What is the central theme of the Bible?

I don’t really know a whole lot about the Bible. I know the basic stories like the Garden of Eden and Noah’s Ark, but not much more.

I was raised in rural Ohio in a conservative community. While my family didn’t go to church, many people around me did, and unfortunately, there was peer pressure. When I was in middle school, I decided I would try to be a Christian. I was determined to read the Bible from cover to cover, but I didn’t get too far. I got to this part that was like, so-and-so begot so-and-so who begot so-and-so who begot so-and-so, and I gave up.

I now live in Toledo and sometimes local churches will leave letters or pamphlets on our door or mailbox. I do read them out of curiosity. The latest was a pamphlet from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, “How do you view the Bible?” It claims we can believe what the Bible says because of its “amazing harmony, honest history, and reliable prophecy.” 

Amazing harmony? It states, “The Bible was written over a period of 1600 years by some 40 different people. Most of them never met one another. Yet, the entire book is harmonious, with one central theme!”

Do you agree? Is the Bible harmonious? Is there one central theme? All I could think of for a theme is something broad and generic like, “god is a powerful god” or something to that nature. I’m sure many of you have read more than I have. What do you think? What’s the central theme of the Bible? Is there one? Obviously, I’m not a Christian, but that doesn’t stop my curiosity.


  1. John Morales says

    It’s complicated, but basically, first there was the Bible (the Tanakh) of the Jews, then Christianity came along and added some fan fiction called the New Testament and called the Jewish Bible the Old Testament, and over time Christians combined the two into their own version of the Bible.


  2. OverlappingMagisteria says

    I think the Christian (and JW) answer is “it all points to God’s plan for salvation which is Jesus!”
    But more realistically, the JWs had it half right: it’s a book of 1600 years by some 40 different people, so of course there is no central theme. There are some themes that seems to come and go at different parts though. There’s “Yahweh is the best god” (though not necessarily the only one. That comes later in the Bible). A good chunk of the OT operates under “bad stuff happens because we disobey God.” If anything, that’s be the longest running theme through most of the OT. (except for Job, whose message seems to be the opposite: Bad stuff just happens and God’s got nothing to do with it.) You got a lot that’s historical record keeping that’s pretty dry with no particular theme (not just long begets, but lists of kings and who their priests, generals, etc were. The end of the OT starts bringing in a bit of theme of “we are suffering because we sinned, but have hope for God will save us.” The New Testament’s theme would probably be “Jesus is the Messiah who will save us all real soon, but Messiah doesn’t mean what you think it means. So prepare! Any time now!” But then there’s a bit of “We Christians are in it for the long haul for whenever Jesus returns, so here’s how we should understand Jesus and worship”

  3. anat says

    Well, depends which Bible. As someone who was brought up Jewish, the Bible to me means the Hebrew Bible (roughly what Christians call ‘the Old Testament’, though the order of books is a bit different).

    According to Historian Michael Har-Sgor (a secular person) the Hebrew Bible is the Jewish national epic. It is a story where Yahweh decides to burden the Jews with hundreds of special laws and promises in return to keep their nation alive (not specific individuals, he rarely cares about those). The Jews agreed in advance (ie before they heard any details) to obey the laws, but they keep failing in this commitment, so Yahweh keeps threatening them and punishing them, but in the end never lets them be destroyed completely. And one day in the unspecified distant future Yahweh will create some glorious situation for the Jews, who will finally obey the laws properly and run a just society.

    In some of the later books Yahweh takes interest in non-Jews as well, and expects them to worship him and be just and fair, though the specifics aren’t spelled out in much detail.

  4. Katydid says

    There are two books of the bible; the Old and New Testaments. The old part is mostly stolen from the TaNaKh and is about a vengeful, blood-thirsty god who sends people to slaughter entire villages, even ripping open pregnant women’s bellies and taking babies and preschoolers by the heels and “dashing their heads” on rocks. There’s also Genesis, which has different versions of in what order everything was created and disagrees on whether Adam and Eve were created together, or Eve created after Adam. Also, there is zero evidence that the Jews were kept as slaves in Egypt until they escaped en masse and spent the next 40 years wandering around in the desert.

    The new part is about Jesus. The four gospels disagree about events that took place in Jesus’s life and how they happened. One thing we know for sure is that Jesus was not even born in late December because it’s the rainy season and when lambs are born; there were no shepherds keeping watch in the hillsides under those conditions.

    There are so very many sites out there that list all the contradictions and inconsistencies in the bible. There are so many links that this post wouldn’t go through, but they’re easy to search for. One thing to take note of is the Romans and their attitude toward Yeshua bin Yusef; they didn’t see him as some scary figure they had to put down–he was just one troublemaking Messianic cultist like all the many Messianic cultists out there.

    Something to remember is that there were a whole bunch of creation myths floating around that part of the world, and they all stole from resembled each other. When you had a bunch of non-literate tribes, all they had was storytelling to pass on information, and the information changed from tribe to tribe. You see that today in the several-hundred flavors of Protestants in the US, all of whom will tell you they’re the only ones who understand the bible and everyone else has it wrong, wrong, wrong.

    So, Christians are actually people who worship a Messianic Jew out of many Messianic Jews who believed to his dying day that he was the only one who got Judaism right. And that’s if Yeshua bin Yusuf who was a Messianic rabbi even existed and did the human things that were ascribed to him (like cursing a fig tree that didn’t bear fruit out of season, LOL). There are a lot of compelling arguments that he was like Paul Bunyan–if he existed at all, he was fully human, made larger-than-life through retelling his tale. You can believe (why not) there was once a man called Paul Bunyan who was pretty tall and worked as a lumberjack, but was he really eleventy feet tall and performed super-human feats? Yeah, that part’s not true.

    The Simpsons said it best, when super-Christian Ned Flanders beseeches the sky, “Lord, I’ve done what you wanted! I’ve followed the bible completely–even the parts that contradict the other parts!”

  5. Katydid says

    The last post was way too long to address the topic of a central theme in the bible. If I had to sum it up, I would say the Old Testament’s theme is “Our god is the best! Follow him or he’ll kill you just like he did all to all those other tribes!” and the central theme of the New Testament is “Jesus is the son of god and he died for you so you’d better follow him or god will kill you and send you to hell forever and ever!”

  6. eastexsteve says

    When I was a believer I thought it important to read and study the bible, it’s gods word. So I did, and after a brief stop in the deism nebula became an atheist; harmonious isn’t the adjective I’d use.

    Bart Ehrman is a good you-tube source for accurate biblical info if you want to learn more, and George Carlin explains religion’s theme better than I ever could.

  7. Alan G. Humphrey says

    The one unifying theme I see in the Bible is that people are evil. Various sections try to explain that evil and ways to avoid being evil, but people always fail no matter what the invented universal overlord promises as reward or punishment. Historical references are mashed into it to give it verisimilitude to reality, but the closest it gets is the revelation that at the end the world is doomed to suffer from great heat. An accidental prophecy of global warming. The beginning words describe the earliest evil, the ending words the last evil, and with only 144,000 people out of the untold billions during that span not being evil.

  8. cheerfulcharlie says

    The central theme of the Gospels is, this world is going to end, soon, soon, soon. The Kingdom of God will come and Jesus will be king of all. The sheep will have a place here, the goats, will go to hell.

    John 14;15
    “If you love me, keep my commandments”
    Which one has to do to have a place in this new Kingdom of God.

    Thus, Mark 10, Luke 12, 14, 18, Matthew 19
    Sell all you have and give to the poor.

    Matthew 6:5-6
    Prayer is to be done in private.

    And so on. Of course, that did not happen. And still millions claim to believe that Jesus will return in their lifetimes today. Yet nobody sells al they have and gives to the poor as commanded. Which is the price of admission to this coming Kingdom Of Heaven run by King Jesus. See Matthew 25 32-46 for particulars on that.

    The central theme of the Bible changed over time, from the Torah with its genocides and massacres, to the prophets to the New testament.

    A central message of the gospels is, a rich man cannot attain a place in the coming Kingdom Of God.

  9. antaresrichard says

    Here’s a recent YouTube video by Biblical Scholar Dan McClellan touching on the history and construction of the modern day work most know as The Bible. McClellan is responding, as he says, to claims made about the book’s reliability. His personal motto is: “Data over dogma”.

    Have a listen and see what you think.


  10. shiprah stubber says

    i would say just stay away from Jehovah’s witnesses. They are very convincing and seem like they have all the answers. But after you find yourself following their ridiculous rules, you find it’s a cult, and leaving means losing everything.

    • John Morales says

      Indeed. They are very authoritarian, very cruel.

      It is the children who can’t help being brought up in that cult (you are so correct) who suffer most.
      And that is the saddest part of it.

      cf. this academic paper: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9803876/


      Shunning and ostracism have severe impacts on individuals’ psychological and social well-being. Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses are subject to shunning when they do not comply with the stated doctrine or belief system. To investigate the effects of shunning, interviews with 10 former Jehovah’s Witnesses, ranging in age from 20 to 44 years old, were conducted; six male, six White, one Native American, one Black, and two Latinx. Transcripts were analyzed with interpretative phenomenological analysis for narrative themes pertaining to their life after exclusion from their former faith using the context of Jehovah’s Witnesses culture. Results suggest shunning has a long-term, detrimental effect on mental health, job possibilities, and life satisfaction. Problems are amplified in female former members due to heavy themes of sexism and patriarchal narratives pervasive in Jehovah’s Witnesses culture. Feelings of loneliness, loss of control, and worthlessness are also common after leaving. The culture of informing on other members inside the Jehovah’s Witnesses also leads to a continued sense of distrust and suspicion long after leaving.

      Keywords: Shunning, Ostracism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Fundamentalism, Disfellowshipping, Familicide, Suicide”

  11. brightmoon says

    I would second about the JWs being a destructive cult. Superstition, misogyny, ignorance, and emotional abuse seems to be what they’re about. The number of former JWs on YouTube complaining about their former religion is astounding! I had bumped into this because a former boyfriend became one and was acting really weird and artificial, not at all like himself.

  12. Katydid says

    My observation is that the further you go from plain-vanilla “Jesus is love” Christianity, the more harmful and whacko and misogynist the group. JWs are one, 7th Day Adventists, Mormons, Southern Baptists, Brethern, and all the rest. That’s not to say that plain-vanilla Christianity is perfect, just that an overwhelming amount of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional) and misogyny is constantly being revealed in the offshoot cults.

  13. Bekenstein Bound says

    There’s no central theme to the Bible any more than there is to Wikipedia, and for the same reason. The Old Testament is basically an early attempt at creating an encyclopedia. Whoever compiled it documented the creation beliefs of several societies living in their area, which were similar but not identical because they had diverged from one another over time. They had much of the region’s oral tradition committed to writing, and wrote extensive biographies and genealogies of the major public figures of the time (which mainly meant royalty and nobility, the times being what they were). They also described common religious and legal practice in the area’s civilizations and recorded the stories describing historical events of note.

    The New Testament is markedly different, as it is a compilation of religious tracts from the founders and other early major figures in Christianity, plus some records of relevant historical events and early internal debates and politicking within the fledgling church. It is also a multi-author work, though it doesn’t break down as neatly as you’d expect (e.g. one author for each of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and it has fewer authors than the OT. It’s clear that the Gospels were reworked and edited after their original authorings for political reasons, and that even the founders of the religion had some divergences in their aims and views. The messy result was, of course, a compromise among these views.

    Revelation stands out as somewhat younger than the rest and of disjoint authorship (its John of Patmos is not the John of the eponymous gospel, in particular). Understood in the context of the times, it’s an anti-Nero political tract and a rallying cry to those Nero particularly oppressed. It was probably much less opaque to a person raised in that place and time, much as Shakespeare would not have needed all those Coles Notes to be fully understandable to an Englishman of a few centuries ago. (It’s interesting how highbrow Shakespeare is considered to be now, considering that he was basically the 16th century’s Stephen King.) To the extent that Revelation would have been obscure to a contemporary Roman, it was undoubtedly to fly under Nero’s censorship radar.

    The comparisons of figures like Jesus and Moses to more recent figures like Bunyan seem apt. One might also compare Hercules, with his 12 labors and other feats, and the numerous myths that have grown up about George Washington. Mythologizing of living or historically recent public figures is likely a human universal. However the possibility should not be discounted that such figures might also have been invented out of whole cloth. There is no late-19th or early-20th century historical personage upon whom Kal-El is based, after all. Telling which was which can be difficult, but there is evidence for the historical existence of Jesus, as there are Roman records untainted by Christianity of a Jesus having been crucified in the first century for being a political agitator and spreading doomsday prophecies. A different story that circulated around the same time said that a Jesus ben Ananias spread doomsday prophecies and self-flagellated, before being killed by a catapulted stone during a battle at Jerusalem. Both of those records predate the earliest indubitably Christian writings by decades. Likely they are based on one or even two people whose stories grew into Bunyan-style legends (and became conflated, if originally separate) during that interval, and then became a focal point for a kind of paleo-hippie movement reacting to poor conditions under Roman rule. The possibility of a deliberate and calculated effort to spawn a cult using just-so stories (ala L. Ron Hubbard) also cannot be discounted.

  14. brightmoon says

    Control , misogyny, try to be good , these are all threads running through the Bible. Fundies are more interested in control and misogyny. Mainstream Jews and Christians are more about trying to be good to others and maybe yourself as a sort of afterthought( they don’t escape that control event either)

  15. Dr Sarah says

    There certainly is a central theme, which is basically ‘You Will Do What God Wants And You Will Like It (Or Else)’, but there’s nothing ‘amazing’ about that; the people writing the later books came from groups that believed in the earlier books as their sacred scripture, so of course they were writing books that carried on with the same theme. It’s not as though all these different people just spontaneously came out with these works out of nowhere. On top of which, there was a selection process of which books to put in and which to leave out; anything that deviated too far from the theme was considered heretical and therefore not included.

    And, even with that background, the Bible still doesn’t manage ‘harmony’ in what it teaches. The OT teaches that the Jewish people are supposed to follow the Jewish law for ever, no exceptions, no listening to any old miracle-worker who comes along and tells you to abandon this law. The NT teaches that we should follow a miracle-worker who tells everyone to abandon this law. That’s a pretty crucial difference.

    The prophecy’s not ‘reliable’ either. Once you discount all the ‘prophecies’ for which the date of writing is uncertain enough that they could have easily been written after the events they supposedly prophecy, and all those that are actually verses taken out of context or misquoted, and those that are vague enough that there was bound to be something fitting them in the subsequent millennium or two, and those for which we have no evidence that the fulfilment actually happened… guess what, nothing left.

  16. Kevin Dugan says

    Read through that damned book 5 times before I became an atheist. Maybe I’m a little slow, here’s my summary
    God(s): I’m a badass lightning god of the dessert, so obey me. You are scum and property, men belong to me, women and children belong to men. Everything else belongs to men too. Suck it up. Here are some rules to live by (suckers).
    If I feel like killing children using a bear, you need to make it look like I’m good so they were bad.
    If I feel like destroying your entire life and family, ditto.
    If I feel like wiping out the world, or just a city or two. ditto.
    Anyone who is not you is the enemy and kill all of them except the nubile young girls who you can take for slaves.
    Men: Here’s some poetry that says your great, and some folk wisdom too.
    God: Let me conquer you with these assholes north of you and destroy your city because you’re bad and I’m good.
    Prophets: We’re bad and Yah is good. Get in line people and stop your whinging. Oh look! The Romans! Oh no! The Temple! Lets light some candles.
    Mark: Hey, magic guy arrived and he’s got the answer
    Matthew: Hey jews, magic guy arrived and not only does he have the answer, but he’s an authentic Jew too.
    Luke: Hey gentiles, magic guy showed up and here’s why it’s important to you.
    John: Dude, too many mushrooms, magic guy just got weirder.
    Paul: I’m the only dude to listen to when it comes to magic guy, and here’s all the blather about how to fit magic guy into Roman culture. Oh, by the way, he’s coming back really soon.
    John: Still on a lot of mushrooms, here’s how magic guy and badass Jah will end it all.Let the screaming commence.

  17. Dr Sarah says

    Oh, also; If he’s the god of the dessert, is he the one served up after the Flying Spaghetti Monster? And will there be a god of the coffee and mint served up after that?

  18. ajwade says

    I don’t really know a whole lot about the Bible. I know the basic stories like the Garden of Eden and Noah’s Ark, but not much more.
    Despite never having been a believer I find the Bible oddly fascinating. You might enjoy this lecture series on the New Testament and related literature: RLST 152.

    Is the Bible harmonious?
    Goodness, no: there is tonal whiplash all over the place. It’s one of the ways of teasing out changes in authorship.

    Is there one central theme?
    Monotheism? Sort of? But there is a fair bit of weirdness when it comes to the monotheism.

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