How to Tell the Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses

last updated May 3, 2019

How can anyone tell the whole story of the Bible in just 16 verses?

It’s impossible, of course.

The whole story of the Bible actually takes the whole Bible.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Sixteen cherry-picked verses–no matter how carefully chosen–just can’t communicate the richness, beauty, and depth of the biblical message.

Yet to convey the overarching narrative and message, perhaps it’s possible to identify certain key texts as Chris Bruno does in The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses (Crossway, 2015).  Here’s his list:

Part 1: The Time Is Coming
1. Creation (Genesis 1:31)
2. Human Beings (Genesis 1:26-27)
3. The Fall (Genesis 3:6-7)
4. Redemption Promised (Genesis 3:15)
5. Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3)
6. Judah the King (Genesis 49:10)
7. The Passover Lamb (Exodus 12:23)
8. King David (2 Samuel 7:12-13)
9. The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:6)
10. Resurrection Promised (Ezekiel 37:3-5)
11. New Creation (Isaiah 65:17)

Part 2: The Time Has Come
12. Fulfillment! (Mark 1:14-15)
13. The Cross (John 19:30)
14. Resurrection (Romans 1:3-4)
15. Justification (Romans 3:21-26)
16. Glory (Revelation 21:1-4)

As you can see, his selection follows the shape of the Bible as Old and New Testaments, and reflects a solid evangelical reading of Scripture that moves toward the cross and atonement. He offers this “as a tool that people can use to see the whole story of Scripture with 16 key stopping points.” At the same time, he readily acknowledges in this interview that “there are many different ways you could tell the story, many different verses that could be chosen.”

His comments made me wonder,

What might an Anabaptist reading of Scripture in 16 verses look like? In what ways might the 16 key stopping points be the same or different?

So I decided to try Chris Bruno’s exercise for myself, and came up with my own list:

1. God, the Creator of all things (Genesis 1)
2. Humanity struggling with sin (Genesis 3)
3. Chosen to be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-3)
4. Called to love God (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
5. Saved by a Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:1-6)
6. Called to love kindness, do justice, walk humbly (Micah 6:8)

7. The Word made flesh (John 1:1-14)
8. Jesus begins his mission (Luke 4:16-21)
9. Called to carry the cross and follow (Matthew 16:24-26)
10. Jesus’ suffering and death (Mark 15:25-41)
11. Christ is risen! (John 20:1-18)
12. Called to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20)
13. Christ before all things (Colossians 1:15-20)

14. The Holy Spirit poured out (Acts 2:1-21)
15. A new way to live (Romans 12:1-21)
16. New heaven and new earth, the end of pain and death (Revelation 21:1-4)

Like Chris Bruno, I’ve chosen texts from both Old and New Testaments, although with relatively more verses from the New. Instead of mainly individual verses, I’ve chosen longer passages to give more of the context, and I’ve arranged the texts in three groups to highlight Scripture as God’s story–God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

I wanted to include Jesus’ words on the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:34-40), then decided perhaps that wasn’t necessary since I had already listed the texts from Deuteronomy and Micah, and besides what would I drop? In my initial list I had Jesus’ sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7), but listing three chapters as one text felt too much like cheating. The Colossians text might seem a surprising choice, but for me this is a critical reminder that Jesus is both the Jesus of the gospels and so much more.


Writing/Reflection Prompt: What do you think of this exercise to choose 16 verses that communicate the message of Scripture? How would your list be the same or different from mine, or from Chris Bruno’s?


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8 thoughts on “How to Tell the Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses

  1. April, this is excellent. I started looking through Bruno’s list and it was bugging me, all the important elements that weren’t there. I think you have captured a lot. Hard not to see Sermon on the Mount, but I agree, 3 chapters probably is cheating. Maybe Matthew 5: 14 – 16? Let your light shine. Or 6: 9 -13 – The Lord’s Prayer? Instead of the Matthew 16 passage?

    What about Phil 2? I remember George Shillington stating that the New Testament hinged on this passage. Instead of the Mark or John passages?
    The Colossians passage is less familiar, and wrestling with it but probably works for me. Not language I am used to.

    Thanks for putting this out there, feels good to know that others would struggle with Bruno’s list as well.

    1. Hi Jon – I appreciate your engagement with this. I love your comment and could see swapping out the Colossians passage for Philippians 2 which also envisions the pre-existent and risen Christ–I appreciate the Anabaptist emphasis on the life and teachings of Jesus, but we need this larger vision too. And yes, perhaps some portion of the Sermon on the Mount instead of Matthew 16–the call to follow is key, but since that’s reflected in my #4 and #6, perhaps the Lord’s Prayer would be a better choice. It’s good to wrestle with this.

  2. Wow. The story of Scripture in just 16 passages? What a bold undertaking.

    There is much to be said about both Bruno’s approach (as a salvation narrative) and yours (as an expression of the Trinity).

    I’ll have to prayerfully consider this challenge and may come back later to report my results.

    1. Yes, it’s a bold undertaking – an interviewer called Chris Bruno’s book title “audacious.” I appreciate the author’s intention to catch interest and to find a way of communicating the central message of the Bible in broad strokes, all the while also realizing that there are different ways that could be done. I’d be interested in hearing more from you on this, so please do come back with any results, or if you post on your own blog, I’d be happy for you to link back. Good to see you here.

  3. April, you did say “the whole story of the Bible in 16 verses,” right? Not the most significant theological passages, nor the most heart-warming reassurances? OK, here’s a try at it. This follows the trajectory of the book John K. Stoner and I wrote, If Not Empire, What? A Survey of the Bible.

    1. After saving the detested Hebrews from the grip of the Egyptian Empire, YHWH calls them to become a community of witness to a non-imperial way of living in and running the world. (Exodus 19:4-6)

    2. YHWH places justice at the center of this witness and includes slaves, aliens, the poor and the animals as beneficiaries of the community’s vision of justice. (Exodus 23:6-12)

    3. The Israelites want a king who will govern them like other nations. (1 Samuel 8:5)

    4. The vision of “that day” of YHWH’s triumph is articulated by the palace prophet in imperial terms. (Isaiah 19:18-25)

    5. Jeremiah declares YHWH will fight against Judah and destroy its association of YHWH with imperial aspirations. (Jeremiah 21:5-10)

    6. Ezekiel, sounding a lot like Amos and Hosea before him, saw and proclaimed “the likeness of the glory of YHWH” in Babylon of all places. (Ezekiel 1:15-28)

    7. Second Isaiah declares that the suffering of the people of Judah will yield justice for the nations and “make many righteous.” Isaiah 53:1-12.

    8. The writers of Genesis, sounding a lot like the writer of Exodus, disparage the imperial life and proclaim Earth and all of creation to have been created by YHWH without violence. Genesis 1-2

    9. Zerubbabel and Jeshua declare the Persian emperor to be the voice of YHWH and follow his command in excluding most of the Hebrew people from the new community in Canaan. (Ezra 4:3).

    10. Third Isaiah denounces Second Temple Judaism and proclaims a new vision of justice and righteousness. (Isaiah 61:1-11)

    11. Daniel highlights resistance to empire as a faithful witness to YHWH and envisions a collective “son of man” to exercise YHWH’s sovereignty within human history. (Daniel 7:13-27)

    12. After leaving the band of John the Baptist, Jesus adopts the political imagery of Isaiah 61 as his personal mission statement and proclaims it fulfilled in himself. (Luke 4:16-30)

    13. Jesus tells his disciples that he will be killed in Jerusalem and teaches his disciples that the power of the Kingdom of God entails suffering and death at the hands of the authorities. (Matthew 16:13-23)

    14. Jesus and his way are vindicated by God’s raising him from the dead and restoring his presence among his followers. (John 20:19-23)

    15. Convinced that YHWH had exalted Jesus and made him Lord of all, Jesus’ followers form a new community of witness to his non-imperial way. (Acts 2:43-47)

    16. Convinced by the testimonies of Peter, Paul and Barnabas, the leaders of the Jesus-following synagogues in Jerusalem agree that Gentile followers of Jesus are not required to complete standard conversion rituals so long as they clearly disassociate themselves from imperial celebrations and rituals. (Acts 15:1-21)

    1. Wow, thanks for this–I appreciate the more historical approach in your re-telling the story of YHWH and Empire in contrast to the canonical order that I tried to follow. I notice too that you include more of the Old Testament story as Chris Bruno does, although with a different focus. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Love it! Thanks, Steve. I appreciate your perspective: “The Bible is intended to be for those who recognize that the world has nothing for them, but God offers both hope and deliverance. And the Bible isn’t just written to those who feel spiritually cast down, but those who are truly rejected by the society they live in—rejected socially, economically, spiritually, and morally. The very ones that are rejected by the world are welcomed and rewarded by God.”

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