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Aug 23, 2020

God’s Story Is Your Story, Part 4: Salvation History

Jeff Cavins

The challenge we face today is reading the Bible so the basic storyline of salvation history is clearly seen and understood. We are not talking at this stage about understanding detail, but about grasping the scope of the divine story, the big picture. It is important to keep in mind that, while the Bible is a book of seemingly obscure details, it is also a letter written by our heavenly Father. Letters are written to be understood.

Did you miss the other parts of this series? Find them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

The Bible, although made up of many stories, contains a single story within its pages. Though not evident at first glance, the story is about God and his relationship with his creation, the universe. As the creator of the universe, God could certainly have said much about the beauty and complexity of the galaxies. However, he limits the field on which this divine story is played out primarily to planet earth. While the earth is marvelous and in itself speaks of his power and glory, its role is to be a glorious stage for the greatest story ever told.

At center stage stands man, the most complex creation in the universe and the true object of God’s love and affection. It is this man that would betray God, and yet God in turn would die for man, and by means of a covenant bring man into the family life of the Trinity. This is the world’s story, invented, orchestrated and executed by God. By inviting mankind to be his friend, companion, and most importantly his son and daughter, he has made his story man’s story.

God Enters the Life of His People

From the very beginning it was God’s intention to walk with mankind in a love relationship, but this relationship was severed through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. The fall of Adam and Eve introduced sin into the human race and has had devastating repercussions down through the centuries. Out of balance with his Maker, yet with the “desire for God written in the human heart,” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 27) man struggles to find meaning in life.

Starting with the very early chapters of Genesis all the way through the book of Revelation, God gradually reveals his plan to re-establish the broken relationship between himself and his treasured creation. It is only in God’s revealed plan that man once again finds his intended purpose for being “because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (CCC 27).

It is important for the modern Catholic to understand that, when they read the Bible, they are reading a book of history. History becomes very important to the Christian, for it was within actual human events that God revealed himself. There should be no misunderstanding—this is true history as opposed to cleverly devised tales. Pope Paul VI said:

“the history of salvation is being accomplished in the midst of the history of the world.”

Directorium Catechisticum Generale 52

The Bible gives a wide range of examples of how through word and deed God has entered the life of his people.

God Reveals Himself to Man Gradually

Although God greatly loved all of mankind, we see early on in the Scriptures that his strategy to redeem all of humanity was to start with one family first and then progressively influence more and more people to the point where all of mankind would have the opportunity to be a part of his worldwide family.

Interwoven throughout the family story is a divine method of teaching. “The divine plan of revelation is realized simultaneously ‘by deeds and words which are intrinsically bound up with each other’ and shed light on each other” (CCC, 53). In Dei Verbum, Pope Paul VI says:

“The deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them.”

DV 2

God communicates himself to man gradually by this method as if to welcome us by stages. The primary theme throughout the Bible is the mighty deeds of God as they relate to the salvation of man. These great deeds of God are understood in and through the lesser deeds of the various Bible characters. For example, the sacrificial nature of God’s love is graphically illustrated and better understood in the story of Abraham nearly sacrificing his son Isaac, found in Genesis 22. It is here in this passage that we learn one of the revelatory names of God, Yahweh Jireh, “the Lord will provide.”

Pope Paul VI speaks of this progression:

“Wishing to open up the way to heavenly salvation, he manifested himself to our first parents from the very beginning. After the fall, he buoyed them up with the hope of salvation, by promising redemption (Gen. 3:15); and he has never ceased to take care of the human race. For he wishes to give eternal life to all those who seek salvation by patience in well-doing (Rom. 2:6-7). In his own time God called Abraham, and made him into a great nation (Gen. 12:2). After the era of the patriarchs, he taught this nation, by Moses and the prophets, to recognize him as the only living and true God, as a provident Father and just judge. He taught them, too, to look for the promised Savior. And so, throughout the ages, he prepared the way for the Gospel. After God had spoken many times and in various ways through the prophets, ‘in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son’ (Heb. 1:1-2). For he sent his Son, the eternal Word who enlightens all men …

DV 2

Han Renckens, the Dutch Catholic theologian states the same truth when he says, “this God travels along with people, grows with them from ‘my God’ and ‘God of my fathers’ to family God and to a tribal and national God” (A Bible Of Your Own, 24).

Dr. Scott Hahn often refers to this covenantal evolution in his lectures on salvation history. He shows how the Catholic Church is the culmination of salvation history and the fulfillment of the Old Testament covenants with Israel. As Dr. Hahn explained in his lecture, “Defending the Faith VI”, at Franciscan University of Steubenville in 1995, when reading through the Bible historically, these expanding covenant families are significant benchmarks and will give the reader a sense of progression.

The five covenant families are: One Holy Family (Noah), Tribe (Abraham), Nation (Moses), Kingdom (David), and one Holy Church (Jesus Christ).

One Holy Family

The instrument God used to bind himself to his people was known in antiquity as a berit, or a “covenant.” A covenant is a sacred family bond, “an agreement enacted between two parties in which one or both make promises under oath to perform or refrain from certain actions stipulated in advance” (David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1, 1179). The result of a covenant is a mutually beneficial family relationship that previously didn’t exist between two parties. The major covenants in the Bible each progressively expand in scope to take in more sons and daughters into the family of God.

Hahn develops his argument by pointing out that God made his first and foundational marriage covenant between Adam and Eve, the first couple. The fruit of their covenant love was children.

The story then progresses to Noah and his three sons, in total four marriages, making one holy family with Noah as the mediator of the household. In Genesis 9, God makes a covenant with Noah, but it extends beyond Noah, for God said that this covenant is “with you and with your descendants after you” (Genesis 9:9). The mission of Noah’s family would be to guard, reveal and communicate love. This would become a “living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity” (Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio 32).

One Holy Tribe

Next we find the number of people included in the covenant expanding to one holy tribe with Abraham acting as the tribal chieftain. In Genesis 12:1-3 God makes three promises to Abram:

  1. land
  2. royal dynasty
  3. worldwide blessing.

These three promises provide a broad outline for salvation history as well as a sure foundation which future generations may look back upon in times of trouble.

In Genesis 15, God upgrades the promise of land to covenant status, letting Abram know that “your descendants will be sojourners in a land not theirs, and will be slaves there and they will be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve, and afterwards they shall come out with great possessions” (Genesis 15:13-14). This promise of land was fulfilled as the children of Israel conquered Canaan under the leadership of Joshua.

Abraham’s grandson Jacob, whose name was later changed to “Israel” had twelve sons (Jacob received a new name from God, “Israel.” The name Israel means “he struggles with God.” This would later become not only the name of the Covenant Nation, but would also describe the character of the people. (see Genesis 32:28). These twelve tribes of Israel spent four hundred years in Egyptian bondage where the covenantal expansion plan silently progressed.

One Holy Nation

It was in Egypt that God raised up Moses of the tribe of Levi to lead Israel out of bondage to become one holy nation. Exodus 24 describes the dramatic scene as the nation of Israel is gathered around Mt. Sinai after leaving Egypt through a miraculous deliverance. There at Mt. Sinai Moses spoke to the Israelites the words of the covenant he had received directly from God, and they agreed to enter into a national covenant with Yahweh.

In Genesis 17, God upgrades the promise to Abram of royal dynasty to covenant status and changes Abram’s name meaning “exalted father,” to Abraham, meaning “father of many.” At this point God introduces circumcision as a sign of the covenant and promises that Abraham will have a son with whom God will establish an everlasting covenant.

One Holy Kingdom

God’s covenantal plan took a major leap several hundred years later as God began to draw other nations together under the leadership of King David. Through God’s covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:5-16), this new conglomerate blossoms into one holy kingdom where Israel mediates the divine revelation of God to other nations. This promise of royal dynasty is reflected in verse 16:

“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.”

The third promise, worldwide blessing, speaks of including all the world in the covenantal family at some future point. This promise is upgraded to covenant status when God says to Abraham at the offering of Isaac:

“By myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven … and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Genesis 22:16-18

One Holy Catholic Church

Finally, all of the Old Testament covenants find full expression in the New Covenant which was made between Jesus Christ and his Church. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the climax of the biblical story, for this was God’s ultimate deed. The entire story of the Bible is Christ-centered. The Old Testament prophetically spoke of Jesus’ forthcoming, the Gospels describe his life on earth, the Epistles speak of life in light of his coming. This New Covenant certainly is the grandest of all for it is a worldwide covenant where God rules and reigns as the head of his one holy Catholic Church.

You May Also Like:

Epic: A Journey Through Church History [Study Program]

What History Can Tell Us about Jesus with Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio [Every Knee Shall Bow Podcast]

How to Explain Salvation to a Non-Christian

Mary: Mother of God [Video]

Jeff Cavins is passionate about helping people understand Scripture and become disciples of Jesus Christ. Though he was born Catholic, Jeff went to Bible school and served as a Protestant minister for twelve years before reverting to the Catholic Faith. He then quickly became a leading Catholic evangelist and author. Jeff is best known for creating The Great Adventure Bible study programs published by Ascension, which have been used by hundreds of thousands of people to engage in Scripture in a life-changing way. Some of his recent projects include The Activated DiscipleThe Jeff Cavins Show (his podcast), and the Great Adventure Bible studiesEphesians: Discover Your Inheritance, and Wisdom: God’s Vision for Life.

This post is an excerpt from “His Story is Your Story” by Jeff Cavins, a chapter in Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God, published by Emmaus Road Publishing. It was first published on The Great Adventure Blog, The Ascension Blog’s former home, on July 17, 2015 and has been modified to fit The Ascension Blog’s style. Learn more about The Great Adventure Bible studies here.

Featured image of Gaudenzio Ferrari‘s “Stories of life and passion of Christ”, (1513) in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie sourced from This work of art is also in the public domain.

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  • Beautifully explained and written…I would only change or explain “Catholic”…Many will think that when we say “Catholic” we are saying the Roman Catholic Church…I am of the view that that is not what God is leading us to learn or to realize…for Jesus spoke to the apostles about having many “mansions” or “rooms” in His Father’s House: John 14: 1-3:

    Jesus Comforts the Disciples
    1″Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2″In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3″If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.…

    From this I take it, that Catholic in this context means: Universal…as I have heard it many time referred to: The Marks of the Church: One, Holy, Catholic (Universal), Apostolic…

    From this, I understand it to mean that Church, in God’s Eyes, is inclusive (One House), yet separate (as in many rooms/mansions), This makes sense to me…I believe in a Father that understands the varied needs of His children…and would certainly be able to meet each one’s needs…So, in this context…excuse the pun, The Roman Church would be one “room”, The Russian Orthodox, another room; the Greek Orthodox, another; the Lutheran Church, another; the Methodist; the Baptists…etc. Each would be various rooms in God’s Magnificiently Beautiful, Wonderfully Constructed, Majestically Created Church…one in which as described in ASK by a Jewish as follows:

    The Temple and the Old Testament Canon

    The Priest/Historian Josephus said that the books of the
    Holy Scriptures were deposited with the chief priests and those who had
    prophetic rank.
    1 This was
    not only for preservation, but also as a sign of the great authority these 22
    books were accorded by the Jewish people. Josephus was certainly speaking about
    the sacred books of the Holy Scriptures when he said that documents were
    preserved in the Temple.
    2 It was
    Ezra who placed the 22 books in the hands of the Sopherim (counters of letters
    in books, priests who performed their functions at the Temple in Jerusalem).
    They were the 120 priests who became known as the “Great Assembly” (an earlier
    form of the later Sanhedrin) who governed the nation from their supreme court
    headquarters. This court was not quite like our courts today. The Sopherim dealt
    not only with judicial matters, but legislative powers also were invested in
    them. In time, these Sopherim finally gave their authority to a judicial and
    legislative council known as the Gerusia, which finally developed into
    the regular Sanhedrin of seventy members (priests and laymen) plus the
    High Priest (making seventy-one altogether). In the time of Christ, this
    Sanhedrin was considered by Christ to be sitting in Moses’ Seat (Matthew 23:2).

    Since the Sanhedrin was the supreme railing body of the
    nation under the king, all the law books and codes for the nation (notably the
    22 books of the canon acting as a type of “constitution”) were deposited with
    the Sanhedrin in their official chambers. This is so any member of the Sanhedrin
    could refer to the books for any legal matter at any time. There were actually
    two chambers where the Sanhedrin assembled for their judicial and legislative
    duties. One chamber (the main one) was in the Temple just south and east of the
    Altar of Burnt Offering. This was in a vaulted building known as the Chamber of
    Hewn Stones. It was designed in theater style (that is, the chamber was built as
    half a circle with concentric rows of benches and chairs for the members of the
    Sanhedrin to sit). This semi-circle was itself divided in half. The western
    portion was situated within the priestly section of the Temple, and priests sat
    there, while the eastern half was located within the Court of the Israelites and
    laymen who were members of the Sanhedrin sat there.

    The other official site for the Sanhedrin to convene at
    special times was at a village called Bethphage just east of the outer camp of
    Jerusalem on the mount of Olives.
    3 This
    walled village of Bethphage (where Jesus obtained the donkey he sat on during
    his triumphal entry into Jerusalem), was a very important priestly center that
    had special duties to perform in the time of Jesus. This is where decisions were
    made about the limits of the city of Jerusalem, the limits of the Temple,
    matters concerning the Red Heifer, the calendar, pedigrees, censuses, and where
    the decision for executing a rebellious elder described in Deuteronomy 17:6–9
    could be dispensed.

    At this place on the Mount of Olives, as well as at the
    main Sanhedrin at the Chamber of Hewn Stones in the Ternple, there were archival
    rooms (which we would call libraries) for housing the judicial books (plus other
    official documents). Of the 22 books of the Old Testament canon, it appears that
    most were preserved in the main library on the Temple Mount, but three of the
    books in particular (as I will show) were kept for special reasons at the
    Sanhedrin library at Bethphage.

    The Three Divisions of the Physical Temple Equate With the Three Divisions
    of the Old Testament

    Let us look at the relationship of the Old Testament
    canon to the Temple and its functions. There is a definite analogy between the
    three main divisions of the Temple with the three divisions of the Old

    1. In the first compartment of the Temple there were 5 items of ritualistic
    furniture. 4
    Going on, the apostle Paul mentioned these 5 items which were found in the
    Holy of Holies (Hebrews 9:4–5). Further, there were 5 books in the Law of
    Moses which were deposited within the Holy of Holies (Deuteronomy 31:9–11,

    2. In the second area of the Temple (the priestly compartment) there were 6
    pieces of ritualistic furniture (the Golden Altar of Incense, the Menorah, the
    laver, the Altar Burnt Offering, the Slaughter area, and the Table of Shewbread).
    There were also 6 books in the Prophets Division of the Old Testament.

    3. The third compartment of the Temple (called the Court of the Israelites)
    was divided into two parts: the western section was reserved for the men, and
    the eastern section for the women. There was no furniture in this compartment,
    but there were 15 steps that led up to the Court of the Israelites (the men’s
    portion) which was the spot where the 15 degree Psalms of Hezekiah (as we will
    see) were read and sung (Middoth 2:5).

    It appears that the books of
    the biblical canon for this Third Division of the Temple were designed to
    provide religious and patriotic musical themes for the nation, the teaching of
    wisdom and knowledge to the men, and examples and customs for the women, were
    located in the Sanhedrin library within the Chamber of Hewn Stones. This was
    where the Sanhedrin could consult with them, but they could also teach from them
    to the men and to the women. This could be done within the two sections of the
    Court of the Israelites (the men’s and the women’s). I will have more to say on
    this in a moment.

    Remember that the Temple was known to be a duplicate (in
    physical form) of what God’s House (or His palace) was like in heaven (Hebrews
    8:5; 9:23). Since God is depicted in the Old Testament as having the form of a
    human, it would seem reasonable to humans to imagine that God had a house to
    live in just like we humans do on earth. And this is the case.

    The Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem
    represented His throne room in heaven.
    “The Lord’s is in his holy temple, the Lord’s
    throne is in heaven” (Psalm 11:3). And the outer Holy Place in the
    Temple answered to His room in heaven where He holds council with his
    representatives who rule the universe under him (Job 1:6, 2:1). The Altar of
    Burnt Offering is shown by Malachi (who was a title for Ezra the priest) to be a
    table of the Lord where “he ate” His food with those He invited to be His dining
    guests (Malachi 1:7). The outer courts are where His people (that is, His
    subjects, since God is a great king) would come to present themselves before Him
    in His house. Even further east, the place of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives
    was the sentinel house (so to speak) to the Temple where people could be cleared
    of impurities before entering the House of God, or prevented altogether from
    entering God’s House if their pedigrees were not to God’s liking.

    What we see depicted by the Temple in Jerusalem was a
    representation of God’s palace in heaven. God has in heaven a house (palace)
    with various rooms and pieces of furniture that any earthly king would have to
    accommodate his earthly palace. And what king on earth would not have in his
    palace libraries for the books that contain his laws and directions for his
    subjects? When Ezra the priest went to Jerusalem, he went for the express
    purpose to “beautify”
    (which in Hebrew means to “adorn”) the House of God (Ezra 7:27). Ezra did not
    come to build the House of God (it was already constructed). He came to be what
    we call today an interior decorator. He made and furnished the various libraries
    and associated the furniture of the Temple with decorations that made God’s
    House to be a very livable and a workable environment for God and His household.
    And, indeed, when Ezra got through, there was a full functioning House of God (a
    beautiful royal palace) for God on earth which contained all the amenities
    (libraries, etc.) that any other royal house on earth would contain. And Ezra
    provided 22 official books that acted like a “constitution” to govern the people
    whom God ruled in a personal way.

    In the next chapter we will look at some of the
    furniture in this House of God that Ezra came to decorate. It needs to be
    recognized that there were 5 pieces of furniture in the Holy of Holies, and Ezra
    also selected 5 books of the Law to be associated with that area. Indeed, the
    actual autographs of these 5 books of Moses were placed in the Holy of Holies
    (Deuteronomy 31:9–13, 20). Following this same theme, there were also 6 pieces
    of furniture in the priestly section, and Ezra selected 6 books of the prophets
    analogous to that area.

    1 Josephus, Contra Apion 1.6 ¶29.

    2 See Josephus, Antiquities 5.1.17 ¶61, with Antiquities 3.1.7
    ¶38; 4.8.44 ¶303.

    Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 14a,b; Sotah 44b; 45a.

    4 Note that I am shifting to using a number instead of writing out the
    figures. This is to provide an emphasis that is often not observed.

    (The above was copied from ASK)

    From this, we see that the Holy Temple has an open area…in which the leaders would teach the men and women about their nation’s history; and their relationship with God. We also know that in Jewish tradition there both men and women who taught and prophesied to the people (God’s preference, I believe), just as there were Deacons and Deaconesses among the early Christians…and we know from Jesus’ own group, he listened and included women in His ministry…I am of the opinion that this is the what God’s preference is, as the Church has Women who are Doctors of the Church as well as men. And if God sees them as equal to the task…why is it that we do not? Remember if Jeff is right, that God’s History is ever revealing, and deepening our understanding of Who He is in relationship to us as His Most Precious Creation…Don’t you think this might be something He would want to see change in some of His Churches, as it has in others? And furthermore that these chosen men and women may even be married…as the further enhances the relationship that God has with us. These are just my opinions…Certainly, not what I know the Church is teaching at this time…But I am hopeful and optimistic…LOL

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