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The Bible in 10 Words
Unlocking the Message of Scripture and Connecting with God
By Deron Spoo
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The Bible contains around 750,000 words—a number that would intimidate even the most seasoned readers of the Bible. Yet, from the beginning of time, God set in place a plan to bring us back to the One who loves us.
Remarkably—as though God couldn't wait to tell us—this plan is telegraphed in the first few pages of the Bible and can be summed up in just ten words: light, dust, breath, garden, river, eat, alone, naked, afraid, sweat.
Deron Spoo traces each word through the Bible and explains how these words reveal God's plan for restoring our broken world. Each word is both rich in meaning and full of promise. Following the thread of each word as it appears and reappears in the Bible, The Bible in 10 Words offers a compelling glimpse of who God is and what He is saying to us.
A word spoken at the right time is like gold apples in silver settings.
For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
I have a lifelong love affair with words. I am enthralled by the way words sound, what they mean, and the history they tell.
Not long ago, I was reading The Story of English in 100 Words by the noted linguist David Crystal. Era by era, Crystal ingeniously unpacks the English language by focusing on words as colorful as cuckoo, as commonplace as street, and as current as twittersphere. Crystal’s brilliance is in his simplicity. He tells the story of an entire language with its history of 600 years and its 600,000 bits of vocabulary, not to mention the nuance of grammar and syntax, in 100 simple words.
While I was marveling over the connection between the words lord and loaf, (both of which arrived in our language from the same root meaning since the head of the household was responsible for keeping the household fed), I began to wonder if it might be possible to do something similar with the language of the Bible. What if we could distill the message of Scripture, with its 750,000-plus words, into just a few that would simply but elegantly unlock its meaning? Perhaps it could be done in 100 words. Or maybe 50 or even 20 words. I didn’t know. But as I pondered the possibility and began looking into it more carefully, I stumbled upon something surprising.
I knew, of course, that even as Adam and Eve fell away from God, the Lord had a plan to rescue his creation. I thought about how God had hinted at that plan in the first few pages of the Bible, as if he couldn’t wait to share the good news. Then gradually, a thought began to take shape in my mind. God’s plan for restoring our broken world could be crystallized in just a few words—ten precisely—all found in the first few chapters of the first book of the Bible!
When I made this realization, I was visiting South Africa. There, hosted to an evening of stargazing under the night sky, I saw the Southern Cross for the first time. This gathering of stars is not visible from my native northern sky in the United States. In much the same way, I watched words align in the first few chapters of the Bible to form a constellation I had somehow never seen before.
After jotting down my list of words from Genesis chapters 1–3, I knew it was time to embark on an exploration. I wanted to trace each word as it journeyed through Scripture so that I could more deeply understand what it would reveal about God and what he wants to say to us.
Why this fascination with words? For one thing, it seems to me that God himself loves words.
Think about it. Genesis depicts God not as a celestial magician waving a wand over the watery void. Instead God speaks the universe into being. Light and sky, seas and stars emerge in all their swirling glory from the summoning voice of God. According to the words of Genesis:
Then God said, “Let there be light,” (Genesis 1:3, emphasis mine).
Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with living creatures,” (Genesis 1:20, emphasis mine).
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image,” (Genesis 1:26, emphasis mine).
Again and again, God speaks and creation spontaneously combusts into being!
Whales and wombats.
Caterpillars and carpenter ants.
Mammoths and Monument Valley.
Gravity, sea horses, supernovas, pond lilies, and the rings around Saturn.
The last on this list—Saturn’s rings—is a creative feat all its own. The rings could easily wrap around twenty earths, yet they are only about thirty feet thick. Imagine, if you can, Saturn’s rings represented by a DVD, with the planet itself fitting in the empty circle of the DVD center. To keep scale, the rings would be only ten atoms thick—in other words, thinner than what our eyes are able to see and what most of our minds are able to comprehend.
All of this, and so much more, is ushered into existence with words. God’s creativity seems to be just that—creative. What he imagined, he made. What he conceived, he created. God’s variety in creation reveals something about the vitality of his character. Our wonder-filled world comes from a wondrous God.
God created deserts as well as rain forests, and God created both to work together.
Phosphorous-rich particles of the Saharan sand, kicked up by African dust storms, are carried westward via trans-Atlantic air currents. As the sand falls earthward over South America, these particles (some 22,000 tons each year) deposit their nutrients—thus replenishing the Amazonian rain forest. Without the desert to feed the rain forest, the rain forest itself would soon become a desert.1
In the beginning, God spoke for six days straight—a long run-on sentence of perfectly chosen words.
J. R. R. Tolkien wrote the famous trilogy The Lord of the Rings. While his imagination had a depth few of us could ever hope to achieve, he was a miserable typist. The story goes that he invested seventeen years of his life writing his master work. He typed every word of his manuscripts in his attic, on a manual typewriter using only two fingers.2 Every word mattered to Tolkien! In the same way, every word spoken by God over the void-becoming-cosmos was well chosen and perfectly timed.
And then, as though verbally spent, God goes silent. God reigned content over his creation. This silence seems a bit like what we experience when absorbing the scale of the Grand Canyon or admiring the beauty of a sunset at sea. God celebrates his world with wordless reverence.
The first chapter of the Bible confirms a hunch we have had our whole lives: words have the ability to create new realities. Our words hold power. When we speak, things happen, and a few examples make the point:
• A man asks a woman to marry him. She says yes. The utterance of this single word unleashes a series of events that results in the creation of a new reality, something called family.
• A refugee finds his way to a new country. He is looking for a fresh start and better opportunities for his family. After years of filling out paperwork and taking classes, he attends a ceremony. After pronouncing an oath, he becomes a citizen. A new identity has just been forged.
• An American president—John F. Kennedy—challenged his nation to land a man on the moon and return him safely home. His words motivated the country to achieve the seemingly lofty goal in less than a decade.
Clearly, our words are powerful. By contrast, God’s words are all-powerful. What he says is sure to happen. It’s a good thing, then, that his all-powerfulness is matched by his goodness. If I had power like his, I would certainly abuse it. It would start innocently enough. I imagine instead of preparing lunch, I would simply say, “Hamburger,” and my favorite meal would manifest in front of me. Rather than waking early in the morning to pour over notes and manuscripts, I would say, “Book,” and my labor would be complete. On the success of such feats, my confidence and pride would grow. I would start saying phrases such as, “Six-pack abs” and “Full head of hair.” Selfishness would reign. No telling what I might eventually do to someone who dare displease me. God’s ultimate power is equaled by his infinite goodness. We marvel at the first. We are grateful for the second. Both know no bounds.
Fortunately, God is still speaking to us today. He communicates his power and goodness with us primarily through the pages of Scripture. The Bible is more than a single book. It’s an entire library written by various authors at different points in history. Each book is the result of someone who heard God speak or saw God act so clearly and decisively that they had no choice but to write it down.
Not long ago I had the unenviable job of delivering the closing address at the end of a two-day conference. As I stood to speak, I sensed the restlessness in the room. There was no doubt everyone was ready to pack up their cars and head home. I felt certain my listeners wanted me to be done before I had even begun.
Sensing their impatience, I began with a promise. I would only give them twelve words. Of course, the twelve words would be spaced out over the span of a twenty-minute talk. But it seemed that the promise of only a dozen well-chosen words quickly eased the tension in the room. I offered three words and shared a few thoughts. I spoke the next five words and told a story or two.
Finally, I arrived at the final four words. As soon as I spoke the quartet of terms, two-thirds of the people in the auditorium began writing them down. At that moment, I knew I had won them over because most people write down what they don’t want to forget.
I sometimes wonder about the people who wrote down the words of the Bible. Many of them lived in difficult times. They faced war, famine, and terrible upheavals. Like us, they must have hoped God would have stepped in and quickly resolved their problems. God’s words must have been so powerful and liberating that they felt compelled to remember, commemorate, and eventually record them. The result is a book like no other book—one that provides insight on every situation or scenario life presents.
Take the book of Job for instance. Scholars believe it to be the oldest book in the Bible. The story takes place around 2000 BC, which puts it at a distance of four thousand years from us.3 Remarkably, this ancient book still speaks profoundly about the question of suffering and God’s faithfulness even in our pain. By leaning into suffering, we experience the hope-beyond-circumstance that is only found in God. Job remains as relevant today as the day it was written.
But what could the Bible have to say about more recent phenomena? What possible relevance could it have for something like the internet, for instance? Though a word search of the Bible would never turn up terms like digital, online, or internet, it does address issues of integrity—something sorely lacking in many people’s online identity. The Bible also confronts the envy we often experience from measuring ourselves against other people’s digital personas. Such comparison robs us of contentment. Scripture also speaks to our need of other people—our craving for connection that somehow goes unsatisfied despite our multitude of social media accounts. And what about Sabbath? Scripture teaches that we need to unplug from the clatter of life in order to recharge our relationship with God. Only by centering our lives in the greatest Reality of the universe—in God and his Word—can we navigate the difficult issues we face every day.
OUR FAMILY HISTORY
Though the Bible speaks to our greatest needs, it can present challenges. We wonder, for instance, what the events and people from the distant and unfamiliar past have to do with us.
As the youngest of three children, I learned many things from my older brother and sister. For instance, I learned that when they argued with my dad, they lost. I learned that when they disobeyed, they got caught, and that when they tried their hand at deception, they were found out. No matter how hard they tried to get their own way in opposition to my father, they never succeeded.
Here’s a case in point. Even though both my siblings had purchased their own cars, my father had a rule. We couldn’t drive to school until our senior year. For two years, they chafed at this ruling, as they grudgingly climbed aboard the school bus day after day while their cars languished by the curb. Despite their constant complaints, my father never changed his mind.
Aware that their opposition hadn’t gained them anything, I chose a more subtle path. During my sophomore year, I had several appointments with an orthodontist. My dad would take time off work to drive me. After a while, I suggested it might be more convenient for me to drive myself to the appointment and then to school. I received the expected no with grace. Instead of complaining, I chose patient persistence. The next month, I asked again. And by the end of my sophomore year a yes finally came. After a month or two of solo treks to the orthodontist and school, I reasoned with my father that I had proven I could drive myself safely to school every day. Surprisingly, he agreed.
My brother and sister had taught me well. By refusing to repeat their mistakes, I experienced new freedom. (And yes, this topic of conversation is best avoided at family gatherings, but I still make sure the story is brought up at least once… well, maybe twice.)
What does my family story have to do with reading the Bible? Merely this: Scripture is the history of our older siblings in faith, few of whom are models of perfect obedience and holiness. Even the best of our spiritual siblings are flawed. Abraham tends to lie. Sarah abuses her maid. Jacob deceives his father. Moses kills a man and struggles with anger management for most of his life. David commits adultery and then leads a cover-up conspiracy that involves murder. Esther is hesitant. Peter plays the coward.
Many of the stories of the Bible have a cautionary edge to them. Yet these same people, seen through the long lens of time, are to be celebrated. Abraham becomes a man of faith. Sarah offers a heritage of blessing to those who learn selflessness. Jacob’s character, much like his name, is changed by his brush with God. Moses delivers his people from bondage. David is remembered as a man after God’s own heart. Esther risks her life to save her people. Peter is gripped by a new boldness. Whether they are good, bad, or simply clueless, we can learn much from our older siblings in faith. We bring up these stories again and again, not for how it makes these biblical brothers and sisters look, but for how their lives lend wisdom to our own.
SO, WHERE DO WE START?
Let’s return to David Crystal’s idea. If the story of the English language can be captured in one hundred words, why not the message of the Bible? Might it be possible to select a few words that are so significant and foundational that they provide life-giving insight into the Scripture?
This is the mission of The Bible in 10 Words: to help you understand God and his unstoppable love more deeply and more personally.
The words I have selected are familiar ones—as likely to come up in conversations at the grocery store, the office, or home as they are in church. Remarkably common, they are yet markedly profound.
Every day I say three simple words to my wife: I love you. Despite their simplicity, these three one-syllable words bear significance. My wife and I have brought three children into the world. We lost a baby. We have enjoyed long seasons of health and vacations to exotic places. But, we have also endured lengthy stints in the doctor’s waiting room and late-night phone calls delivering bad news. Romance boasts its ability to climb the highest mountain, but authentic love offers to change the next diaper without being asked.
I love you.
These words can’t quite capture all I want to say, all I need to say. There are times when words can fail us, refusing to capture the depth of the meaning the individual words hold. They strain under the glorious weight of our shared lives and our hope about how our future will unfold. But these three single-syllabled words I offer to Paula are all I have, so they will have to do for now.
Similarly, ten words can hardly capture the magnitude and immensity of God’s love. Yet, we must work with what we have.
Each of these words communicates deeply about God and our relationship with him and each other. Each word, found in the first page or two of the Bible, sets the stage for God’s perfect world, the brokenness that follows, and the restoration God has in mind for those he loves.
LESS IS MORE
By looking at only ten words, you may wonder if I’m diminishing the value of all the other words of Scripture. On the contrary. By exploring a few words, I believe the remaining words of the Bible will come into sharper focus.
In November 1863, Abraham Lincoln stood on a famous Civil War battlefield and delivered the Gettysburg Address, a speech consisting of just ten sentences and 300 words. Immediately prior to the now famous address, a man named Edward Evertt delivered a speech that lasted for two hours. After Lincoln spoke, Evertt admitted, “I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”4 No doubt his listeners that day wished the same.
Instead of allowing ourselves to become intimidated by the 750,000 words of the Bible, let’s narrow our focus to only ten words that explore the Scripture’s central message. As we begin, let me offer a little practical advice.
This book is meant to be a pilgrimage, not a footrace. No prizes are given for finishing first. But ample treasure awaits in store for those who practice patience.
Information can be accumulated rapidly, but transformation takes time. The average person checks his or her smartphone 81,500 times each year.5 We want to stay in touch with the office, with our family, and with the media. While many bemoan our ever-shorter attention spans, I see something more positive. Consider how life might look if we committed ourselves to keeping up with God with the same consistency we give to our devices.
Go all in! But slow down. Allow yourself to read at a leisurely but focused pace, so that you can take in what you encounter and Who you encounter. Marvel at the scenery and savor each step through the Scripture, so that you can experience the richness of God’s Word.
Like all good things in life, this experience is better when shared. At the end of my exploration of each word, I offer a prayer worth praying and a few questions worth asking. In addition, I include three or four suggestions of other places in Scripture where this word or the idea behind it can be found. But don’t be limited by my selection. Break out a concordance! Invite others to join you on the journey of relishing in ten words that will reveal a bit more of the God of the Bible.
OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!
Every year, school children around the world celebrate the birthday of Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.
What few people realize is that in 1955, Geisel was challenged to write a book from a list of three hundred words that educators thought every first grader should know. Geisel wasn’t certain it could be done until he connected two words from the list—cat and hat. The Cat in the Hat is 1,702 words long and uses only 220 different words.6
Then someone bet Geisel fifty dollars that he couldn’t write a book using only fifty words. But Seuss succeeded again! Green Eggs and Ham uses exactly fifty different words with only one word longer than one syllable (it’s the word anywhere).7
Seuss teaches us the power of well-chosen words. Quality of words is not necessarily connected to quantity. A handful of purposeful words can be profound.
The ten words that follow are deliberate. And they are intense. As you embark on these ten words, I hope you will be transformed by the deep truths contained in the Bible.
Do more than merely read these words. Experience them! Stand next to Adam in the Garden of Eden. Then sit next to Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Imagine yourself on the banks of the rivers running through humanity’s first home, then dangle your feet in the River Jordan as Jesus wades into the water toward his destiny. Sense the depth of aloneness on the first sinner’s heart as well as on the soul of the universe’s only Savior. Watch Adam break into a sweat as he and Eve are caught in the first transgression; feel the sweat bead on the brow of Jesus as he pours himself out for the love of God. I pray these ten words will permit you a fresh encounter with God’s love for you in Jesus Christ.
Listen carefully. God wants a word with you.
Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
C. S. LEWIS, TWENTIETH-CENTURY CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST
Creation is bigger than you think. Or it may be more accurate to say that creation is bigger than you can think.
So far, scientists have numbered some 200 billion galaxies in the cosmos. The reality is there may be as many as ten times that number. The cosmos, it seems, is heavily populated.1
Creation has scale! She also holds her secrets. One hundred billion stars light up our Milky Way. Nearly the same number of neurons compose the human brain.2 An odd coincidence, don’t you think? Our neurons conspire in their choreographed chaos to make humans capable of almost infinite accomplishments. Our brains help us drive a car and drive a nail. Our brains enable us to pitch a baseball or pitch an idea to a customer. Our brains make it possible for us to read a book and to read the people in a room. How does this happen? We have our ideas, but we don’t fully understand.
Creation is endless with its unexpected uniqueness.
To my eyes, all zebras look the same with their blur of black and white stripes. An African safari guide recently told me that when a female zebra gives birth, she removes herself from the herd with her newborn in tow. Alone together, the colt imprints on its mother’s face. The mother’s unique markings, like a personal bar code, are burned into the foal’s memory. Forever after, the foal is able to recognize its mother from the markings that are unique only to her.
- On Sale
- Feb 18, 2020
- Page Count
- 224 pages
- Worthy Books