The Bible: Story and Plot

In my podcast recently I have been doing a series called “Roadmap to the Bible” which looks at the storyline of the Bible and shows how all the different stories in the Bible are connected to one main theme. I briefly mentioned in the podcast that the Bible is like any good literature in the way that the storyline is structured. However, I haven’t talked much about what that means, so I wanted to show through this blog how the storyline of the Bible fits the story structure that all good literature has. I think this will help us to see how the Bible is unified – rather than a bunch of stories teaching us moral lessons or showing heroes we should emulate, it tells one story.

The plot of any good story consists of six main parts. First is the exposition or setting. This gives background and sets the stage for the story. Next is the inciting conflict. As it sounds, this is the conflict that sets the story in motion. Something happens which causes a problem that the rest of the story must resolve. Following this initial conflict is the rising action. Various incidents happen which drive the story and build tension as the reader wonders how things will be resolved. In some stories, this may involve one main incident, while in other stories there are multiple incidents which build tension and work toward resolution. Then comes the climax. This is the high point of the story where the conflict comes to a head. It is the turning point of the story where a solution begins to seem possible. After the climax is falling action, which shows resolution actually beginning to take place. Finally, at the end of the story is the resolution. The conflict from the beginning of the story is resolved and things are wrapped up.

Let’s look then at how the Bible fits this structure. The exposition, or setting, of the Bible is found in Genesis 1-2. God creates the world, creates man and woman, and puts them in the Garden of Eden. Everything is perfect, and everything is peaceful. There is, however, one rule – and this sets up the potential for conflict. Adam and Eve are not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So, our conflict arises in Genesis 3 when the serpent comes and tempts Eve to eat the fruit, and both she and Adam eat it. As a result, sin comes into the world, and with sin comes death. The relationship between God and man is broken. There is no more perfection, and no more peace.

Now, the rising action in the Bible is where we often get lost, because there is a lot of it! So, let’s skip it for a moment to see which point we are headed toward. What is the climax of the Bible? The resolution must be something that solves the problem of sin, restores peace and perfection to the world, and brings humanity back into relationship with God. And of course, that solution comes through the death of Christ. The blood sacrifice that Christ makes pays the price for sin, enables people to be back in relationship with God, and begins to restore peace and perfection. Now, there still is the “falling action” where we see how the solution presented in the climax actually works out. But let’s go back now to the rising action.

The rising action comprises the rest of the Old Testament, from Genesis 4 through Malachi. Because there are lots of individual stories, we often forget to look at how they are driving the overall storyline. All of the stories of the Old Testament are meant to increase the tension of our need for some way to be saved from the problem of sin and restored to God. The stories show us various attempts that people make to solve the sin problem. They also show us God’s slow unfolding of His plan for restoration. The failings of humanity build longing, but seeing God’s plan slowly develop builds hope and anticipation.

Then, when we finally reach the story of Jesus, we are replete with hope and longing. Finally, someone comes on the scene who may fulfill the promises of God and restore humanity to peace and perfection. Will he be able to do it? Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have a turning point in the story – this IS the promised Restorer of humanity!

But the story doesn’t end there. We still have “falling action”, and actually we “live” in the falling action now! Restoration and peace is available, but we must take hold of it. The rest of the New Testament shows how the restoration that is now available is applied to the world. There is still some tension as it is clear that not everyone accepts this message, and Satan, the Great Deceiver, is still loose in the world. The book of Revelation describes the final days of the earth, when Jesus comes back and defeats sin, death, and Satan once and for all. And thus we reach our resolution. At the end of the story the tension is resolved and we see a new heaven and a new earth. There is no more sin, people are again in relationship with God, and there is perfection and peace.

Wow! Isn’t it so cool to see how God has orchestrated all of history to tell His story? I think God created us with a love for stories – to see conflicts arise and then be resolved – so we could see His story. We are living the greatest story ever told!