Old Testament Today and Old Testament Essentials

November 6, 2014 — Leave a comment

18148522For my first year teaching Old Testament, I set my sights a little too high for a 9th grade audience. I really liked John Walton, and after looking at A Survey of the Old Testament (co-authored with Andrew Hill), I thought it would be a suitable textbook. I mean, it was glossy, full color pages and everything.

Within the first quarter, I knew I had made a huge mistake. There was simply too much information, and while it might have worked for college freshmen, it wasn’t well suited for high school freshmen. I reduced the reading load and dropped the textbook the following year. Since then, I’ve debating adding a textbook back into the class to supplement the primary reading of the Old Testament.

Though it wasn’t available at the time, I think I might have fared better that first year had the more reduced version of Walton and Hill’s book Old Testament Today been available. Actually it had been, I just missed it, but it came to my attention when the 2nd edition released last year. After getting a review copy, I ultimately opted to not adopt it, but it was more because of how I had structured the class, not that it was still too much information.

In this pared down version, the material is also slightly re-organized. The book is split into six sections:

  • Orientation and Fundamentals
  • The Pentateuch
  • Old Testament Narrative
  • Prophets and Prophetic Literature
  • Wisdom and Psalms
  • Epilogue

Within sections 2-5, the authors give a big picture overview of the literature and theology of that section of the Old Testament. Then, they give a book by book survey, followed by a section on relevance and application. The overall effect is that this is an accessible, practical survey of the Old Testament. It is still maybe a bit beyond 9th graders, but if one was teaching in a 5-day a week environment (I’m not), it could probably be used well.

9780830810512Another resource that looks useful, but that I haven’t integrated yet, is Tremper Longman’s Old Testament Essentials. This book is setup like a guided inductive Bible study. Longman divides the Old Testament into 17 sections:

  • Creation
  • Fall
  • Abraham
  • Isaac and Jacob
  • Joseph
  • Exodus
  • Wilderness Wanderings
  • Law
  • Priests, Holy Place and Sacrifices
  • Conquest
  • Judges
  • Saul, David and Solomon
  • Psalms
  • Wisdom
  • Divided Monarchy
  • Prophets
  • Exile and Return

Each section opens with a Bible study guide that offers passages to read and questions to answer. Then, Longman provides an essay that gives more detail about the high points of the texts being considered. This is followed by additional questions to unpack further before moving to some brief reflections and questions that connect the section of the Old Testament to the New. Then, Longman wraps up with a section that looks at practical implications for our lives today and suggests resources for going deeper.

There is much to commend about this format. This is definitely not a book you would just read through since most of the book is questions for you to answer after you’ve read the biblical texts in each section. It is suitable for a class like mine, or even a guided Bible study in a church small group. The only downside is that the overall study is disproportional. On the one hand, this is entirely understandable. My own class spends almost the entire first quarter on Genesis and Exodus, before picking up speed through the next three. Longman’s study devotes 11 sections to Genesis through Judges, and then 6 for the rest of the Old Testament, with only one chapter on the prophets. I think it would have been better to taken 2 or at least 3 chapters to cover the prophets, dividing them either thematically, or my major and minor. Instead, the chapter that is present focuses almost exclusively on Jeremiah and Daniel, with Ezekiel making a brief appearance in the following chapter on exile and return. In terms of capturing the flow of the storyline, this probably works fine. But, the downside is that much of the prophetic material will remain a dark corner in people’s understanding of the Old Testament.

All that being said, I’ve found with the Old Testament you can’t do everything in a single book. What Longman does focus on is excellent, and certainly his study could supplemented with something like Nancy Guthrie’s The Word of The Lord. Small groups or Sunday School classes that really want to study the Old Testament together will greatly benefit from Longman’s guided tour. Though I haven’t done it quite yet, I plan to incorporate some of Bible study into my class or maybe even add it as a textbook for next year. If you’re looking for Old Testament resources that can help raise biblical literacy, this is one to add to your library.

John H. Walton & Andrew E. Hill, Old Testament Today: A Journey from Ancient Context to Contemporary RelevanceGrand Rapids: Zondervan, February, 2014. 480 pp. Hardcover, $44.99.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

Tremper Longman III, Old Testament Essentials: Creation, Conquest, Exile, and ReturnDowners Grove, IL: IVP Connect, December, 2013. 215 pp. Paperback, $18.00.

Buy itAmazon

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP 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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