When you don’t know the full story the Bible can feel like a jumbled puzzle.
In a way it is! It’s a library of books expressing a range of different people’s experiences.
But there’s also a big story here: the story of God bringing people back into relationship with him. Knowing the story will help you understand what you’re reading. Over the next several pages you’ll find a summary of the Bible
story, and a timeline of key events and passages.
Think of the Bible as a six part epic!
Part 1 - Creation
God created the world and declared it ‘good’. Humans were made in God’s image to flourish in the presence of
God and to extend God’s order and goodness on earth.
Part 2 - Rebellion
Humanity didn’t trust God and sought to become like God. Relationships with God, one another and creation were broken.
Part 3 - Israel
God chose Abraham and Sarah so that their descendants (the nation of Israel) would be a blessing to all the nations.
Part 4 - Redemption
God sent his Son, Jesus, who lived a perfect life among us. Jesus revealed what God is like and restored our
relationship to God through his life and teaching, death and resurrection.
Part 5 - The Church
The community of Jesus’ followers realised what Jesus did and what it meant for all people. After Jesus had
defeated sin and death, their love for him motivated this community (the Church) to be obedient to Jesus by
announcing this good news everywhere.
Part 6 - Restoration
Jesus will return to earth to reward faithfulness, restore creation, to judge evil in this world and fully bring
God’s Kingdom on earth.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). He created everything there is, including his masterpiece, human beings (Genesis 1:26-27). Then he rested.
God placed two people, Adam and Eve, in a garden which provided all their needs. One day, Adam and Eve gave into the temptation to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3). In doing so, they disobeyed God’s command and their relationship with God was spoilt. They felt shame for the first time and were sent out of the garden.
God was sorry he had made humans and decided to start again. He found one man, Noah, who pleased him and so he told Noah to build a large boat, called an ark (Genesis 6:14). Noah filled the ark with every kind of animal and God flooded the world, destroying all humans, land animals and birds, except those in the ark.
After the flood the population grew again, but pride led people to build a tower at Babel. After frustrating their efforts, God dispersed people across the earth (Genesis 11:1-9).
As the population grew, God saw that human hearts and thoughts were constantly filled with evil (Genesis 6:5).
God chose one old and childless couple, Abraham (originally called Abram) and his wife Sarah (originally Sarai), promising them a child who would be the beginning of an entire nation of people. Through this nation a wonderful blessing would come to the whole world (Genesis 12:1-3). God promised them a special land to live in. One of their grandsons, Jacob, had twelve sons who became the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel.
One of the 12 sons, Joseph, was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers (Genesis 37:12-28). God gave Joseph the ability to understand dreams, and after explaining the meaning of an important dream that Pharaoh (the king of Egypt) had, Joseph was put in charge over all of Egypt. At Joseph’s advice, Pharaoh stored up food for a coming famine. When the famine came, Jacob’s other sons had to go to Egypt to buy food.
Joseph forgave his brothers and they and their father Jacob moved to Egypt to live with Joseph (Genesis 47:1-12). Jacob’s descendents grew in number and became known as Israelites. Over time, the Israelites were forced into slavery in Egypt.
After 430 years in Egypt, God chose one man, Moses, to lead them to freedom (Exodus 3:10). Pharaoh eventually let the Israelites go and they travelled to Mount Sinai where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and many other laws to govern the life of the new nation, including their religious sacrifices and festivals.
They camped at Mount Sinai for almost a year. God then told Moses to send some spies to secretly check out Canaan (the Promised Land), but the spies (except for Joshua and Caleb) brought back a frightening report about powerful people living in the land and the Israelites refused to enter it (Numbers 13:25-33). They wandered in the desert until the entire generation of unbelieving adults had died (Numbers 14:21-23).
After 40 years in the desert, Moses died and Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land. The land was divided among the 12 tribes. After Joshua died, the Israelites had no formal leadership. In times of need God raised up leaders called judges who called the people back to God and freed them from their enemies.
The judges’ influence was limited to their lifetime and the cycle of unfaithfulness would begin again after their death.
While Samuel was judge, the Israelites asked God for a king (1 Samuel 8:5). God granted them their wish and Saul became the first king of Israel. After Saul, David became king. He was a man who pleased God and God promised him that there would always be a king in his line. David worshipped God and wrote many songs of worship called Psalms.
Solomon, David’s son, built a magnificent temple for worshipping God, but later became proud and oppressive. After he died, the kingdom of Israel erupted into civil war and divided into two parts: Judah in the south and Israel in the north. Both nations quickly abandoned their loyalty to God and his just laws.
Prophets challenged the people of Israel to return to God and to order their society by God’s standards of justice. But, with only a few exceptions, they would not listen. The northern kingdom, Israel, lasted only 200 years before being defeated by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:18) and many of its people were exiled.
The southern kingdom of Judah lasted 350 years before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and God’s temple that Solomon had built. Most of the educated and important people of Judah were taken away to Babylon (1 Chronicles 6:15). It was in exile that the Jewish identity was formed. The Jewish Scriptures were compiled during this time to help the exiled people make sense of their story.
After Persia defeated Babylon, the exiled Israelites (now called Jews), were allowed to go back to their homeland and rebuild the temple (Ezra 6:15). Only some returned. During this time more prophets challenged the Jews to be faithful to God.
This is the end of the Old Testament.
Jesus was born under Herod’s rule to a young virgin woman named Mary and her fiancé Joseph (Luke 2:1-21), who was a descendant of King David. At about the age of 30, Jesus was baptised by John (Matthew 3:16) and began to announce that the kingdom of God was near. Jesus showed God’s love and power by doing many miracles like healing sick people and providing for people's needs. People began following him and he chose 12 of them to be his closest followers (disciples). Jesus challenged people to turn from their sin and to join God’s coming kingdom (Mark 1:15).
However, the religious leaders arrested Jesus for claiming to be God’s chosen king and for rejecting their strict rules about following the Jewish Laws. Jesus was questioned by religious and political leaders and executed by being nailed to a cross (Matthew 27:33-38). On the third day afterwards, he came back to life from the dead (Matthew 28:6). Jesus was God’s chosen king, the one through whom God would restore all human beings, and the whole world, to himself.
The first four books of the New Testament, called the Gospels, tell this story.
After he rose from death, Jesus appeared to many people over several weeks before he went to be with God the Father in heaven.
Ten days later, the Holy Spirit was sent by God to the followers of Jesus (Acts 2:4). Many people believed in Jesus as God’s chosen king and joined the community of his followers, who soon became known as Christians (Acts 11:26).
Jesus’ followers spread out from Jerusalem taking the message of Jesus to the world. A man named Saul, who persecuted Christians, had a vision of Jesus and became a leader in this new movement. Later known as Paul, he travelled around the Roman world planting churches and helping them grow by writing letters to them.
The Bible ends with a prophetic letter, encouraging Christians to be faithful witnesses to Jesus in a hostile society, even if it costs them their lives, and promising them that God would complete his plan through Jesus to set up a new heaven and a new earth.
This is the end of the Bible, but the story continues as followers of Jesus continue to share his good news in word and action around the world.