Hearing The Old Testament: Learning To Listen

October 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

9780802865618A couple of weeks ago, we started looking at Hearing The Old Testament: Listening For God’s Address. I gave you a brief overview of the book and the initial essay by one of the editors, Craig Bartholomew. I previewed somewhat the next section of the book called “Learning To Listen.” In it, we are treated to the following essays:

  • Al Wolters on the history of the discipline
  • Bartholomew himself on philosophy
  • David Beldman on literary approaches
  • Tremper Longman III on history
  • Mark Boda on biblical theology
  • Stephen Dempster on canon
  • Christopher Wright on mission
  • M. Daniel Carroll R. on ethics

In a way, there is really something here for everyone. All of the essays draw on Bartholomew’s to some extent and work constructively to build on his idea of a “mere” trinitarian hermeneutic for reading the Old Testament.

I was particularly interested in Bartholomew’s second essay, this one on Old Testament and Philosophy. Those were my two main interests at Dallas, and still are really. Bartholomew’s work here is very significant when it comes to a certain contemporary debates (ahem: the one about inerrancy among other things). Essentially, Bartholomew shows how the rise of modern biblical criticism was tied to certain modernist philosophical commitments. Bartholomew then maps the interface of philosophy and Old Testament studies along the same lines as Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture matrix.

He then suggests 8 ways forward. These are framed as ways that a trinitarian hermeneutic helps set the agenda, and I thought they were worth listing in full (62-66). According to Bartholomew, a trinitarian hermeneutic:

  • “Will insist that, ontologically, and objectively, the Old Testament is best and rightly described as the Old Testament, the first half of the written Word of God that comes to fulfillment in Christ”
  • Must not only begin with the assumption that the Old Testament is fundamentally different than other ANE documents, but have “the goal of hearing God’s address” in it
  • “Alerts us to the fact that the Old Testament is a written text that came into existence in history and thus is subject the dynamic but constant order of creation”
  • “Alerts us to the fact that the privileged place from which to know the order of creation is ‘in Christ'”
  • “Alerts us to the need for contemporary, modern, Christian philosophical insight in these areas, and this is what makes the contemporary renaissance of Christian philosophy such an opportune time for trinitarian Old Testament interpretation”
  • Points to a need for Old Testament scholars “to become philosophically literate and to draw consciously on the best (Christian) scholarship in their work”
  • Suggests that “we urgently need rigorous histories of Old Testament interpretation from a trinitarian perspective” (which Wolters does in his essay)
  • Yields an Old Testament interpretation that is “informed by Christian philosophy and systematic theology”

From here, the collection of essays moves on to Beldman’s offering on literary approaches. As you can hopefully see, there is an intentional structure to the essays. Though they are not interacting with each other, they are artfully arranged in a way that builds the reader’s ability to listen to the OT.

We first hear how the history of the discipline has gone. Then we learn some basics about how we can know and what we can know about the Old Testament (philosophy). Then, we are given some literature tools for understanding this literature, before we are confronted with the predominant genre (history) and how we should best interpret it.

It’s worth pausing here as Tremper Longman III offers his own 7 ways forward when it comes to history and Old Testament interpretation (120-121, any emphasis mine):

  • The genre of Old Testament books needs to be evaluated before using them for historical reconstruction
  • A written account of a past event is not the event itself, but is a verbal representation of the even and as such involves literary artifice
  • The biblical account of past events are traditions that present testimony of these events. Affirmation of their veracity should not depend on external collaboration (by extrabiblical texts or archaeology, for instance), but they should be presumed to be true unless falsified
  • Archaeology and extrabiblical texts are important to provide a broader understanding of Israelite history
  • All history is ideological, in that it involves interpretation and perspective, though in the case of the Old Testament, it is better to speak of the ideology as theology
  • Biblical histories address the concerns of their contemporary audiences
  • The Old Testament’s theological history presents God’s redemptive actions in a coherent fashion

Having established these trajectories, we’re then ready to move into biblical theology’s territory, thanks to Mark Boda, before we turn to canonical considerations with Stephen Dempster. The final two essays by Christopher Wright and M. Daniel Carroll R. cover mission and ethics respectively.

In this way, we start with method and end in corporate (mission) and personal (ethics) application. I found Bartholomew’s and Longman’s essays to be the most significant contributions (hence the pause on their “ways forward”) but I also really enjoyed Boda’s and Dempster’s work on biblical theology (of course) and canon. Boda went to Westminster and his approach I’m pretty sure falls into BT2 by yesterday’s typology, but he isn’t typical Philadelphia school. There is certainly some nuance there.

Now that we’ve looked at the essays helping us learn to listen, we’re ready to actually hear the Old Testament section by section!


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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