Introduction to the Biblical Metanarrative

The larger biblical context of the law, of course, is the overall metanarrative of Scripture from creation through Old Testament history to its center in the life and work of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, and from there to the consummation that we look forward to even in the present day. A metanarrative is a story that explains and provides a context for understanding and explaining all our other stories, whether personal, familial, communal, urban, rural, national, international, or universal. There is an old saying that history is really “his story”—that is, God’s story. This story even extends beyond the pages of the Bible to include everything up to and beyond our present day. The Bible itself declares this. Our lives are trajectories from the Bible into today and forward into the future in one way or another.

The story that the Bible tells, therefore, is the story that we are all part of whether we know it or not and whether we like it or not. We have joined the story in progress, along the way, so to speak. The Bible tells the story in a way that focuses its primary attention on the main issues of the lives of all people of all time, ancient and modern. This is one way it connects directly to each of our personal stories.

The first eleven chapters of the Bible lay the primeval background for understanding our human predicament in this world. They level the ground of our human experience. These chapters tell us who God is and who we are. They also describe the nature of the world we live in and why life is the way it is. God originally designed us in his own image and likeness to have dominion in the world (Gen. 1–2), but through the first human couple’s violation of God’s original design we, and our world, became corrupt (Gen. 3–11). This leaves us in the midst of terrible struggles not just for dominion but even for survival—personal, emotional, relational, vocational, economic, and physical survival. These are unfortunate and sometimes excruciating realities in our world. We groan, and the rest of God’s creation groans along with us. Paul reflects on this state of affairs in Romans 8:1826. 

The correspondence between the creation with corruption in Genesis 1–3 and the new creation without corruption in Revelation 21–22 provides the wider framework in which God’s historical program of redemption and restoration fits. The parallels between the created paradise in Genesis 1–2 and the new heaven and earth in Revelation 21–22 are particularly instructive in this regard. The flowing waters (Rev 22:1) and the tree of life (Rev 22:2, 19) among other things reappear, and once again we will live in paradise. Similarly, contrast the fall and curses of Genesis 3 with the new heaven and earth in which there will “no longer . . . be any curse” (Rev 22:3)—no more tears, pain, and death (Rev 21:4). Thus, there is an envelope around the Bible: Genesis 1–3 and Revelation 21–22.

The rest of the Bible fits into this envelope not only in literary and theological terms but also historically. Moreover, eventually we are heading back to where we came from—in fact, to somewhere even better. In the meantime, we are part of the story, God’s story, the history and the ongoing story that is above all “his story.” The covenants that God has made with his people along the way provide an important framework and guide for understanding how God is working out his plan for the creation and its redemption. These covenants are of key importance for understanding the metanarrative of Scripture and history.

Excerpted from The Old Testament Law for the Life of the Church by Richard Averbeck. Copyright (c) 2022 by Richard E. Averbeck. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.