Tracing Theological Themes Through the Whole Bible Story

The Bible is one main story with one main focus, sharing what God has done and will do through His Son Jesus Christ. Like any epic story, there are many threads that run through it. Understanding those threads and how they develop aids our study of Scripture. LRI’s Kevin Halloran interviewed Tim Sattler, International Training Director for Leadership Resources, on the importance of tracing themes throughout the whole Bible.

Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran

Kevin: Tim, can you explain the importance of tracing Biblical Theological threads?

Tim: Sure. The Bible’s one story, and like a story, there are multiple threads that develop and are involved. These threads hold the story together all the way along. We don’t have a series of disconnected stories. There are threads that pick up early on.

Example 1: Comparing Genesis with Revelation

Tim Sattler

Tim Sattler

If you have ever looked at the beginning chapters of Genesis and the ending chapters of Revelation, it’s interesting how many of those threads come together. We see the heavens and earth being created in Genesis and the new heavens and new earth being announced in Revelation 21. We see land and water and sea at the beginning, and land and no sea at the end. We see a garden in the presence of God and God dwelling with man—the great announcement of Rev. 21 is the dwelling of God is with man again.

Example 2: The Promised Seed

There are these different threads that pick up through the storyline. One key thread would be the promised seed that is going to conquer Satan and overcome sin (Genesis 3:15). The whole genealogical structure of Genesis follows this thread along. Abraham it picks up again. Later in the Davidic promise focused more specifically so that we would know who we are looking for in this king that would come.

Example 3: The Temple

One great thread is the temple, the idea of God dwelling with His people. They were pushed out of that dwelling because of their sin. They were pushed out of that place of His presence but the tabernacle, the temple—all these symbolic images where God comes and dwells among His people. Interestingly, both the tabernacle and temple are filled with God’s glory, but the third temple after the exile isn’t. You don’t see that glory come back to the temple. There’s something missing.

But then you have Jesus standing and the Spirit descends on Him like a dove. We understand that He came and tabernacled among us. This is God Himself tabernacling. It’s not an accident that John uses that terminology in John 1:14. All along we see that God is wanting to restore His presence with His people.

In Ephesians, Paul says we are being built up into the true temple, the dwelling of God in the Spirit. You can follow the theme of the Holy Spirit from the garden all the way through the book of Acts. It’s God’s presence restored through Christ that makes us the indwelling of God.

Example 4: A sin-atoning sacrifice

The strand of sacrifice goes along right from Genesis 4 all the way through to the cross.

These stories ebb and flow in the overall story but they are all pulled together like the strands of a rope. As a rope has many different strands, so the story of the Bible has many different strands.

Kevin: It’s rich to see how the story develops and those threads develop, how the Old Testament points forward to Christ. Also, as we understand who Christ is for us, we can look back at the Old Testament and see the build-up and appreciate Christ all the more.

Tim: You can. That’s right.

Kevin: You’ve mentioned to me in the past that you prefer to say tracing Biblical Theological threads rather than themes. Why is that?

Tim: It’s not a big deal to me frankly! I would use theme and thread interchangeably except for this: As we have been training pastors and sometimes use the word ‘themes’, it gets confused with thematic preaching. Instead of telling the story or understanding the development of Biblical Theology in a storyline, it becomes a topical proof-texting of a theme in the Bible—which really doesn’t help. That is more systematic theology (which is fine) rather than biblical theology.

As we are talking about tracing a thread or a theme, we are really trying to unfold the natural development of each part of the story. The tabernacle isn’t as great as the temple, is it? One’s a more permanent place, there’s been a development from one dwelling place to another. It’s there to show us that God wants to be in a permanent place with His people. In Genesis the dwelling place was lost, but it will be restored. We find out that that the tabernacle and temple were never intended to be the permanent place—the permanent place is the New Heavens and the New Earth.

What we’re trying to do is keep it in language that helps us understand the development of a storyline. Not simply tracing thematic theological ideas.

Kevin: How do you recommend tracing Biblical Theological themes?

Tim: Read the Bible.

Kevin: Good answer.

Tim: We need to know the Bible.

Kevin: There’s no shortcut. We shouldn’t want a shortcut.

Tim: If you really want to know what David Copperfield is about, read David Copperfield. You need to read the whole book; you need to read the whole story. Dickens put a marvelous story out there for us and the Bible is an even greater story. We really do need to read the Bible. We need to know how each book fits with the unfolding of the story, which books are really mainline in the story, and which are commentary on the main story. We need to know what’s happening.

Kevin: Which biblical books are main-line verses commentary on the main story?

Tim: Genesis and Exodus would be mainline. Leviticus would be commentary into the story because it’s not moving the story along, it’s bringing more depth to the story. It’s the whole sacrificial system. Numbers is moving the story along, in the wilderness. Deuteronomy at a point where you are getting ready to transition, but is at a moment in time as Moses is giving his last words. Joshua moves us along. Judges moves us along. 1 & 2 Samuel move us along. Kings does as well. Ezra and Nehemiah coming back from the exile carry the story along. Most of the prophets would be voices spoken into the people and the times. The Psalms speak into the times. Basically, Psalms are songs about the times that are put together in kind of a symphony looking back, the last compilation of these is looking back over Israel’s history from Moses all the way to after the exile coming back into a temple that’s been rebuilt. It’s a commentary into how God has been working among His people and that it’s God’s king meets God’s people through this valley to God’s grace. There are books that carry the story along; there are books that speak into it.

The storyline is contained in fewer books than we think so it’s easy to get that storyline.

Kevin: You had mentioned before that you recommend four key questions for understanding Biblical Theology as it pertains to a passage.

Tim: Yes, they are questions a friend Phil Wheeler from Sydney, Australia, put together. I think they’re really good questions:

  1. What’s the story so far?

Wherever you are in the Bible, you need to know what the story has been leading up to that point in time. What’s happened so far?

  1. What’s this story about?

Now we are looking at what a particular story contributes. What is it about?

Take Judges, for instance. What is Judges about? It’s about everybody doing what’s right in his own eyes. That’s commentary. It’s also about a leadership gap after Joshua. There’s a question, who would be king? The more you study these judges the more you see they are trying to fill a leadership void. But they are going about it the wrong way. We find out the end in the next story, not Ruth, but Samuel—God provides a king. He wants it to be His king and His way: David.

  1. What do we learn about how God does things?

Before we even look at leading us to Christ there are lessons about the way God works. The way God is accomplishing things in the world.

  1. What do we learn about the way God does things through Jesus?

Not every story is on a major highway towards Jesus. We need to learn about the way God does things. But there are major stories; every book is contributing to the major story of Jesus. So, what do we learn about how God does things through Jesus.

Often times we miss true Biblical Theology because we don’t get it on the book level first; we are looking for Jesus in every little detail. A lot of preachers look for Jesus in too many places and make too many wrong connections. We need to understand what the book contributes to the story first.

What we learn about how God does things through Jesus and then how pieces unfold that. There may be more than one strand in a book, but at the same time, we want to be with those major strands as we are talking about Christ.

The Power of “The Line” in Ethiopia: Pastors Repent for Incorrectly Preaching the Bible

Testimony from Allan Sherer, Pastor of Global Connection at the North Hills Church, Taylors, South Carolina.

Nine years ago I was introduced to TNT training. Through a series of remarkable providences God opened a compelling opportunity to partner with two dynamic leaders in Ethiopia. These two men, independent from one another, became deeply burdened by the fact that the vast majority of pastors in their nation do not enjoy access to biblical training. In response to their invitation, I traveled with Doug Dunton of LRI to conduct TNT training with two groups of leaders in Ethiopia.

Conditions that day were not pleasant. It was cold and rainy and there was mud and water everywhere. I found myself slipping and almost falling multiple times throughout the day.

Allan leading a session during a training in Ethiopia

Yet, those attending the training engaged wholeheartedly. I had the privilege of teaching the foundational principle of everything we do in TNT: “Staying on the Line.” (See the illustration below.)

This simple, yet revolutionary, concept can be summed up in this way:

“We should think of the Word of God as we would think of a line. Our goal as preachers and teachers is to stay ‘on the line,’ avoiding going ‘above the line’ and thus adding to what God has said as well as ‘going below the line’ and taking away from what God has said.”

“They were weeping and repenting because they realize they have not been preaching on the line of the Word of God. They were asking God to help them learn to handle his word properly.”I was aware there was an unusual attention as I taught this simple principle. In fact, the entire day – from around 8:30 in the morning until around 5:00 in the afternoon – was marked by earnest participation. It was compelling and humbling to be with such eager students. Yet, when it was time for the training to end I was genuinely happy to anticipate our warm, dry lodging, comfortable seating, a good hot meal, and best of all, my bed.

The following morning dawned clear and bright. I was eager to see our new-found friends again. As we sat waiting for everyone to arrive, our interpreter said, “Everyone was here until after 11pm last night.” I was dumbfounded. “Why were they here? What were they doing?” I asked. “They were weeping and repenting because they realized they have not been preaching on the line of the Word of God. They were asking God to help them learn to handle his word properly.”

Allan chatting with one Ethiopian leader

“It isn’t about what we choose to say about the Bible. It is about faithfully telling God’s people what the Bible actually says.”Nine years, a dozen trainings, and thousands of trainees later, that simple principle continues to revolutionize the ethos of a nation of pastors and teachers. The interpreter who told me about the late night prayer meeting is now one of our mentor trainers. He has led dozens of trainings, even beyond the borders of Ethiopia. He is passionate about transferring to a generation of preachers a deep conviction that it isn’t about what we choose to say about the Bible. It is about faithfully telling God’s people what the Bible actually says.

This man is one of around 20 mentor trainers distributed all over Ethiopia. These faithful, sacrificial workers cross vast distances, and even risk their lives, to spread the Word that captivated the hearts of that original faithful training group.

“Stay on the line. Preach the Word of God with the heart of God.”

What an amazing joy and thrill to be able to serve and co-labor with these faithful men of God!

Allan and LRI’s Africa ministry were featured on Episode 5 of Dispatches from the Front. Watch a clip below.

Tim Keesee: “What they are doing here is nation-shaking. Training that moves from generation to generation takes work, focus, mentoring, translators, and logistics. Conferences are easy, but multiplying leaders and overcoming lots of geographic and linguistic barriers isn’t.”

20 Frameworks that Mess Up Your Bible Reading


One of our convictional principles for reading the Bible is called Text and Framework, a principle that teaches,

“We must let the Bible shape our frameworks rather than letting our frameworks shape our interpretations of the Bible.”

Text and Framework Hermeneutical Principle — Proclamation TrustBusiness Insider recently published an article called “20 cognitive biases that screw up your decisions“, describing information that quickly becomes cognitive biases, or when applied to reading the Bible, unhelpful frameworks that can prevent us from seeing the text of Scripture as we ought.

The list below gives a summary of the 20 frameworks. [Or view the full graphic.]

How many of them affect your Bible reading?

1. Anchoring bias. People are over-reliant on the first piece of information they hear.

2. Availability heuristic. People overestimate the importance of information that is available to them.

3. Bandwagon effect. The probability of one person adopting a belief increases based on the number of people who hold that belief.

4. Blind-spot bias. Failing to recognize your own cognitive biases is a bias in itself.

5. Choice-supportive bias. When you choose something, you tend to feel positive about it, even if that choice has flaws.

6. Clustering illusion. This is the tendency to see patterns in random events.

7. Confirmation bias. We tend to listen only to information that confirms our preconceptions.

8. Conservatism bias. When people favor prior evidence over new evidence or information that has emerged.

9. Information bias. The tendency to seek information when it does not affect action.

10. Ostrich effect. The decision to ignore dangerous or negative information by “burying” one’s head in the sand, like an ostrich.

11. Outcome bias. Judging a decision based on the outcome—rather than how exactly the decision was made in the moment.

12. Overconfidence. Some of us are too confident about our abilities, and this causes us to take greater risks in our daily lives.

13. Placebo effect. When simply believing that something will have a certain effect on you causes it to have that effect.

14. Pro-innovation bias. When a proponent of an innovation tends to overvalue its usefulness and undervalue its limitations.

15. Recency. The tendency to weigh the latest information more heavily than older data.

16. Salience. Our tendency to focus on the most easily recognizable features of a person or concept.

17. Selective perception. Allowing our expectations to influence how we perceive the world.

18. Stereotyping. Expecting a group or person to have certain qualities without having real information about the person.

19. Survivorship bias. An error that comes from focusing only on surviving examples, causing us to misjudge a situation.

20. Zero-risk bias. Sociologists have found that we love certainty—even if it’s counterproductive.

Related Links:

10 Recommended Books on Biblical Theology

Many see the Bible as a compilation of books that are loosely related, with no coherent thread holding them together.

Jesus Himself said He is that thread of Scripture (see John 5:39-40; Luke 24:27). When we understand this, our biblical understanding grows. We no longer see the Bible as a collection of random books, but as one book with one story that all testifies about Jesus Christ. The study of this idea is called biblical theology, and it is essential for the health of the church and the task of expository preaching.

When we teach biblical theology to pastors in the Fellowship of the Word program, we often hear comments like that of one trainee in east Asia: “Learning Biblical Theology has provided a major breakthrough for me and the church – a total change in our framework.

Our goal with our list below is not to be comprehensive, but give a sampling of the best biblical theology books available. May God cause many more “breakthroughs” to happen as people understand His Word at a deeper level!

You may also be interested in: 10 Recommended Books on Expository Preaching

q1. God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts

An Easy-to-Read Introduction to Biblical Theology

Sixty-six books written by forty people over nearly 2,000 years, in two languages and several different genres. A worldwide bestseller published in countless sizes and bindings, translations and languages. Sworn by in court, fought over by religious people, quoted in arguments. The Bible is clearly no ordinary book. How can you begin to read and understand it as a whole? In this excellent overview, Vaughan Roberts gives you the big picture–showing how the different parts of the Bible fit together under the theme of the kingdom of God. He provides both the encouragement and the tools to help you read the Bible with confidence and understanding. And he points you to the Bible’s supreme subject, Jesus Christ, and the salvation God offers through him.

Watch or Download: Free Online Video Course of God’s Big Picture

Graeme-Goldsworthy-Gospel-and-Kingdom2. Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy

A Great Introduction to Biblical Theology

Gospel and Kingdom is concerned with finding the gospel principles inherent in the Pentateuch and historical books of the Old Testament. In an engaging and straightforward style, Graeme Goldsworthy explains the nature and contents of the Old Testament as seen within the Bible as a whole and sets out clear principles for interpreting it accurately for today.

q3. Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching by Graeme Goldsworthy

Biblical Theology as it relates to Preaching

While strong, gospel-centered preaching abounds, many Christian pastors and lay preachers find it difficult to preach meaningfully from the Old Testament. This practical handbook offers help. Graeme Goldsworthy teaches the basics of preaching the whole Bible in a consistently Christ-centered way.

Goldsworthy first examines the Bible, biblical theology, and preaching and shows how they relate in the preparation of Christ-centered sermons. He then applies the biblical-theological method to the various types of literature found in the Bible, drawing out their contributions to expository preaching focused on the person and work of Christ.

Clear, complete, and immediately applicable, this volume will become a fundamental text for teachers, pastors, and students preparing for ministry.

q4. Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry (9Marks) by Michael Lawrence

Biblical Theology as it relates to Ministry in the Church

Capitol Hill Baptist Church associate pastor Michael Lawrence contributes to the IXMarks series as he centers on the practical importance of biblical theology to ministry. He begins with an examination of a pastor’s tools of the trade: exegesis and biblical and systematic theology. The book distinguishes between the power of narrative in biblical theology and the power of application in systematic theology, but also emphasizes the importance of their collaboration in ministry.

Having laid the foundation for pastoral ministry, Lawrence uses the three tools to build a biblical theology, telling the entire story of the Bible from five different angles. He puts biblical theology to work in four areas: counseling, missions, caring for the poor, and church/state relations. Rich in application and practical insight, this book will equip pastors and church leaders to think, preach, and do ministry through the framework of biblical theology.

q5. Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Christopher J. H. Wright

Wright focuses on the person and mission of Jesus as described in the Old Testament

We cannot know Jesus without knowing his story. Today the debate over who Jesus is rages on. Has the Bible bound Christians to a narrow and mistaken notion of Jesus? Should we listen to other gospels, other sayings of Jesus, that enlarge and correct a mistaken story? Is the real Jesus entangled in a web of the church’s Scripture, awaiting liberation from our childhood faith so he might speak to our contemporary pluralistic world? To answer these questions we need to know what story Jesus claimed for himself. Christopher Wright is convinced that Jesus’ own story is rooted in the story of Israel. In this book he traces the life of Christ as it is illuminated by the Old Testament. And he describes God’s design for Israel as it is fulfilled in the story of Jesus.

q6. The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament by Edmund Clowney

A popular scholarly treatment of Christ in the Old Testament

Have you ever wondered what Christ said to his disciples on the Emmaus road—making their hearts burn? Follow Ed Clowney through the Old Testament as he shows how all the Scriptures point to Christ.

As you explore Old Testament characters and events, you’ll be inspired by the many specific insights they give us into Jesus’ character and lordship.

7. Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments by Geerhardus Vos

A classic work (originally published in 1948) that broke ground in the study of Biblical Theology from “The Father of Reformed Biblical Theology”.

The aim of this book is no less than to provide an account of the unfolding of the mind of God in history, through the successive agents of his special revelation. Vos handles this under three main divisions: the Mosaic epoch of revelation, the prophetic epoch of revelation, and the New Testament. Such an historical approach is not meant to supplant the work of the systematic theologian; nevertheless, the Christian gospel is inextricably bound up with history, and the biblical theologian thus seeks to highlight the uniqueness of each biblical document in that succession. The rich variety of Scripture is discovered anew as the progressive development of biblical themes is explicated.

8. New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring the Unity & Diversity of Scripture edited by Brian S. Rosner, T. Desmond Alexander, Graeme Goldsworthy, D. A. Carson

qIf you only buy one of these books, you should seriously consider this comprehensive reference work.

The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology will quickly establish itself as an essential building block of every library of basic biblical reference books. This work takes readers to a higher vantage point where they can view the thematic terrain of the Bible in its canonical wholeness. At the heart of this work is an A-to-Z encyclopedia of over 200 key biblical-theological themes such as atonement, creation, eschatology, Israel, Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God, redemption, suffering, wisdom and worship. Students and communicators of the Bible will be well served by articles exploring the theology of each biblical book. And for those interested in the wider discipline of biblical theology, major articles explore foundational issues such as the history of biblical theology, the challenges raised against biblical theology, and the unity and diversity of Scripture. Over 120 contributors drawn from the front ranks of biblical scholarship in the English-speaking world make the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology a work of distinction and a benchmark of evangelical biblical theology at the turn of the twenty-first century.

q9. The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament by William J. Dumbrell

This work will open up the Old Testament for you. 

For years, William Dumbrell’s comprehensive survey, The Faith of Israel, has introduced students and pastors to the theological emphases of the Old Testament. Dumbrell traces the theological movement of each Old Testament book through the Hebrew canonical sequence of Law, Prophets, and Writings, “the manner in which Israel presented her faith.” He not only brings forth insightful points and themes within each book, but he also makes original and refreshing connections to themes in other Old Testament books. This in turn leads to a discussion of the theology of the entire Old Testament canon.

10. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament edited by D.A. Carson and G.K. Beale

This academic reference book will help readers understand the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament.

Readers of the New Testament often encounter quotes or allusions to Old Testament stories and prophecies that are unfamiliar or obscure. In order to fully understand the teachings of Jesus and his followers, it is important to understand the large body of Scripture that preceded and informed their thinking. Leading evangelical scholars G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson have brought together a distinguished team to provide readers with a comprehensive commentary on Old Testament quotations, allusions, and echoes that appear from Matthew through Revelation. College and seminary students, pastors, scholars, and interested lay readers will want to add this unique commentary to their reference libraries.

Bonus Books:

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“Take that Bible Away from that Man!”


The man pictured above is named Omar Jiménez. Omar is a pastor in our Honduras group and is very active training other pastors with the Training National Trainers program.

The story below describes a valuable lesson one of the pastors in Omar’s group learned about relying too much on outside framework in reading Scripture (see more about Text and Framework in our Dig and Discover Hermeneutical Principles Booklet.)

In the last group of pastors I (Omar) led, there was a pastor who was given a study Bible, which he brought to our training. For him, every good pastor who preached correctly should preach according to what the notes in that Bible were saying. Even if you went to preach at his church, he was expecting you to follow the notes of his study Bible!

One time, one of our fellow pastors said, “Please, take that Bible away from that man!”

Because of that study Bible, he was feeling that he was better than everybody else. One time, one of our fellow pastors said, “Please, take that Bible away from that man!”

He brought this mentality to our training as well. On the first day, when I went to lead the TNT training, I noticed that while the other men were participating in the training, this man was comparing whatever was said with his study Bible’s notes. I told him that he could not express an opinion until he put his study Bible to the side. And when he prepared and delivered his own practice sermon, his message was very strange and very different.

I challenged him to use just the Bible, and not the study Bible notes in the training. But he kissed the Bible and said, “No, I’m not going to get rid of this Bible, at all, ever. There is no other Bible like this.”

I took my little Bible out, and said, “I’m going to be your teacher now with my Bible, small and old and used.” I told him he needed to understand that actually it is the Word of God that is inspired – not the study Bible notes – and he needed to leave his study Bible to the side and just to try to concentrate on doing his preaching with the Bible alone.

The pastor said, “No, I’m not going to stop using this study Bible. I’m going to leave if you make me use the plain Bible.”

Thankfully, I convinced him to stay.

A Change of Mind and an Important Lesson

On the second day of the training, I told him again that he needed to just use the Bible without the notes. And he said, “Okay I’ll do that. I’ll use the Bible without the notes.”

Later, when he gave his second practice sermon, we all cheered because he did a much better job than the first one!

Afterwards, he said, “Now I’m going to check my notes in comparison with the study notes.” And so, when he compared his study of the passage with the study Bible notes, he said, “My conclusions are better than the notes.”

He said, “Now I’m going to use the notes just as a reference after doing my own study in the Bible.”

It wasn’t until we learned the Text and Framework hermeneutical principle that he understood that his study Bible’s notes were a framework preventing him from letting the text speak to him on its own terms.

He said, “Now I’m going to use the notes just as a reference after doing my own study in the Bible.”

After the training, of course, he was a changed man. Now he’s preaching the Word as it is written in the Word, and doing so with a humble heart.

This isn’t the first time Omar has been featured on our blog. Read how one man he trained confessed to wasting thirty-five years in ministry preaching nothing.

Related Links:

A Simple Guide for Seeing How the Old Testament Points to Jesus Christ


This article begins a new blog series on Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. Subscribe to our blog to receive each new article in your inbox. (Lee este artículo en español en The Gospel Coalition.)

How-to-Find-Jesus-in-the-Old-Testament-e1423081531816-150x150Have you ever been lost in the middle of a city with no clue where you were or which way to go?

That is the experience of many Christians when they read the Old Testament. They open the Bible, begin reading, and soon find themselves in a place that seems totally different from the New Testament world. The seemingly random stories, genealogies, strange laws, and occasional talking donkey make for a sometimes confusing read.

If that’s you—don’t panic! This is a simple guide that will help you understand how Jesus relates to the Old Testament and will act as a road map to steer you in the right direction as you study God’s Word.

One Book with One Story about One Person

The Bible is one book telling one story that culminates in One Person: Jesus Christ. The discipline of Biblical Theology helps us see the overarching story of the Bible along with how each piece fits into the whole and testifies of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament prepares the way for and points to Christ, while the New Testament reveals and explains who He is. The Old Testament displays a “shadow” of Christ whom we experience in the New Testament (see Colossians 2:16-17).

A-Simple-Guide-to-Seeing-Jesus-Christ-in-the-Old-Testament-300x169For those who sometimes find themselves “lost” in the Old Testament, it is helpful to think of a system of streets, roads, avenues, and boulevards that all connect to one main highway. The main highway represents a major passage or a major theme in the Old Testament that connects us directly to Christ and ultimately to the gospel. In a system of roads there are many boulevards, avenues, side streets and alleys that are not on the main highway, though they eventually connect to it. We may be studying a passage that is on a side road off of the main highway. The important question to ask is: How does this passage get me to the main highway? Or, how does this passage connect with a main theme that points me towards Christ?

The goal for seeing how the Old Testament points to Jesus is not merely intellectual—it is to encounter the Lord of Creation and Savior of the world so we may believe in Him and find life in His Name (John 5:39-40; 20:30-31). What follows are two steps and three questions to help you find Jesus in an Old Testament passage.

  1. Study the passage in its original context.

Looking for Jesus is not like playing “Where’s Waldo” in the Old Testament. We should avoid forcing a passage to speak about Christ in a way that it wasn’t intended to. Doing so will distract from the passage’s original message and potentially diminish the true work of Christ. This is why we first understand a passage on its own terms before looking for Christ.

  1. Look for connections and work to understand it in its broader context.

Other passages in the Bible can provide clues such as words, phrases, quotations, or ideas that can lead you to Christ. Again, we don’t want to force anything. Just because the same word or thought appears in two different passages does not mean that the two passages are talking about the same thing. We should consider many things like the context and the use of particular words in order to make a wise decision about whether there is a true connection.

A good connection could come from one of the following:

  • A promise (like in Genesis 3:15 or Deuteronomy 18:15-18)
  • Symbols or typology (like the bronze snake in Numbers 23 or Jesus being the “Second Adam”)
  • Prophecies (Messianic or of the age to come)
  • Titles (like priest or prophet).
  • Themes (like God’s judgment or covenant. More on this below.)
  • Ideas related to redemption and salvation (act as an easy onramp to the main highway leading to Christ)

Three Helpful Questions to Consider as You Look for Connections

  1. Does the New Testament say anything about this topic or passage?

Sometimes the New Testament will quote a verse and provide direct clues to an Old Testament topic or passage. A wise student of Scripture continually seeks to develop his or her eye for connections between the Old and New Testaments as they read the Bible each day.

  1. How does this passage connect with a main theme that points me towards Christ?

Since the Bible is one story, we see various themes woven together that develop from the Old Testament to the New. We describe the Bible being like a rope that has many strands. The Bible has many events and themes, but they are all woven together into one story like strands of a rope. When you read an Old Testament passage and a biblical theme pops up, think ahead to how Christ fulfills and develops that theme.

Example: The presence of God. While Israel wandered the desert, God led Israel by a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night before instructing Moses to build the tabernacle, where God dwelt until the building of the temple in Jerusalem. Then God put on human flesh in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and dwelt among us. The Spirit’s coming gave believers God’s Spirit to dwell in us, making us living stones to be built into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:4-5). This theme finds its ultimate fulfillment in the New Heavens and New Earth where we know, “…the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3).

  1. How does this passage aid my understanding of Christ and what he has done?

Your passage may not explicitly speak of Jesus, but it may speak of the Messiah or describe a person or thing that symbolizes Christ or points to who He will be and what He will do (examples include the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52:13–53:12 or the Son of Man with all dominion in Daniel 7:13-14). Sometimes, though, a passage may only prepare the way for Christ. For instance, a passage may describe a desperate shortcoming in Israel’s leaders or a tragic situation among God’s people that points to Christ as the only one who can come and meet that need or make right the situation. (For example, the failures of Israel’s kings leave us with the realization of the need for a Messiah who will rule over God’s people in perfect righteousness.)

Over time, these steps and questions will help you navigate the sometimes confusing streets of the Old Testament and understand better God’s redemptive plan to send His Son into the world to save us from our sins. Our hope is that as you study, the Holy Spirit will reveal to you God’s riches in the Old Testament by shining the spotlight on Jesus Christ and filling you with joy in Him to the praise of His glorious grace.

This article introduces concepts and illustrations about Biblical Theology as taught by Leadership Resources. Learn more about our pastoral training programs Fellowship of the Word and Training National Trainers.

Authors: Paul Adams and Kevin Halloran.

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5 Crucial Questions Every Preacher Needs to Answer Before Preaching a Text


A preacher’s task is not easy.

Practically, preaching takes many hours to write a good sermon to preach to a congregation, and theologically, preaching is a heavy responsibility not to be taken lightly. Scripture exhorts preachers to handle the Word of God correctly (2 Timothy 2:15) and to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2).

In 2 Timothy 4:1, Paul charges Timothy, in one of the most forceful ways imaginable, to preach the Word – reminding Timothy in the presence of God and of Christ of its necessity: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the Word…” 2 Timothy 4:1-2a

Faithfully proclaiming the Word of God needs to be a goal of every preacher. The Bible is a complex theological book, and finding the full meaning and richness of a passage will not usually happen without digging deeper into the passage and looking at it from different angles.

The five questions listed below are based on categories of thought about a text that we use in our Fellowship of the Word and Training National Trainers programs, in which we teach pastors around the world to faithfully exposit the Scriptures.

5 Crucial Questions Every Preacher Needs to Answer about a Text

  1. What is the Context of the passage?

You may have heard the common adage: “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text,” which is to say that if a person does not study a portion of the Scripture in its proper context, the passage can be used to say things that God never intended.

  • Understanding the literary context of a passage (the surrounding paragraphs, chapters, and rest of the book) allows preachers to know how the passage fits into the flow of thought of the author’s message through the rest of the book.
  • Understanding the historical context (historical events, culture, religious practices, and geography) allows preachers to understand the situation into which the author was speaking. This is important because in most cases the biblical writers wrote for a specific audience in a certain time and place. Thousands of years later we can easily miss vital details that help tell the story or communicate the whole message.
  • Understanding the biblical context (or how a passage fits into the whole story and message of the Bible and how it points to Christ) allows preachers to see the heart of God in a deeper way as they see how a particular text relates to the gracious purpose and plan of God that comes to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The biblical context helps connect major biblical themes and show the unfolding of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.


  1. What is the Structure of the passage?

The structure of a passage involves: (1) the parts of a passage – the units of thought that contain the major ideas of the passage, and (2) the connections of thought that hold the sections and major ideas of the passage together.

As we analyze a passage’s structure, we are better able to understand the main idea, supporting ideas, and smaller details. A faithful preacher seeks to understand the ways the author made his points, and then arrange ideas in a sermon the same way. This allows the Word of God to be communicated most like it was originally communicated.

An awareness and understanding of structure in the Bible brings a clarifying power to our preaching by understanding the major building blocks of the passage.

How do you find the structure of a passage?

  1. Look for patterns and shifts in thought. As you read the passage, what kind of patterns do you see that point to the major ideas the author is trying to convey? Also as you read, look for shifts in thought or a change in direction. These can be detected by a change in patterns.
  2. Divide the passage. After seeing the patterns and transitions in thought, divide the passage into sections that contain the major ideas. Write down the chapter and verse numbers for each section.
  3. Describe the major ideas. State the major idea of each section of the passage in one complete sentence.
  4. Find the connections of thought between the major ideas. How does one major idea connect or lead to the next? How do all of them connect together and reveal the direction of the author’s thoughts?

The main ideas in a passage should be like the beams of a bridge that hold up the overall message and help the reader get from one side of the passage to the other.


  1. What is the Main Idea of the passage?

Once a preacher analyzes the structure of a passage, he is then able to find the main idea of the passage because he has seen how the biblical author makes the points he is making; which points are major, which are minor, and which are supporting points.

Finding the main idea of a passage helps us discover what God is saying through that passage and remain faithful to God’s intent. This main point becomes the focal point around which everything in a sermon is organized.

Here’s a helpful illustration: The Main Idea is like the rope or string of a necklace. A passage may have several important but smaller ideas (like beads on a necklace). The Main Idea is the central thought that connects all those important ideas and holds them together.


Finding the main idea of a passage involves combining the answers to two essential questions into one complete thought (a complete sentence):

  1. What general idea is this passage talking about?
  2. What specifically is it saying about that idea?

A few tips for finding the big idea of a Bible passage:

  • Pray for God’s wisdom and insight
  • Look for connections between how a passage begins and ends
  • Look for a repetition of key words or ideas
  • Look for a summary verse
  • Look for conclusions or purpose statements (typically beginning with “so that” or “therefore”)
  • Analyze the flow or development of thought through the passage
  1. How does this text point to Christ? (Biblical Theology)

The Bible is not a random collection of books; rather, it is one united book made up of several books that come together to tell one story about one person, Jesus Christ, and the salvation He brings (Luke 24:27; John 5:39-40). Without understanding how a text relates to Jesus Christ and the Gospel, a preacher’s work can at best be labeled incomplete.

Nobody reads random chunks of Shakespeare on its own without knowing the greater story. In the same way, preachers are to understand how the text they preach fits into the entire story of the Bible and how it points to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Not every text will relate to Christ in the same way or to the same degree. It can be helpful to imagine the Bible as a system of roads that all lead to Jesus Christ. Some portions of Scripture act as a main highway that quickly carries readers directly to Christ, while some passages act as a series of side streets, boulevards, avenues and on-ramps that connect to Christ more indirectly. No matter what road one is on, it is eventually leading to Jesus Christ.


  1. How can we apply this text to our lives today? (Application)


The ultimate goal to reading and preaching Scripture is not to know information, but rather to be transformed by the God’s Word to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Application involves knowing what God’s Word says and conforming your life to it. If you read the Word and neglect to be a doer of the Word, you deceive yourself (James 1:22).

Application is not simply making a list of do’s and don’ts but rather involves a change of heart and mind. A preacher has the task to not only explain Scripture clearly to listeners, but also to apply it in a way that listeners know how they need to think and live differently in light of God’s truth.

Preachers should ask the following questions to help apply the text to life:

  • What does this passage tell us about God?
  • How should that change our hearts?
  • How should we live as a result?
  • Is there any application already in the text?
  • Does the passage give some command or exhortation for how we should live?
  • How does the situation of our lives today correspond with the situation of the original audience? What is similar?
  • What did God say to them about those things that are similar, and how would that apply to the similar circumstances in our lives?


Are Preachers More Like Lawyers or Doctors?

In our pastoral training program Training National Trainers, we often illustrate one of the Dig & Discover Hermeneutical Principles called “Asking Good Questions” by contrasting the way doctors and lawyers operate.

lawyer-preacherThe illustration goes as follows: A lawyer starts with a conclusion (whether a person is innocent or guilty) then sets out to prove it. Sure, he may look at all the facts, but he emphasizes only those facts that will help win the case and downplays those that will jeopardize it. He starts with a conclusion then points to, or proceeds to, the facts. Preachers can often act this way as well by imposing their preconceived ideas on the biblical text instead of letting the biblical text shape their outlook.

doctor-preacherA good medical doctor, on the other hand, asks many questions about the symptoms, makes a thorough examination, asks more questions still, then arrives at his conclusion, the diagnosis, and ultimately decides on a treatment. Even then, further investigation may sharpen or alter his prior conclusions. He starts with the basic facts then proceeds to a conclusion. Preachers should be like doctors and let Scripture give the diagnosis and lead to the substance of their messages.

In the video above, Allan, one of the men we train in Honduras, shared how much this illustration changed his perspective about studying the Bible and preaching. (He shares at 1:10-2:05 in the video.) You can read his words below.

“All this teaching and all this presentation makes me search my own heart. Another thing I learned that … every pastor was like ‘wow!’ was when Paul was talking about how the lawyer operates and how a doctor operates…

The way that [Bible study] is done mostly in Honduras, is that we draw a conclusion and then we start looking for things that support our conclusion (what a lawyer does). A doctor asks all the questions and [understands] details first so he can arrive at the conclusion. That is something the pastors said they hadn’t heard before. If they hadn’t heard it, they hadn’t done it.”

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

All part of training pastors to preach God’s Word with God’s heart!

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