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Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Waltke’

I figured I’d continue my “5 Scholars” gimmick series with some thoughts on scholars who I wish would write more for a non-academic audience.  This is a follow-up to my “Must Read” and “Good Read” lists.  Some of these guys have already written some things for a non-academic audience, but would benefit many by writing even more.  In my opinion, it takes a certain skill to write for laypeople, a skill not all Bible scholars (or scholars of any stripe) are blessed with.  These five, however, have what it takes to make it work, and I hope they do so in the future.  Anyway, without further ado, here we go.

(1) Craig Blomberg.  Blomberg is a favorite of mine.  He’s a solid Bible scholar; writes nothing flashy or earth-shattering, but consistently churns out quality books.  I’ve previously reviewed his Jesus & the Gospels and Neither Poverty Nor Riches here at BBG.  Both of these books can be read by lay people (especially the one on the Gospels), yet are bulky and detailed enough that I’m not sure many would be drawn to them.  The same goes for his The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but I feel like his books could be read by laypeople, but don’t target them. 

Books I’d like to see

  • Blomberg is excellent on parables, perhaps a scaled down version (i.e., not 300+ pages) of what he’s previously written
  • A lay introduction to Jesus, focusing less on scholarship and more on the Gospel accounts (maybe condense sections 3-5 of his Jesus & the Gospels)
  • Of all the scholars I read, Blomberg could pull off a Jesus/Gospels Q & A better than anyone.  I could see him sitting down in a room with 20 laypeople, answering questions in a way that would be informing and transforming.  I’d love to see him do something like this, addressing questions of interpretation, historicity, etc.  This may be something better done on his blog, but either way, I think it’d be great. 

(2) Douglas Moo.  For my money, Moo is one of the finest NT scholars out there.  I place his Romans commentary as my personal favorite, his James commentary is up there with the best, and I’d bet his Colossians/Philemon commentary is just as good.  Granted, he has written lay level commentaries on Romans and James, but I’m learning that commentaries are not as popular amongst laypeople as perhaps they once were. 

Books I’d like to see

  • An Intro to Paul, something along the lines of what Michael Bird accomplished and Anthony Thiselton tried to
  • Some of D A Carson’s best stuff are his expositions on sections of Scripture (Sermon on the Mount, for example).  I could see Moo doing something like this on a section like Romans 5-8, or maybe the intersection of faith & works.
  • I’ve heard Moo is writing a book on creation and the environment.  Again, if anyone could write a book like this detailing what the Bible teaches about God’s creation to a lay audience, I think Moo could do it.
  • A book on Bible translation.  As the chairman of the committee responsible for the upcoming NIV2011, Moo could do everyone in the church a service by writing about how translations are done, what sorts of issues are involved, why it’s more complicated than it looks, etc.

(3) Bruce Waltke.  Waltke is a gifted communicator with a passion for the church.  He openly admits that he writes for the church more so than the academy.  The only problem is that his books tend to be huge and detailed, something that makes them far less accessible to laypeople (you know, the ones who actually comprise most of the church) than to scholars &/or trained pastors.  His OT Theology weighs in at 1000+ pages (and took me forever to review), and his Proverbs commentary might be the best around, but is 2 Volumes totalling 1300+ pages.

Books I’d like to see

  • A condensed version of his OT Theology
  • A book on biblical wisdom, not so much an intro to wisdom literature, but a look at what it means to live wisely in a biblical sense in the 21st century
  • A similar book on the Psalms, what can the Psalms teach us about how we live, worship, etc.

(4) Gordon Wenham.  I feel like Wenham is often overlooked when discussing the best OT scholars out there, but if I were to list some of the best Pentateuch commentaries, he’d be near the top for Genesis, Leviticus and Numbers (the latter being one that could reach a lay audience).  He has written Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Pentateuch, which could hit a lay audience if it weren’t so textbookish. 

Books I’d like to see

  • His Leviticus commentary is quite good, I wonder if he could write a book on the theme of sacrifice in the Bible, culminating in Jesus (and I’d love to hear his thoughts on Hebrews)
  • I’d love for someone to write a book taking a few major themes of the Pentateuch (3-5) and showing how they set the stage for what comes in the rest of the Bible.  I’m thinking of themes like: creation, blessing, sacrifice (see above), covenant.  Wenham would be a great scholar to write such a book, and could probably do it in a non-scholarly fashion.

(5) Peter O’Brien.  O’Brien has written some of the best Pauline commentaries out there.  His commentaries on Philippians, Colossians and Ephesians are either the best for those individual books are darn close.  It is clear he has a desire to explain the text for pastors and teachers in a way that is biblically faithful and responsible.  Yet, he’s written almost nothing for the lay person to read. 

Books I’d like to see written

  • Philippians and Ephesians both have a lot to say about the church, since O’Brien has written excellent commentaries on both, I bet he could do something along these lines
  • Moore Theological College has posted 100+ O’Brien sermons/lectures online.  Could any of these be turned into smaller books of expositions?  I’ve listened to his series on Romans 8 and I think so.
  • Like Douglas Moo above, I think he could write an excellent lay level Intro to Paul.

Is there anyone I’m missing?  Any other book ideas (which, by the way, is another post I’d like to write)?

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Thanks for Chris at Zondervan for a review copy of this book.

This post is designed to be a summary of my thoughts on Bruce Waltke’s excellent book, An Old Testament Theology.  I’ve opted not to cover every detail of this book in my reviews, but have tried to sample a bit of what Waltke does and how I’ve found it helpful.  Because you check out my other reviews (go to the Book Reviews page), I will keep this relatively short and sweet.

Let me approach this critique byOT Theology using the subtitle of the book: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach.  It’s generally a good habit to critique a book based on the goals of the author rather than what the reader thinks they should have said.

The greatest strength of this book is the exegesis contained within it.  Time and time again I came away learning something new and being challenged to rethink some positions I’ve previously held.  In Part II of this review I mentioned his take on the “us” in Genesis 1:26 being the heavenly court.  His grammatical insights are fairly persuasive, in my mind.  His ability to link stories throughout the Old Testament through related concepts (see Part I) helped me realize the internal coherence of the Old Testament.

But one of the great aspects of this book, though, is how the exegesis flows well into theological reflection.  The reader doesn’t simply come away with notes on details of the text, but how the biblical authors were reflecting on the character of God and its impact on the reader.  In Part IV I highlighted his helpful treatments of the post-exilic historical narratives, in particular the Ezra-Nehemiah narratives, and how they highlight the loving providence of God.  Waltke excels in this regard.

As far as the thematic aspect of this book, Waltke focuses on the “theological center” of the Old Testament: “irruption (breaking-in) of the Kingship of God.”  “To put it another way, the Bible is about God bringing glory upon himself by restoring Paradise after humanity lost it through a loss of faith in God that led to rebellion against his rule” (p144).  Thus, the unifying theme is God’s redemption of a fallen world and bringing his kingdom onto this earth.  Thankfully, Waltke doesn’t try to fit everything into this theme, understanding that there are points in the Old Testament where this is not particularly highlighted.  Nonetheless, Waltke rightly sees the theme of God’s rule spread throughout the books of the Old Testament.

My main criticism of the book is in the “canonical” insights, specifically how a theme or story is traced throughout the rest of the Old Testament and into the New Testament.  Waltke openly admits that an NT scholar would be better equipped to discuss the NT developments, but he still ventures to offer some thoughts.  Unfortunately, though, I don’t think he tackles the most important issues and texts.

In Part III of my review, I point out how Waltke doesn’t adaquetly trace the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants throughout the rest of the canon.  Regarding Abraham, he spends most of his time dealing with Romans 9-11, and almost no treatment of how the prophets recall God’s covenant with Abraham.  And when it comes to God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7 and how that helps us understand the coming of the Son of David, Jesus, well… I came away disappointed.  He actually focuses on the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke rather than how God fulfills his promise to David in Jesus.  This seems completely out of place given Waltke’s own goals.  I understand he isn’t a New Testament scholar, but he is as well equipped as anyone to give us some substance to the NT references to these covenants.  The reader is left searching elsewhere for these insights.

But I don’t want to give the impression that this defincency in any way takes away from the important contribution Waltke makes in this book.  I’ve read other Old Testament theologies; I don’t think there is a better and more thorough treatment out there.  It’s true you can’t cover everything, even in a book this size, but Waltke does as well as can be expected.  Don’t let the size (and price) scare you away- An Old Testament Theology is so well structured and written that the reader will find it easier than its size might make you think.

Bruce Waltke is to be commended for his lifelong contribution to evangelical scholarship.  This book reflects decades of wrestling with the text and being challenged to reckon with the God of heaven and earth.  We ought to be thankful that Dr Waltke has given himself to the study and application of the word of God, and be thankful that he has given us such a masterful treatment of the Old Testament.  In the end, one gets the sense that Bruce Waltke has been profoundly changed by the God of the Bible and wants others to be as well.  The fruit of his labor will bless the church for many years to come.

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Thanks to Chris at Zondervan for a review copy of this book.

OT Theology by Bruce WaltkeIt has admittedly, and regretfully, been a while since I’ve posted more of my review of this book.  I won’t make excuses, but I’ll reiterate that Waltke’s book is well worth the time it takes to plow through it.  I left off in my last portion of the review with the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants and some of Waltke’s thoughts on kingship in the OT.  In this part, I’d like to summarize Waltke’s treatment of the historical narratives written for the postexilic period: Chronicles, Esther and Ezra-Nehemiah (these constitute chapters 27-28).

Waltke favors a date shortly after the return from exile for Chronicles, written to address the issues of that community.  As one might expect of a community coming out of exile in a foreign land, there were many questions to ask.  For example, Chronciles highlights the Jerusalem temple.  In fact, Waltke follows Pratt in pointing out that 17 of 21 chapters about David are dedicated to his preparations for the temple, which was built by Solomon.  This fact helps lean the reader towards a date around the time of Haggai and Zechariah, post-exilic prophets who were instrumental in getting the temple rebuilt.

It has been noted time and again that the Chronicler “whitewashes” some of Israel’s history, leaving out some of the negative details and including more repentance on the part of certain kings, notably Manasseh.  “His portrait of Manasseh serves as an object lesson for the Judahites and the covenant community at large: God is more concerned with repentance and restoration than with retribution” (p764).

Regarding Esther, Waltke takes the intriguing point of view that Esther and Mordecai are nothing more than “nominal covenant people” rather than heroic figures.  He notes: they do not return from exile, Esther hides her nationality (which would have to include breaking certain Mosaic laws that contradicted pagan practices in order not to be discovered), they do not give glory to God when they come out victorious, etc.  I’m not entirely sure what to make of this, but it’s something I’m going to spend more time studying.  I know Douglas Stuart, one of my former OT professors, takes a similar approach.  If scholars of this caliber agree on something, one would do well to pay attention, at the very least.

As for what the book of Esther teaches about God, it certainly shows his providence and his faithfulness to his covenant people, even using nominal covenant members for his purposes.  There are far too many “timely reversals” in this book for it to recall mere coincidental happenings.  The book of Esther demonstrates God’s behind-the-scenes work on behalf of his people.

Ezra-Nehemiah constitute one book, compiled through official records and the memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah.  Perhaps the most informative aspect of this chapter is Waltke’s careful weaving of the structure of the book- he apparently have never met a chiasm he didn’t like- with insightful comments regarding the content of the book.  The reader comes away with a strong summary of Ezra-Nehemiah and a better idea of how the book coheres.

Waltke also discuss some of the theological aspects of Ezra-Nehemiah.  Again, the reader learns about how God’s providence works to bring his people back from exile.  There is also an emphasis on the need for a pure community wholely devoted to God.  Waltke also detects in the prayers of repentance found in Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 9 a longing for the Messiah, the promised Davidic king, as the people are still enslaved to a foreign nation.  This fits well with the thesis that even in Jesus’ day there was a sense in which the exile had not ended because Israel was not self-governing.

In all, these 2 chapters provide the reader with a strong grasp of the biblical material and how God worked to bring about the restoration of his people.  I found nothing in these chapters particularly disagreeable, in fact, I’d highly recommend them as reliable guides for those wishing to become oriented to the books of Chronicles, Esther and Ezra-Nehemiah.

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I set out this year to read some books from outside my normal genre, biblical studies (especially commentaries), in order to broaden my horizons a bit.  I read a number of books I thought were excellent, some of which have been reviewed (click our “Book Reviews” tab and check them out).  But, I thought I’d point out my favorites from this year.  Note well: these books may not have been published in 2008, but I read them this year for the first time (hence the title “New Reads” rather than “New Books”).  Here they are, in no particular order.

Jesus Made in America, by Stephen J Nichols

I loved this book.  I certainly had some disagreement- the Puritan lovefest, some (but not all) of his criticisms of modern Christian music and movies- but overall Nichols succeeded in showing how American views of Jesus have shifted throughout the generations, often influenced by culture rather than the Bible.  I came away from this book challenged about my own understanding of who Jesus was/is, and not so confident of our own ability to understand Him without cultural baggage making its way into the process.  Jesus Made in America has catipulted Nichols into my “authors I must read” category (in fact, I’m finishing another book of his right now).

An Old Testament Theology, by Bruce Waltke

I’ve been working on a multi-part review of this book for some time, due partly to its massive size and partly to my busy schedule.  Don’t let my last review of this book deceive you, it’s an excellent read and a learning experience well worth the time.  Students of the OT won’t be surprised by this, however, as Waltke’s reputation precedes him.

Neither Poverty Nor Riches, by Craig Blomberg

I’m getting to this book about 10 years later than I should have.  Blomberg, as usual, was informative, challenging and enjoyable.  For anyone interested in ministering to the poor, this is a must read.

Worship Matters, by Bob Kauflin

I’m not a worship leader.  I have no musical gifting whatsoever.  But I’m convinced that worship through music is an integral part of the teaching aspect of the church, so as a Bible teacher I’m fascinated with how we can better use worship to teach people about God.  Bob Kauflin helps us in this area, and gives tons of great insight in practical matters for worship leaders as well. 

Theology in the Context of World Christianity, by Timothy Tennent

This is the only book on this list I haven’t reviewed.  Full disclosure: Tennent was one of my professors at Gordon-Conwell, and one of the finest lecturers I’ve ever heard.  I can’t think of anyone more qualified to write this book.  Tennent is a top-notch missiologist with a strong concern for a theologically grounded approach to missions.  I remember in classes how he would plead for us to listen to the non-Western church and learn from how they “do theology.”  This book helps us do that very thing, by letting us see theology through the eyes of the global church.  This has impacted me in a powerful way; I felt like I never really understood hermeneutics until I studied missions.  It has made me a better student of the Bible.  Anyone interested in theology and/or missions ought to read this book.  I look forward to his next project, a Trinitarian Missiology.

Okay, I’ll stop there.  There were other good ones, to be sure, but these stand out for me.  As for 2009, I have a number of books I’m looking forward to reading, but especially G K Beale’s We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry.  I’ve been jonesing to read this book since I first heard about it, and thanks to Adrianna at IVP, I now have a copy and will be writing a review sometime in the future.  I’m getting excited just thinking about it!

What about you?  What have been your favorite books of 2008?

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Thanks to Chris at Zondervan for a review copy of this book.

 

In this portion of the review, I’ve opted to focus specifically on Waltke’s treatment of the Abrahamic & Davidic covenants.  I did this for two main reasons: 1) since Waltke’s book is, in part, a biblical theology, I wanted to know how he develops these two covenants and 2) I tell my students every year (ad nauseum, actually) that these two covenants are foundational for understanding the rest of the Bible (more on that as we go along).  

 

 

OT Theology by Bruce WaltkeIn chapter 12, The Gift of the Abrahamic Covenant, Waltke shows us how the story of Abraham and his sons (the patriarchs) connects with Genesis 1-11.  “The story of the Fall [Genesis 1-11] poses the challenge; the patriarchal narratives… are God’s definitive response” (p307).  Much of his treatment of Abraham and his sons is terrific.  For instance, he specializes in the structure of the patriarchal narratives (lovers of chiasms will love this chapter) and offers helpful insights into Abraham’s faith (which is not unwavering, but still commendable).

 

Unfortunately, he doesn’t show how the Abrahamic covenant is so crucial to the rest of the Bible, specifically in the prophets.  How many times do we read about “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”?  How many times do we read prophecies (especially in Isaiah) about the nations being drawn to Israel?  These are bringing us back to the stories of Abraham.  Waltke offers an extended treatment of Romans 9-11, dealing with the relationship of Israel to the church.  I imagine this is in part due to his turn from dispensationalism to covenant theology (one I happen to laud), so he may have felt the need to include this discussion.  But, in the meantime, I felt like an opportunity to do some strong biblical theology was missed.

 

Waltke deals with the Davidic covenant (see 2 Samuel 7) in its own chapter (chapter 23).  But unlike his treatment of the development of the Abrahamic covenant, Waltke does in fact develop the idea of kingship in chapter 24, The Gift of Kingship.  He leads off by taking on the notion that kingship is actually seen in a negative light in the Old Testament.  For instance, Waltke also argues, persuasively, that Gideon is hardly a credible person in the narrative, so his complete objection to kingship (Judges 8:22-23) can hardly be seen as the narrator’s point of view (p684).  

 

I highly commend Waltke’s survey of the views of the kingship in the Pentateuch, but I want to move on to how he sees the development of kingship, specifically Davidic, in the rest of the Bible.  He even includes a helpful section on the relationship between the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, noting that “the Davidic covenant fulfills, confirms, and supplements the Abrahamic covenant” (p692).  I’m not sure I totally agree with his use of “fulfill,” since while David’s dynasty does fulfill part of it, we still don’t see the nations of the earth being blessed in David or his sons (until, of course, Jesus).  

 

Regarding how the Davidic covenant supplements the Abrahamic covenant, Waltke states, “I AM promises unconditionally to both Abraham and David an eternal posterity: to Abraham an enduring nation; to David an enduring dynasty to rule that nation.  Indeed, David’s eternal dynasty mediates the kings who I AM promised to give from Abraham and Sarah’s own bodies” (p693).  

 

Beginning on p699, Waltke includes a brief survey of how the prophets, psalms and New Testament develop the theme of Davidic kingship.  When I say “brief,” I really mean it- only 2 ½ pages.  I would have liked more, but I’m thankful for what he included, specifically with the prophets.  He quotes Is 9:6-7, 11:2; Jer 23:5-6; and Mic 5:2-5 to point out to the reader how these recall God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7.  Again, while it would have been nice for him to develop this more (and maybe talk about passages like Ezekiel 37:24-28), he gives enough to help the reader make a connection that many of us do not make at all.  But, if we’re paying attention to what Waltke’s point is (that the prophets bring us back to God’s covenant with David) and paying attention when we’re reading the prophets, we’ll begin to see these connections for ourselves.

 

His treatment of the Davidic covenant in the Psalms and New Testament, however, are a bit more disappointing.  He gives one paragraph to the Psalms; the same goes for “Jesus Christ and the Davidic Covenant.”  And in his discussion of Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1, he actually gives his opinion on why it differs from Luke’s genealogy.  Matthew sets him up for a chance to make a great point for his readers, and he misses it.  Matthew starts with, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  What more could an Old Testament scholar ask for!  I was waiting for Waltke to knock this out of the park, but in the end, he opted to bunt instead.  

 

I started this review noting that I wanted to see how Waltke developed these two great covenants.  As you can tell, I came away somewhat disappointed.  What he does say is great, and there’s much to learn from it, but I can’t help but think more could have been said (yes, in a book weighing in at 1000+ pages).  

 

I’ve thought about whether it’s fair for me to judge Waltke on his discussion of topics that I’m interested in.  But I don’t think it’s simply about my interest level.  The Abrahamic and Davidic covenants are recalled time and time again throughout the Bible.  Every time we read about “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” and the nations being drawn in to God’s people, the biblical authors are reminding us of God’s promise to Abraham.  Every time we read in the prophets about the coming king in the line of David, or the psalmists’ prayers for blessings on the king, or the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, the biblical authors are reminding us of God’s promise to David.  So, no, I don’t think I’m simply importing my own wishes on Waltke.  Back on p125-126, Waltke states, “Later texts by charismatic figures- be they prophets (such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel), prophets historians (e.g., the Deuteronomist and Chronicler), or an authorized exegete (such as Ezra)- occasionally transform the teaching of earlier texts of charismatic figures (such as Moses).”  This was a chance for Waltke to demonstrate that point; I wish he would have taken that opportunity.

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Thanks again to Chris at Zondervan for a review copy of this book.

 

Sorry for 2 book review posts today, but I wanted to get part 1 of my review on this blog rather than referring you back to my old one.  I promise I’ll never do it again (yes, I am employing the universal promise-negation tactic of crossing my fingers).

 



I intended to use this part of my review of Waltke’s OT Theology to review his sections on Genesis, but realized how long it would end up being.  (Actually, I’m beginning to realize just how many reviews it will take to work through this book; a change of plans may be in order).  So, I’ll give some thoughts on chapters 7-11, which leads us up through the story of Noah.

 

His thoughts on the creation narrative were helpful, arguing that Genesis 1 is in fact history, but neither “straightforward history” nor science.  What is most important is what the biblical account teaches us about God as Creator.  “As the Creator of the cosmos, he [God] triumphed in the past, as Creator of history he triumphs in the present, and as Creator of the new heavens and new earth, when the creation theme peaks, he will be triumphant in the future” (p203).

 

I found his discussion of the “us” in Gen 1:26 to be fascinating.  Against the common Christian interpretation that “us” is referring to the Trinity, or even the less common “self-deliberative plural”, he takes it to refer to the “heavenly court”, that is, angels.  Two points from his argument revolve around the issue of the Hebrew word elohim, which is actually in the plural form.  He argues that in Genesis 3 the word is not used to refer to God, but rather heavenly or divine beings.  He notes that elohim is elsewhere used as “divine beings” rather than “God” (1 Sam 28:13).  Also (not to get to technical), “you will be like elohim, knowing good and evil” (3:5) uses a plural participle rather than a singular modifier (which is what’s used when elohim is referring to God rather than a plural group); the same wording occurs in 3:22.  There’s more to the argument, but suffice to say that I’m intrigued by his suggestion, granting that it may have the best support in context.  The big question I’d ask in response is whether it is said that the angels are also created in God’s image and is it fair to read between the lines and come up with a strong “heavenly court” concept. 

 

I appreciate that Waltke carried the story of the Garden into Genesis 4, where we see the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin.  Here we see that the situation is worsening as they leave the garden, yet this story “assures us that I AM accompanies Adam and Eve and their family outside the garden (“I AM looked with favor on Abel and his offering,” v. 4) and superintends the giving of the seed of the Serpent and of the woman (“God has granted me another child in place of Abel,” 4:25) (p269).

 

Waltke follows Warren Gage in noting the parallels between Adam and the creation story and Noah and the “new creation” story.  I never realized how many lexical similarities there are between the two stories; there are enough that it’s hard to argue against the intentionality of the parallels.

 

There are a couple relatively minor problems, as I see them, with these chapters.  I was a little disappointed not to have a fuller treatment of the theology in the creation story and the flood narrative as compared to the similar stories in ancient Near Eastern literature.  To be sure, he discusses these, but I feel like there’s so much more to mine in this area.  When you compare the non-biblical accounts with the biblical ones, you can grasp the picture of God that the original audience would have been taught in contrast to their pagan neighbors (this is part of the role of exegesis, after all).  On this, I’d recommend Victor Hamilton’s treatment in his Handbook on the Pentateuch. 

 

On pages 273-275, Waltke discusses the popular Christian position that Satan is a fallen angel.  I remain unconvinced of this (though I’m willing to be).  Surprisingly, while rejecting (correctly, in my opinion) the interpretation of Isaiah 14 that says the Babylonian ruler mentioned there is actually Satan, he argues that the “King of Tyre” in Ezekiel 28 does refer to Satan.  On the grounds of context and genre, I see no reason to read this chapter as anything but what it says it is: a prophecy against the King of Tyre.  After all, it occurs in the middle of a collection of prophecies against various nations and evil rulers (context).  And, it’s poetry- it uses metaphorical and lofty language to make a point (genre). 

 

In all, these chapters were helpful.  His exegetical treatments of the biblical writings are superb, even if space limitations leave you wanting more (of course, I could solve that problem by purchasing his Genesis Commentary.  Like a good biblical theologian, Waltke tries to draw out how biblical writers use these stories and develop them.  Subsequent reviews will deal with this more, for now it’ll have to suffice to say that I am finding this book a profitable read.

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This review originally appeared at my old blog on 7/24/08Thanks to Chris at Zondervan for the review copy of this book.

Bruce Waltke’s book, An Old Testament Theology is a massive undertaking, not just for the author, but also for the reader. Reading it is a commitment of time and energy, physical (at least when you’re sick like I am right now), mental and spiritual. But it’s a rewarding experience, as you feel like you understand the Old Testament, and God as revealed in the Old Testament, even better.

Because of its size and quality, I’ve opted to review and interact with this book over a longer period of time than the normal book review. I’ll actually skip most of what he has to say about methodology, not because it’s unimportant or boring (it is neither of those things), but quite frankly, something has to get cut.

Waltke has divided his book into “blocks” of OT literature: “Primary History”, dealing with the Pentateuch and Historical Narratives, and “Other Writings”, with the Prophets, Psalms and Wisdom Literature falling into this category. Oddly enough, he opts to leave Song of Songs out of his analysis in this book. This strikes me as a bit arbitrary, though I realize that it is not a theologically heavy book. But granting that, doesn’t it say something about who God is, even if indirectly?

For Waltke, the theological center of the OT is the “irruption (breaking-in) of the Kingship of God.” The continuing story of how God (Waltke uniquely refers to God as “I AM” throughout the book) brings His kingdom to earth is the story that drives the Old Testament, and continues right on into the New Testament (“All the previous irruptions of the kingdom of God were but a shadow of its appearing in Jesus Christ”, p145). “To put it another way, the Bible is about God bringing glory upon himself by restoring Paradise after humanity lost it through a loss of faith in God that led to rebellion against his rule” (p144).

I found it refreshing, though, that he doesn’t try to cram all theological statements from each book into this category. “To systematize, however, all the biblical materials to the procrustean bed of this message, would falsify their intention. The proposed center accommodates the whole, but the whole is not systematically structured according to it. A cross-section approach to develop that message through various stages in Israel’s history would not do justice to the rich biblical material” (p144). The idea is that the kingdom of God is the central theme of the OT, but the goal is to show the message of each book, even the parts that don’t fit under this theme perfectly.

Chapter 6, entitled “The Bible’s Center: An Overview”, is worth slowly reading and digesting. Honestly, it’d be great for anyone looking for a relatively short overview of the Old Testament teachings on the kingdom of God (it comprises pages 143-169 of the book). One of the strengths of this chapter is showing how narratives are linked by related concepts. For instance, in the history of Israel, we see how God creates a people, giving them the law, providing them with the land and a king to rule over them. However, Israel rebels, which causes God to punish their sin by forcing them into exile, yet leaves them with the hope of restoration.

We see the same pattern in the Garden of Eden. “God also creates a people (Adam and Eve), gives them a garden as the land to sustain and refresh them, hands down the law not to eat the forbidden fruit, and makes them kings to keep his garden. But they rebel against God and disobey him, and as a result, they are banished from the garden, exiled from their home. Yet in the punishment comes a promise and a hope; a ‘seed of the woman’ will triumph over the Serpent on humanity’s behalf” (p150, all italics are original).

Thus, in the Garden story and in Israel’s history, we see the need for the irruption of God’s kingdom (man’s sin has marred creation, Israel’s sin has left them in exile) and receive a glimpse of how the irruption of God’s kingdom will happen (through the “Seed”, through the King or “son of David”).

So, I’ll be posting thoughts as I go through the book and show how Waltke develops this theme of the irruption of God’s kingdom throughout his book. My intention is that the nature of the posts will vary. Sometimes I’ll simply report what he says that I find particularly helpful or interesting. Other times, I may interact with what he says, perhaps even daring to disagree on occasion. I hope you’ll find learning from Waltke vicariously through me to be a rewarding experience, and may you even be encouraged to purchase the book for yourself.

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