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Blog / How the Whole Bible Speaks of Jesus: An Interview with Stephen Wellum

How the Whole Bible Speaks of Jesus: An Interview with Stephen Wellum

Stephen WellumHow does every part of Scripture’s 66 books written over a period of 1500 years cohesively reveal the glory of Christ? How do the Bible’s many multi-layered stories, characters, events relate together and connect to Jesus?

Bible Gateway interviewed Stephen Wellum about the book he co-authored with Trent Hunter, Christ from Beginning to End: How the Full Story of Scripture Reveals the Full Glory of Christ (Zondervan, 2018).

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What is the Bible?

Stephen Wellum: The Bible is God’s Word written through the agency of human authors that unveils God’s glorious plan of redemption centered in Christ (2 Tim 3:15-17; 2 Pet 1:19-20; Heb 1:1-2). As God’s Word, the Bible is fully authoritative and true in all that it affirms. And because God has spoken through the agency of human authors, the authors utilize various literary conventions tied to history. Yet they do so in such a way that God communicates his intention perfectly, faithfully, and sufficiently through these authors over time.

How should the Bible best be read?

Stephen Wellum: The Bible should be read according to what it claims for itself and what it actually is as an unfolding revelation over time. As for its claim, the Bible is God’s Word written and as such, it must be read as a unified, coherent, and true communication from God.

Also, since God has communicated to us over time through human authors, we read Scripture according to the intention of those authors as they write in their time. This is why we pay careful attention to the Bible’s literary forms and how the authors have written their books as unified works. For example to understand the book of Exodus, we must read what Moses has said in Exodus and in his entire work, namely the Pentateuch. This is what we call the close context. But since Scripture is written over time, we must also read biblical books in terms of what preceded them (the continuing context) because no book comes to us in a vacuum. But we don’t stop there. Ultimately we must read each book in terms of the entire canon, from Genesis to Revelation (canonical context). Unless Scripture is read this way we’re not really reading it according to what it is.

The title of your book is, Christ from Beginning to End. Explain the title and then a few unique features of your book.

Stephen Wellum: The title echoes a beautiful verse at the end of our Bibles, when the Lord Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13). “Christ from beginning to end” is a nice way of capturing the truth that the universe, our triune God’s plan of salvation, and our very lives are through and for the Lord Jesus Christ (Col 1:15-23).

One of our priorities in this project was to teach but also reinforce the Bible’s internal covenantal structure. So we structured our book to teach and reinforce the Bible’s own internal divisions. For example, “Noah: A Boat Full of Life,” “Moses: A Mountain Full of Smoke,” and “Jesus: A Cup Full of Blood.” We hope this imagery and story-telling helps project the story onto the reader’s imagination and heart.

What do you mean by the “full story of Scripture reveals the full glory of Christ?”

Stephen Wellum: By this subtitle our point is that one cannot rightly understand who Jesus is and what he’s done for us apart from the entire storyline of the Bible.

Our Lord Jesus does not appear from nowhere; after all he is the divine Son (John 1:1-2)! Instead, Jesus is presented to us from within the categories, content, and framework of the Old Testament. One cannot grasp, then, who Jesus is apart from the triune God of creation, the promise-plan of God that unfolds through the biblical covenants, and the various typological patterns that anticipate his coming to this world and accomplishing our redemption.

In fact, our Lord himself reminds us of this truth. As Jesus walked with the two downcast men on the way to Emmaus, he didn’t just say: “Here I am.” Instead, starting with Moses and the Prophets he explained how the entire Old Testament anticipated him (Luke 24:25-27)! In fact, just think of how Matthew’s Gospel begins. Who is Jesus? He’s “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1). Why does Matthew begin here? Because to understand who Jesus is one must place him in the Bible’s storyline. Or think about how Jesus’ work is described by his name: “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). In the context of the Old Testament, this is a clear allusion to the promise of the new covenant (Jer 31:34) which tells us that this is why Jesus has come. But apart from the full story of Scripture, Jesus’ person and work would not make sense.

What do you mean when you write, “What if the Bible’s many characters, events, and places are not in the way of getting to know Jesus but are the way to know him?”

Stephen Wellum: This statement is another way of saying that nothing in Scripture is accidental. Since Scripture is God’s Word that unfolds his eternal plan of redemption, everything from creation, God’s rest on the seventh day, the creation of Adam and us as image-bearers, to Eden as a Garden-temple sanctuary, to the establishment of prophets, priests, and kings, etc., is for a purpose. No doubt, we only come to know how the Bible’s characters, events, and places fit in God’s plan by carefully reading the story, but they’re there for a reason. What we try to demonstrate, by a careful reading of Scripture, and tracing out the Bible’s own presentation of itself, is how the Bible’s characters, events, and places lead us to Jesus.

How could the variety of authors of the Old Testament books cohesively write about Jesus 1400 years before he walked the earth?

Stephen Wellum: The answer is that they could not cohesively do so if the authors were simply writing on their own apart from the sovereign superintendence of the triune God. But Scripture is no mere human book; it’s God’s inspired Word which unfolds his eternal plan. Given that God knows the end from the beginning, he’s able to reveal where his plan is going through a variety of authors. Yet, it’s important to remember that since God reveals his plan over time, earlier authors probably don’t know all the implications of where the story is going. However, as God continues to act and reveal, and later authors build on earlier authors, God’s plan and promises gain more clarity, which is what Peter says occurred in 1 Peter 1:10-12. As the Prophets received God’s revelation through the biblical covenants, they wrestled with the “time and circumstances” of the events surrounding the coming of Christ.

What do you mean by promise-fulfillment and typology as two ways to see that the Bible is a unified book centered in Jesus Christ?

Stephen Wellum: The promise-fulfillment theme focuses on God’s covenantal promises that over time take on greater clarity and ultimately reach their fulfillment in Christ. Beginning in Genesis 3:15, God promises that a “seed of the woman” will reverse the effects of Adam’s sin. Yet, this promise is enigmatic. But as the covenants unfold, the promise takes on greater definition so that we begin to see who this person—seed of Abraham, true Israel, David’s greater son, etc., is. In this way, promise-fulfillment is a central means by which the Bible is Christ-centered.

Typology is a feature of God’s revelation that reminds us that God has so planned various people, events, and institutions to foreshadow the person and work of Christ. For example, the temple and priesthood function under the old covenant for a certain reason, but they also prophetically foreshadow the need for a greater temple and high priest. Typology is an important way God has amazingly and graciously taught us and prepared us for Christ.

You group sections of the Old Testament to describe the ways Jesus is revealed: creation, fall, redemption, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the Prophets. Briefly explain.

Stephen Wellum: Let’s focus on creation, fall, and the promise of redemption. We begin with creation because this is where the Bible’s story begins. That may seem a bit trite but it’s of profound significance. In creation, we’re introduced to who God is, who we are and our role in creation, the headship of Adam, and other significant truths that are important in this context but which also point beyond themselves to their ultimate fulfillment in Christ.

In creation we learn that we were created good, which soon changes in the fall (Genesis 3). We also quickly learn that unless God acts in grace we’re without hope. God’s rest in creation and our enjoyment of his presence in Eden, both lost in the fall, anticipate, because of God’s promise (Gen 3:15) that God will provide someone from the human race who will restore rest, presence, and defeat sin and death.

Beginning in creation and seeing the effects of sin in all of its disastrous aspects, establishes the nature of our human problem before God and why Jesus must come. It also anticipates something of what our Lord’s work will accomplish: namely, to pay for our sin before God and ultimately to usher in a new creation. As for Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, what’s important to stress is that it’s through the biblical covenants that God reveals his plan and establishes the typological patterns which alone make sense of who Jesus is and his glorious reconciling work.

What do you want the book to achieve in the lives of its readers?

Stephen Wellum: First, to know God’s Word better so that we understand better how the parts fit with the whole and are led to greater appreciation for Scripture. Second, to be amazed at the wisdom of our triune God as we reflect on his glorious plan of redemption. Third, to be renewed in our understanding of the gospel with full conviction of its truthfulness which translates to greater devotion to our calling in this life to know, love, obey, and enjoy God and to make him known.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?

Stephen Wellum: Bible Gateway is a time-tested and indispensable tool for getting God’s Word into the hands of God’s people.

Christ from Beginning to End: How the Full Story of Scripture Reveals the Full Glory of Christ is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.

Bio: Stephen J. Wellum (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, editor of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, and author or co-author of many books, including Christ from Beginning to End, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus As Savior, God’s Kingdom Through God’s Covenants, and Kingdom through Covenant. Stephen lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife, Karen, and their five children.

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