Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible: A Guide to Reading the Bible Well
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Crossway / 2012 / Paperback

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Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible: A Guide to Reading the Bible Well

Crossway / 2012 / Paperback

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Product Description

How do I get more out of my Bible reading?

What was going on during the gap between the Old and New Testaments?

How do all the books of the Bible fit together as a whole?

Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible answers these questions and puts clear, readable Bible study aids at your fingertips. It contains thirteen essays from some of today's best evangelical scholars including C. John Collins, Thomas Schreiner, Gordon Wenham, and Darrell Bock, and will help you to:

  • See the big-picture storyline of the Bible
  • Understand the theology of the Old and New Testaments
  • Read the different sections of Scripture effectively
  • Know what happened between the testaments
In addition to essays on each genre of the Bible, the book addresses the general Greco-Roman world and specific Jewish groups at the time of the New Testament. To aid in putting Bible passages in context, it also includes timelines of the Old and New Testaments and intertestamental events.

Useful as both a general overview of the Bible and as a tool for more specific reference and training, this book will help you grow in your understanding of Scripture and your ability to apply the Bible to life.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 160
Vendor: Crossway
Publication Date: 2012
Dimensions: 8.00 X 5.25 (inches)
ISBN: 1433531623
ISBN-13: 9781433531620

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Publisher's Description

Essays from leading evangelical scholars form this accessible introduction to reading the Bible with an understanding of its storyline, theology, and genres.

Author Bio

Wayne Grudem (PhD, University of Cambridge; DD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary, having previously taught for 20 years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, a member of the Translation Oversight Committee for the English Standard Version of the Bible, the general editor of the ESV Study Bible, and has published over 20 books. 


C. John Collins (PhD, University of Liverpool) is professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He has been a research engineer, church-planter, and teacher. He was the Old Testament Chairman for the English Standard Version Bible and is author of The God of Miracles, Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?, and Genesis 1–4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary. He and his wife have two grown children.

Thomas R. Schreiner (MDiv and ThM, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary; PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and associate dean of the school of theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Darrell L. Bock (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is executive director for cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center, senior research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and senior Bible teacher for Back to the Bible radio. He is the author of over forty books. Darrell lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Sally. They have three children and four grandchildren.

Paul R. House (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. He has been a pastor or teacher in churches, Christian colleges, and seminaries for over thirty years. He is a past president of the Evangelical Theological Society, an active member of the Society of Biblical Literature, and a member of the Translation Oversight Committee for the English Standard Version Bible. House is the author of numerous books, including Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision.

Dennis E. Johnson (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is professor of practical theology at Westminster Seminary California and associate pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church in Escondido, California. He is the author of several books and contributed to the ESV Study Bible. Dennis and his wife, Jane, live in Escondido and have four children and sixteen grandchildren.

Vern S. Poythress (PhD, Harvard University; ThD, University of Stellenbosch) is professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he has taught for nearly four decades. In addition to earning six academic degrees, he is the author of numerous books and articles on biblical interpretation, language, and science.

Gordon Wenham (PhD, University of London) is an adjunct professor at Trinity College, Bristol. He previously studied theology at the universities of Cambridge, London, and Harvard, and taught Old Testament at Belfast and Gloucestershire Universities. He has also authored a number of critically acclaimed Bible commentaries and books. Gordon and his wife, Lynne, have four children.

Product Reviews

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  1. Abram KJ
    Age: 25-34
    Gender: male
    4 Stars Out Of 5
    "How do I get more out of my Bible reading?"
    July 23, 2012
    Abram KJ
    Age: 25-34
    Gender: male
    Quality: 4
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 4
    "How do I get more out of my Bible reading? What was going on during the gap between the Old and New Testaments? How do all the books of the Bible fit together as a whole?"

    It is the aim of Understanding the Picture of the Bible: A Guide to Reading the Bible Well to answer those questions and put "clear, readable Bible study aids at your fingertips." (All quotes are from the back cover.)

    The book begins with "An Overview of the Bible's Storyline," then continues with three parts, one for the Old Testament (subdivided into OT Theology, Pentateuch, Historical Books, Poetry/Wisdom Literature, and Prophets), one for New Testament background (intertestamental history and literature), and one for the New Testament (NT Theology, Gospels/Acts, Epistles, and Revelation). Each author gives a thorough yet concise overview of the section of the Bible he (all authors are male) treats. Each also discusses themes within a given section of the Bible and how they connect with the larger Biblical narrative.

    What first stands out in Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible is that almost every author has a knack for simply explaining important concepts and terms. The summary overviews of sections of the Bible provide the reader with a firm foundation for better understanding the purpose and scope of that section. For example, Paul House's excellent chapter on the prophetic books has an excursus on "pronouns in the prophets." He begins: "As prepositions are to the letters of Paul, so pronouns are to the oracles of the prophets: crucial for meaning, but often puzzling" (72). In the five following pages he does much for the reader to make prophetic pronouns (and how they often shift person and gender) easier to understand. Other highlights are Gordon Wenham's chapter on the Pentateuch and Dennis Johnson's essay on Revelation.

    Timelines and charts throughout are a great feature. In addition to timelines in the back of the book covering all of Biblical history (including intertestamental times), there are charts throughout the book that aid the reader. Thomas Schreiner lists all the Epistles, their authors, dates, place of writing, and recipients. Johnson uses nine separate figures to visually (and clearly) display the differences in how Christians interpret Revelation. And House has a table that lines up the prophets with the kings during whose time they prophesied. (A couple of similarly simple and clear maps could be a great addition to future editions of this book.)

    And then there's the middle section, part two of Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible. That section alone makes this book worth more than its purchase price. It contains the following:

    "The Time between the Testaments," by J. Julius Scott Jr.

    "The Roman Empire and the Greco-Roman World at the Time of the New Testament," by David Chapman

    "Jewish Groups at the Time of the New Testament," by John Delhousaye

    Take just this short quotation from Chapman as an example: "Amid this history, Jesus Christ launched his ministry in a Galilee governed by a Roman client king, a Judea under Roman procurators, and a Judaism tinged with Hellenism. After his crucifixion by the Romans and his resurrection, his gospel was carried by the apostles directly into the heart of Greek culture and Roman power" (94).

    Having this background in mind when approaching the New Testament will greatly advance the efforts of any Bible reader. Most Bible overview guides that I've seen go right from Old Testament to New Testament. But what about all that time in between? Understanding that time period is essential to NT understanding. This book really gets that, and covers that period well. Someone with no knowledge of NT background would find this section easy to follow, and even a budding scholar would appreciate the clarity of the historical overview.

    While it's hard to discern what is the work of the editors (this book has three: Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, and Schreiner) and what is the work of the writers, this book could have benefitted from a little more careful editorial oversight. There are a few little typos scattered throughout the book (tehillah instead of tefillah for Hebrew prayer, e.g.). I found the use of the gender-inaccurate "man" to refer to all of humanity-even when not quoting the ESV-distracting (although this may not bother other readers).

    But there is a bigger editorial oversight. While the book excellently helps the reader to better understand the "big picture" of the Bible, it never directly answers the question it seeks to answer of "How do I get more out of my Bible reading?" The authors present all the necessary information to better understand the background (context) and foreground (content) of the Bible, yes. But understanding context and content is only necessary and not sufficient for "reading the Bible well." I wish the editors would have made sure the book gave more attention to how one can read the Bible, for example, devotionally_ or for transformation rather than just the receiving of information. In other words, I wanted this book, based on its title, to answer: How can I grow closer to God as I read the Bible? How can I allow the Bible to convict me of my sin? What about the importance of reading Scripture in community and corporate worship? David Reimer's essay gets closest to this when he says, "[T]he art and craft of the Bible's poems offers an invitation to read slowly, to have one's vision broadened, once's perception deepened_ to see literary reflection in the service of worship and godly living" (54). I wanted to hear more about this. The key question for me is: Is overview knowledge of the Bible's context and content sufficient to read the Bible well? Necessary, yes. Sufficient, no.

    However, even if the book doesn't execute its aim listed in the subtitle, it is still a valuable work to have in hand while reading through the Bible. Its unique contribution to works of this kind is in the middle section. I'd imagine this book sitting well on someone's shelf next to his/her Bible and notebook. (It has on mine these last few weeks!) It would benefit a serious Bible reader to read, say, Darrell Bock's essay on the Gospels and Acts before reading those Biblical books through.

    Thank you to Crossway who provided me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. This review is from abramkj.wordpress.com.
  2. Jude
    London, ON
    Age: 35-44
    Gender: male
    4 Stars Out Of 5
    An entry level book for thoughtful Bible reading
    June 21, 2012
    London, ON
    Age: 35-44
    Gender: male
    Quality: 4
    Value: 4
    Meets Expectations: 4
    The Big Picture

    Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible: A Guide to Reading the Bible Well is concerned with exactly what the title indicates; the big picture. It is an entry level book that introduces readers to major ideas, themes, and content of not only the biblical literature but also the historical context in which the Bible was written. This book is helpful due to its broad approach which provides an initial contact for understanding the Bible and a starting point for further study.

    Wide Angle

    This book is an overview to the Bible in three main areas; Old Testament, New Testament, and New Testament background. The relatively short essays in each section outfit the reader with a surprisingly substantial amount of helpful information. Both the Old and New Testament sections begin with an outline of that testament's theology. This large field of view is slowly focused in both sections with the OT essay writers discussing the Pentateuch, historical books, poetic and wisdom literature, and prophetic books. Of these chapters, I found Paul House's work on the prophetic boos most interesting. The NT portion follows a similar structure as it considers the Gospels and Acts, the epistles, and the book of Revelation. I was intrigued by Thomas Schreiner's tour through the epistles; their cohesiveness and unity was brought to light.

    Background Details

    Perhaps the most valuable segment for me was that on the background to the New Testament which was sandwiched between those mentioned above. Covering the times between the Testaments, the Roman and Greco-Roman worlds, and Jewish groups at the time, these three chapters presented information that was less familiar and therefore more enriching.

    Only a Start for Study

    As an introductory guide to reading the Bible, as expected, this book does not go into specific detail or into highly-focused topics. It does a good job of introducing a wide range of ideas. The book is written in such a way so as to encourage further study and investigation. The authors give enough guidance so one is not without general bearings. However, one's interest is only piqued, and I found myself regularly reflecting that I would like to investigate a topic more thoroughly. This was the strength of the book in my opinion.

    Uniform Structure

    One improvement that I feel could be made, particularly in the OT and NT sections, would be a more uniform structure in terms of the content of each chapter. Some ideas were expressed throughout the book. For instance, themes of different genres and books were regularly explained. I would have found it helpful if other subtopics were covered across the spectrum of the chapters. This may be much to ask with the broad range of writings being considered. What uniformity the book did have, I found very helpful.


    Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible is a helpful beginning resource for, as the book's subtitle suggests, reading the Bible well. It is an acceptable companion to the already published Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible's Origin, Reliability, and Meaning. These two books will cover most topics around Scripture and point the researcher in the right direction for deeper inquiry. I recommend this book.

    I received a copy of this book from the publisher for purpose of review.
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