Hearing The Old Testament: Surveying The Old Testament

October 29, 2012 — Leave a comment


As October wraps up, so does our look at Hearing The Old Testament: Listening For God’s Address. We first looked at 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,” before giving it a more detailed examination.

Now, with all the groundwork cleared, we can look at the section specifically interacting with the Old Testament itself. There is one final section of the book after this, “Hearing and Proclaiming The Old Testament” but it comprises a single chapter, so I’ll just tag it into my summary below.

Much like the contributors in the second section were asked to interact with Bartholomew’s opening essay, the contributors in this section were to interact with both Bartholomew’s essay and the other preceding essays. This further solidifies the unity of the book, but without imposing uniformity. In fact, the contributors in this third section each take their own approach.

Gordon Wenham opens with a chapter on the Pentateuch, and follows a kind of survey approach. After some introduction, he has three sections on Genesis (1, 2-11, 12-50), and then a section for each of the remaining books before concluding.

Iain Provan, on the other hand, takes a more problem solving approach with the historical books. His main sections concern the interface of history, rhetoric, canon, and the New Testament with the Old Testament historical books. In the section on rhetoric, he spends the most time demonstrating his interpretive strategy, but he is non comprehensive in his coverage of the corpus like Wenham was (who at least referenced a brief overview of each book). In the end, this approach works well for the volume of material he had to cover and opens up avenues of future interpretive work.

When it comes to the chapter on the Psalms, J. Clinton McCann Jr. takes a thematic approach after first settling how we can expect to hear God’s address in the Psalms when they really seem like our address to God. McCann points out that “To attend to torah, God’s “instruction” is to be addressed by God; and the Psalms are to be received and heard as torah” (280). In hearing the Psalms this way, our faithful response is facilitated (301).

Bartholomew’s contribution in this section to examine the wisdom literature. His approach is a kind of combination of Wenham’s and Provan’s. He surveys Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes (he leaves out Song of Songs, mainly to focus on how his approach would work in what he does treat). Most of his treatment is split between Job and Ecclesiastes, and how they are show different ways wisdom is formed (Ecclesiastes = intellectual crisis, Job = existential chaos). He closes with some reflections on the relationship of wisdom literature and the Old Testament canon.

The final two chapters are devoted to the prophets. Richard Shultz deals first with the major prophets. Rather than a survey of what we can hear in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, he instead focuses his efforts on helping us hear the prophets better. Playing with hearing as a metaphor, Shultz wants to help clear the “wax” out of our ears so that we can hear these major prophets more accurately.

Similarly, Heath Thomas doesn’t pursue a survey of the minor prophets, but rather attempts to deal with how to think of the minor prophets in the first place. Do they come as a unified voice? Are they discrete voices that just happen to be lumped together? Thomas opts to hear the Twelve as as a unit, but hears many messages rather than just one. He then highlights four themes and traces them through the Twelve before tracing four more themes in the Twelve in relation to the New Testament.

The book itself then closes with a final chapter on preaching the Old Testament. This chapter, by Aubrey Spears, is written in light of everything that precedes it, and Spears references the other essays often. He presents 3 theses for preaching the Old Testament, all framed as ways for preaching the Old Testament “to fully appropriate the riches of a trinitarian hermeneutic that aims at hearing the voice of the living God”:

  • We must recover the relationship between biblical studies and homiletics (388)
  • We must recover something like the four senses of Scripture in preaching (393)
  • We must recover the role of prayer in the life of the preacher (402)

You can see somewhat from the pagination that Spears spends the most time on the second point, mainly because it is the most controversial. I think he makes a good case, but because of space, I won’t elaborate here.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and think it is a great resource on the Old Testament, especially from a teacher’s perspective. I’d like to thanks Eerdmans again for sending me a review copy. If you’re thinking about picking up the book for yourself, consider using my link as a way of saying thanks!

Craig Bartholomew & David Beldman, eds., Hearing The Old Testament: Listening For God’s AddressGrand Rapids: Eerdmans, May 2012. 493 pp. Paperback, $32.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Eerdmans for the review copy!


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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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