Understanding the Bible (John Stott, 1972, 1984, 2001)

The basic steps of Bible study are Survey (getting an overview of the whole), Observation (seeing what the text says), Analysis (meditating on what the text means and relating it to the rest of Scripture), and Response (allowing its truth to order our life in a fallen world). SOAR are skills that can be learned and practiced, and as the story of Scripture molds our mind and imagination, we grow in discernment, the ability to chart a path through the myriad choices presented to us in our post-Christian pluralistic world.

Finding a mentor who will help us in this pilgrimage is wise. A mentor whose life reflects a deep and abiding love for God’s word. One such mentor who has helped me immeasurably over the years—though from a distance since I’ve only known him through his books—is the Rev. John R. W. Stott. Faithful to the truth, generous and compassionate, Stott is a preacher whose simple expositions of Scripture reflect a depth of spiritual maturity. When a book is published with his name on the cover, I take notice.

The three books I recommend here are designed to help in the first step of Bible study: Survey. They help us grasp the overall picture—the lay of the land, so to speak—and cause us to see how the various parts of Scripture fit into a unified whole. The two by Stott are revisions of books published in the past and should be within easy reach of every serious student of Scripture. This is especially true today, when so many do not have Christian backgrounds and biblical illiteracy is so prevalent. The information contained in these books is precisely the material which we must be prepared to pass on to the generation of believers we are called to mentor.

“In order to apprehend Jesus Christ in his fullness,” Dr. Stott writes in the preface of Understanding the Bible, “it is essential to understand the setting within which God offers him to us. God gave Christ to the world in a specific geographical, historical and theological context. More simply, he sent him to a particular place (Palestine), at a particular time (the climax of centuries of Jewish history) and within a particular framework of truth (progressively revealed and permanently recorded in the Bible). So the following chapters are concerned with the geography, history, theology, authority, and interpretation of the Bible. Their object is to present the setting within which God once revealed and now offers Christ, so that we may the better grasp for ourselves and share with others the glorious fullness of Jesus Christ himself.”

The Story of the Old Testament and The Story of the New Testament are parallel volumes, designed to give an overview of the two major sections of Scripture. The Bible consists of sixty-six books representing vastly different genres of literature by a large number of authors written over a long span of centuries. That can be intimidating, and often is, especially for the believer who has yet to gain a working acquaintance with the narrative of Scripture. It is not uncommon to hear of people who begin reading in Genesis but then never read past Leviticus. Others keep at it, but never gain a sense of the whole and so treat the Bible as if it were merely a disparate collection of unrelated sayings and inspirational stories. Both problems must be avoided, and the books recommended here can help.

We can’t be discerning as Christians unless we increasingly have our minds and hearts and imaginations steeped in the truth of the word of God. Since God has graciously chosen to reveal himself in the Scriptures, it only makes sense that we determine to meet him there. The three books noted here will help us in that process, and are useful resources as we invite others to walk with us in our pilgrimage with Christ, the living Word.


Understanding the Bible by John Stott (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books; 1972, 1984, 2001) 164 pp. + index.
The Story of the Old Testament: Men with a Message by Alec Motyer edited by John Stott (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books; 2001) 190 pp. + index.
The Story of the New Testament: Men with a Message by John Stott revised by Stephen Motyer (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books; 1951, 1994, 2001) 164 pp. + index.