What is the main theme of the Bible?

Here’s a fascinating quote from Dr. Steven Mathewson:

Although it is not advisable to reduce the “center” or organizing principle of the Old Testament to one of these themes, it is possible to summarize the storyline of the Bible in one sentence. Here is my suggestion. The Bible is the story of God reestablishing the gift of his presence. The Bible begins and ends in a garden paradise where God dwells with his people. It moves from a potential building site in Genesis 1–2 to a finished city in Revelation 21–22.9 In between, God dwells with his people in various temples: the tabernacle, the Jerusalem temple, Jesus (Immanuel, “God with us,” Matt. 1:23), and the church (Eph. 1:19–22) (The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative, 109)

It’s a startling observation. Even if there are multiple ways to summarize the primary theme of the Bible accurately, I think this is one of the good ones.

May we enjoy God’s presence today!


I’d say that’s a very good summary!

I particularly enjoy the theme of the temple throughout the Bible and how this symbolises the storyline of God’s presence with us. Every time I go back into the topic, it hits me afresh just what God has done. Understanding the ‘temple’ of Eden - the place where God dwells with man (Gen 3:8); the tabernacle in the wilderness that was decorated to look like Eden; the temple in Jerusalem with the holy of Holies to reflect the location of God’s perfect presence; and finally us, the church, being the temple where we embody all the previous iterations of the temple (1 Cor 3: 16, 6:19)… it’s truly astounding. The temple is the place where God dwells with man in the Old Testament, then Jesus was described as dwelling with us in John 1:14 and since Pentecost, the Spirit has dwelt within us as God’s presence (John 14:26). One day, Revelation gives us the greatest promise of hope that God will fully dwell with his people again on earth (Rev 21:3)


Carson and Alison,

In reflecting on the message of the Bible, you both agree that one of the resounding themes is God being with His people. I must admit that for most of my Christian life it’s been very personal- my salvation from sin. It’s only been in the last 10 years or so that the corporate nature of God’s activity has been illumined to me. Salvation for what purpose?

That we would live in harmony with one another and with God. That day will come. AS you both know, we long for the hope of Christ’s return. This has always been the hope of the church.


Hi @geoff , yes this is exactly my experience too. Most of my life was about salvation from sin. I was a sinner, Christ died for me, I needed to be saved. I think a lot of how we share the Gospel summarises the Biblical story thus and then we wonder why people don’t understand the relevancy of the Gospel. I think that, as you say, understanding the bigger picture is so essential to realising the whole point of the story. It illumines God’s love and the beauty of how he constantly reaches out to us to restore his original plan. I recently listened to an interview with NT Wright who makes the same point: that perhaps we need to revise how we share the Gospel more effectively. I think that Carmen Imes puts it in a similar way in her interview with Carson, that our primary identity isn’t that we’re sinners but that we’re image bearers of God. It’s a radically different starting point for understanding the whole point of the story. Understanding the narrative theme of the temple that weaves through the whole text of scripture makes a lot of sense in that context. Thanks for pointing this perspective out as it should makes us think more on how we share the gospel with others.


I’ve listened to your first link, that of NT Wright. My head hurts!

It’s something I’m going to have to listen to again- and yes, a third time at least.

Thanks for directing me to this resource. I have listened to Dr. Carmen before, and have found her on her own podcast, Torah on Tuesdays, which you are no doubt familiar with.

So much to learn and so little time, but I trust as I meditate on the Word regularly, God will do what He wants with this man of little faith. I believe- help my unbelief- is often my prayer at this stage of my life


@alison ,

I’ve listened to Tim Mackie explain the gospel, incorporating the Biblical account from Genesis onwards. I’m sure you will be encouraged in the listening.

Really, it’s a way for the church to understand her calling, and to make the unity of the body of Christ the priority that it is. (see John 17 where Jesus prays for his church)

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Hi @Carson, I’m just reading From Eden to the New Jerusalem, by Desmond Alexander which you have recommended previously in other discussions.

The concept of God re-establishing his presence on earth is certainly supported in his overview of the Biblical narrative:

the sweep of biblical history is about how divine kingship will be established on the earth

but interestingly there is a sub theme that goes hand in hand with the overarching theme,

implicit…is the idea that God’s authority will be extended throughout the earth as people increase

Alexander looks at the divine command of Gen 1:26-27 of man being image bearers of God, reflecting “the divine delegation of authority to humankind to rule over the earth”.

A key component of this theme then is reinstating mankind’s role as priest-kings. Just as in the ancient world when the king was the “living image of a god” exemplified by Ramses II describing his own divine-image status, Alexander says that

to be made in the ‘image of God’ is to be given regal status.

About the ANE, he writes,

a ruler’s image was set up in distant parts of the kingdom in order to indicate that his authority reached there.

I love the comparison he makes to God’s command in Genesis, repeated to Noah after the flood to ‘be fruitful and multiply’.

Our design as humans to be fruitful and multiply is a direct expression of God’s sovereignty and authority over earth.

God’s reinstatement of his presence throughout creation is entwined with mankind’s multiplication: God’s image is carried throughout the world by us.