McKnight explains that the Story of the Bible is held together by 5 themes –
* Creating Eikons (Genesis 1 – 2): Theme is Oneness
* Cracked Eikons (Genesis 3 – 11): Theme is Otherness
* Covenant Community (Genesis 12 – Malachi): Theme is Otherness Expands
* Christ, the Perfect Eikon, redeems (Matthew – Revelation 20): Theme is One in Christ
* Consummation (Revelation 21 – 22): Theme is Perfectly One
(”Eikon” is the Greek word for “image.” Humans are made in the image of God and hence are eikons.)
McKnight says, “The unity of the Bible is this Story. It is this Story that puts the Bible together.” (page 67).
Genesis 1 – 2
McKnight begins by partially translating Genesis 1:26-27 –
26 Then God said, “Let us make [the Adam = humans] in our [Eikon], in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created [the Adam] in his own [Eikon], in the [Eikon] of God he created him; male and female he created them.
In Genesis 2, God split The Adam into two, called ish and ishah (man and woman), which he then joined into one flesh as husband and wife.
In brief, the point of Genesis 1 -2 is this: God wanted The Adam to enjoy what the Trinity had eternally enjoyed and what the Trinity continues to enjoy: perfect communion and mutuality with an equal. The Adam was in union with God and itself and Eden. But in another sense, The Adam stood alone in Genesis 2. As The Adam sorts through all the animals, The Adam was without communion with an equal. So, to make the need for communion and love abundantly clear, God openly reveals that this aloneness is not what God wants for The Adam. God wants The Adam to be two in order to experience the glories of communion of love and mutuality.
Consider these principles —
* Eden begins with man and God in perfect community. God even takes the form of a man to walk in the Garden with Adam. And so a part of Eden is having this close relationship with God.
* But God was not an adequate companion for Adam. It was “not good” for Adam to be alone. Even God himself was insufficient. Nor were the animals sufficient. You see, for Adam to be in community as God is in community, he has to be in community with an equal — neither a superior (God) nor an inferior (animals) would do.
* Even Paradise was not paradise when man was alone.
* God made Eve from Adam’s rib — making her from the very same stuff, from his side, not his foot or head, but from his side, to be his companion. Only this way could Adam — now literally split into Adam and Eve — enjoy divine community.
* Adam and Eve were made “one flesh,” referring both to sexual union as well as their sameness and unity. This sentence declares God’s victory in making man in God’s image — male and female. By becoming two-in-one, they became like God — unity in community.
In Genesis 3, of course, Adam and Eve sin. They begin to experience “otherness,” wish to wear clothes and hide from God. The result is a curse in which the man and the wife each seek dominance over the other.
The rest of the Old Testament is all about God’s work to cure this otherness, this separation of man from God and man from each other.
Now, most Bible students will immediately think of Jesus and his redeeming work on the cross (oops — his agonizing death paying the price for our sins). But God put 66 books and most of another between the beginning of otherness and the work of Jesus. We can’t abstract so fast that we ignore God’s own Story.
God spent several centuries, beginning with Abraham, creating community in covenant with God. You see, “God’s idea of redemption is community-shaped.”
Oneness cannot be achieved just between God and self; rather, oneness involves God, self, and others, and the world around us. There are pages and pages about this stuff.
We modern, American, evangelical Christians want a personal relationship with God and often don’t care to bother about others in the church, much less those in the world.
Then, in the New Testament, we get the same emphasis as in the Old Testament because we now read about how God’s Spirit invaded that little messianic community and drove it into the Roman Empire — and we are asked to care about how these local communities (i.e., churches) did in the Roman Empire.
God didn’t give us a book on systematic theology. He gave us letters to churches — covenant communities influenced by the Spirit — but limited by the imperfection of the flesh — to restore the Oneness for which Jesus died.
When was the last time you heard a sermon on restoring Oneness? Or, for that matter, on restoring the community of Eden? Or on our mission to end the Otherness in the world?
You see, the Story matters.
We know the story of Abraham, but often fail to see it as part of the Story.
(Gen 15) After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” 2 But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”
3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4 Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars–if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. 7 He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
8 But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” 9 So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.
13 Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates– 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
Following Abraham’s willingness to offer Isaac to God,
(Gen 22:15-18) The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Recall the lesson we studied earlier in the Ray Vander Laan series. God made a blood oath with Abraham and also promised to take Abraham’s punishment.
We see that God began his work to overcome the brokenness of his Eikons —
* God chose Abraham. God initiated the cure. People didn’t come begging God for a solution. God himself saw the problem and began a plan to deal with it nearly 3,000 years before Jesus.
* The plan was to be based on faith. It has been that way from the beginning. You can’t be in close, intimate relationship with a God in whom you don’t believe. It’s that simple.
* Although Abraham was rewarded for his faith, the covenant led Abraham to obedience — even to the point of taking Isaac’s life. The covenant wasn’t so much conditioned on obedience, however, as the covenant came first. But it led to obedience.
* Abraham was a deeply flawed man in several respects. Genesis is brutally honest in describing the weakness of Abraham’s faith at several points and his horrible treatment of Sarah. But we see Abraham grow — not to receive a blessing, but because God had chosen him and blessed him.
* The plan — the end of the story — was for all nations to be blessed. God created the Jewish people in order that all nations would be blessed. And while Jesus is the center and apex of that plan, the Jewish people were not chosen only to be rejected. They were the seedbed from which Christianity blossomed — and from which Christianity draws much of its heritage and knowledge of God.
Notice what Paul says about the Gentiles and the Jews —
(Rom 11:17-24) If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
Every two or three hundred years, an olive tree grows so large that the trunk and limbs sap its energy, keeping it from bearing fruit as it should. Therefore, the tree is cut down, and new shoot grows from the stump. But the farmer can, if he wishes, graft a branch to the stump from another tree.
Paul says the Gentiles are a branch grafted onto the stump. Obviously, the graft cannot despite the stump. Without the stump, the graft dies.
If you’ve ever grown pecans, you’d know that pecan trees have a wild stump and a domesticated trunk, which is the opposite of Paul’s image, but the goal in either case is to take the strength of both and combine them.
And yet the Gentiles tend to look down on Jews and their Jewish roots. Our movies show Jesus as looking Western, even with blue eyes at times. He never looks truly Jewish. We are so insistent on being “New Testament Christians” that we see no point in studying the Old Testament. We see it as children’s stories and prophecies that serve no purpose other than to predict Jesus — in whom we already believe. We despise our roots.
Paul declares the blessings of the Jews — even after Pentecost —
(Rom 9:4-5) … the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
We tend to want to skip the middle chapters of the Story — going straight from Eden to Jesus, but God didn’t do that. He chose instead to choose a man to father a nation through whom he’d bless all nations — all of Adam’s descendants. Next week, we consider the story of Israel.