How Many Stories in the Bible?
How many unique events or stories are there in the Bible?
It's impossible to answer for sure, since it's often difficult to determine where one event or story begins and another one ends. Any way you look at it, there are hundreds of events (true stories) in the Bible, probably between 600 to 800 of them. So how did we determine which Bible events should be selected to best summarize God's Big Story in The Story of Hope, if the limit was 40 events?
When we were working on the creation of The Story of Hope, in 2007, the biggest question we faced was:
How many Bible events did we need to include in the study in order to tell and teach the redemptive story of the Bible clearly, even for people who have no previous knowledge of the Bible?
A group of missionaries and missionary administrators were part of that decision-making group. Our friend, Mark Zook (known broadly through the Ee-Taow video) was also part of the group, as well as some other missiologists outside of ABWE. After narrowing the number to 40, the next, and more challenging, question was “which 40”?
There are probably about 30 of the 40 events that are "no brainers," in the selection process. For example, how could you tell the "story of hope" without including the Old Testament stories of the creation of the universe and mankind, the fall of mankind, God's promise to send a deliverer, the call of Abraham and God's promises to him, etc. From the New Testament it seems obvious that you would want to include stories such as these: the remarkable birth of Jesus Christ, the "lamb of God" proclamation by John the Baptist, select stories from Jesus' miracle working ministry, the rejection and betrayal that Jesus experienced, His crucifixion and resurrection, etc.
But finalizing the list of 20 Old Testament events and 20 New Testament events was not so easy. To some degree this process was subjective and, occasionally, mildly controversial. We are often asked why we did not include certain Bible events in the "The Story of Hope 40" or why we chose to include some events that other people may not think are significant enough to be in the final 40.
Some common questions that we occasionally receive, related to event selection:
- Why did you not include the tower of Babel?
- Why did you not include the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people?
- Why did you include the return of Jesus for believers and other prophetic events?
- For that matter, why did you include any events after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus?
Here are a couple of our key selection criteria that will help you to understand our answers to the above questions:
Our purpose is to present God's story of redemption, not to present a general survey of the Bible.
Yes, there's a difference. In order to highlight the story of redemption, we selected events that we thought would best do that. If our purpose was to give a general overview of the Bible, we would certainly have chosen some other events instead of some that we did select. For example, in a survey of the Bible we would have selected the tower of Babel or Babylonian exile event instead of the bronze serpent event. Those more broadly-significant historic events would have been essential to a Bible survey. But even though the tower of Babel and Babylonian exile events do convey very significant redemption story implications, the less-historically significant bronze serpent event is more helpful in presenting and clarifying redemption and faith issues. And since the bronze serpent story comes up in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in the New Testament, that story provides a strong connector event to tie the death of Jesus to the Old Testament.
We believe that the end-focus of the Bible's story of hope is not that Jesus Christ conquered physical death through His resurrection, as important and foundational as that is to God-given hope.
We believe that the ultimate hope provided through Jesus Christ's redeeming work is the end-hope recorded in Revelation 21-22. And, yes, the death and resurrection of Jesus made that possible. And in between the resurrection of Jesus and that ultimate end-hope--a restored paradise--there are some other key hope-points in history that need to be highlighted in "the story of hope." For more on this topic, read our blog article, End-Focus for The Story of Hope.
We certainly do not claim to have the "perfect list of 40 key Bible events." But based upon the criteria we chose to guide us in the process, we feel confident that these 40 events do a good job summarizing the Big Story of the Bible, God's overarching redemptive story. And, now, more than 10 years later, evangelism experiences with The Story of Hope (literally, around the world!) have validated the selection of “The Story of Hope 40.”
One way to overcome this tight 40-event ceiling is to extend the number of events in the presentation of the story of redemption beyond 40 events. And that's exactly what we did in creating the 100-event chronological Bible teaching resource, The Roots of Faith: Exploring the Bible from Beginning to End. But even there we have asked ourselves, "How do we limit the presentation of this great story to only 100 events?!"
Previous articles in this series:
- Three Greek Verbs Define Good Soil
- Assessing Unbeliever’s Gospel Understanding
- Assessing Gospel Receptivity
- Initial Contact or Relational Evangelism—or Both?
- The Problem of Gospel Static
- One Gospel - Three Worldviews
- Worldview “Noisy” Neighborhoods
- How To Understand Worldviews: I’m an Onion – You’re an Onion
- How To Witness to A Non Believer: 3 Step Guide To Using Verbal & Non Verbal Communication
- Gospel Knowledge Deficiencies
- The Romans Road in “Post-Christian” North America?
- Gospel Tracts in “Post-Christian” North America?
- Evangelism that BEGINS with Jesus – Good or Not So Good?
- Explaining the Gospel – Where Did Jesus Begin?
- Change the Way We Do Evangelism in North America?
- Evangelism – For the Biblically Uninformed
- A Distinctive Evangelistic Bible Study Workbook
The Story of Hope | A time-flexible resource for presenting the Bible’s big redemptive story in as few as fifteen minutes or as long as twenty or more hours. Designed for evangelistic Bible studies, one-on-one or in small groups, but also helpful in teaching God’s redemptive plan to believers. Includes a study of 40 Bible events (20 Old Testament and 20 New Testament) and Bible maps. 64 pages and plastic coil binding. FREE Leader's Guide and FREE Classroom Facilitator Guide available as downloads from this site. Learn more!