Ten Book Challenge
I recently stumbled across a fun little online game called the “Ten Book Bible Challenge.” The idea is simple. In an alternate history, all but ten books of the current canon have been lost. You and you alone are responsible for determining what ten books the church will have to inform the entire life of the church.
Obviously, the idea is far-fetched and some might deem it useless to a good thinking Christian. But I thought it was an interesting mind game to see how people process the Bible. Those who have systematic leanings will choose certain books. Those of different theological traditions may gravitate towards specific books.
To select my ten books of the Bible I decided to use a biblical theology approach. I picked specific themes of Scripture found across both testaments and selected the books that best convey those themes. A gross number of themes could be selected. For simplicity, I decided to pickup on the covenantal themes of Abraham and David—the promised land, the kingship of the Messiah, the restoration and deliverance of Israel.
This list is far from perfect and ironically excludes many of my favorite books. However, I think it is the selection that thoroughly conveys the chosen themes. Unfortunately, I cannot cite the Scripture references for each of my statements. I perhaps will leave that for a follow-up post. As it stands, I list my ten books (in their canonical order) with a few non-exhaustive thoughts as to “why” they were included.
The inclusion of Genesis is probably a no-brainer for a lot of folks. But I actually continue to waffle on it. The basic story elements of the book are contained in the sermons of Acts and hinted at in the epistle of Hebrew's hall of faith.
More pertinent to its inclusion here is the beginning covenantal relationship of God to Abraham and to Israel. In particular, the promise of the Messiah who would bless the whole world and fulfill the land promises. Both of these see incomplete fulfillment with the book of Genesis (e.g. Abraham’s burial plot purchase and Joseph providing the world with bread and wine). This helps to exemplify how the Old Testament themes point forward to a final fulfillment found solely in Christ. Coincidentally, these themes are essential to Paul's exposition in Romans 4 on justification by faith. Both are essential to Christ as the fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises. Through union with Him, these promises are likewise applied to the Church (e.g. the church crushing the devil’s head in Romans).
This book was actually one of the easier picks. Though it consists largely of ceremonial laws that find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, it provides the perfect backdrop for understanding the superiority of Christ in the epistle of Hebrews while fleshing out Paul's atonement theory in Romans.
Leviticus, thusly, does not stand on its own but pays homage to the sacrificial system as the clearest theological precursor to the cosmic work of Jesus Christ. In particular, the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16 becomes the crucial text explaining the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. It helps explain crucial elements of Hebrews. It also provides a clear imputation of sin and imputation of righteousness as articulated by Paul in Romans.
3. 2 Samuel
This is another book that I think many would exclude for a variety of valid reasons. Its main purpose of inclusion here is to put forth the theme of God's covenant with David to provide a seed and house for His own glory. This speaks both to the nature of the Davidic Messiah and the purpose of the Temple to redemption. These promises to David are often seen in the preaching of Acts. Likewise, the promises to provide a King and new temple are picked up in the book of Ezekiel.
In Genesis, the promises to Abraham say impartial fulfillment. Here in 2 Samuel, the promise of a house (temple) is left without us seeing Solomon's partial fulfillment. But the concept is jointly linked to the Levitical sacrifices, the promise of a new temple in Ezekiel, the greater temple in Hebrews, and ultimately the final city which has no sun or temple in the book of Revelation.
I would hope the reason for selecting Ezekiel should be obvious at this point. Though the history depicting the destruction of the temple and exportation of Israel from the promised land are merely alluded to, the renewed promise of both is more clearly articulated here than any other prophetic book. While both Isaiah and Zechariah would be excellent other choices for prophetic representation, Ezekiel alone builds on the promises to Abraham and David for a land, house, and king in God's holy communion.
The promise of David's seed reaffirms the opening genealogy of Matthew and Paul's opening in Romans. It ties the Davidic Messiah to the restoration of the land which points to the church’s fulfillment of these Old Testament promises. The promised temple is viewed through Christ’s work on the cross and is seen in Hebrews and 1 Peter.
Naturally at least one of the gospels was to be included. John's theological gospel makes a lot of sense but he picks up very little from the themes already laid out. Matthew's historically oriented gospel fully describes Jesus as the fulfiller of Israel. He is not only the promised Messiah but He is literally the promised nation-Israel to Abraham and son-house to David. Christ does not bring fulfillment with his Incarnation but is via his Incarnation all of the Old Testament promises.
Matthew contains a faithful depiction of Christ as King and intentionally unfurls that amidst the triumphal entry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, Matthew's gospel picks up the Abrahamic and Davidic themes while providing the necessary historical background for the gospel of 1 Corinthians 15 (which is not included in these ten books).
Much like Matthew, the book of Acts is included for its invaluable historical content. There is no church proper without Pentecost. The inclusion of the Holy Spirit brings to fruition the promises of the New Covenant seen in the book of Ezekiel. Both Peter and Paul reflect in their sermons how Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture and all of Israel's history. Stephen's long sermon encapsulates almost all of the Old Testament history that is required for theological development save some covenantal aspects with Abraham.
The expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles is brought to life in Acts. The theology of Romans will become the backdrop for understanding the success of the church in reaching the world. Though Acts would read more thoroughly prefaced by Luke, I was unable to replace any chosen book with another gospel text.
The book of Romans provides a thorough gospel presentation that affirms Christ's deity and Davidic role. His doctrine of justification is set against the historical testament of Abraham and David. Paul provides a thorough explanation of how Israel has lost its status and how it is to be regained in Christ and the church.
Similarly, the book of Romans provides Paul's longest discourse on baptism. It provides substantial teaching on sanctification and life in the church. The book of Romans is included primarily because of this systematic nature.
The book of Hebrews is included as an exemplary way in which the entire Old Testament finds fulfillment in Christ. The book of Leviticus, in particular, provides the backdrop for the ways in which Christ is the greater priest, sacrifice, and even temple itself (fulfilling critical portions of Ezekiel). This ensures us that the Old Testament is not pointless but instructs us in matters concerning Christ.
Though the warning passages related to Joshua and the Promised Land are not contained in the other selected books, the conditional nature of the Promised Land is contained in the selected books. In particular, Ezekiel provides a backdrop for interpreting warnings of the Promised Land and defilement from a covenantal perspective. God’s promised restoration realized in Christ and established through the New Covenant still comes with warnings of apostasy. Warnings that are echoed in the book of 1 Peter and Revelation.
9. 1 Peter
Carrying forward our Old Testament themes, 1 Peter opens with the sprinkling of covenant blood. Peter warns of the persecution coming and how the church is to remain faithful in the midst of it. His language of judgment starting at the house of God echoes the covenantal judgments of Ezekiel.
Peter provides essential teaching on baptism in the midst of living within the world as faithful Christians. His teaching on persecution is found in some of Paul’s pastoral letters. But the Jewish nature of Peter’s words reflects more of the apocalyptic language of John’s Revelation (though 2 Peter would have been preferred).
Finally, it is of a personal opinion that the book of Revelation is as essential to Christian theology and Genesis. Protology meets Eschatology through Christian Soteriology. The book of Revelation caps off our Biblical themes with apocalyptic visions of Jesus Christ, final judgment, the restoration of creation, the city of God, and the bride of Christ.
Even in the midst of my Preterist leanings on the book of Revelation, application and value of Revelation’s visions extend across the church age encourage the church’s yearning for the return of Christ.