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Epic: The Storyline of the Bible

Epic: The Storyline of the Bible

4.8 4
by James L. Nicodem

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To many people, the Bible is a series of incongruous and confusing stories. It jumps from one person or place to the next leaving the reader scrambling to keep up and make sense of it all. That’s a tall task.

Epic provides a big picture view of the Bible to explain how its individual pieces fit together. Is it really possible that the


To many people, the Bible is a series of incongruous and confusing stories. It jumps from one person or place to the next leaving the reader scrambling to keep up and make sense of it all. That’s a tall task.

Epic provides a big picture view of the Bible to explain how its individual pieces fit together. Is it really possible that the Bible’s collection of 66 books actually has a single storyline? Yes! The theme of that storyline is redemption, and Epic traces it from Genesis to Revelation.

Discover in the opening chapters of the Bible why redemptionbecame humanity’s desperate need. Learn how God set this rescue effort into motion through promises He made to Abraham. Follow the unfolding of these promises through Old Testament history. Note the role of the prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi, in the overall drama. Witness Jesus Christ bringing redemption to a climax.

Perfect for believers at any stage, small group leaders, and those discipling others, Epic will open your eyes to the way all the different parts of scripture contribute to a single story that can change your life.

Product Details

Moody Publishers
Publication date:
Bible Savvy Series
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Read an Excerpt


The Storyline of the Bible

By James L. Nicodem, Jim Vincent

Moody Publishers

Copyright © 2013 James L. Nicodem
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8024-8405-5




Redemption Prompted

I NEED TO SEE the big picture—especially when I'm trying to figure out travel directions. If I am about to drive through New York City, for example, the two- by three-inch GPS picture on my iPhone of the immediate vicinity will not suffice. I want an AAA road map of the entire city at a glance—the kind that opens up to three feet wide and can never be refolded the right way.

God has given us a road map for our lives. It's called the Bible. God's Holy Word. The Bible is the best place to turn for direction for our lives. But we need to have a sense of the Bible's big picture in order to understand its individual parts. So, how are we going to get a sense of that big picture? We won't find it summarized in a couple of paragraphs on the back cover of our Bible, right above a picture of the book's author. (God won't hold still while His photo is taken.)

No, the Bible is not like other books. In fact, the Bible is not "a" book. It's actually a compilation of sixty-six books in one. Sixty-six books that were written over a period of 1,500 years, penned by forty different authors. And those forty different authors lived in ten different countries, worked in more than twenty different occupations (including king, shepherd, general, tax collector, fisherman, and doctor), and wrote in three different languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic).

What are our chances of ever being able to get a sense of the Bible's big picture, the Bible's storyline? And speaking of the Bible's storyline, does it even have a clear storyline? After all, the Bible mentions, by name, 2,930 different characters. Is it really possible that all these people belong to the same drama, that they're part of the same plot?

Yes, the Bible has a storyline: a single, overarching, comprehensive storyline. A storyline that amazingly ties the whole book together, from Genesis to Revelation. And once we grasp that storyline, we'll be able to make sense of the Bible's individual parts. We'll be able to use God's road map to gain direction for our lives.

But before we dive into the Bible's opening book of Genesis, let me say a word about the general theme of the Bible's storyline. We can capture this general theme in one word, redemption. Look up redemption in the dictionary, and one of the first definitions you'll see is deliverance or rescue.

The Rescue

The Bible is a rescue story. It begins with a crisis. There are people in grave danger. Who will save them? A lot of good stories begin this way. This is what immediately grabs our attention. This is what hooks us.

If you were ever a fan of the blockbuster TV series 24, you know what I'm talking about. Each season the show began with an emergency. Lives were at stake. There was a plot in motion to assassinate the president, or suicide bombers were on the loose, or a nuclear bomb was about to be detonated, or a deadly virus was about to be released. These situations called for the rescue efforts of super-agent Jack Bauer.

Now, not every story that we read or watch begins with that much of an adrenalin rush. But a lot of good stories do begin with people in dire straits. And those dire straits prompt a rescue effort.

The Bible is no exception to this pattern. In fact the Bible opens with the mother of all crises. A crisis so big that it prompts the greatest rescue effort in the history of humanity. That rescue effort—redemption—is the theme of the Bible's storyline. After the description in Genesis 1 of an awesome God creating earth and its inhabitants, Genesis 2–3 tells us about the crisis that prompted the rescue operation. I encourage you to grab your Bible and follow along as I identify five stages to: Redemption Prompted.

The Command

In the first chapter of Genesis, the opening pages of the Bible, God creates the world and everything in it. This includes the original human couple, Adam and Eve. Mister and missus are then placed in a virtual paradise, called the garden of Eden. We pick up the story in Genesis 2:15–17: "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'"

This command in Genesis 2:17 immediately raises a couple of objections in the minds of some readers. First off, it seems so silly, so arbitrary: Don't eat from this tree! C'mon. That's the best that God could come up with? I mean, this is the very first prohibition that we come across in the Bible. We expect something significant, right?

Hebrew scholars tell us that it's worded exactly like some of the famous Ten Commandments. You remember the Big Ten? They include, "You shall have no other gods before me.... You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:3, 13–14).

But ... You shall not eat from this tree? In the words of an old Sesame Street jingle: "One of these things is not like the others." Is this really God's best shot for the Bible's opening prohibition? How random! If God didn't want Adam and Eve to eat from that tree, why did He put the tree in the garden of Eden to begin with? Was He deliberately trying to trip them up?

May I suggest that objecting to God's command along these lines reveals a rebellious streak in our hearts? It reveals a resistance to the notion that God is God. As God, He has the right to command us to do whatever He pleases. If some of God's commands seem silly or arbitrary to us, the problem is not with God; it's with us.

Let me illustrate what I'm saying here. Last summer, I was looking for a place to take my family on vacation, and so I emailed a friend of mine who lives on Cape Cod. I asked him if he knew of any inexpensive rental cottages on the Cape. Preferably something near the ocean. My friend is a retired banker, a wealthy man. He emailed me back, saying: "My wife and I have a vacation house up in Maine. Why don't we go there for a week, and you and your family can have our house on the Cape?" That sounded reasonable to me.

When we got there, we realized it was a really sweet deal. Their house is massive. It has a beautiful swimming pool, a private theatre, and a gorgeous view of the ocean. Soon after we arrived we spotted a piece of paper on the kitchen counter, explaining where we could find everything. And in the middle of all this information, my friend had given us a directive: "Please water the house plants while you are here." My immediate thought was: What a stupid directive! Doesn't he know we're on vacation? With all his money, he could've hired somebody to do the watering. So we just let the house plants wither and die.

Of course we didn't! It would have been foolish and ungrateful to defy my friend's instructions.

And yet, when it comes to God's commands, we're constantly pushing back. It's as if we reserve the right to determine which commands deserve our obedience and which commands are worthy of disdain.

A second objection that people have, when they read the "Don't eat from this tree" prohibition in Genesis 2:17, is that the penalty seems overly severe. What does our Bible say would happen to Adam and Eve if they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? They would surely die.

The death sentence? Are you kidding me? For eating an apple? (Actually, the Bible never says that this was an apple tree. That's just how artists have depicted it.)

What's the deal with the death sentence? It's really quite simple to explain. For the first two chapters of Genesis, the Bible has been referring to God as the source of all life. He brought the world into existence, creating stars and oceans and forests and wild animals. And when He created Adam, God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7).

If God is the source of Adam's life (and of ours), what would be the natural consequence of unplugging from God by rejecting His commands? Death. Isn't that what happens when you're vacuuming your house and the plug pulls out? The vacuum dies, right? Well, people who unplug from God—the source of life—die.

The Con Job

The main characters in this drama now begin to distort God's original command. As you read Genesis 3:1–6, see if you can detect the truth-twisting that's going on:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"

"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Who is the serpent in this story? Satan. Now, the fact is Genesis 3 doesn't tell us who the serpent is. But the last book of the Bible identifies the serpent for us (Revelation 12:9): "The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray."

So the serpent who approaches Eve in Genesis 3 is indeed Satan—God's archenemy! But please note in verse 1 that God made Satan. It's important for us to understand that even though God and Satan have been engaged in a cosmic battle of good vs. evil since the beginning of time, Satan is not God's equal. Satan is not God's exact polar opposite. God is the Creator of all things. Satan is a created being. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Satan is none of those things.

And because Satan lacks God's power, he must fight his battles using trickery and deceit. The Genesis account refers to him as more crafty than any of God's other creatures. Just look at the first words out of Satan's mouth to Eve: "Did God really say ...?" (v. 1) There's something subtly sinister about this question. Satan's use of the word really drips with sarcasm. Can you detect his you've-got-to-be-kidding-me attitude? Although God has just given Adam and Eve a fairly straightforward command, Satan is about to twist and distort that command so as to get them to disobey it.

Why? Because, if Adam and Eve disobey the command, they unplug from the source of life. They die. Satan is out to destroy the pinnacle of God's creation. And he uses trickery—a con job—to accomplish his goal.

Satan's Three Deceits

Let me note three strategies with which Satan deceitfully counters God's original prohibition (strategies that he's still using on us today).

The first is exaggeration. His first deceit is a misleading question: "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" Is Satan accurately quoting God? No. There was only one tree that God said not to eat from. So why is Satan exaggerating God's Word? To make God's command look severe, overly demanding, unreasonable, ridiculous.

Once Satan has us believing that God's commands are severe, overly demanding, unreasonable, or ridiculous, we feel like we have the right to disobey them. Don't we? Like when we drive 45 mph in a 30 mph zone because it's so stupid to drive the speed limit on that wide-open stretch of road. Like when we come in at midnight (if we're high school age), even though our parents have told us that curfew is 11 p.m., because it's so lame to go home by 11 p.m. When we exaggerate God's commands, we make them easier to dismiss, because they're so over-the-top.

Look at how Eve quickly picks up on Satan's bad habit of exaggerating God's Word. She starts to do it herself. In the middle of verse 2, Eve says (my summary): "It's only the tree in the middle of the garden that we're not to eat from—and we're not supposed to touch it either, or we'll die." Not supposed to touch it? When did God say not to touch that tree? He didn't. Now Eve is exaggerating.

A second clever strategy that Satan uses to counter God's command is flat out denial of consequences. In verse 4, Satan promises Eve: "You will not surely die." Satan's denial of the death sentence that God had attached to His command (Genesis 2:17) is even stronger in the original Hebrew. Satan actually begins his sentence with the word not. His denial is literally: "NOT—you will surely die!"

Isn't it interesting that the very first doctrine Satan ever contradicts is the doctrine of divine judgment? "God doesn't punish sin. Disobedience to God doesn't unplug you from the source of life. There's no such thing as spiritual or eternal death." People are still buying this lie today. We all buy it to some extent. We convince ourselves that God will shrug His shoulders at our sin. We don't really expect to pay for sin in any significant way.

A third strategy Satan uses to counter God's command is the promise that disobedience will bring tremendous satisfaction. That deceit remains today a great weapon in Satan's arsenal. He guarantees Eve that the forbidden fruit will make her "like God, knowing good and evil" (v. 5). That sales pitch was actually half-true. Eve would know good and evil if she ate the fruit. But not like God.

God knows evil like a cancer doctor knows cancer. But Eve would know evil like a cancer victim knows cancer. Do you see the difference? If Eve ate the fruit, she would know evil from personal experience. That wouldn't be a good thing, even though Satan tried to dress it up as if it would be tremendously satisfying.

Satan is still in the business of dressing up evil and trying to pass it off to us as something wonderful. "You'd feel much better if you got some revenge." "You'd really enjoy a shopping spree." "You'd laugh yourself silly over this raunchy movie." "You'd be a lot happier if you got out of your difficult marriage." "You'd loosen up with a few more beers."

Eve fell for Satan's con job. She ate from the tree that God had said not to eat from. So did her husband Adam. And we've been falling for Satan's con job ever since.

The Cover-Up

What happened after Eve and then Adam bit into the fruit? According to Genesis 3:7–13:

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?"

He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"

The man said, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."

Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?"

The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate it."

This is the cover-up—also called the Shame and Blame Game. This is what sin always leads to in our lives.

First, there's shame. Adam and Eve were embarrassed by their nakedness, and so they tried to cover it up with fig leaves. (I'll bet that was pretty uncomfortable.) We're still trying this same approach today. We don't use fig leaves. But we do our best to hide our sinfulness from other people, to keep them from finding out the worst about us. We'd be mortified if others knew some of the things we've thought, said, or done.

Adam and Eve not only tried to hide their shame from each other, they tried to hide it from God. When they heard the sound of God walking in the garden (v. 8), they hid from Him. How crazy is that? Hiding from God? I was in a clothing store with my wife, Sue, recently. A little boy was standing next to a rack of dresses. He pulled one of the dresses across his face and, with 90 percent of his body still showing, he called out to his mom, "Come and find me!" How childishly amusing. How very like our own attempts to hide from God.

The psalmist dumps a bucket of cold water on those of us who are inclined to try this approach. He addresses God with the rhetorical question (Psalm 139:7–8): "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there." We have no chance of hiding from God—even though our shame drives us away from Him.

So, hounded by our shame we resort to blame. We try to cover up our sins by blaming them on other people, blaming them on our circumstances, blaming them on our personality, blaming them on our upbringing.

Adam blamed Eve. Look at verse 12: "The woman," Adam says. "She gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." The woman. I'm sure that Adam spit that out with disgust. But ironically, when God first created Eve and brought her to Adam, Adam looked at this beautiful naked lady and joyfully exclaimed (Genesis 2:23): "She shall be called 'woman.'" My grad school Hebrew teacher said that the proper translation of this exclamation should probably be: "She shall be called 'Whoa! Man!'" But in Genesis 3, it's no longer "Whoa! Man!" It's now a derisive "the woman," as Adam blames Eve for his sin.


Excerpted from Epic by James L. Nicodem, Jim Vincent. Copyright © 2013 James L. Nicodem. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Jim Nicodem has taken on a monumental task—putting the Bible in a thimble-sized summary that gives the reader tremendous insight into the timeline of the greatest story ever told. Epic centers on the theme of the Bible—Redemption. Jim shows how from the beginning of time God had a plan to save lost souls from the sin that blackened the perfect world He gave to mankind. In the pages of Scripture God reveals His Son, who would come as our Redeemer. Nicodem inspires us to explore in greater detail the epic story revealed in God’s Word.

Franklin Graham

President and CEO, Samaritan’s Purse and

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Jim Nicodem’s purpose is to lay out, in straightforward, nontechnical language, many of the most important principles of interpretation. He does this so each person may know the foundational principles of biblical interpretation, and so understand many texts. In other words, Jim wants the church he serves, and many other churches, to be filled with men and women who will become better Bible readers.

D.A. Carson, PhD, Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Author of New Testament Commentary Survey

Jim Nicodem has the gift of taking the complex and—through clear explanations and compelling illustrations—making it highly accessible. If you or someone you know feels intimidated by the Bible, I can’t think of a better resource to put in their hands than Epic and the Bible Savvy series.

Nicholas Perrin

Professor of biblical studies, Wheaton College

Author of Lost in Transmission: What We Can Know about the Words of Jesus 

As a university professor on a Christian college campus, I can tell you that biblical illiteracy is on the rise. That's why the Bible Savvy series should be a prerequisite reading for everyone. Jim Nicodem puts the cookies on the bottom shelf by making the epic story of the biblical narrative understandable and accessible. The Bible Savvy series lays out the foundation and context for God's Word and then shows us in plain language how to apply the Bible's teachings to our lives step-by-step. It's phenomenal.Whether you are simply intrigued by this ancient text or you are already a devoted Bible believer, you will find the four Bible Savvy books to be incredibly helpful and engaging. Then improve your Bible smarts by reading the Bible for all it’s worth.

Les Parrott, PhD

Seattle Pacific University

Author of You're Stronger Than You Think

The compelling reality about the Bible is that it is full of fascinating details about God and His wise and redemptive oversight of the history of mankind. Unfortunately, the larger, more profound story often gets lost in the details. Like a master storyteller, Jim Nicodem takes us beyond the details and exposes the grand plot of Scripture. Jim’s work in the Bible Savvy series will amaze many of us who have lived to master the details and will motivate all of us to stand in greater awe of the One who is navigating history to a good and glorious end.

Joseph M. Stowell

President, Cornerstone University

The Bible is one of the most precious possessions to a believer living in a restricted nation. I am constantly amazed by the hunger for biblical teaching expressed by those who face persecution daily. Their sacrificial passion should inspire us to rekindle our quest for biblical understanding. Jim Nicodem’s Bible Savvy series is the kind of resource needed to reengage our hearts and minds with God’s Word, and renew a hunger for God’s truth on par with our persecuted brothers and sisters.

James E. Dau

President, The Voice of the Martyrs


 Jim has done a masterful job in the Bible Savvy series! In these four concise books, Jim marches with clarity and skill into topics that would be difficult to tackle in a seminary classroom, much less in an American living room. And rather than a monologue, these books create a dialog among the author, the reader, their small group, and the living Word of God. These practical, approachable resources provide foundational training that is greatly needed by nearly every small group and leader I encounter.

Greg Bowman

Coauthor of Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders

Past executive director of the Willow Creek Association



Reading the four books in the Bible Savvy series is like getting a Bible college education in a box! The Lord is calling our nation to a Bible reading revolution, and these books are an invitation to be part of it.

Hal Seed

Author of The Bible Questions and The God Questions

Lead Pastor, New Song Community Church, Oceanside, California


Living in the land of the Bible is considered a privilege by many, but the real privilege is to let the Bible become alive through us, in whatever land we may live. In the Bible Savvy series, Jim Nicodem not only helps us to understand God’s plan to save us, but also His desire to change and shape us through His Word and Spirit in order to be a light in this dark world.

Rev. Azar Ajaj

Vice President and lecturer, Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary


 To ignite a love for the God’s Word in others is the goal of any spiritual leader. Communicating God’s Word is the most important of all. Pastor Jim’s Bible Savvy series is the tool, the guide, and the process for worship leaders to go into deep spiritual places. His biblical scholarship, communicated with such creativity, is exactly what is needed in worship ministry today.

Stan Endicott

Slingshot group coach/mentor

Worship Leader, Mariners Church, Irving, California


 Jim Nicodem leads one of America's finest churches. Jim knows how to communicate the truth of the Bible that brings historical knowledge with incredible practical application. The Bible Savvy series is the best I have ever seen. Your life and faith will be enhanced as you use and apply this material to your life.

Jim Burns, PhD 

President, HomeWord

Author of Creating an Intimate Marriage and Confident Parenting 

Pastor Nicodem is like a championship caliber coach: he loves to teach, and he stresses that success comes from mastering the basics. The Bible Savvy series will help you correctly interpret the best Playbook ever written: the Bible. Understanding and applying its fundamentals (with the help of the Bible Savvy series) will lead one to the Ultimate Victory . . . eternity with Jesus.

James Brown

 Host of The NFL Today on the CBS television network

Meet the Author

JIM NICODEM has been the senior pastor of Christ Community Church since its start in 1984. Beginning with a group of six families, the church has grown to over five thousand weekend attendees at four campuses. A significant focus on reaching spiritual explorers has resulted in scores of new believers being baptized each year.Born and raised in the Midwest, Jim received his BA in Biblical Studies from Wheaton College, and his MDiv and DMin from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In keeping with Christ Community Church¿s mission to "make passionate disciples of Jesus Christ", Jim loves to mentor others in prayer and the study of God¿s Word. With that goal in mind, he has authored Prayer Coach: For All Who Want to Get Off the Bench and Onto the Praying Field (2008) and the four-book Bible Savvy series (2013).Jim and his wife, Sue, have been married for more than thirty years. They have three adult children, and are the proud grandparents of four grandchildren. Jim enjoys biking, hiking and kayaking for recreation. He loves to hang out in Chicago, where he can watch the Cubs play (no better park than Wrigley) or listen to the world-class Symphony Orchestra.

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Epic: The Storyline of the Bible 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Easy to read and it gave me a lot to think about.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I so bad want yo read the rest!