Course: Old Testament Survey
A. Introductory Comments
What we will do tonight is several things. First, I will lead us in prayer. Then I want to just explain a little bit about the way the course operates. I will be commenting for a while on the syllabus and then hope not to spend too much time on that and hope to get right into to talking about Genesis and Exodus and about the Old Testament in general and try to give a feel for the way that we will operate from now on in this class and what its purposes are.
Join me in prayer as we begin. Father, we thank you that we are very privileged to be able to study your word with all the resources that are available in the modern day, with all of the relief from pressures that we have living in a place like this with all of the relative comforts, and yet we know that we are to be just as diligent as those who had to study it on the run and had to study it in days of great persecution and had to study it mainly by listening and trying to memorize. We appreciate all our advantages and pray that we will be nothing but grateful and all the more diligent. We thank you that you have given to each of us the potential to do your work on earth and included in that is passing along your truth to others so that they too can be shaped by it and guided by it. We pray then that everything we learn will not simply be a thing that we take pride in as an asset but everything we learn will be something we ask about the possibility of using for the benefit of others as we try to be loyal and obedient to you. And that we ask in Christ's name. Amen.
C. Structure of the Course
I will start to comment about things we do and hope that by the time that everybody gets a syllabus it will be all the clearer. We, first of all, will take a look at the Old Testament with a lot of emphasis on trying to read through it. I would like to encourage you, as much as is possible for you to do, actually to read the Bible. Now, I know sometimes you are going to have to basically skim rather than be able to read in detail, but a big part of the course is just trying to read the material; just get through it. You will notice that there are assignments all the time; read this, read that, read these books, read these chapters.
1. Content of Each Book
The theory is that a lot of what the course covers is really just gaining a sense of the content of the material. We will not spend a lot of time on what are called "Introductory" issues. Now the word introductory means something special in biblical studies. It means what might be called critical issues, debates about authorship, debates about dating, debates about structure and so on. It is not that we will not ever touch on these but you can deal with questions of "Introduction" at very great length. When was the Gospel of John written? Is it written by John the disciple or somebody else? What kind of Christology does it reflect as over against the other gospels and what does that tell you about its probable origin in time and origin in place and so on? Those are questions of introduction. We are going to talk much, much more about content. When you read the Bible what are you reading? What are the big themes? When somebody says to you, "How do you like the Book of Habakkuk?" What does your mind say, "The what!?" or does it say, "Yeah, Habakkuk, okay." I would like you, by the end of the course, to be able to say, "Well, Habakkuk is okay because …. But I really like Haggai because …" One of the nicest things that can happen is that you get to know at least something that is really accurate and useful about each book of the Old Testament and that is part of what we are trying to make you do the way we offer it.
2. Chronological Sweep of OT History
We also will hope to try to help you as we go along get a feel for some of the sweep of Old Testament history. Many of you will find as you minister that people do not have much of a sense of biblical history at all. I have done this and I challenge you to do it to your youth group or to your Sunday school class or to your Board of Deacons or to anybody. Take a few sheets of paper or 3 x 5 cards and just say, "Okay everybody, this is helpful to me in my study. Write down the date when King David lived." Look at the wild range of answers you get. Most people do not know. They do not know that he lived right around 1000 B.C and probably reigned from 1011 to 971. That is useful. It is something you can put things on. David is roughly a thousand years before Christ and it is a very interesting thing just to know that much and to realize a lot of biblical history in there between those two great figures. Or ask people, "Which came first, Abraham or Mephibosheth." It is just real interesting. They may not know who Mephibosheth is. It turns out he was a descendant of King Saul who was briefly considered in the line for the kingship, so in that sense even a potential rival to King David. But ask them that. Or ask them, "Tell me one fact about Zechariah." It is very interesting the answers you will get. He was the guy whose head was cut off in the movie by Mel Gibson. You will realize then, this will be insightful to you, you will realize these people are not stupid; they are good people and they love the Lord and they are trying to be his disciples but they do not know the facts. God put those facts in a book to help us see how he has worked in history and God knows that knowing that would be good for us; it would be helpful, it would make us more confident in Him, it would give us reassurance to live when times are tough as they often were for God's people. It will give us a sense of how He continues to work in our day as we extrapolate from the way He worked then. This has a lot of value to it. So we are going to try in this course to go chronologically. If you could just remember where we start and where we go week by week you will realize that we are moving through the books in a generally chronological order. We want to read the Bible, we want to appreciate the history of Israel, the basic passage of time and events in the Old Testament scope.
3. Particular Answers to Particular Questions
We will also try to bring to your knowledge a lot of particular answers to particular questions. The way we will do this is visible on page two and following of the syllabus because you will see that you get a lot of the exam questions in advance. It's a great method. Almost every seminary student is sufficiently obsessive-compulsive that if you give them an exam question in advance they will kill themselves to be sure they know the answer and in the process if you make the questions intelligent enough they will learn a great deal. That is what we have done in this case. We give you about one hundred and thirty questions and as we are going along in class a lot of these will be answered. As you are reading through the Old Testament a lot of them will be answered. As you do the assigned reading in the New Bible Commentary and so on, a lot of them will be answered. But some of them will still require you to look it up, to begin to use the tools like Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries and so on to find out the answers and that will be part of the process of just forcing you in a nice, friendly but definite forcing way to learn the material. It is a lot to cover. This is not a bonehead course. This is not some kind of remediation course for people who do not know much. It is a course that has a special purpose to give in one semester an overview of the entire Old Testament. I know as I look around the room that some of you are graduating seniors. You are not taking this because you have not studied a lot of Bible yet, you are taking it because you want the overview that a course like this provides, a way of integrating what you have been studying already in a variety of other Old Testament courses. Many of you are brand new to this seminary and to the Old Testament, and I would wager that some have probably not yet had a chance to read the Old Testament through before. This is a great chance to do it, and under pressure it is amazing how well many of us perform when we would not otherwise. Somebody just makes you do it and finally you do it. I really do hope it will be a nice and useful all your life orientation to the Scriptures. I hope it will support what you already know and allow what you already know to be fitted into the big picture. Yet, I expect there will be some things I will say that no matter how much you study you might not have had a chance to think about or consider before. Let us hope that it meets everybody's need in some way.
D. Ministry Issues
I also will take the liberty to talk to you about ministry to some degree. Most of you, I know, are going to go into some kind of ministry, going to go into youth ministry or pastoral ministry or counseling ministry or something. You are here to prepare to serve the Lord and to help people. The ministry that is described in the New Testament is "The ministry of the Word." That is the terminology that is used. In some way or other the Bible is at the heart of all ministries that are real ministries. It is very hard to imagine saying, "I have a ministry but the Bible ain't in it." That just is not a Christian statement. Accordingly, I will from time-to- time just talk about how you can use this material. I have had the joy of pastoring now for a lot of years and hope that once in a while I have actually learned something that I can pass on to you. We will do that too. I will try to suggest from time-to-time ways in which you can actually employ what you are learning for the benefit of people; just suggest things, emphases, ways to do it that might just pay off for you.
E. Bible Study Tools
Many of your answers that you cannot find elsewhere you can find in something like the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE). I think it is the best, most useable of all of the multivolume Bible encyclopedias. But there are others that are excellent. The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Encyclopedia (ZPBE) is excellent. The Anchor Bible Dictionary is a massive thing that should be called encyclopedia but it is huge and it is excellent. There are a number of others. Almost in every case if you cannot find a name or a theme or a fact, any of the multivolume Bible encyclopedias will do the job. I have found over the years that students relate the best to and find the highest quality on average, not necessarily in every case but on average, in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, so it is a good one. Many of you will find that just one of the simple one-volume Bible encyclopedias, InterVarsity has a real good one, The New Bible Dictionary (one-volume Bible dictionary), it might have eighty percent of what you are looking for.