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Unlocking the Bible

David Pawson presents a unique overview of both the Old and New Testaments.Unlocking the Bible opens up the word of God in a fresh and powerful way, explaining the sweep of biblical history and its implications for our lives.David Pawson, widely respected as an international writer and speaker, brings a lifetime’s worth of insights into the meaning of the Bible. Explaining the culture, historical background and spiritual significance of all the important events, Unlocking the Bible is a fantastic opportunity to get to grips with the Bible as a whole.This comprehensive edition includes:Old Testament:• The Maker’s Instructions – The five books of law• A Land and A Kingdom – Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings• Poems of Worship and Wisdom – Psalms, Song of Solomon, proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job• Decline and Fall of an Empire – Isaiah, Jeremiah and other prophets• The Struggle to Survive – Chronicles and prophets of exileNew Testament:• The Hinge of History – Mathew, Mark, Luke, John and acts• The Thirteenth Apostle – Paul and his letters• Through Suffering to Glory – Revelation, Hebrews, and the letters of James, Peter and Jude

Unlocking the Bible


J. David Pawson, M.A., B.Sc with Andy Peck



   Title Page



   I The Old Testament

   The Maker’s Instructions

   1. Overview of the Old Testament

   2. Genesis

   3. Exodus

   4. Leviticus

   5. Numbers

   6. Deutronomy

   A Land and A Kingdom

   7. Joshua

   8. Judges and Ruth

   9. 1 and 2 Samuel

   10. 1 and 2 Kings

   Poems of Worship and Wisdom

   11. Introduction to Hebrew poetry

   12. Psalms

   13. Song of Songs

   14. Proverbs

   15. Ecclesiastes

   16. Job

   Decline and Fall of an Empire

   17. Introduction to prophecy

   18. Jonah

   19. Joel

   20. Amos and Hosea

   21. Isaiah

   22. Micah

   23. Nahum

   24. Zephaniah

   25. Habakkuk

   26. Jeremiah and Lamentations

   27. Obadiah

   The Struggle to Survive

   28. Ezekiel

   29. Daniel

   30. Esther

   31. Ezra and Nehemiah

   32. 1 and 2 Chronicles

   33. Haggai

   34. Zechariah

   35. Malachi

   II The New Testament

   The Hinge of History

   36. The Gospels

   37. Mark

   38. Matthew

   39. Luke and Acts

   40. Luke

   41. Acts

   42. John

   The Thirteenth Apostle

   43. Paul and his letters

   44. 1 and 2 Thessalonians

   45. 1 and 2 Corinthians

   46. Galatians

   47. Romans

   48. Colossians

   49. Ephesians

   50. Philippians

   51. Philemon

   52. 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus

   Through Suffering to Glory

   53. Hebrews

   54. James

   55. 1 and 2 Peter

   56. Jude

   57. 1, 2 and 3 John

   58. Revelation

   59. The Millennium

   About the Publisher


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    1 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9GF


   First published in separate volumes in Great Britain in 1999–2001 by HarperCollinsPublishers

   The edition published in Great Britain in 2003 by HarperCollinsPublishers

   David Pawson asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

   A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

   ISBN 9780007166664

   Unlocking the Bible. Copyright © David Pawson. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

   Ebook Edition © JUNE 2012 ISBN: 9780007378920

   Version: 2018-12-06


   I suppose this all started in Arabia, in 1957. I was then a chaplain in the Royal Air Force, looking after the spiritual welfare of all those who were not C.E. (Church of England) or R.C. (Roman Catholic) but O.D. (other denominations – Methodist to Salvationist, Buddhist to atheist). I was responsible for a string of stations from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf. In most there was not even a congregation to call a ‘church’, never mind a building.

   In civilian life I had been a Methodist minister working anywhere from the Shetland Islands to the Thames Valley. In that denomination it was only necessary to prepare a few sermons each quarter, which were hawked around a ‘circuit’ of chapels. Mine had mostly been of the ‘text’ type (talking about a single verse) or the ‘topic’ type (talking about a single subject with many verses from all over the Bible). In both I was as guilty as any of taking texts out of context before I realized that chapter and verse numbers were neither inspired nor intended by God and had done immense damage to Scripture, not least by changing the meaning of ‘text’ from a whole book to a single sentence. The Bible had become a compendium of ‘proof-texts’, picked out at will and used to support almost anything a preacher wanted to say.

   With a pocketful of sermons based on this questionable technique, I found myself in uniform, facing very different congregations – all male instead of the lifeboat-style gatherings I had been used to: women and children first. My meagre stock of messages soon ran out. Some of them had gone down like a lead balloon, especially in compulsory parade services in England before I was posted overseas.

   So here I was in Aden, virtually starting a church from scratch, from the Permanent Staff and temporary National Servicemen of Her Majesty’s youngest armed service. How could I get these men interested in the Christian faith and then committed to it?

   Something (I would now say: Someone) prompted me to announce that I would give a series of talks over a few months, which would take us right through the Bible (‘from Generation to Revolution’!).

   It was to prove a voyage of discovery for all of us. The Bible became a new book when seen as a whole. To use a well-worn cliché, we had failed to see the wood for the trees. Now God’s plan and purpose were unfolding in a fresh way. The men were getting something big enough to sink their teeth into. The thought of being part of a cosmic rescue was a powerful motivation. The Bible story was seen as both real and relevant.

   Of course, my ‘overview’ was at that time quite simple, even naive. I felt like that American tourist who ‘did’ the British Museum in 20 minutes – and could have done it in 10 if he’d had his running shoes! We raced through the centuries, giving some books of the Bible little more than a passing glance.

   But the results surpassed my expectations and set the course for the rest of my life and ministry. I had become a ‘Bible teacher’, albeit in embryo. My ambition to share the excitement of knowing the whole Bible became a passion.

   When I returned to ‘normal’ church life, I resolved to take my congregation through the whole Bible in a decade (if they put up with me that long). This involved tackling about one ‘chapter’ at every service. This took a lot of time, both in preparation (an hour in the study for every 10 minutes in the pulpit) and delivery (45–50 minutes). The ratio was similar to that of cooking and eating a meal.

   The effect of this systematic ‘exposition’ of Scripture confirmed its rightness. A real hunger for God’s Word was revealed. People began to come from far and wide, ‘to recharge their batteries’ as some explained. Soon this traffic was reversed. Tape recordings, first prepared for the sick and housebound, now began to go far and wide, ultimately in hundreds of thousands to 120 countries. No one was more surprised than I.

   Leaving Gold Hill in Buckinghamshire for Guildford in Surrey, I found myself sharing in the design and building of the Millmead Centre, which contained an ideal auditorium for continuing this teaching ministry. When it was opened, we decided to associate it with the whole Bible by reading it aloud right through without stopping. It took us 84 hours, from Sunday evening until Thursday morning, each person reading for 15 minutes before passing the Bible on to someone else. We used the ‘Living’ version, the easiest both to read and to listen to, with the heart as well as the mind.

   We did not know what to expect, but the event seemed to capture the public imagination. Even the mayor wanted to take part and by sheer coincidence (or providence) found himself reading about a husband who was ‘well known, for he sits in the council chamber with the other civic leaders’. He insisted on taking a copy home for his wife. Another lady dropped in on her way to see her solicitor about the legal termination of her marriage and found herself reading, ‘I hate divorce, says the Lord’. She never went to the lawyer.

   An aggregate of 2,000 people attended and bought half a ton of Bibles. Some came for half an hour and were still there hours later, muttering to themselves, ‘Well, maybe just one more book and then I really must go.’

   It was the first time many, including our most regular attenders, had ever heard a book of the Bible read straight through. In most churches only a few sentences are read each week and then not always consecutively. What other book would get anyone interested, much less excited, if treated in this way?

   So on Sundays we worked through the whole Bible book by book. For the Bible is not one book, but many – in fact, it is a whole library (the word biblia in Latin and Greek is plural: ‘books’). And not just many books, but many kinds of books – history, law, letters, songs, etc. It became necessary, when we had finished studying one book, and were starting on another, to begin with a special introduction covering very basic questions: What kind of book is this? When was it written? Who wrote it? Who was it written for? Above all, why was it written? The answer to that one provided the ‘key’ to unlock its message. Nothing in that book could be fully understood unless seen as part of the whole. The context of every ‘text’ was not just the paragraph or the section but fundamentally the whole book itself.

   By now, I was becoming more widely known as a Bible teacher and was invited to colleges, conferences and conventions – at first in this country, but increasingly overseas, where tapes had opened doors and prepared the way. I enjoy meeting new people and seeing new places, but the novelty of sitting in a jumbo jet wears off in 10 minutes!

   Everywhere I went I found the same eager desire to know God’s Word. I praised God for the invention of recording cassettes which, unlike video systems, are standardized the world over. They were helping to plug a real hole in so many places. There is so much successful evangelism but so little teaching ministry to stabilize, develop and mature converts.

   I might have continued along these lines until the end of my active ministry, but the Lord had another surprise for me, which was the last link in the chain that led to the publication of these volumes.

   In the early 1990s, Bernard Thompson, a friend pastoring a church in Wallingford, near Oxford, asked me to speak at a short series of united meetings with the aim of increasing interest in and knowledge of the Bible – an objective guaranteed to hook me!

   I said I would come once a month and speak for three hours about one book in the Bible (with a coffee break in the middle!). In return, I asked those attending to read that book right through before and after my visit. During the following weeks preachers were to base their sermons and house groups their discussions on the same book. All this would hopefully mean familiarity at least with that one book.

   My purpose was two-fold. On the one hand, to get people so interested in that book that they could hardly wait to read it. On the other hand, to give them enough insight and information so that when they did read it they would be excited by their ability to understand it. To help with both, I used pictures, charts, maps and models.

   This approach really caught on. After just four months I was pressed to book dates for the next five years, to cover all 66 books! I laughingly declined, saying I might be in heaven long before then (in fact, I have rarely booked anything more than six months ahead, not wanting to mortgage the future, or presume that I have one). But the Lord had other plans and enabled me to complete the marathon.

   Anchor Recordings (72, The Street, Kennington, Ashford, Kent TN24 9HS) have distributed my tapes for the last 20 years and when the Director, Jim Harris, heard the recordings of these meetings, he urged me to consider putting them on video. He arranged cameras and crew to come to High Leigh Conference Centre, its main hall ‘converted’ into a studio, for three days at a time, enabling 18 programmes to be made with an invited audience. It took another five years to complete this project, which was distributed under the title ‘Unlocking the Bible’.

   Now these videos are travelling around the world. They are being used in house groups, churches, colleges, the armed forces, gypsy camps, prisons and on cable television networks. During an extended visit to Malaysia, they were being snapped up at a rate of a thousand a week. They have infiltrated all six continents, including Antarctica!

   More than one have called this my ‘legacy to the church’. Certainly it is the fruit of many years’ work. And I am now in my seventieth year on planet earth, though I do not think the Lord has finished with me yet. But I did think this particular task had reached its conclusion. I was mistaken.

   HarperCollins approached me with a view to publishing this material in a series of volumes. For the last decade or so I had been writing books for other publishers, so was already convinced that this was a good means of spreading God’s Word. Nevertheless, I had two huge reservations about this proposal which made me very hesitant. One was due to the way the material had been prepared and the other related to the way it had been delivered. I shall explain them in reverse order.

   First, I have never written out in full any sermon, lecture or talk. I speak from notes, sometimes pages of them. I have been concerned about communication as much as content and intuitively knew that a full manuscript interrupts the rapport between speaker and audience, not least by diverting his eyes from the listeners. Speech that is more spontaneous can respond to reactions as well as express more emotions.

   The result is that my speaking and writing styles are very different, each adapted to its own function. I enjoy listening to my tapes and can be deeply moved by myself. I am enthusiastic about reading one of my new publications, often telling my wife, ‘This really is good stuff!’ But when I read a transcript of what I have said, I am ashamed and even appalled. Such repetition of words and phrases! Such rambling, even incomplete sentences! Such a mixture of verb tenses, particularly past and present! Do I really abuse the Queen’s English like this? The evidence is irrefutable.

   I made it clear that I could not possibly contemplate writing out all this material in full. It has taken most of one lifetime anyway and I do not have another. True, transcripts of the talks had already been made, with a view to translating and dubbing the videos into other languages such as Spanish and Chinese. But the thought of these being printed as they were horrified me. Perhaps this is a final struggle with pride, but the contrast with my written books, over which I took such time and trouble, was more than I could bear.

   I was assured that copy editors correct most grammatical blunders. But the main remedy proposed was to employ a ‘ghostwriter’ who was in tune with me and my ministry, to adapt the material for printing. An introduction to the person chosen, Andy Peck, gave me every confidence that he could do the job, even though the result would not be what I would have written – nor, for that matter, what he would have written himself.

   I gave him all the notes, tapes, videos and transcripts, but these volumes are as much his work as mine. He has worked incredibly hard and I am deeply grateful to him for enabling me to reach many more with the truth that sets people free. If one gets a prophet’s reward for merely giving the prophet a drink of water, I can only thank the Lord for the reward Andy will get for this immense labour of love.

   Second, I have never kept careful records of my sources. This is partly because the Lord blessed me with a reasonably good memory for such things as quotations and illustrations and perhaps also because I have never used secretarial assistance.

   Books have played a major role in my work – three tons of them, according to the last furniture remover we employed, filling two rooms and a garden shed. They are in three categories: those I have read, those I intend to read and those I will never read! They have been such a blessing to me and such a bane to my wife.

   The largest section by far is filled with Bible commentaries. When preparing a Bible study, I have looked up all relevant writers, but only after I have prepared as much as I can on my own. Then I have both added to and corrected my efforts in the light of scholarly and devotional writings.

   It would be impossible to name all those to whom I have been indebted. Like many others, I devoured William Barclay’s Daily Bible Readings as soon as they were issued back in the 1950s. His knowledge of New Testament background and vocabulary was invaluable and his simple and clear style a model to follow, though I later came to question his ‘liberal’ interpretations. John Stott, Merill Tenney, Gordon Fee and William Hendrickson were among those who opened up the New Testament for me, while Alec Motyer, G. T. Wenham and Derek Kidner did the same for the Old. And time would fail to tell of Denney, Lightfoot, Nygren, Robinson, Adam Smith, Howard, Ellison, Mullen, Ladd, Atkinson, Green, Beasley-Murray, Snaith, Marshall, Morris, Pink and many many others. Nor must I forget two remarkable little books from the pens of women: What the Bible is all about by Henrietta Mears and Christ in all the Scriptures by A. M. Hodgkin. To have sat at their feet has been an inestimable privilege. I have always regarded a willingness to learn as one of the fundamental qualifications to be a teacher.

   I soaked up all these sources like a sponge. I remembered so much of what I read, but could not easily recall where I had read it. This did not seem to matter too much when gathering material for preaching, since most of these writers were precisely aiming to help preachers and did not expect to be constantly quoted. Indeed, a sermon full of attributed quotations can be distracting, if not misinterpreted as name-dropping or indirectly claiming to be well read. As could my previous paragraph!

   But printing, unlike preaching, is subject to copyright, since royalties are involved. And the fear of breaching this held me back from allowing any of my spoken ministry to be reproduced in print. It would be out of the question to trace back 40 years’ scrounging and even if that were possible, the necessary footnotes and acknowledgements could double the size and price of these volumes.

   The alternative was to deny access to this material for those who could most benefit from it, which my publisher persuaded me would be wrong. At least I was responsible for collecting and collating it all, but I dare to believe that there is sufficient original contribution to justify its release.

   I can only offer an apology and my gratitude to all those whose studies I have plundered over the years, whether in small or large amounts, hoping they might see this as an example of that imitation which is the sincerest form of flattery. To use another quotation I read somewhere: ‘Certain authors, speaking of their works, say “my book” … They would do better to say “our book” … because there is in them usually more of other people’s than their own’ (the original came from Pascal).

   So here is ‘our’ book! I suppose I am what the French bluntly call a ‘vulgarizer’. That is someone who takes what the academics teach and make it simple enough for the ‘common’ people to understand. I am content with that. As one old lady said to me, after I had expounded a quite profound passage of Scripture, ‘You broke it up small enough for us to take it in.’ I have, in fact, always aimed to so teach that a 12-year-old boy could understand and remember my message.

   Some readers will be disappointed, even frustrated, with the paucity of text references, especially if they want to check me out! But their absence is intentional. God gave us his Word in books, but not in chapters and verses. That was the work of two bishops, French and Irish, centuries later. It became easier to find a ‘text’ and to ignore context. How many Christians who quote John 3:16 can recite verses 15 and 17? Many no longer ‘search the scriptures’; they simply look them up (given the numbers). So I have followed the apostles’ habit of naming the authors only – ‘as Isaiah or David or Samuel said’. For example, the Bible says that God whistles. Where on earth does it say that? In the book of Isaiah. Whereabouts? Go and find out for yourself. Then you’ll also find out when he did and why he did. And you’ll have the satisfaction of having discovered all that by yourself.

   One final word. Behind my hope that these introductions to the Bible books will help you to get to know and love them more than you did lies a much greater and deeper longing – that you will also come to know better and love more the subject of all the books, the Lord himself. I was deeply touched by the remark of someone who had watched all the videos within a matter of days: ‘I know so much more about the Bible now, but the biggest thing was that I felt the heart of God as never before.’

   What more could a Bible teacher ask? May you experience the same as you read these pages and join me in saying: Praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

   J. David Pawson

    Sherborne St John, 1999

   Yes I thought I knew my Bible

   Reading piecemeal, hit or miss

   Now a part of John or Matthew

   Then a bit of Genesis

   Certain chapters of Isaiah

   Certain psalms, the twenty-third.

   First of Proverbs, twelfth of Romans

   Yes, I thought I knew the Word

   But I found that thorough reading

   Was a different thing to do

   And the way was unfamiliar

   When I read my Bible through.

   You who like to play at Bible

   Dip and dabble here and there

   Just before you kneel all weary

   Yawning through a hurried prayer.

   You who treat this crown of writings

   As you treat no other book

   Just a paragraph disjointed

   Just a crude impatient look.

   Try a worthier procedure

   Try a broad and steady view;

   You will kneel in awesome wonder

   When you read the Bible through.

   Author unknown



   1. Overview of the Old Testament

   2. Genesis

   3. Exodus

   4. Leviticus

   5. Numbers

   6. Deuteronomy


   God has given us a library of 66 books. The Latin word biblia, translated as ‘bible’, literally means ‘books’. The 39 Old Testament books, which cover over 2,000 years, were written by a variety of authors and include many types of literature. It is no surprise, therefore, that many people come to the Bible wondering how it all fits together.

   God did not arrange the Bible topically so that we could study themes individually: he arranged it so that we could read a book at a time. The Bible is God’s truth about himself and how we should relate to him, set in the context of history. It tells how people, principally the nation of Israel, came to experience God for themselves and respond to his Word. Far from being a dry theological textbook, it is the vibrant story of God’s redeeming work in the lives of his people.

   Many fail to grasp the overall message because they have an insufficient understanding of the background to the Bible. This chapter aims to provide an overview of the Old Testament so that any particular portion of Scripture can be given its correct context.


   If we are to understand the Old Testament there are two maps we need to appreciate first of all: those of the Promised Land and the Middle East.

   The key area in the map of the Middle East is what geographers call ‘the Fertile Crescent’ – the band of fertile land which stretches from the River Nile in Egypt in the west, north-east through the land of Israel and then south and south-east to the plains surrounding the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in what used to be called Mesopotamia (which means ‘the middle of the rivers’, meso – ‘middle’ and potamia – ‘rivers’). This fertile area comprised the centres of power in the ancient world, with Egypt located in the west and Assyria and later Babylon in the east. Israel was wedged between these two and much of the Old Testament is written with the struggles between these world powers in the background. There are also significant times when their threats or activities impinge directly on Israel.

   Israel’s geographical position made it significant as a trade route. The Syrian Desert to the east of Israel meant that traders and armies from the orient needed to cross Israel’s border as they moved between Asia, Africa and Europe. A mountainous area of basalt rock to the south-west of the Sea of Galilee funnelled the travellers through Jezreel and on through to Megiddo. A great trunk road entered Palestine through the Syrian Gate, running through Damascus, across the Bridge of Jacob’s Daughters and over a basalt dam to the Lake of Galilee. It then ran south-west via the Plains of Megiddo to the Coast Plain, through Lydda and Gaza to Egypt. Israel was a narrow corridor – to the east was the rift valley, which ran north to south down to the Dead Sea, and to the west was the Mediterranean Sea.

   Israel, therefore, was at the crossroads of the world, with trade routes arriving from all directions and Megiddo the place where they all met. Overlooking this ‘crossroads’ was the village of Nazareth, and doubtless Jesus would have sat on the hill there and watched the world go by.

   This location has spiritual significance. God was planting a people at a crossroads where they could be a model of the kingdom of heaven on earth. The whole world could see the blessing that comes to people living under God’s rule – and the curse that comes when they disobey. Israel’s unique position is no accident.

   Turning to the internal geography of the Promised Land, the northern part containing the crossroads of the world was called Galilee, or ‘Galilee of the Nations’ because of its international flavour. The southern part, Judaea, was more mountainous and isolated from the rest of the world, encouraging a more distinctively Jewish culture with the capital of Jerusalem at its centre.

   The Promised Land is about the same size as Wales, but it includes every kind of climate and scenery. Wherever you live, there is somewhere in Israel that is just like home. The place most like England is just south of Tel Aviv. Carmel in the north is known as ‘Little Switzerland’. Just 10 minutes from Carmel you can sit down among palm trees. Prominent in the land is the River Jordan, which rises on Mount Hermon and runs north to south within the rift valley mentioned earlier, through the Sea of Galilee and down to the Dead Sea. A fertile plain surrounds its course.

   All the flora and fauna of Europe, Africa and Asia can be found in Israel. Scots pine trees grow next to palm trees from the Sahara. In biblical times the wild animals in the country included lions, bears, crocodiles and camels. It seems as if the whole world was somehow squeezed into one small country.


   Having made ourselves familiar with the general geography of the Old Testament world, we now need to consider an outline of the history of the Old Testament. It may sound daunting to have to cover 2,000 years or more, but a simple chart will help us to grasp the basics (Geography).

   The Old Testament covers over 2,000 years of history before the time of Christ. Genesis 1–11 covers the ‘prehistoric’ part – the creation of the universe, the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden, the Flood and the Tower of Babel. The focus here is on humankind in general, though including a ‘godly’ line. But we can chart the history of Israel itself from 2000 BC, when God calls Abraham (though it would be centuries before the nation was formed).

   The Old Testament period can be divided into four equal parts of roughly 500 years each. Each period has a key event, a prominent person and a type of leadership.

   In the first period the patriarchs led Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. In the second period Israel was led by prophets, from Moses to Samuel. In the third period they were led by princes (kings), from Saul to Zedekiah. The fourth period saw the priests take the lead, from Joshua (a priest who returned to Judah from exile under Zerubbabel’s rule) to Caiaphas in the time of Christ.

   None of the leader types was ideal and each individual brought his own flaws to the task. The nation needed a leader who was prophet, priest and king, and they found him in Jesus. Each stage, therefore, was a foreshadowing of the ideal leader who was to come.