblical book. I thought this would be useful to have since, for some reason there is no chart anywhere in this version that allows you to see all the aspects together (click on the image for a larger PDF).

Missings

1. Some crucial types of Christ

Overall, my main complaint is that honestly there are not enough pointers to Jesus. There are some glaring omissions in my mind, for instance: the tree of life (Gen. 2), the furniture of the tabernacle and priestly garments (Exo. 25-30), Aaron’s budding rod (Numb. 17), the good land (Deut. 8), the four living creatures (Ezek. 1), the new garment and new wine (Matt. 9), the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), the grain of wheat (John 12), the Father’s house (John 14), our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1), the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15), the body of all the shadows (Col. 2), and our life (Col. 3). Partly, the problem here is that Jesus is just too all-inclusive, so to point out every single type or aspect of Christ is impossible. Another reason for these omissions may be a certain theological bias against allegorical readings of the OT. But in general, I think this version does a great job of pointing to Jesus in Scripture.

2. The way to experience Christ and its result

A second shortage is that, though The Jesus Bible points to Jesus, it doesn’t give much of a handle on how to experience Christ or what the goal of Christian experience is. Yes, all of Scripture points to Christ, but God’s goal in revealing Christ is that we experience Christ as our life for the building up of the church. This experiential thrust is indicated in the very passage that undergirds this version. “It is these that testify concerning Me… come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). The goal of finding Jesus in the Scriptures is to experience Him as life.

A comparison of notes on Jesus as the heavenly ladder in Genesis 28 shows the difference (click on the image for a larger PDF).

Scripture doesn’t just point to Christ it points us into Christ. And that is a huge difference. The Jesus in The Jesus Bible appears to remain objective. The main concept that seems to drive all the notes is redemption for the glory of God. But this misses a massive dimension of the revelation of Christ in the Bible. Redemption is for life and building. And this requires us to know Jesus as our subjective Savior. Glory is more than the great things we say about God and the good works we do for Him. Glory is the Christ we’ve experienced and enjoyed being lived out of us. Genuine glory to God requires actual experience of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).

Colossians can be taken as a test case here. Colossians contains the highest revelation of Christ in the Bible.[7] But Colossians contains clear indications that this revelation is not to remain objective. We are told that Christ is in us and that we are in Christ. We are to walk in Christ, be rooted in Christ, be built up in Christ, become full-grown in Christ, and be constituted with Christ as our life so that He is all in the new man. The Recovery Version has this note on Colossians 3:4,

That Christ is our life is a strong indication that we are to take Him as life and live by Him, that we are to live Him in our daily life in order to experience the universally extensive Christ revealed in this book, so that all He is and has attained and obtained will not remain objective but will become our subjective experience.[8]

The Jesus Bible doesn’t have much to say about all these experiential aspects of Christ. It does point to Christ, but these pointers don’t adequately capture the vision of Christ that Paul presents. Imagine driving through Yosemite but missing the best scenic turnouts. For a Bible called The Jesus Bible to miss this much Jesus in one book is a loss.

3. The big picture of God’s economy

Third, the seven articles on the structure of the Bible’s story paint an incomplete story. It’s not wrong, it’s just truncated. It presents the standard account of the big picture from an evangelical perspective. They nail the procedure—redemption—but muff on the purpose—deification. God’s purpose is more than redemption, more than a solution to sin. God is not simply restoring us to Eden, He is doing what He never got to do with Adam in Eden—dispense Himself into us as life. The church is not just an assembled group of believers to worship God and serve the world, it is the living, organic Body of Christ, where Christ is all and in all. It is the corporate Christ. Finally, our eternal destiny is not physical delights in heaven, but the New Jerusalem—the mutual dwelling place of God in man and man in God—a sign of the consummation of God’s work in His eternal economy.

Conclusion

I really like the idea and execution of The Jesus Bible. A Bible designed exclusively to point out Christ is a win. This Bible will grant readers a delightful entrance into the true center of this unwieldy and intimidating collection of books—Jesus Christ. This version seems ideally suited for a high schooler who is just getting excited about reading the Bible and passionate about knowing Christ. This Bible won’t get them bogged down by an overwhelming amount of extra information. Instead, it will point them to Christ. Eventually, in my opinion, if they want to dive deeper into the divine revelation they will need an upgrade, but this will be good for starters.

 

I received a review copy of The Jesus Bible for free as a member of the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid. #BibleGatewayPartner


 

1. Joel B. Green, Narrative Reading, Narrative Preaching, p. 15
2. The Jesus Bible, p. viii
3. Augustine, City of God, 18.14
4. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, I.1, p. 315
5. Witness Lee, Life-Study of Colossians, p. 412
6. The Jesus Bible, pp. viii-ix
7. Lee, p. 323
8. Recovery Version, Colossians 3:4, note 1

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