Some Proposals for Interpreting the Bible

Recently Andrew Perriman posted a comparison and contrast of his own narrative-historical model of biblical interpretation that N. T. Wright’s Five Act Play dramatic model and Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen’s slightly revised version of that model ( The chart below reflects those three models along with my own proposal. Below the chart are my brief assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of each followed by a more extended exposition of my own proposal.

Bartholomew and Goheen

Prologue: Creation and Fall
Bookend 1 of biblical story: Creation/New Creation theme (Gen.1-2) – Presence (Temple)
Act 1: Creation
Act I: God Establishes His Kingdom: Creation
Act 1: The people of God and the land
Act 1: Catastrophe (Gen.3-11) Theme of sin and Grace trumping sin – presence forfeited
Act 2: Fall
Act 2: Rebellion in the Kingdom: Fall
Act 2: The clash with pagan empire
Act 2: Covenant w/Israel                   Covenant – Israel to bless the world (Gen.12- Mal.4)
Act 3: Israel
Act 3: The King Chooses Israel: Redemption Initiated                                        Scene I A People for the King
Scene 2 A Land for His People
Act 3: Jesus and the coming of the kingdom of God
Act 3: Christ              King/Covenant/Temple incarnate (Gospels)
Act 4: Jesus
Act 4: The Coming of the King: Redemption Accomplished
Act 4: The people of God and the nations
Act 4: Covenant w/Church among the Nations (Acts-Rev.20)
Act 5: Church
Act 5: Spreading the News of the King: The Mission of the Church                           Scene I From Jerusalem to Rome
Scene 2 And into All the World
Act 5: The people of God and global secularism
Bookend 2: Consummation – Creation/New Creation fulfilled (Rev.21-22)

Act 6: The Return of the King: Redemption Completed
Epilogue: Consummation




-dramatic imagery is helpful for thinking through the narrative quality of the biblical story and for reframing discipleship in Act 5 as “improvisation”


-treating all 5 acts as if they are of the same linear, narrative quality (esp. Act 1 and 2)

-collapses Consummation into Act 5

-history stops with Jesus (Perriman)

Bartholomew and Goheen


          -inclusion of intertestamental period doesn’t leave gaps in the narrative

          -including an Act 6 for Consummation/Eschatology


          -similar to Wright in treating all Acts as if they are of same linear quality

-Kingdom is not an adequate rubric for all that goes on in scripture (it is part of an adequate rubric but not by itself)

-like Wright, history stops with Jesus (Perriman)



-recognizes the qualitative difference between Creation/Fall and Consummation and the intervening acts

-insistence that the biblical narrative is about real, earthly communities struggling with discipleship under different imperial overlords

-frames the story in terms of material content not formal rubrics


-devalues the Prologue and Epilogue to “stage setting” which hosts the real story which begins with Abraham

-plays off Creation/New Creation theme against his Narrative-historical approach.

-not sure his limiting Kingdom to a historical concept and role works.


I’ll unfold my approach in a little more detail since I have not heretofore done that whereas the others above have.

I agree with Perriman that the first and last parts of the story are qualitatively different from others and serve different purposes. We don’t agree about the scope of material included or the purposes served however. I see Gen.1-2 and Revelation 20-21 as set apart from the remainder of scripture for two reasons.

          -First, we get clued into the embryonic and fulfilled pictures of God’s eternal purpose: to have a world of creatures with who he can share his life in the temple of his creation. I take the pictures of creation in Gen.1-2 as God building as temple for his dwelling with his creatures and Rev.21-22 showing that new creation as coterminous with the New Jerusalem which is God’s people shaped as the Holy of Holies. Creation has become that temple!

          -Second, these are the only four chapters in the Bible untouched by sin.

This is why I call these beginning and ending parts of the story bookends. They envelop the story with its ultimate meaning and big picture that God is pursuing in all his deeds, even when the plot line gets hijacked by sin and its multifarious repercussions and the need to deal with that in order to reclaim and restore humanity and creation to their intended purposes. Though the Creation/New Creation dynamic lies behind what is narrated in Gen.3-Rev.20, it is muted to occasional explicit references (e. g. Rom.8:18ff.) because the presenting need is to deal with sin. The bookends anchor the story firmly within this Creation/New Creation dynamic though and “sets the stage” in a sense in that the themes introduced and shown fulfilled in them are our reading guides to the things to keep our eye on as we read to stay with the central thrust.

          What are these themes: the big three, I think, are covenant, kingdom, and divine presence. The temple imagery points to the divine presence which looms large in both Gen.1-2 and Rev.21-22. Covenant and kingdom are auxiliary themes at both ends. Implied in Gen.1-2 by the very nature of the situation. It is assumed that God rules and God wants relationship with his creatures above all else. No need for formal declarations of either kingdom or covenant. Both are also explicitly present in Rev.21-22. There is no temple in the New Jerusalem because, as mentioned earlier, the new city/creation is itself the temple.

          Covenant, kingdom, and temple bear the meanings of family, rule, and presence. The former pair are the delivery system, as it were of the main thing, God’s presence with his people.

          I liken this to a cord of three strands. Covenant and Kingdom wrap around the central strand of presence. They are inextricably interwoven and intersect with each other at numerous points. At some points in the narrative one may predominate but at every point all three are at least tacitly present. The preservation and nurture of God’s family (covenant), God’s reasserting his sovereign rule over a recalcitrant world (kingdom), grounding God’s desire to move ever more deeply into the life and experience of his people (presence).

          With Gen.3 the great plot contradiction enters the picture. The Catastrophe of the Fall breaks humanity’s relationship to God, rejects God’s parental rights, and revolts against God’s rightful rule. Even though Gen.2-3 are part of the same narrative (the J source), the breach it opens in in the divine human relationship and God’s own heart is substantial enough to warrant breaking the story at this point (Act 1 of the story proper). Another reason is that this is the point where we experientially connect with the story. This is where we realize that it is our story, this story of treachery and rebellion.

          Now we enter our own world and life experience. And the biblical story narrates God’s response to our rejection. Covenant comes to the foreground now as God’s strategy for reclamation and restoration (Act 2). Abraham’s family is promised and equipped to be God’s agent in this endeavor. God will bless the world through them. A series of covenants with this family, who now bears humanity’s fate and destiny, move them through slavery in Egypt, becoming a nation at Sinai, wandering in the wilderness, a united and divided kingdom, in exile, and back home again under the heel of various foreign empires to a brief time of relative independence to subjugation by Rome.

          The climactic and decisive moment in God’s reclamation and restoration plan comes with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, Messiah (Act 3). He is God’s covenant renewed with faithless Israel, God’s rule (kingdom) in person as bearer of God’s Spirit, and God’s Temple in his flesh. All three of our primary themes converge and take on flesh in Jesus. God is now present with us as one of us as Divine Parent (Father) and King, the Holy One of Israel.

          This regime change effected by Jesus, however, is like nothing any empire the world had known practiced. It’s been called an upside-down kingdom. It was bound to be that way, coming into a wrong-side up sin-riddled world. Jesus’ earthly ministry was primarily about reconstituting God’s Abrahamic people as the instrument through which he still intended to bless the world. Hints and glimmers of blessings to the Gentiles are there, as a sort of preview of things to come. But (re)gathering and reconstituting God’s people before the cataclysmic war with Rome (70 a.d.) was his chief priority.

          His death fulfilled a life of undeviating love and loyalty to the Father. The Father vindicated and valorized Jesus by raising him from the dead and installing him as world ruler. He presently rules the world in a hidden (though real) fashion with his people, churches, whose task in Perriman’s words is to be “faithful witness(es) to God’s future under the particular historical conditions of eschatological crisis . . . (to be) a community that is called to respond to an eschatological crisis—by which I mean a radical historical challenge to its identity or even existence” (“Church as Eschatological Community,” Parts 1,2 at serving as first-fruits and prototype of what God wants human life to look like.

          I think Perriman’s approach (the “historical” part of his hermeneutic) is on target for helping us better understand the differentiated unfolding of the history after the early church. Many of his blog posts spell this out so I won’t belabor it here (though I would encourage everyone to carefully read and consider his proposals).

          At any rate, the church’s task in this unfolding history is to begin here and now to live out the reality of the them and there given us through Christ’s death and resurrection. Be a new creation people amid the decaying old world that is passing away sensitive to the dynamics at work in our time and place.

Act 4 leads to Consummation which is pictured in the last scenes of the vision of Revelation in chs.21-22. This New Creation is Bookend 2 of the biblical story picturing in finished form what Bookend 1, the creation stories, present in embryonic form.

These bookends preserve the big picture or grand purpose of what God has been working on all along. They picture the largest context in which we are to read the rest of the story. The bulk of the story, Gen.3-Rev.20, necessarily deal with God’s way of dealing with the plot contradiction sin imposed on the story. But though large in bulk, this part of the story is subordinate to and conditioned by the way God does resolve this problem so as to reclaim and restore what was lost and damaged for his larger purposes.

In short, though I have some differences with Perriman, on the whole, I think his proposals are most insightful and stimulating and offer us a genuinely helpful way forward in reading the Bible.


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