3 Ways to Categorize Scripture: Discover How God’s Relationship with Us Shifts Over Time
Though God Never Changes, the Bible Shows Us How Our Interaction with Him Has
As we read the Bible, it’s easy to stumble onto confusing and even conflicting perspectives of who God is and how we should interact with him. This is because God has revealed himself in different ways throughout the various historic arcs or periods of time in the Bible.
Here are three ways we can categorize scripture and better understand God.
The Two Testaments of the Bible
The Old Testament addresses Father God’s relationship with his people and anticipates the coming Savior.
The New Testament focuses on that Savior, Jesus. It covers his ministry and the work of his followers. These are two testaments—that is, two testimonies about God—in the Bible, but there are other ways to view these segments of time.The way God relates to his people and how they understand him changes over time. Click To Tweet
Three Parts of the Bible
When I study the Bible, I like to consider it in three parts, as three epochs in the Bible. I see God interacting with his people in different ways in each of these sections, as parts of the Trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). This is a second way to categorize scripture.
The Old Testament: The first part is the Old Testament, with Father God as the star. It looks forward to Jesus.
The Gospels: The second part covers the life of Jesus through the perspective of four biographies, which we call Gospels—that is, the good news about Jesus—written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Jesus is the focus, with the Father playing a key supporting role, and the Holy Spirit beginning to emerge.
The Early Church: The third part covers the early church, Jesus’s followers. The focus of the church is Jesus’s life and teachings. The Holy Spirit arises as the principal guiding force, launching at Pentecost.
Ten Ages in the Bible
Yet as we read through the Bible, the way God relates to his people and how they understand him changes over time. If we look at each of these ages in the Bible apart from the others, we see God a bit differently in each one. Considering ten ages in the Bible is a third way to categorize scripture.
1. Eden: We start in the Garden of Eden. God is in perfect community with Adam and Eve. They hang out. They spent time with each other. Though this phase doesn’t last long, we can anticipate its return when our present reality wraps up and the new heaven and new earth emerge.
2. Sin and Separation: When Adam and Eve disobey God, their sin drives a wedge between the relationship with them and God. They must leave their idyllic existence, the garden of Eden. After that God becomes distant, vaguely present and estranged from his creation.
3. The Reboot with Noah: We chug along with God sitting far away for several centuries until the time of Noah. With evil rampant, God does a reboot of humanity with Noah and his family. In doing so God takes a step forward to reconnect with his creation.
4. The Call of Abraham: We see the next transition occur with Abraham. God calls him to go to a new place and into a new relationship. Abraham’s descendants will emerge as God’s chosen people.
5. The Law of Moses: Next Moses comes along to lead the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt and to return to the land God promised Abraham. This marks a significant transition because God gives them the Law: instructions about how to worship him and live right, rules of what to do and not to do.
Now, for the first time since Adam and Eve left the garden, the people have specific directives for how God expects them to act and connect with him.
6. Judges Lead—Sort Of: Moses brings the people to the promised land and Joshua takes them into it. For a time, God is their king, at least in theory. A series of judges try to reorient the people’s attention to God, but their efforts don’t last.
7. Kings and Prophets: Starting with Saul, the people have their first king, effectively pushing God aside as their ruler. The age of kings sees its pinnacle with David. Then it diminishes insignificance over the centuries that follow until Israel and later Judah are conquered and deported.
The work of most of the prophets coincides with the age of the kings.
8. Repatriation and Preparation: After a time, some people return to the land God promised Abraham. They rebuild what they can, both physically and spiritually, but both fall short of what they once were.
Despite the dismal time, God is at work, which we see mostly in the Apocrypha (scripture that not all Bibles include). This prepares for the arrival of Jesus.
9. Jesus Changes Everything: We see the most significant shift occur with the arrival of Jesus. He fulfills what the Old Testament points to and anticipates. He doesn’t do away with the Law. Instead he transforms it from rules into relationship.
10. The Early Church: Led by Holy Spirit power and guidance, the church of Jesus is born. The rest of the New Testament addresses this. We can use this to form our understanding of following and worshiping God, through Jesus as prompted by the Holy Spirit.
Categorize Scripture Conclusion
God’s way of revealing himself and connecting with his people differs in each of these ages in the Bible. Realizing this helps us to better understand who he is and comprehend his many facets.
For another perspective, check out the “Six Eras in the Bible.”
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.