top of page
  • Writer's pictureLaurie Larsen

The Bible Has Cliffs Notes?!


Do you know what Cliffs Notes are?  Careful!  Your answer to that question will give a clue to your age!

Cliffs Notes are a series of summaries and analyses of works of literature, intended as study aids to students.  They were originally created in 1958 by Cliffton Hillegass. He began by, partnering with his wife Catherine, writing succinct summaries of sixteen Shakespeare plays in his basement in Lincoln, Nebraska and publishing them in slim paperback booklets. By 1964, sales reached one million booklets annually. After a full career creating Cliffs Notes on hundreds of works of literature, in 1998, IDG Books purchased Cliffs Notes for $14.2 million!  (Thanks to Wikipedia for these details.)

But one thing about students – they’re smart!  And innovative.  Can you guess what the eventual use for Cliffs Notes were?  Intended as an aid for students, they eventually evolved into a substitute for reading the actual book.  I wonder, as an English major myself, how many Literature tests were taken (and passed) after reading Cliffs Notes instead of the book itself? 

When I took on the challenge of reading the Bible in a year, I wanted to read every book, every chapter, every word.  And I did.  I wanted to read it all so I could experience the flow, to notice nuances and pick up on parallels that I wouldn’t know without reading the entirety of the Bible itself. Of course, there are thousands of books that were written to help the reader to interpret and understand the Bible. Reading the Bible is not actually necessary if you read those books.  And you can actually buy Cliffs Notes of the entire Bible!

But did you know that the Bible itself offers something similar to Cliffs Notes? 

It’s true! As I was reading along, I made a note of several locations that gave a really good summary of what had already happened in the Old Testament.  Like Cliffs Notes, you can read these summaries to either replace or enhance your reading of the entire book.  I’ll leave that decision up to you.

The first one I encountered was in Nehemiah 9 starting in verse 6. In this section, the prophet Nehemiah is addressing the Lord God, listing all the great acts he performed for his people Israel:

·        The creation of the earth.

·        Choosing Abram, naming him Abraham. Making a covenant with him to give his descendants the land of their enemies.

·        Noticing the suffering of his people in Egypt, sending signs and wonders against the Pharaoh, dividing the sea, to ensure that Pharaoh released them from slavery.

·        Descending from Mount Sinai, delivering his law on stone tablets to Moses.

·        Feeding his freed people bread from heaven and quenching their thirst with water from a rock.

·        The stubborn people disobeying his commands and casting themselves an image of a calf which they worshipped. But God didn’t abandon them. Forty years he sustained them in the wilderness.

·        The chosen people taking possession of the land God promised, and their children becoming as numerous as the stars in the sky.

·        God delivering them into the hands of their enemies when they were disobedient and rebelled against God.

·        Lots of cases of God forgiving and providing and the people doing what was evil in his sight. But whenever the people ask for forgiveness God provides it.


Another summary that I really like is in Acts chapter 7.  

In this chapter, we meet a man named Stephen.  In Acts 6:5 Stephen is described as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.  A few verses later he’s described as “a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.”

But as much as he was loved and respected by Jesus’s new church, he caused great opposition from a group of Hellenistic Jews who began to argue with Stephen. Who were the Hellenistic Jews? They were a sanction of Judaism during the time of Christ (and after) that were located in Greece, spoke in Greek and read the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.  To “Hellenize” something is to make it more Greek; to adopt more Greek cultures and ideas.   Dissensions arose between the Hellenistic Jews and the Hebraic Jews, who were located in Israel, the original home of Judaism.

Anyway, back to Stephen and his Cliffs Notes of the Old Testament.  The Hellenistic Jews didn’t like this well-spoken and respected Stephen representing the “New Way” (as the new Christian church was referred to at the time). They argued with Stephen, but they couldn’t stand up against his wisdom (Acts 6:10) so they secretly persuaded some men to spread rumors about Stephen, that he was heard blaspheming Moses and God. Mission accomplished: Stephen was seized by the teachers of the law, and brought before the Sanhedrin, which was the Jewish legal council at that time. The entirety of Acts chapter 7, believed to be written by Luke, shares Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin, which is an Old Testament summary. 

Here are the topics he covers:

·        God appears to Abraham and entices him to leave his country. Promises him that his descendants will inherit the promised land.

·        Abraham becomes the father of Isaac and Jacob.

·        Joseph gets sold into slavery by his brothers.

·        Famine struck in Egypt. Joseph’s brothers see Joseph during their trip for grain.

·        Moses’ birth and Pharaoh’s daughter taking him and raising him as her son.

·        Moses, now forty years old, defends a fellow Israelite and kills the attacking Egyptian.

·        Forty years pass and an angel appears to Moses in a burning bush. God’s own voice speaks to him, “I am the God of your fathers.”

·        Moses is made the ruler and deliverer to lead his enslaved people out of Egypt.

·        The tabernacle of the Lord is with them in the desert, made as God directed Moses.

·        David becomes king after Moses.

·        Solomon, David’s son builds the permanent temple for God, replacing the tabernacle.

A few things happen after Stephen provides his Cliffs Notes version of the Old Testament.  Number one, he proves that he is very knowledgeable about the Hebrew history.  And number two, the Sanhedrin get very angry.  Verse 54 begins: When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.  Later, in verse 57 we learn that the elders and listeners rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.

I would hate to think that more modern students who used Cliffs Notes to take tests would have to pay such a terrible price! (Joke)

There is another incredible event described in verse 55 which I won’t go into because it’s not the topic of this blog, but please, look it up:  Acts chapter 7, verses 55 and 56.  Amazing!  We’ll get into it in a future blog.


Prayer:  Dear God, we thank you for your Word. We thank you for all of it, and we also thank you for the summaries and supplements that have been written to help us learn and understand it.  Please help us when we read your Word to open our minds and see and absorb the meaning so that we can learn more about you.  Amen.


12 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page