Do you ever wish you could go deeper in your daily Bible reading? Do you wish you could see the things that your pastor or the woman Bible teacher you admire draws out? Even though I studied the Bible in college and spent two decades reading my Bible regularly, I felt like I was missing some depth in my study. So when I heard someone mention biblical themes, I paid attention. I listened to teachers unpack the idea of themes throughout Scripture. I read a book tracing nine specific biblical themes and even attended a biblical theology workshop. As my curiosity grew, so did my understanding, wonder, and delight.
By connecting concepts from the Old Testament to passages and promises fulfilled in the New Testament, I grew to understand the larger story of redemption more fully. Jesus’ life, work, and future glory lit up every page of my Bible. I stood in awe of a God who could orchestrate such a complex and magnificent story.
Rather than thinking of tracing biblical themes as a replacement for verse-by-verse study or a Bible reading plan, think of it as another tool to add to your Bible study toolbox. When we understand the biblical narrative in light of a specific theme, our understanding of the gospel deepens and we grow to love Jesus more.
The Bible’s Developed Themes
Even if you’re familiar with the metanarrative of Scripture, it’s worth repeating when we talk about tracing themes, because multiple themes are woven throughout the big story. Some themes in Scripture include: covering, marriage, water, cleansing, bread, light, kingdom, life, sacrifice, and dwelling. When we begin to uncover the complexities of each one, it deepens our understanding of the gospel.
When we trace a theme, we’re looking for the way it’s represented or expressed in each of the four main parts of the big story of the Bible. As each theme develops throughout the Bible, we can see God’s intentionality to enhance our understanding of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for us.
The Bible as One Big Story
The story of the Bible can be summarized in four parts: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. Genesis 1–2 recounts the creation of the world, demonstrating God’s good order of the world and humanity. God created a place where his people would dwell with him, under his rule, in perfect union with him.
In Genesis 3, Satan tempted and deceived God’s people into rebellion against God. Their fall into sin resulted in severe consequences: separation from God, a cursed world, and physical and spiritual death. God’s people needed to be rescued, so God promised to send a Deliverer. The rest of the Old Testament recounts God’s people awaiting their Deliverer.
God kept his promise and sent his only son, Jesus, to earth. The Gospels tell the story of Jesus as the promised Deliverer. Jesus lived a perfect life and then provided redemption through his sacrificial death. Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and is currently reigning with God in heaven. From Acts to Revelation, the Bible provides truths to cling to and instructions to follow for those who are redeemed through Christ. We still struggle with sin, but we struggle with the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the hope of eternal life.
Scripture tells us that Jesus will return one day to make all things new. There will be no more sin and no more death. The consummation will happen when Jesus reigns in the new heaven and the new earth, and we will reign with him as his people, in his place, under his rule, forever.
Tracing a Biblical Theme through the Old Testament
The first step in tracing a theme is to ask: Where do I see this theme in the creation account? Look to Genesis 1–2 and note any mentions of the theme you’re tracing in these chapters, as well as omissions of the theme. For example, Genesis 2:18–24 introduces the theme of marriage. But the theme of covering (or clothing) is absent in Genesis 1–2—man and woman are naked and unashamed (Gen. 2:25). They didn’t need clothing because there was no shame.
When Adam and Eve sin in Genesis 3, everything changes. So your next question becomes: In what ways does sin affect this theme? Darkness is associated with fear and evil (Ps. 23:4; Isa. 42:16), but light is associated with truth, life, and God himself (Ex. 13:21; Ps. 27:1). Marriage will be riddled with strife (Gen. 3:16) but God also uses marriage as a metaphor for his relationship with his people (Isa. 54:5; Hos. 2:16). People need God to cover their shame (Gen. 3:21), but he also promises to cover them with garments of righteousness (Isa. 61:10).
Tracing a Biblical Theme through the New Testament
Glimmers of hope break through as these themes develop throughout the Old Testament, eventually culminating in the New Testament when Jesus enters the scene in bodily form (Luke 2; John 1:14). And so the third step in tracing a theme is to ask: How do the person and work of Jesus fulfill or complete this theme?
Jesus is the Bread of Life, the source of living water, and the Light of the World (John 6:35; 7:37–38; 8:12). Through Jesus, we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (Col. 1:13). Because of Jesus’ death, we are clothed in his righteousness and we’re called to clothe ourselves with Christlike character (Col. 3:12–14). Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25).
In the final book of the Bible, Revelation, we find the eventual renewal of every theme Scripture ever mentions. We won’t need a sun in the new heaven and new earth because Jesus’ glory will provide enough light (Rev. 22:5). There will be no temple because God’s people will dwell with him once again (Rev. 21:22). Darkness, destruction, despair, and death will be no more (Rev. 21:4).
Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. All of Scripture points to him.
I only have space to scratch the surface in this article, but do you see the connections? Are you eager to discover more? If your Bible study feels basic, trace biblical themes, sister. Jesus is at the center of every single one.
Meet the Author
Lauren Washer is the Women's Ministry Director at Trinity Presbyterian (PCA) and is passionate about helping women know Christ and make him known. She and her husband, Bradley, live with their six children in Norfolk, Virginia. You can connect with her through her monthly newsletter, Hidden Treasure, or on Instagram at @laurenwasher.