I recently read The Whole Bible Story by Dr. William H. Marty, and I wrote this blog to analyze the overall organization of Marty’s presentation, why I think he ordered the structure in the manner he did and what components he utilized that I found helpful in telling the biblical narrative.
Marty presented The Whole Bible Story in a fluid chronological way of telling the story of the Bible. It does skip information like the laws, messages, prophecies, and parables. It also does not include Old Testament poetry (wisdom literature) and prophecy, and it does not include the New Testament letters.
He organizes the story into nineteen chapters and an epilogue. He starts with the time of Creation to Babel. Chapter two covers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s sons. Chapter three goes over Moses and the Exodus. Chapter four is the wandering in the wilderness. Chapter five covers more of the wandering in the wilderness, and then Moses’ death. Chapter six introduces the promised land with Joshua. Chapter seven covers the time of the judges. Chapter eight is titled “The Kingdom Unites”, which goes over the introduction of Samuel, Saul, and David and how they are playing their roles after the time of the judges. Chapter nine goes over the reigns of David and Solomon. Chapter ten and eleven highlight the period when the kingdom is first divided into the northern and southern kingdoms. Chapter twelve covers the Israelites (God’s people) being exiled and living in those conditions. Chapter thirteen marks the first point of his book of the New Testament. This chapter comes to the point of the birth and childhood of Jesus. Chapter fourteen covers Jesus’ early ministry. Chapter fifteen goes over his Galilean ministry. Chapter sixteen covers his later Judean ministry, Perean ministry, and journey to Jerusalem. Chapter seventeen covers Jesus’ crucifixion. Chapter eighteen wraps up the four Gospels with the burial and resurrection of Jesus. Chapter nineteen covers the story of the Church. Marty then closes with an epilogue that covers the main ideas and narrative of the book of Revelation.
Most of the order makes sense to me because it is flows in chronological order very well. I think the reason he may have excluded the laws, messages, prophecies, parables, poetry and letters is because, although it is still God’s word and important, he may not view these parts of the Scripture as critical to the master narrative or story of the Bible. I can see how including those could possibly cause a reader to be hung up and bogged down trying to understand the details and proper interpretations. Furthermore, there is a lot of teaching, doctrine and prophecy in that part of the Scripture that provides a lot of explanation and details in between major actions, but it does not add a whole lot of movement to the main story. This indicates to me, he is only interested (with this book) in the parts of Scripture that move the narrative forward.
There were several components Marty utilized that I found helpful in telling the biblical narrative. From the start, he provided each book of the Bible in parenthesis in the sections within the chapters in the table of contents. I found this helpful because I was able to keep checking where the narrative matched up with the Scripture, and it was easy to be aware of where in the Scripture Marty was describing.
There was a lot of identifying, yet simple, language Marty used in his book that made it easy to identify where I was in the narrative and how it was moving forward and connecting to what had already been covered.
For example, on page 46 Marty states “[God] assured Moses if Israel honored him as their ‘great king’ by obeying the covenant, then they would be his treasure people, ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” This made it very easy to see this is the part of the story the Abrahamic Covenant occurs, and that was the Abrahamic Covenant that was described.
Then Marty states on only a few pages later (page 49) “Though Israel had broken its covenant promises, God had remained faithful to his promise to make the descendants of Abraham into a great nation. He told Moses ‘Go to the land I swore I would give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’” So as the reader, I know a few things about the narrative of the Bible just from the helpful language Marty uses: God is still staying true to His covenant; this covenant has not gone away and it is still part of the story; Israel messed up, yet God is still holding up His end of the deal.
More helpful langue Marty used is something I identified on page 61. Marty writes “He predicted the defeat of Israel’s enemies and the emergence of a powerful king in the distant future: ‘A star will rise from Jacob, and a scepter from Israel.’ (Christians believe this prophecy refers to the Lord Jesus Christ.)” The language Marty uses, the quote he has from the Scripture and the statement in the parenthesis were all helpful for me to connect that the coming of Jesus is already a theme in the background and helps me identify that his part of the story does not come out of nowhere and there is now some buildup to it, from at least this point on in the narrative.
On page 65, Marty uses more helpful language in telling the biblical narrative.
“But Moses also warned that failure to fulfill their covenant obligations would bring disaster. God would drive them out of the land and scatter them over the earth. However, even then, if Israel would repent and return to the Lord, he would forgive them and restore them to the Promised Land.
Moses said Israel had a choice ‘between life and death, between blessings and curses.’ They could choose by faithfully loving and fully obeying the Lord their God.”
This language of the Abrahamic Covenant showing up again helps me to see that the covenant is still in play during this point of the biblical narrative, and it sets the stage for what to look out for going forward in the narrative.
Marty continues with this language on page 73 to show that, even after Moses, Joshua is still concerned with the Abrahamic Covenant and it is still a part of the story.
“Joshua also summoned all the people to Shechem for renewal of the covenant. He reminded them of their special relationship with the Lord. God had promised Abraham and his descendants a home, he had rescued them from slavery, and he had given them victory over the inhabitants of the land.”
And if Joshua is renewing the covenant, then it must still be a part of the story moving forward as well.
Moving forward in the book, I thought Marty did an excellent job at the beginning of the chapter called “The Time of the Judges”. On pages 75 and 76 he sets the stage for the chapter by summarizing the cycle of Israel’s failure and God’s faithfulness. Without this quick summary and explanation, as the reader, I would probably not have understood how the biblical narrative was connecting, but he does an excellent job keeping it fluid with these two pages at the beginning of the chapter.
Then, just towards the end of the chapter Marty writes about Ruth and did an excellent job of portraying just how refreshing Ruth’s role was in this great narrative story. He writes “Not everyone was trapped in Israel’s destructive cycle of sin and oppression. An outsider named Ruth became the great-grandmother of David and an ancestor of Jesus Christ.” So just when I am feeling beat down and tired from reading Israel’s repeated failure, Marty highlights some good news among a lot of sad news in this chapter. Not only was she not trapped in the destructive cycle of sin, but Marty makes sure to point out that Jesus Christ comes from her lineage. This even emphasizes the point that Jesus still has not been forgotten about at this point of the story, and He is still coming.
One part of Marty’s book cleared up some personal confusion I had with the biblical narrative. I probably had not read or studied carefully enough, but I had not understood how or why Saul was already considered an antagonist even before he started plotting to kill David. On page 92, in chapter the titled “The Kingdom Unites”, the way Marty recapped Saul’s “mess ups” as I would call them really helped me understand that part of the narrative better and gave me an even better understanding of the significance of the transition from Saul to David.
In the next chapter, on page 103, Marty gives his iteration of the Davidic Covenant:
“Because he was living in a palace and the ark was only in a tent, David summoned the prophet Nathan and told him he wanted to build a temple for the ark. Nathan was certain the Lord would honor David’s plans, but instead the Lord promised he would establish David’s dynasty forever, saying, ‘Your house and kingdom always will endure.’ One of his descendants, not David, would build a house for the Lord.”
This component helped with understanding there is a new covenant in play, and the narrative of the story is slightly shifting and focusing more specifically on this covenant
Yet, within the same chapter, on page 109 Marty writes “In his final counsel to Solomon, David gave spiritual and practical advice. He told Solomon that if he courageously and faithfully obeyed the decrees of Moses, the Lord would bless his descendants for generation after generation.” This tells me the Mosaic Covenant and that part of the narrative still applies to the narrative going forward, and the it has not been forgotten about after the passing of time to this point.
I use all these examples and quotes from the book to show that one of the major components I found helpful in the way Marty told the biblical narrative was his perspective and language. He could have chosen language that was not easy to understand. He also could have used several different perspectives to focus on various parts of the Bible. But instead his perspective was focused on the entire metanarrative of the Bible, and he chose language that was simple and made it easy to identify how the biblical narrative flows and builds upon itself.