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Posts Tagged ‘OT Theology’

The Rapid Decline of Genesis 4

In a few verses the writer is able to convey a sense of the catastrophic descent of the human race from covering up killing to boasting in bloodletting.  Cain’s nonchalant words and his great-great grandson’s boast frame this genealogy and mark its spirit and its descent into a moral and spiritual abyss.  The irresponsible ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ attempts to deny murder (Gen. 4:9); ‘I have killed a man for wounding me’ glories in it (Gen. 4:23).  This is certainly not the dominion intended for humanity in Genesis 1-2.

Stephen Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, pages 70-71

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Moreover, the final compilers of the biblical text ensured that the text was to be understood as a unity.  There are not only major groupings of books, but editorial ‘splices’ that join major groupings of books with each other.  Therefore, both theological and literary points are made simultaneously.  For example, at the beginning of each of the major sections of the Hebrew Bible there is an extraordinary emphasis on the word of God.  The Bible begins with the word of God creating reality, and its first work is to create light, thus establishing the rhythm of the day and night (Gen. 1:3-5).  The text proceeds to describe the first human beings and their residence in the garden of Eden, which is maintained only by organizing their lives around the word of God (Gen. 2:4-25).  Joshua, which commences the second major grouping of biblical books, the Prophets, contains an exhortation requiring the new Israelite leader to meditate day and night on the Torah to ensure the success of Israel’s conquest of Canaan, and so be enabled to enjoy the fruits of the new Eden (Josh. 1:8-9).  Near the beginning of the third and last grouping of books, the Writings, Israelites are urged to meditate on the Torah day and night in order to find success and become like trees planted in a garden alongside streams of gushing water (Ps. 1:2-3).  By these links, this writing is conceptually distinguished from other writings, since it is the Word of God.  But it is also distinguished literarily, since an implicit unity has been marked explicitly: it is also the Word of God.

Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, pages 32-33 (italics original)

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From time to time I’ll post short thoughts on books that I’ve read but don’t want to review for some reason.  Hope you find it helpful.

Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach, by Robin Routledge.  IVP sent me a copy of this book, which came out in 2008.  It’s a decent overview of OT Theology, offering thoughts on the variety of themes that pop up throughout the OT (as the subtitle indicates).  If you are looking for one OT Theology to study, this would not be my first choice (perhaps Waltke, or Stephen Dempster’s, which I haven’t read but heard is good).  Routledge gives a solid overview of differing views, perhaps to the detriment of coming down hard one a particular position.  Students will appreciate the footnotes; he gives page numbers for every major OT Theology written to go with each section he is discussing.  All in all, it’s okay, but not my first choice.  Had a thought after I posted this.  Routledge doesn’t show any of the exegesis that goes into his views, which factors into my assessment.  I like to see the exegetical work behind the conclusions, which is one reason why I like Waltke’s book so much.  It’s also interesting given that Routledge has not produced any major commentaries on OT books, unlike Waltke, Brueggemann and others.  At least those authors could say, “check out my commentary for more.”

The Surprising Work of God: Harold Ockenga, Billy Graham and the Rebirth of Evangelicalism, by Garth Rosell.  I read this for my church history class and really liked it.  Dr Rosell is writing as someone who witnessed a lot of the events he writes about and people he knew, as his father was a well known evangelist during the revivals in the 50’s.  I was inspired by the faith of the people involved in the early days of modern evangelicalism,  Rosell offers more on Ockenga than Graham, which I was thankful for, since Ockenga is less well known these days than Billy Graham.

The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians, by D A Carson.  I know, I know, 2 Carson mentions in one day.  I actually read this book last year, but forgot it for my Top 5 of 2009.  It definitely would have made that list had I remembered (and I’d probably not cheat and have Block’s Ezekiel commentary).  I actually think this is the kind of book where Carson is at his best; he offers solid and insightful exegesis alongside convicting thoughts on how we can apply the text to our lives and the church.  There is no doubt that the cross was central to Paul and his ministry; Carson helps us follow that pattern with this book.  Anyone in ministry should read this book.

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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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Special thanks to Adrianna from IVP for a review copy of this book.

Over the last few years of teaching in my church, I have searched in vain for a book to recommend to folks that will help them grasp the (often confusing) content of the Old Testament.  It seems to me that most books simply don’t communicate well enough to satisfy the needs of the church.

Enter Sandra Richter, and her new book, The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament.  Richter is an OT professor at Asbury Theological Seminary (and a Gordon-Conwell grad, so you know this has to be good).  I’ve been looking for exactly this kind of book for some time.  It’s hard for most readers to make sense of the OT; there are violent wars, strange customs, a bunch of funky sounding names, odd chronological arrangement of the books, etc.  The confusion alone makes it seemingly not worth the effort to work through the OT.  And when you add in things like the sacrificial system and the Law of Moses, which are no longer binding in the new covenant, some Christians wonder why it’s worth the time to figure all this out.

What Richter does is demonstrate masterfully not only why the OT is worthwhile (it is part of our story, after all) but how OT works.  She uses the metaphor of a “closet organizer.”  She  notes that for many, the OT is like a messy closet: there are all sorts of items in there, but seemingly little-to-no organizational structure.  Richter comes in to provide order to the chaos, and does so admirably well.

She breaks the OT down into 5 main portions based on 5 main characters: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David.  If you can understand these 5 men and why they are important, Richter claims you can have a good grasp of how the OT works.  Even before she does this she takes the time to explain basic customs of the Ancient Near East, as well as important concepts such as covenant.  Richter does all of this without coming across as dry or academic.  One gets the sense that she’s explained these things in non-academic settings before.

Richter focuses more on content rather than academic debates, but I don’t mean to say that this book is shallow.   She discusses Hittite treaties and how they effect our understanding of Deuteronomy, explains how covenants were made and why Abraham split the animals into 2 halves in Genesis 15,  mentions the disagreements over the date of the exodus (15th or 13th century?) etc.  All this to say, there is not a lack of depth.  But she doesn’t dive into these things merely for the sake of good information; she demonstrates how all these help us understand what is going on in the Bible.  Outside information serves to illuminate and illustrate the biblical text.

Richter includes a glossary at the end of the book, which will be useful for those who are having trouble sorting through all the new vocabulary.  She also added an appendix dealing with FAQs, a unique idea that I wish more books utilized.  The only downfall is that she only answers 2 questions: what role does the Law play in the Christian’s life and what do we make of the current state of Israel?  Those, of course, are big questions (and I happen to agree with her answers) so I can understand why she didn’t include more.

There are, of course, a couple points I would have liked for Richter to handle a little differently, most of which are fairly minor.  A subject index would have been nice, as well as perhaps a recommended reading list (though you can mine the endnotes if you want).  In her discussion on the Image of God (which was too short) she notes that to figure out what is meant by this phrase in Genesis 1:26 one must look at the context, an approach which I applaud.  But in her list she includes “self-aware and emphatic” (p107), which I don’t find in the text at all.

Also, Richter doesn’t say as much as one might like about the prophets.  Sure, they’re sprinkled throughout the book, but there’s no real sense of where they belong in the OT, which in my teaching experience has been an obstacle for many readers.  I don’t think she would have needed to write much, but maybe a subsection under the David chapter (which deals with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah as well) and how the prophets were operating during the time period of the Kings.  I also felt like Douglas Stuart’s emphasis on the prophets as covenant enforcement mediators would have been helpful here, to demonstrate how the prophets were calling the people of God to remain faithful to the covenant as outlined in Deuteronomy.

But those detractions are hardly detrimental to the effectiveness of the book as a whole.  Richter has done exactly what she set out to do, to help Christians make sense of the the storyline of the OT and how it impacts us as Christians (for instance, how God’s original intention as seen in Genesis and God’s final intention as seen in Revelation fit together).  And she has done this in such a winsome manner.  I was impressed again and again how easy this book is to read and how clearly she explained difficult and foreign concepts.  If all Bible scholars could write this well for a general audience, I’d be able to recommend many more books than I currently do.  I have yet to encounter a book that accomplishes so well the goal of organizing the apparent chaos of the Old Testament.  I have and will continue to recommend The Epic of Eden to anyone who is looking to learn more about the Old Testament and how it does actually make sense.   Go buy this book.

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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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Thanks again to Adrianna of IVP for a review copy of this book.

We pick up from part 1 of this review, starting with chapter 3, which covers “evidence elsewhere in the Old Testament.” As a reminder, Beale’s thesis statement is “what people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.”  The first review dealt with his introductory chapter (covering assumptions and methodology) and the chapter on idolatry and Isaiah 6.  In this review, we summarize Beale’s treatment of the story of Israelites worshipping the golden calf and idolatry in the Garden of Eden.

Beale shows the verbal connections between Deuteronomy 4:27-28, 29:4- dealing with the earliest history of the Israelite people- and Isaiah 6:9-10 and Psalm 115:4-7.  “Thus the roots of the irony of idolatry are to be found as early as Israel’s first generation that emerged out of Egypt.  And so the wilderness generation and Isaiah’s generation are people who are becoming like the idols they are worshiping, and that likenss mortally injures them” (p76).

Beale demonstrates this in the “golden calf incident” (Exodus 32).  “The point of the comparison between the first generation’s idolatry and that of future generations is that the golden calf idolatry was seen to be paradigmatic of Israel’s future idolatry, so that the latter was patterened about the former” (p77).  We see this in Psalm 106:19-20, in the “stiff-necked” Israelites of 1 Kings 12:25-33 and 2 Kings 17:7-18 (notice in the latter passage “they followed vanity and became vain”), the idolatrous Israelites condemned in Hosea (4:7-17, 8:4-7, 10:5, 10:11, 13:2-3), and in Jeremiah (2:5-11, 7:22-27 among others).  Along with these texts, we see other places where “sensory-malfunction” language is used, the vast majority of which is connected to idolotary (see Ezekiel 12:2).

Even though there are places in this chapter where you have to wonder if Beale is seeing more than what’s there, there’s no doubt that he successfully makes his case that (1) idolatry is prevalent throughout the OT, (2) that the golden calf incident of the wilderness generation is the paradigmatic incident of idolatry and (3) the consequence of this idolatry is becoming like the object worshipped (stiff-necked and stubborn like cattle, “following vanity and becoming vain,” etc).

Beale then turns in chapter 4 to the narrative of Adam and Eve in the garden to discuss the idolatry of the first humans.  He acknowledges that idolatry is not specifically mentioned, but argues that this is precisely what happens.  “Adam’s allegiance shifted from God to himself and probably also to Satan” (p133).  The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the place where judgment occurs (“knowing good and evil” frequently occurs in contexts of kings exacting judgment, and trees are often places where judgments are rendered), and is precisely where Adam failed to judge the serpent and guard the garden (again, Beale admits that “guard/protect” is never explicitly stated).

Keeping in mind that his thesis is “what people revere, they resemble,” Beale notes that Adam “comes to resemble the serpent’s character in some ways.  The serpent was a liar (Gen 3:4) and a deceiver (Gen 3:1, 13)” (p133).  Technically, I’m not sure the logical connection must be what Beale says it is.  In other words, Beale’s thesis is “a leads to b” but that doesn’t necessarily mean “b must be the result of a.”  With that said, it’s not hard to see the connection when you assume his thesis (which is easily demonstrable from elsewhere in the OT).

Interestingly, Beale appeals to Ezekiel 28 to show how the later prophet understood Adam’s sin.  Ezekiel 28:1-10 and 11-19 are successive judgments on the King of Tyre.  The second is often seen as a judgment on Satan (which I disagree with) or Adam, the stance that Beale takes.  So, the King of Tyre, who is judged because he promotes himself to the level of God (vv 2, 5, 9) is judged like Adam, whose heart is also “lifted up” (v17, see vv 2, 5).  “[T]he king of Tyre’s sin and judgment is seen primarily through the lens of the sin and judgment of the figure of Eden instead of his own particular sin, and the latter’s sin and judgment is viewed as a kind of recapitulation of the primeval sin” (p137).

Thus, what we have here is a development from the theme of worshipping an idol of stone or metal.  The specific form of idolatry here is idolatry of self.  “[W]hen we try to enlarge ourselves and try to bring glory to ourselves, then we are actually reflecting our ego in a greater and greater way.  If this is so, then it fits with the particular idea of idolatry that we have noted earlier: The idol that we revere, we reflect, which leads ultimately to ruin” (p140).

In the next portion of this review, we’ll dive into Beale’s treatment of the relevant NT texts.

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