Saturday, December 3, 2022

What Are the Major Motifs of Scripture?

The following is from John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, eds., Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 45–47.

The Bible is a collection of sixty-six books inspired by God. These documents are gathered into two Testaments, the Old (thirty-nine) and the New (twenty-seven). Prophets, priests, kings, and leaders from the nation of Israel wrote the Old Testament books in Hebrew (with some passages in Aramaic). The apostles and their associates wrote the New Testament books in Greek.

The Old Testament record starts with the creation of the universe and closes about four hundred years before the first coming of Jesus Christ. The flow of history through the Old Testament moves along the following lines:

  1. Creation of the universe
  2. Fall of man
  3. Judgment flood over the earth
  4. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel)—fathers of the chosen nation
  5. The history of Israel
    1. Exile in Egypt (430 years)
    2. Exodus and wilderness wanderings (40 years)
    3. Conquest of Canaan (7 years)
    4. Era of the judges (350 years)
    5. United kingdom—Saul, David, Solomon (110 years)
    6. Divided kingdom—Judah and Israel (350 years)
    7. Exile in Babylon (70 years)
    8. Return and rebuilding of the land (140 years)

The details of this history are explained in the thirty-nine books, which can be divided into five categories:

  1. The Law—5 (Genesis–Deuteronomy)
  2. History—12 (Joshua–Esther)
  3. Wisdom—5 (Job–Song of Solomon)
  4. Major Prophets—5 (Isaiah–Daniel)
  5. Minor Prophets—12 (Hosea–Malachi)

The completion of the Old Testament was followed by four hundred years of silence, during which time God did not speak through prophets or inspire any Scripture. That silence was broken by the arrival of John the Baptist announcing that the promised Savior had come. The New Testament records the rest of the story, from the birth of Christ to the culmination of all history and the final eternal state. So the two Testaments go from creation to consummation, eternity past to eternity future.

While the thirty-nine Old Testament books major on the history of Israel and the promise of the coming Savior, the twenty-seven New Testament books major on the person of Christ and the establishment of the church. The four Gospels give the record of his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Each of the four writers views the greatest and most important event of history, the coming of the God-man, Jesus Christ, from a different perspective. Matthew looks at him through the perspective of his kingdom, Mark through the perspective of his servanthood, Luke through the perspective of his humanness, and John through the perspective of his deity.

The book of Acts tells the story of the impact of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lord Savior—from his ascension, the consequent coming of the Holy Spirit, and the birth of the church through the early years of gospel preaching by the apostles and their associates. Acts records the establishment of the church in Judea, in Samaria, and into the Roman Empire.

The twenty-one Epistles were written to churches and individuals to explain the significance of the person and work of Jesus Christ, with its implications for life and witness until he returns.

The New Testament closes with Revelation, which starts by picturing the current church age and culminates with Christ’s return to establish his earthly kingdom, bringing judgment on the ungodly and glory and blessing for believers. Following the millennial reign of the Lord Savior will be the last judgment, leading to the eternal state. All believers of all history enter the ultimate eternal glory prepared for them, and all the ungodly are consigned to hell to be punished forever.

To understand the Bible, it is essential to grasp the sweep of that history from creation to consummation. It is also crucial to keep in focus the unifying theme of Scripture. The one constant theme unfolding throughout the whole Bible is this: God for his own glory has chosen to create and gather to himself a group of people to be the subjects of his eternal kingdom, who will praise, honor, and serve him forever and through whom he will display his wisdom, power, mercy, grace, and glory. To gather his chosen ones, God must redeem them from sin. The Bible reveals God’s plan for this redemption from its inception in eternity past to its completion in eternity future. Covenants, promises, and epochs are all secondary to the one continuous plan of redemption.

There is one God. The Bible has one divine Source. Scripture is one book. It has one plan of grace, recorded from initiation through execution to consummation. From predestination to glorification, the Bible is the story of God redeeming his chosen people for the praise of his glory.

As God’s redemptive purposes and plan unfold in Scripture, five recurring motifs are constantly emphasized. Everything revealed on the pages of both the Old Testament and the New is associated with these five categories. Scripture is always teaching or illustrating (1) the character and attributes of God; (2) the tragedy of sin and disobedience to God’s holy standard; (3) the blessedness of faith and obedience to God’s standard; (4) the need for a Savior by whose righteousness and substitution sinners can be forgiven, declared just, and transformed to obey God’s standard; and (5) the coming glorious end of redemptive history in the Lord Savior’s earthly kingdom and the subsequent eternal reign and glory of God and Christ. While reading through the Bible, one should be able to relate each portion of Scripture to these dominant topics, recognizing that what is introduced in the Old Testament is also made clearer in the New Testament.