The Unfolding Word: The Story of the Bible from Creation to New Creation, by Zach Keele. Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2020, 350 pages, $28.99, paper.

Every Christian should strive to have a good overall understanding of the Bible and its theology. But those who are responsible for frequent exposition of the Scriptures must aim for something more than a general understanding.

Look at Psalm 118, for example, and imagine you are going to teach it in a Sunday school class. You see clear themes of deliverance, the hope of God’s grace, and the joy of salvation. You also see the character and works of God. Let us say you have also got enough biblical theology under your belt that you know how to interpret and apply the vanquishing of the nations, the discipline of the Lord, and the rock that the builders rejected.

But just as you start writing an outline, you notice details like the “gates of righteousness.” What does the metaphor of the gates represent? Does it point to the gates used in sheep pens or the ones for castles? Do they refer to something like judgment or entering or protection or something else?

Or maybe you are wondering about “bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!” Why is binding it necessary? Why is the psalm specific about the horns of the altar, and what are they? Is a festal sacrifice a special kind of sacrifice? Which festival? We could stop there. But should we? How can we know which details are minor and which are a significant key to the meaning of the psalm?

Theology is key for good interpretation and application of God’s Word, but it is no shortcut for understanding the details of a passage. And when you can only see the big picture, you run the risk of “inaccuracies and bland generalizations.”

That is the warning Zach Keele gives in his introduction to The Unfolding Word, a book that guides readers through the important details of the Bible without losing sight of the whole. Keele compares reading the Bible to looking at a “large mosaic, where each tile is its own image. Put together, they form another image. We need to zoom in and out regularly; slowing down and speeding up have to work together” (3).

This is not an easy skill, especially when you are a beginner. So, like someone visiting an unfamiliar city, it can be helpful to find a good guide—someone who knows what is important to point out first, what can be left for another time, and what newcomers tend to miss when they are on their own.

Zach Keele is a worthy guide. First, he knows the Bible well. As my pastor during my seminary training, I saw firsthand that Pastor Keele is an exceptionally devoted student of God’s Word. Others will attest to this as well. He pays no lip service to things like working in the original languages and the study of background material. He is a careful thinker and exacting in exegesis. Second, he knows his audience well. As a lecturer for English Bible Survey at Westminster Seminary and a longtime member of the candidates and credentials committee of the OPC Presbytery of Southern California, he has the advantage of knowing what many students of the Bible tend to miss but need to pay attention to. Happily, for those beyond his classroom, Keele has brought that knowledge and experience to bear in The Unfolding Word. It is an introduction to the Bible for those who are familiar with its contents but are ready to go beyond the general and learn to see more detail.

Keele starts in Genesis. He explains the covenantal foundations of the Bible in their ancient Near Eastern context, then traces the history of God’s people from “Eden to Egypt” (chapter 2). Next comes “Exodus and Settlement” (chapter 3) along with “The Mosaic Economy” (chapter 4). The united and divided kingdom are dealt with in chapters 5–6, followed by “The Prophets” (chapter 7) and the “Exile and Return” (chapter 8), before concluding the Old Testament portion of the book with “Psalms and Wisdom.” The New Testament books are covered in the four concluding chapters.

In each of these chapters Keele moves back and forth from the big picture to the tiny details. Sometimes he provides keys that help unlock vast amounts of understanding, sometimes he zooms in and provides compelling answers to specific questions. Examples of the former include observations about the physical landscape of Israel and the spiritual functions of that land; how God used the tabernacle, sacrifices, purity laws, and priesthood in the Mosaic economy; and the definition of wisdom and how the Wisdom Literature makes us wise. Examples of the latter include why lists of the twelve tribes often do not match with the twelve sons of Jacob, what the Jerusalem Council was requiring in their prohibition that went out to the churches, and the identification of Lady Babylon in John’s apocalypse.

But in all the zooming in and zooming out, Keele always keeps in mind the unity of the picture in Christ and shows how the parts fit into the whole of God’s unfolding Word.

Christopher J. Chelpka is pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Tucson, Arizona. Ordained Servant Online, January, 2023.

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Ordained Servant: January 2023

Historical Adam

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Letters to a Younger Ruling Elder, No. 1: The Danger of Pride

Commentary on the Book of Discipline of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapter 3.4–6

An Attempt at Reconciling Paleoanthropology and Scripture: A Review Article

What Is the Primary Mission of the Church? A Review Article

Adam’s Silence

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