Looking for a good book for Christmas or the long winter ahead? I just published The Bible Explainer, 460 pages of illustrated answers to 250 questions most often asked about the Bible. Its paintings and photographs make this an attractive book to leave on a coffee table. You can read a question or two when you have a free moment; you can read it straight through or only the questions that matter to you.
The Bible Explainer is winsomely readable for those who are not yet Christians, yet it has enough heft that all of us can learn from it. I learned a lot from researching and writing it. It would be useful for small group discussions and to teach believers the foundations of our faith. Topics range from the basic, Why is there anything? and Who wrote the Bible? to advanced questions about canonicity, hermeneutics, origins, immigration, genocide, slavery, gender, sexuality, and atonement.
To give you a sense of the book, here is a sample question and answer:
Why do Christians follow the Old Testament’s teaching on homosexuality but not its commands about eating bacon and shrimp?
Because the Bible is a story, and not every part of a story applies all the time. As a story advances, some things go with us and some things are left behind.
Consider the story of your life. Why do you brush your teeth every day but not take a nap? Both were commands when you were little, and if you were a good child you obeyed your parents and did each. Now that you’re older, only one still applies. (Of course, live long enough and the naps may come back—not as a command but as something you enjoy.)
When God’s people were young, He told them to only sleep with their heterosexual spouses and not to eat bacon and shellfish. The command about sex and marriage continues today, and is repeated throughout the Bible. But the commands about bacon and shrimp came with a sell-by date. They were intended to teach Israel the concept of holiness (they must avoid unclean things) and to prevent them from dining with their pagan neighbors and learning their idolatrous ways.
Now that Jesus has come and fulfilled the Old Testament’s holiness code, it would be a sin for God’s people to avoid bacon wrapped shrimp, at least on religious grounds. (By the way, bacon wrapped shrimp?) This appetizer seems calculated to flout the Old Testament law, but it’s too late for that. If we now refuse any food for religious reasons, we are denying that Jesus has come. The apostle Paul explains, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink. . . . These are a shadow of the things to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:16–17).
This is the point of Peter’s vision in Acts 10. He saw a sheet of unclean animals and heard Jesus say, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” Peter responded as a good Jew: “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean” (verses 13–14). Jesus replied that He had now made this food clean. The vision repeated three times, and then there was a knock on the door. It was messengers from a Gentile named Cornelius, who had been told by an angel to fetch Peter. Peter put two and two together and realized that God was tearing down the wall between Jew and Gentile. Rather than stand apart and admit the few Gentiles who wished to join the Jewish nation, Jewish Christians were now taking Jesus to the Gentiles. No rules or dietary restrictions must stand in their way.
We are far along in God’s story—perhaps close to the end—and the early rules about bacon and shrimp no longer apply. But it’s still a sin to sleep with anyone besides our spouse, because that command is given throughout the story, until the very end. We are all grown up now, so we no longer have to take daily naps or avoid baconnaise (yes, it’s a thing). We still, though, must brush our teeth and avoid sexual sin—or suffer the consequences.