The Plot (an overview of the Bible)
by Pastor Bob Enyart
Denver Bible Church
Here is chapter one of Bob Enyart's best-selling book, The Plot! You can read the full book as a perfect-bound paperback or as a downloadable PDF, or in Spanish, as La Trama! Or, you can listen to Bob's Plot Seminar! Or get the entire set of all five of Bob's Plot Bible Study Albums or even check out The Plot Boys for Bible students of all ages! You'll love this powerful teaching through Scripture as you see that the overview of the Bible really is the only valid key to its details!
All stories have a plot. The main story line in a narrative forms the plot. Millions of books, including historical texts, cannot be understood apart from recognizing the plot, getting to know the characters, and learning the setting. The setting refers to the backdrop for the action, when and where, in time and space, the action occurs.
Does the Bible have a plot?
The Bible tells a story. The starry heaven stretches out as the backdrop for the main stage, the earth. Some scenes take place in the spiritual heaven but most occur on earth, while a few incidents span both. The story begins eons ago before the universe existed and looks to the distant future, after the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. The main character in the story is God. Supporting characters include Satan, good and fallen angels, and human beings. God sometimes groups characters together to deal with them in certain ways. He treats fallen angels one way and good angels another way.
The Lord (as God refers to Himself) also groups human beings. Early in the story, He deals with individuals and families. Later He works in special ways with tribes, and then with nations.
The Bible does have a plot. The main story of the Bible follows this outline:
- God created the universe and populated heaven and earth.
- The rebellion of some angels and all humans resulted in guilt and death.
- God worked to reconcile with those men who would trust Him.
- God will eternally reward those who love Him and punish all others.
These four observations define the overall plot. Many details exist within this framework. At creation, God performed specific actions in a particular order. In the rebellion, Satan, Adam, and Eve disobeyed their Maker and then God informed them of the consequences for their guilt. Death means separation, and upon the fallen angels came separation from God (spiritual death). Also, Adam and Eve died spiritually and experienced physical death when their souls and spirits eventually separated from their bodies.
For the reconciliation, God designed a plan of great personal sacrifice to Himself, so He could justly forgive men by providing atonement, that is, by paying for their sin. He also implemented a plan to communicate that redemption to the world. The communication involved giving mankind The Bible and calling out particular men to be His spokesmen. God even called one nation, Israel, to be God's "spokesnation" to the world. Through that nation, God gave the world the Bible (Rom. 3:1-2) and the Savior (Gen. 22:18; John 4:22; Gal. 3:16). Also, God instructed that nation to bring the glad tidings of His salvation to the entire world.
God will provide eternal reward for the righteous in the new heaven and on the new earth. Some will have their primary residence on the earth, others in heaven. (Later, this book will cover interesting biblical material on these two locales.) God will cast Satan into the lake of fire along with the Beast, the False Prophet, and everyone not written in God's Book of Life.
Learning from the Plot
Most Bible students readily agree with this basic plot of the Bible. Yet within the structure of this plot lies the key to understanding almost all of the major disputes that divide Christians.
Mankind's fall presents somewhat of a plot twist. An observer watching the story unfold might be surprised to see Adam and Eve lose their first estate. God creates the Garden of Eden and places this first couple in it and sees that "everything that He had made... was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Shortly thereafter, Adam and Eve disobey God and bring sin and death upon themselves.
Imagine if the observer had gone away just after God declared everything "very good." Returning to the scene about 1,500 years later the spectator would see that "the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that... the Lord was sorry that He made man" (Gen. 6:5-6) and that "the earth was filled with violence" (Gen. 6:11). This onlooker would experience some degree of surprise (and sadness) because he saw things that he did not expect after having seen the glorious beginning of creation.
Or suppose that this viewer turned away prior to the creation of mankind on Day Six. He had seen God create the earth covered by waters on Day One (Gen. 1:1?2). On Day Two he saw God make a firmament to divide the waters from above and below it (see more at KGOV.com/firmament). And on Day Three he watched God raise the dry land up out of these waters, waters which formed the world's ocean (Gen. 1:9, 13). Then later, on Day Five, he saw God create an abundance of creatures that live in the ocean (Gen. 1:21, 23) commanding them to "multiply, and fill the waters" (Gen. 1:22). At the end of Day Five, this beholder turned away and did not look back until many ages had passed. When he finally looked back down upon the Earth he saw, as he expected, a beautiful and majestic planet. Startled, however, he noticed that the ocean had disappeared. The great sea that God had created was gone! It vanished because, while this spectator was looking away, the whole history of fallen man on earth came and went. Then God created a new heaven and a new earth and in the new earth "there was no more sea" (Rev. 21:1).
The observer's confusion came because he was unaware of the plot, the main story line, of what had happened. Of course, he had also missed the plot twist. Seeing the beginning of the story, and not expecting all the wickedness that would follow, he would have a hard time determining why the sea was missing. Did it evaporate? Did someone drain it?
Stories often deliver morals. "The moral of the story is," ends many anecdotes. A typical morality tale attempts to teach a good lesson, but the story itself is fictitious. The Bible presents its message through the vehicle of a true story (although it does of course contain parables). To understand the moral of a story, one must understand the story itself. Misunderstanding the story by missing the plot or a vital plot twist makes it difficult to ascertain the moral of the story. How can someone see all the details in a murky big picture?
Jonah prophesied that God would destroy Nineveh in forty days (Jonah 3:4). Yet if that same observer heard this prophecy, left, and then returned forty-one days later expecting to see a smoldering ash heap, he would again be confused. After forty-one days Nineveh still prospered and the baffled onlooker might ask himself, "Why?" For Jonah prophesied that God would destroy Nineveh in forty days, but it didn't happen!
Unaware of the plot twist in the book of Jonah, what might the observer conclude? "Jonah must not have been a prophet of God!" Or "Jonah misspoke when he prophesied." Or perhaps "God's prophecies are not reliable." The onlooker, without knowing the plot twist, would be lost.
When they heard the judgment declared against them, the people of Nineveh repented. God had said that He would destroy them, but because they repented, He did not do what He said He would do. God lays out the principle by which men can understand Jonah's plot twist. As Jeremiah quotes the Lord:
"The instant I speak concerning a nation... to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it." Jer. 18:7-8
God states in His Word that He will react, even after He clearly prophesies an outcome, to changing circumstances. He says that He will change that which He had "thought to" bring to pass. God says that He will disregard that which He had "spoken" in response to man's actions. In Nineveh:
...God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. Jonah 3:10
So Bible students must pay close attention to the plot and the plot twists in order to catch the morals of the story. For God's principle at work in Nineveh also had a flip side to it. As He said:
"And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it." Jer. 18:9-10
So God informs men that He has a plot, and that plot twists possibly may occur. Thus students must remain alert when reading the Bible for the major steps of the plot and the plot twists.
Ignoring the Plot
Ten big doctrinal debates divide millions of believers. Attempting to resolve all ten questions by traditional means is a daunting task. Is there one root cause for all ten disagreements? Does a common theological thread tie these ten seemingly unrelated doctrines together?
If all ten disputes derive from one fundamental cause, might there then be a single solution to these questions? Imagine resolving all ten disputes with one simple biblical fact found in one single verse based on the overall plot of the Bible. If such a fact exists which alone could solve all ten disputes, imagine how crucial that Bible idea would be. However, ignoring the Bible's big picture consigns these disputes to irreconcilable differences.
A young political observer once wondered why American conservatives and liberals separated themselves so distinctly along opposing ideas. Consider these generalities:
Support foreign aid
Oppose foreign aid
Support high taxes
Oppose high taxes
Support giving children condoms
Oppose giving children condoms
Support killing unborn children
Oppose killing unborn children
Oppose killing murderers
Support killing murderers
Oppose gun ownership
Support gun ownership
Weaken America's military
Strengthen America's military
Cut down trees (a renewable resource)
Chart the views of liberals like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Al Gore. They, along with most liberal leaders, agree with the column on the left. Conservative leaders like Alan Keyes concur with the issues on the right. The respective supporters of these two camps tend to hold their party line. For example, of these ten issues, millions of liberals will hold to most issues of the left and millions of conservatives will stand for most issues on the right. But why? Why do people line up along such well-defined battle lines? Why is there not an equal number who agree with five issues on the right and five on the left? Why do most leaders who support killing an innocent unborn child oppose killing a guilty murdering rapist? Why does almost everyone who supports welfare also defend a right to exploit women sexually through pornography?
If these disagreements arose randomly in a disconnected fashion, then no pattern of adherents would likely exist. A line of demarcation appears, however, because these issues do not arbitrarily arise, but result from society acting out underlying principles. Once a man commits to certain fundamental precepts, then experienced observers can guess many of his future political preferences. Some defend the existence of absolute truth. Others reject the notion of absolute right and wrong and put their hope in relative morality. The Ten Commandments become ten suggestions¾if that. The world calls these relativists left-wingers. The defenders of absolutes believe that truth descends from God. The world calls us right-wingers.
This political observation makes a good analogy. Patterns of disagreement can reveal much about underlying presuppositions. Different foundational ideas then lead to various, though related, disputes. Likewise, exploring ten major doctrinal disputes can reveal an incredible biblical pattern. The Plot traces the origins of these debates to the first century Christian leaders. Then the Apostle Paul's handling of early doctrinal disagreements provides the guidance to resolve today's debates. The Epistles become the compass, the whole Word of God the map, to traverse the terrain of human existence.
God does not have doctrinal difficulties. Why? As the author, He knows the meaning of Bible passages. God does not have "problem texts." Therefore, when God opens eyes to solve doctrinal disputes, "problem texts" disappear for men also. Thus the doctrinal answer offered in this book turns problem texts into "proof texts!" Readers will see that the opposing sets of Bible verses often used in traditional doctrinal debate will all support true theology.
Get the Big Picture
At the outset of this awesome biblical journey, realize the goal is to grasp the Bible's big picture. The successful student masters the wider context of debated issues. The meaning of a word depends partly on its context within the sentence; the meaning of the sentence depends partly on its context with the paragraph; the meaning of the paragraph on the chapter; the chapter on the book; and the proper understanding of even the book depends on its position within the context of the Bible.
Those who understand the big picture avoid getting lost in the details.
Know the plot,
enjoy the twists;
know it not,
annoy your wits.
This book begins by examining the Bible's fascinating plot. Then a plot twist in the New Testament is examined. Knowing the big picture (i.e., the plot) and the plot twist are prerequisites for any serious Bible study. Imagine a Mongolian developing a theology of Genesis using a partial manuscript that omits the chapter about the fall. Without a clear understanding of the plot twist in the New Testament, any systematic theology will fail.
The "Sentence Within" Technique
While completely reading all quotations herein, learn to focus on core ideas contained in Scripture passages. Verses that may seem familiar will almost certainly present new information previously overlooked, because every good Bible teacher will bring out new information from the Word.
In the quotations in the book, bold words will highlight a sentence within a sentence. For example consider the footnote just referenced.
Therefore every scribe concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.
Notice that the bold words within that sentence highlight another sentence, drawing attention to a particular thought.
A sentence within a sentence:
Every scribe brings out of his treasure things new and old.
So the bold words not only form a sub-sentence, but they indicate exactly which words support the point being made by the writer using the technique. Bold underlining brings into focus an even more basic idea, always forming a narrower sentence.
A sentence within a sentence within a sentence:
Every scribe brings out things new.
Techniques for studying the Bible, called hermeneutics, can be used properly or improperly. If used properly, this system of bold words and underlining can precisely denote one particular truth within a verse. The principle rule for using this technique properly is honesty. For leaving out a single word, especially a condition or negation, could distort a text. For example: "He who does believe is condemned" rather than Christ's words "He who does not believe is condemned" would be dishonest. Used correctly, however, the sentence-within technique greatly aids Bible study. For example in Ephesians, Paul's run-on, seven-verse sentence (Eph. 1:15-21) contains, "I give thanks for you," which kernel of thought helps the student keep the rest of the passage in context. The sub-sentence helps the user of the technique communicate his ideas to the reader. The reader then considers whether the original author of the greater quote, say Paul or Jesus, also had in mind the same inner sentence. If so, then honest use of language and consideration of the context has indicated the validity of the sub-sentence.
The sentence within a sentence technique is designed to highlight not individual words but complete thoughts. Grammatical elements like subject, verb, and object help to constrain the range of interpretation and narrows the possible scope of the meaning of the passage.
The power of this technique lies in its use of the linguistic restraints supplied by the original author. With this technique the student explores a Scripture with his mind's eye being guided by the text itself and not by his own imagination. This "sentence within" technique aids those who want to analyze and focus while limiting the human tendency to distort.
Students will misunderstand the text less frequently when focusing on a sentence within a sentence than when focusing on a single word within the sentence. This sentence technique supplements the standard practice of word study. Overemphasis on a single word can lead to the misinterpretation of a verse. With this technique students can focus on a narrow line of thought rather than on a single word in a verse, leaving less room for error.
Through the highlighting of a sub-sentence and not just one word, the margin for error recedes because of a constrained focus of attention. For example, one word could have a half dozen different meanings giving a poor teacher ample leeway to mislead. If, however, the teacher disciplines himself so that he brings out meaning from a verse through the highlighting of a sub-sentence within the verse, preferably complete with subject, verb, and object, he increases the likelihood for accuracy.
Again, while it is easy to skew a single word, it is more difficult to twist an entire sentence. For example, suppose a TV evangelist who always talks about money preaches on the above verse (Mat. 13:52). He might focus on a word study of treasure and talk for an hour suggesting that all believers should have earthly wealth. However, the above bold emphasis and then the underlining progressively fine-tune the message of the text. This method safely helps to identify the point of the passage¾that successful Bible teachers will bring attention to new (and old) lessons because men cannot deplete the riches of God's Word.
An extra margin of safety derives from the nature of sentences within sentences, which tend to describe a subset of the original points made in the outer sentence. This book marks additional special emphasis through the use of italics, bold italics and for maximum emphasis bold underlined italics. (In many Bibles italics indicate words the translators added which do not appear in the original. Greek and Hebrew texts commonly omit inferred words that English readers prefer to see in print. The Plot uses italics only to bring attention to parts of verses, and not to indicate words supplied by translators.) If a verse has all three highlights, like this, this author believes the point indispensable.
Verses not actually quoted but only referenced, such as here (1 Tim. 1:8-11), appear to corroborate a point in the text and are not as critical to the discussion as passages actually quoted. The author does not expect readers to look up the thousands of parenthetical references herein except in places to resolve doubt or satisfy curiosity. However, students should fully and carefully read all Bible verses actually quoted.
Now the fun begins. Brace yourself for excitement, but proceed with maximum alertness!
The Challenge for The Plot
The primary biblical details this book attempts to clear up include the following ten doctrinal debates:
Believers can lose their salvation
Believers cannot lose their salvation
Baptism is necessary
Baptism is not necessary
Believers speak in tongues
Believers do not speak in tongues
God will answer prayers of faith
Many good prayers go unanswered
Miracles and healing are assured
Miracles and healing are not assured
There is no pre-tribulation rapture
The rapture is before the tribulation
Believers must keep the law
Believers are not under the law
Salvation by faith requires works
Salvation requires faith and not works
Believers must keep the Sabbath
Sabbath observance is unnecessary
Unclean foods are prohibited
All foods are clean
More than anything, this author wants to thoroughly communicate the overall plot of the Bible to each reader. As a secondary effect of having a solid understanding of the big picture of any book, the reader then has a much easier task grasping the details of that book. Knowing the plot helps identify the twists. Knowing the twists helps explain a myriad of details.
A Daunting Task
To resolve these ten disputes, someone could prepare ten arguments, one for each issue. All pros and cons must be evaluated for each issue. The student analyzes only a few dozen Scriptures for certain disputes; for others, he analyzes hundreds. A number of scholarly books defend each opposing doctrine. Limiting the effort to only two authors advocating each position requires reading forty books that mostly contradict one another. Many students consume years in this effort. In the end, the student sides with one position or the other, for each dispute, weighing countless factors.
Regardless of the student's conclusions, millions of believers will disagree with him. The masses of Christians cannot be right on these doctrines, because the masses disagree with one another. Even after such a colossal effort, how many of these ten doctrinal questions would the average reader get right?
A Single, Simple Solution
Imagine, for the moment, that someone could resolve all ten questions simply by learning one single Bible verse. Is it possible that one single concept, one idea, one thought, revealed in a single Bible verse, could resolve every debate listed above? This book presents just such a verse for the reader's consideration.
Some will think it impossible for one Bible fact to answer all these dilemmas. If, however, someone asked God to unravel these mysteries, could He do so in a single statement? If He could, then perhaps His Word does also. If God could not, then the author should stop writing this book. The Plot of the Bible argues, though, that God could, and that He has, proclaimed the answer to these ten debates in a single verse.
Consider any discipline-criminal law, physics, Shakespeare. Imagine that within that field of study ten apparently unrelated debates rage. Imagine that one discovery or one observation or one perspective, when applied to these disagreements, had the ability to resolve, neatly and completely, each and every dilemma. The fact that one simple idea can address ten different quandaries inherently gives that idea credibility and makes it worthy of full examination.
For example, a good law well enforced will bring about unimagined benefits in countless circumstances. Whereas a bad law, though designed to address a specific problem, actually creates more problems than it supposedly solves. Historically, a law against adultery reduced infidelity and divorce as expected. But it also lowered rates for murder, rape, kidnapping, and child abuse; this law can even improve the economy thereby raising the standard of living.
When one simple biblical idea resolves many seemingly unrelated troubles, that idea merits great attention. Similarly, if someone invents a Bible "answer," that idea will likely create more problems than it supposedly solves. Thus the Christians who argue that men have a "right to fornicate" help to unleash a tidal wave of destruction. If, however, one concept helps effortlessly to avoid numerous problems, the concept may very well be valid.
Albert Einstein rocked the world during the solar eclipse of May 29, 1919. He had predicted that gravity could bend light, a difficult theory to confirm. Difficult, until Einstein suggested that a star behind the sun would become visible during an eclipse because while the moon would block out the sun's light, the solar gravity would bend this other star's light toward the Earth bringing it into view. Eclipse photographs confirmed Einstein's prediction. The scientific world viewed this as evidence for at least part of his theories.
What does Einstein have to do with the Bible? The single, simple proposition of E = mc2 teaches, among other things, that mass represents energy. Japan capitulated thereby ending World War II in the Pacific partly because Einstein's simple notion was on the right track. NASA's Viking landed on Mars and beamed radio waves to Earth, which were bent by the sun's gravitational field. Engineers have resolved many debates due to Einstein's elegant but simple idea. When one concept addresses and apparently resolves many seemingly unrelated difficulties, that one idea merits serious study.
Suppose three centuries ago a librarian lost Act Two of the only known extant copy of a Shakespearean play. Eventually, experts deny the authenticity of Acts One and Three, because the plot line and sub-plots seem hopelessly unconnected. Critics argue that Shakespeare's brilliance would not produce such an incoherent work. The cast in Act Three is barely recognizable from their characterizations in Act One.
Later, a maid in a Yorkshire castle finds a decrepit manuscript in their library. She discovered the missing Act Two. Before even evaluating the manuscript, men question its genuineness. When, however, experts read Act Two, the uncertainty vanishes. Act Two contains the most fascinating plot twist and character developments ever penned in the English language. The find effortlessly resolves all the former enigmas. Scholars therefore declare the play authentic Shakespeare.
In these scenarios the observance of one fact, one criminal law, one physical law, one act, resolves many serious problems. Progress, as Johannes Kepler discovered, often occurs when a new idea accounts for many particulars and resolves many dilemmas.
The above ten doctrinal debates brought about much of the disunity between Christian churches. Would it not be wonderful if one over-looked Bible verse taken at face value could resolve each of these diverse doctrinal puzzles? Imagine if, unlike so many theological arguments, this simple, single solution did not produce more riddles than it solved.
No Problem Texts!
A typical doctrinal argument emphasizes certain biblical passages (its proof texts) while de-emphasizing other passages (its problem texts). This very approach makes many students uncomfortable because they want to embrace the whole word of God. Ignoring or diminishing certain texts that appear to contradict a conclusion unsettles them and rightly so.
Any number of arguments can be presented for or against the ten doctrinal disputes listed above. These arguments traditionally pit one set of Bible verses against another. Someone trying to prove that a believer cannot lose his salvation will cite certain proof texts (i.e., Eph. 4:30; Phil. 1:6) and dispute other problem texts (i.e., Heb. 6:4-6; 2 Pet. 2:20-22). Those who argue that a believer can lose his salvation swap the passages, so that they heartily endorse their proof texts (i.e., Heb. 6:4-6; 2 Pet. 2:20-22), while contending with their problem texts (i.e., Eph. 4:30; Phil. 1:6).
What if God has presented one biblical key that would not only answer all the confusion, but would also erase the tension between the traditional proof and problem texts? The student would then see both sets of proof and problem texts merge into a single grouping of proof texts.
Christians expect exactly this in heaven. Once in heaven "I shall know just as I also am known" (1 Cor. 13:12) by God, without confusion. Heaven admits no "problem verses." God's Word will exist in heaven (Mat. 24:35) open, honest, simple to understand and true at face value.
The solution to these ten doctrinal debates does not require diminishing or obfuscating, explaining away or twisting scores of problem verses. The solution lies in understanding the big picture of the Bible. Those well versed on the biblical plot and the plot twists can read Bible passages and accept them for just what they appear to say without harboring a sense of internal conflict. The Bible is the Word of God. The Bible makes sense and does not contradict itself.
However, the doctrinal debates perform a service to the serious Bible student, for the anomalies often show the way to progress. The believer should not ignore but study those apparent inconsistencies that challenge the status quo. For within those seeming contradictions lies the key to improving upon current wisdom.
Kepler, known as the father of modern astronomy, helped science advance beyond centuries of error. He refused to ignore the apparent contradictions between observation and theory. Aristotle had argued that the sun and planets orbited around the Earth, which he believed stood motionless. He had also determined, wrongly, that orbits formed perfect circles. Aristotle reasoned these circular orbits not based primarily on observation but he intuited it. Simply, he thought it should be so and therefore declared the orbits circular. For many centuries careful plotting of the inner planets yielded problems for Aristotle's theory on orbits. Observation and theory seemed at odds.
Most scientists contented themselves assuming their observations wrong and Aristotle's teaching right. Bible students do this. Christians read passages that seem to flat out contradict their learning. What is the typical response? Inattention. Christians ignore what they read in order to retain what they have been told. Jesus addressed this phenomenon in the Sermon on the Mount: "You have heard that it was said... but I say to you..." (Mat. 5:21-22).
On a Sunday in February of 1996, best-selling author Greg Perry of Tulsa, Oklahoma mentioned to an acquaintance at church that on judgment day Christians would judge the world. The friend disagreed: "No, God will be the judge, not us." He repeated it as though quoting a familiar refrain. Greg told his friend about the passage in Revelation chapter 20 where God commits judgment to the hands of His servants. He also mentioned Christ's teaching about the men of Nineveh rising up in judgment and condemning a whole generation (Mat. 12:41) and Solomon's remark about the jealous husband who will not spare the adulterer in the day of vengeance (Prov. 6:34-35). Seeing that his friend was not accepting this simple truth, Greg opened his Bible and read from First Corinthians:
Do you not know that the saints will judge the world...? Do you not know that we shall judge the angels? 1 Cor. 6:2-3
Obviously Greg's friend did not know. For he disagreed. "No, that's not right," he said. Greg was flabbergasted. After the service began, Greg's friend opened his Ryrie Study Bible and read the footnote on 1 Corinthians 6:2, which stated that "The saints will judge the world... We will also judge angels."
"What do you know?" said Greg's friend. "You're right. We will be judging on judgment day," he admitted, pointing to the note at the bottom of the page. Greg whispered back, "Why do you believe the note, but not the text?"
Greg never heard an answer.
Kepler believed his eyes and not the incorrect notes in his science books, not the erroneous ideas others had taught him. He found an eight-minute discrepancy in arc between the actual orbit of Mars and predictions based on Aristotle's theoretical model. He could have merrily ignored that apparent discrepancy, chalked it up to difficulty in astronomical measurements, and went on to obscurity as a non-achiever.
Kepler, though, would not ignore the apparent inconsistency. Imagine his wife calling, "Johann, would you forget those eight minutes and come to bed!" Rather, he pursued it relentlessly until that particular difficulty yielded its hidden truth. Planets did not move in circular orbits as Aristotle deemed. Planets travel in elliptical orbits around two foci. Thus the Christian astronomer Kepler discovered the first of his three laws governing the motion of the planets and thereby fathered modern astronomy.
Where some see problems to ignore, others see opportunities. Many Christians hurt themselves by mishandling apparent contradictions in the Bible. Plenty of verses appear to contradict one another. By accepting frivolous resolutions to these difficulties, Christians lose the opportunity to discover the real truth they conceal. Believers dismiss apparent contradictions by ignoring a word, twisting an idea here, finessing an argument there, but they do not truly resolve the problem text.
Kepler would never have discovered truths in physics and astronomy if he had handled apparent contradictions the way many Christians do¾by glibly explaining them away. Bible students must face difficulties squarely. If a solid resolution to a problem text does not readily appear, then rather than accept a foolish solution, the good student will acknowledge that he has a difficulty he cannot solve. Perhaps some of his theology is wrong, since certain Bible verses appear to challenge it. Perhaps, on the other hand, he correctly formed his doctrine but he simply misunderstands the particular verse under inspection. The good student will then put that passage on a back burner and work to gain more knowledge and understanding. This patient approach beats the hurried acceptance of false solutions.
The Problem-Text Gauntlet
Consider then a test for whether or not this book delivers on its promise. As regards the possibility of a believer losing his salvation, the correct answer to that question would enable the use of all four passages above (Eph. 4:30; Phil. 1:6; Heb. 6:4-6; 2 Pet. 2:20-22) as proof texts. Stop to realize what that means. Once a believer correctly understands the answer to this doctrinal dilemma, the most plain and obvious reading of each verse should easily and clearly support that position. For after even a novice learns the truth, he would sense no friction whatsoever between this newfound truth and both sets of "opposing" passages.
The author, then, throws down this gauntlet before his own book. The Plot should resolve the difficult, apparently contradictory passages for all ten debates listed above. If the theology herein cannot solve these problems, then this book has failed. But if the Bible doctrine taught in this book takes the proof and problem texts for these ten doctrinal issues and, by applying one verse to them, enables a simple reading of each to directly and explicitly support the resolution herein, this theology will deserve the most earnest consideration.
The phenomenal claim then is that even the "appearance" of a contradiction will disappear between hundreds of verses. For the closer a Christian comes to knowing the real truth, the fewer apparent difficulties he will have. Who can doubt that? For example, God knows all truth without error and He has no problem texts. Hence for all ten major disputes, this book will either resolve them effortlessly or take its place in the trash.
The remainder of this chapter considers a question and an observation. First, why do Bible students so easily adopt false ideas? (Millions of Christians flatly disagree with each other on many major issues, so believers must commonly promulgate misinformation, making error rampant.)
Second, the chapter starts to trace today's big doctrinal debates to theological matters wrestled with by the apostles in the first century. Understanding the cause and resolution of New Testament disputes will illuminate the cause and resolution for modern disagreements. Truly, God included in the Bible a road map for believers today to find their way through the maze of theological snarls.
The reader who has experienced the frustration of apparent contradictions in the Bible should fasten his seat belt! For the mystery is about to unfold before his very eyes.
The Bible student often adopts tentative conclusions that govern his doctrinal studies. If he makes an early incorrect doctrinal assumption, that error can multiply itself, forcing future theological decisions to run afoul of the truth. Like a school boy who makes an arithmetic mistake early in a long division, until believers back up and correct their errors, they have no chance of getting at the whole truth.
A new believer at a Bible study may hear a teaching that seems, and is, false. Any false doctrine would work for an illustration here, but the more popular the falsehood the better. One wrong idea spread further by the hymn When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, is that there will be no time in heaven. Recall the words:
When the roll is called up yonder and time shall be no more...
The first time a Bible student hears this idea, it strikes him as implausible. However, he puts off judgment of this matter for the time being. Then he hears it again, months later, this time, not from the song leader, but from a Sunday School teacher. A year later, a radio preacher restates the same concept without hesitation: "In heaven, there is no time." (By the way, one can also trace this idea to Aristotle's philosophy.) So the Bible student now firmly believes there is no time in heaven.
If a more biblical teacher comes along, he might have a difficult time dissuading this student from this false notion. He might quote Scripture, such as:
...there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Rev. 8:1
"How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" Rev. 6:10
He might point out that Jesus:
...sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. Heb. 10:12-13
And concerning the Tree of Life with twelve varieties of fruit, with only one ripening each month:
[Growing in the river which flowed] from the throne of God... was the tree of life which bore twelve fruits, each... yielding its fruit every month Rev. 22:1-2
God reveals His creation of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation 21. So this Tree of Life description, with these twelve fruits which ripen monthly, appears very late in the apocalyptic schema, on the forever-and-ever side of human history. Much more biblical evidence exists showing time in heaven. Yet many young Christians willingly give up the truth they know in their gut after hearing a cliché repeated a few times.
So the novice gives a teacher the benefit of the doubt for now, vowing to investigate a particular point thoroughly later. Since later never comes, the original doubt recedes over time as that teacher and others repeatedly reinforce a wrong notion. Thus a confused Christian is born.
Tentative conclusions often solidify into permanent views. Frequently this occurs without the rigorous testing originally intended. Eventually, provisional ideas become set in stone, not because the ideas were finally confirmed, but because their owner never found the time to investigate further. Thus, the advancement of many Bible students is hindered by their own early progress down one wrong road or another.
Few, however, welcome the reconsideration of a matter previously settled. Fewer enjoy throwing out presuppositions. Rethinking a position takes energy and commitment. "Economy of thought" is a real force. Typically, when confronted with information that contradicts strongly held foundational views, people immediately discard the information rather than consider it.
Men prefer to reject data, even from a credible source such as Scripture, rather than re-evaluate a long-held belief. The world needs more Keplers. Not many people reconsider a presupposition even after confronting the strongest contrary evidence.
This human reality makes this book difficult to write. Suppose this text first addressed the dispute over whether it is possible to lose one's salvation. Most readers who have invested years studying the Bible hold one position or the other on this topic. Half are wrong, and many who hold the correct view have no idea why they hold that view, or why their side is true and the other false. If the correct answer to this dispute were presented forthwith, those readers who already agreed with the position would be pleased and inclined to continue. Those who disagreed would be perturbed and would predispose themselves against an honest consideration of the remainder of this book.
This text, therefore, will gradually approach these ten doctrinal debates in a way that will encourage the greatest number of readers toward full consideration. The goal here is to help many people arrive at a true understanding of the Bible, and in so doing, promote unity among believers. Once someone truly understands the resolution to these ten disputes, he will better understand even those who hold incorrect views on these doctrines. He who has found truth understands those still looking.
Undoubtedly, some readers are objecting, "Bob, just spit it out! Get to the point. If some reject it, that's their problem." Actually, it is a problem for all believers because ideas have consequences. Wrong ideas about God impair evangelism.
The Apostle Paul used this same caution in the same context! Following Paul's approach to explaining and resolving doctrinal disputes will provide the key to resolving these ten debates.
Paul strongly emphasized that he had little contact with the Twelve Apostles prior to the Jerusalem Council. This point is so crucial to Paul that he declares, "I saw none of the other apostles... I do not lie" (Gal. 1:19-20). Paul emphasizes this slight contact to explain in part why he needed to confront Peter and why he and the Twelve had to meet to "consider" theological matters.
The idea that Paul stressed, that he had little contact with the Twelve Apostles, is foreign to many Christians. Therefore, when reading the Bible, believers gloss over these passages, acting as though they do not exist, or that they have no meaning or relevance to Christian truth. However, God put these details in the Bible, just as He put Mars on an elliptical orbit. So, like Kepler, good students will not neglect details even if they do not seem to fit anywhere in a neat worldview.
While reading the following verses, remember to use the "sentence-within-a-sentence" technique. First read the whole quotation. Then read the sub-sentence formed by the boldface words. Then read the sentence within the sub-sentence formed by the underlined words. Notice Paul emphasizing his brief contact with the Twelve Apostles:
But when it pleased God... that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; Gal. 1:15-17
God wanted Paul to preach Christ to "the Gentiles." The word Gentile refers to all those people throughout the world who are not Jews, the people of the nations other than Israel. Originally, the concept of Gentile referred to people who were out of a covenant relationship with God. But since the New Testament era, more Gentiles follow Christ than do Jews, and so today in Christian terminology, the Bible's word Gentile refers specifically to those who are not Jews, that is, non-Jews.
But I make known to you, brethren, that gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it [the Gospel] from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. Gal. 1:11-12
Paul, an apostle, not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ... Gal. 1:1
and I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. Gal. 1:22
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord's brother. (Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.) Gal. 1:18-20
[Paul] did not immediately confer, nor did [he] go to those who were apostles before [him]; Gal. 1:15-17
[Paul] neither received [the Gospel] from man, nor was [he] taught it... Gal. 1:12
[Paul] was unknown by face to Judea. Gal. 1:22
[Paul saw Peter but] none of the other apostles except James, Gal. 1:18-19
But fourteen years after his brief initial contact with two of the apostles, God revealed to Paul that he should go up to Jerusalem and tell Peter, James, and John about the Gospel which he was preaching to the Gentiles.
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem... And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain... and when James, Cephas [Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Gal. 2:1-2, 9
Paul communicated this to those with reputations as leaders privately.
Why privately? God wanted the Twelve to accept Paul and his ministry to the Gentiles. Paul sought the right hand of fellowship (Gal. 2:9) from the apostles in Jerusalem. He did not want to run the risk of a public disagreement with them which might cause his efforts to have been in vain (Gal. 2:2). His godly discretion achieved the desired result. The Twelve Apostles in Jerusalem blessed Paul's ministry (Acts 21:17-20; 15:6-31).
To imitate Paul's method (to bring unity of understanding to believers with contrasting ideas) is to invite the success he met. For Peter not only backed Paul's apostleship (Gal. 2:7-8) but also endorsed, as Paul wrote, "that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles" (Gal. 2:2).
Even after this, however, Paul was given cause to confront Peter forcefully as doctrinal inconsistencies erupted into disunity.
But when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?" Gal. 2:11-14
Again notice the clarity with which the "sentence-within" technique brings into view a difficult but undeniable aspect of the biblical record:
[Paul] withstood [Peter] to his face, because [Peter] was to be blamed; And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with [Peter]. But when [Paul] saw that [Peter was] not straightforward about the truth of the gospel... Gal. 2:11-14
Christ commissioned Peter, a great apostle. Further, the Holy Spirit came upon Peter at Pentecost. So why would Paul have such difficulty with him? Also, why do other doctrinal difficulties between the apostles appear in the New Testament? As the reader shall see, these difficulties appear because of a major plot twist that occurs in the Bible. But until the student fully identifies the plot and the plot twists, understanding these details will be almost impossible. As a result, many Christians simply ignore such passages, though there are many of them.
Surprisingly, Paul's argument with Peter was rooted in the same doctrinal confusion that Paul had earlier attempted to resolve at the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15. But thank God that with His help, even today's confrontations will be resolved and all relationships restored among believers. For approximately ten years after Paul's harsh-but-needed confrontation, Peter wrote kindly about Paul. In his own epistle, Peter indicated that even though Paul's writings contained some things "hard to understand" he nonetheless accepted them as a part of the "Scriptures."
An intuitive reader may already understand why this book introduces this Peter and Paul episode here. Their interaction illustrates the root cause of most scriptural disagreement among believers. Their entire relationship, as recorded in the Bible, teaches a vital message.
Doctrinal disputes began with the earliest Christians! After the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the most important characters in the New Testament are Paul, Peter, James, and John. The Lord spent three years with the Twelve, and had repeated direct communication with Paul. Yet Peter and Paul would find themselves embroiled in practical disputes important enough to find their way into the Bible.
To understand the doctrinal disputes popular among Christians today, one must understand the causes and resolution of those disputes that began among the earliest Christian leaders. Once the historical disputes are understood, one cannot help but see clearly through our modern theological fog.
Therefore, this text first presents a historical survey to clarify the first century disputes. This survey will also reveal the key, the one solution, which will resolve many current conflicts and remove the great divide between traditional proof texts and problem texts. A biblical theology will result which displaces "apparent contradictions" with the force of dynamite clearing boulders for a new road.
 The earth orbits through the Solar System, which travels within the Milky Way Galaxy, which itself speeds through the physical universe. Scripture refers to the stars only briefly, but never as the location of biblical events.
 · Revisionist science historians, beginning largely with Voltaire, blame the Bible for the error that the sun orbited the earth. However, Aristotelian thought ruled the scientific world, what there was of it, for about 2,000 years. Through defective experiment, Aristotle determined that the earth was at rest, and therefore, the sun must orbit the earth and not vice versa. Church leaders sadly, along with virtually all the western world, submitted to Aristotle on this and many other false, non-biblical ideas.
· Galileo Galilei, often opposed to Aristotle, staunchly defended the Bible. On December 21, 1613, he sent a letter to Benedetto Castelli (a Benedictine monk, professor of mathematics at Pisa, and a pioneer in hydrostatics). "...the Holy Scriptures cannot err," Galileo wrote, and "the decrees therein contained are absolutely true and inviolable... Holy scripture and nature are both emanations from the Divine word: the former dictated by the Holy Spirit; the latter, the executrix of God's commands... I believe that the intention of Holy Writ was to persuade men of the truths necessary for salvation; such as neither science nor any other means could render credible, but only the voice of the Holy Spirit." Quote from Galileo's correspondence compiled by his eldest daughter, Franciscan nun Sister Maria Celeste, translated by Mary Allan-Olney, The Private Life of Galileo (London, England: Macmillan & Co., 1870), p. 74-76.
 · Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) joined the ranks of brilliant minds who eagerly defend the Bible as the literal, inerrant word of God. In regard to the age of the universe, Johannes Kepler declared: "...to be read either now or by posterity, I care not which. It may be well to wait a century for a reader, as God has waited six thousand years for an observer." Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (Cambridge, Massachusetts: University Press, John Wilson & Son, 1901 [Ninth] Edition).
· Kepler, known for the reverential comment, "I am thinking thy thoughts after Thee..." contributed to the development of calculus by publishing his tables for plotting the movement of the stars and he demonstrated the greatness of a humble scientist. He concluded his treatise Harmony of Worlds writing "I thank Thee, my Creator and Lord, that Thou hast given me this joy in Thy creation, this delight in the works of Thy hands; I have shown the excellency of Thy works unto man, so far as my finite mind was able to comprehend Thine infinity; if I have said aught of Thy glory, graciously forgive it" quoted in the 1890s by Stephen Abbott Northrop, D.D., A Cloud of Witnesses, (Portland, Oregon: American Heritage Ministries, republished 1987), p. 266.
· Kepler's observations proved the heliocentric nature of the solar system and, as reported by E.W. Bullinger in his The Witness of the Stars (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1893, reprinted 1967, p. 38) Johannes also sought astronomical evidence for biblical events. He reversed his calculations for predicting the orbits of the planets and calculated backwards through time to determine the location of planets with respect to the "fixed" stars in an effort to find a conjunction that might have been the Star of Bethlehem. (The author's video, Planets, Stars and the Bible shows this approach using computer software.)
· As the founder of physical astronomy, Kepler pioneered the discipline of celestial mechanics and also addressed the biblical vernacular. Kepler wrote Homage to the Book stating on page 84, "We astronomers say, with the common people, the planets stand still or go down; the sun rises or sets. How much less should we require than the Scriptures of Divine inspiration, setting aside the common mode of speech, should shape their words according to the model of the natural scientist, and, by employing a dark and inappropriate phraseology about things which surpass the comprehension of those whom it designs to instruct, perplex the people of God, and thus obstruct its own way towards the attainment of the far more exalted object at which it aims."
 · ...I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; Gal. 1:16-17
· [I saw] Peter... But I saw none of the other apostles except James... I do not lie. Gal. 1:18-20
 ...as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you... 2 Pet. 3:15
 ...Paul... has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. 2 Pet. 3:15-16
Key to the Plot Twist
Learn the key to the plot twist! Continue reading in chapter two of Bob Enyart's best-selling book, The Plot! You can read the full book as a perfect-bound paperback or as a downloadable PDF, or in Spanish as La Trama, and here's a high resolution image of the cover. Or, you can listen to Bob's Plot Seminar! Or get the entire set of all five of Bob's Plot Bible Study Albums or even check out The Plot Boys for Bible students of all ages! You'll love this powerful teaching through Scripture as you see that the overview of the Bible really is the only valid key to its details!
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