Lecture 1: Overview of OT Theology
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How to think about and interpret the Old Testament
Course: Biblical Theology
Lecture: Overview of OT Theology
Overview of Old Testament Theology
Welcome to these introductory lectures on the Old Testament. That is the propaedeutic part I have to say in order for these things to be right. Over the next ten hours, more or less, what I want to do is provide you with an introduction to the Old Testament.
I. Approaches to Old Testament Introductions
There are a number of different ways to have introductions to the Old Testament. Some people will introduce the Bible to you based upon certain important themes. They will talk about covenants, or they will talk about God’s presence, or they will talk about holiness – and they will trace these themes through the Old Testament. They will trace a number of themes. Let us say you get ten or fifteen or twenty themes in a course. In a way, that gives you an introduction to the basic content of the Old Testament. That is a good and valid way of doing Old Testament introduction.
Another way of doing Old Testament introduction, and this is much more common, is basic content. By the end of the course, you know who Abraham and Isaac and Jacob are. You will know who Moses and Noah are. You will know about David and Saul and Solomon and some of the judges and people like that. You will know content. That is a good and necessary introduction to the Old Testament. But I believe you can get that kind of introduction by doing something remarkably unique in our day and age: reading your Bible. I know that is a provocative statement. It may go against your post-modern minds to think about doing that. But it is actually not a bad idea to read your Bible as an introduction to that literature.
Now having said that, I am going to offer, I think, what is a little bit of an odd introduction to the Old Testament. It is a style of introduction that is not common, I think, in our day and age. It is this. I am going to teach you how to think about the Bible, specifically about the Old Testament. Some might call this a hermeneutical introduction to the Old Testament. It is an introduction that is geared towards properly interpreting the Old Testament as a part of our Christian Bible. It is going to be odd in that sense.
I just want to key you in that this is not going to be primarily a content-driven introduction to the Old Testament. We will talk about content. You have to talk about content. And it is not going to be primarily a thematically-driven introduction to the Old Testament. That is more of a theological survey. We are not going to do that here. We are going to do what I am going to call a hermeneutical (that is the technical, scientific word) introduction to the Old Testament. By that, I mean I want to teach you how to think Biblically about your Bible. You cannot simply jump into the Bible and think that you are going to properly understand it without any other help or introduction.
Because of that, it is important that, no matter what you do, where you are, where you are coming from, that you have a couple of key presuppositions in your mind before we begin. Now I am going to set forth for you my presuppositions. You may agree with them; you may not. Either way, it is going to help you know where I am coming from. If you do not agree with them, that is fine. At least you will know at what points you do not agree with me.
a. The Bible is Inspired
First, I am going to say that I believe the Bible is inspired. That is, the Bible is from God. It is God-breathed. It is, in the words of 2 Timothy 3:16, theopneustos, God-breathed. Now, it is a very unique word. It is a very descriptive word. Think about the Bible for a moment. How many times in the Bible is something ever described as God-breathed? There are only two things in my Bible that are really described that way theologically.
The one I just mentioned is the Bible itself. The Bible is God-breathed, inspired. The Bible is the living and active word of God. Now what is the other thing that is "inspired" in Scripture? This is a great thing. It comes to us in Genesis 1 and 2, where God takes some dirt (some dust of the ground) and He forms it and He does something to it. He breathes into it the breath of life. Human beings, humanity, people, us, men and women – we are inspired beings. They are the only two inspired things in the Bible.
This is a good way to think about the Bible. This is a good question to ask friends and family. What is the difference between any old pile of dirt and you or me? Now some will answer, depending on your relationship with that person, not much. The correct theological answer is this. The difference between a pile of dirt and you is the very breath of God. At death, that breath is removed and what do you return to? You return to the dust from which you were created.
Now ask yourself this question about the Bible. What is the difference between the Bible and every other book ever written? It is the same fundamental difference. The Bible is the only book that has ever been claimed by itself to be inspired. So it is living and active in a very dynamic way. That is the difference. It is like the difference that exists between you and a pile of dirt.
That is a lot of difference. I can have a relationship with you. I can have a relationship with my wife and my children. But I cannot have a relationship, being in the same sound mind, with a pile of dirt. It is impossible. It is really impossible. That is the difference between, for example, the Harry Potter books (or any other kind of book you would read) and the Bible. The Bible is a living and active force. The Bible can change you.
b. The Bible is Inerrant
Because the Bible is inspired, God-breathed, I also believe it is inerrant. It is without error. And so, it is a book worth basing our lives on.
c. The Bible is Authoritative
And because the Bible is inspired and inerrant, I also believe it is authoritative. It has authority over me and over you, whether you believe that or not. As an interpreter of the Scriptures (that is what I get paid for) I believe that my job is not to be master over the text, but to submit to the text. That is what proper interpretation does. It is someone who is submitted to the text and exposition. It is not someone who conceives of themself primarily as lord over the text. That is a huge difference, especially as you conceive of your work in the churches as those who may preach or teach or educate using the word of God. You are not in authority over the text. Your only authority comes from the text as it is inspired and inerrant.
Those are big presuppositions. Not everyone would agree with me. But I believe those things to be true.
I have a couple other basic assumptions that may be important for you to have before you.
a. The Christian Bible Includes both Old and New Testaments
First, is that the Old Testament is only the first part of the Christian Bible. The Christian Bible that I am primarily concerned with contains the Old and New Testaments. That is my complete canon. The Old Testament is larger. It is just over 75% of your Christian Bible. Some people will humorously call the New Testament the answer key to the Old Testament – just because of the size.
I am concerned here primarily with the whole Christian canon: the Old and New Testaments. But we are going to focus in this course on the Old Testament. We will spend some time at the beginning talking about how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament. We will talk about how the New Testament helps us hermeneutically and Biblically to think about the Old Testament. That is important because Jesus and the apostles interpreted the Bible in such a way. I want to know what they did and how they thought about my Bible, my Old Testament and my New Testament. So that is going to be important as well.
b. The Old Testament is just as Christian as the New Testament
Secondly, the Old Testament is just as Christian for me as the New Testament. There is nothing sub-Christian about the Old Testament. It is just as Christian as the New Testament. The gospel is there. If you read the book of Hebrews, it is clear in the first few chapters in that book that the people of the Old Testament heard the gospel preached even in the wilderness. That refers to Israel's time in the wilderness after the Exodus and before their entrance into the Promised Land. They heard the gospel.
c. God is the Primary Author of the Old Testament
Thirdly, the primary author of the Old Testament is God. Now that may be shocking to some of you. Most books that treat topics of Old Testament introductions and issues of Old Testament interpretation spend more time talking about the human author than the divine author. How many Isaiahs were involved in the writing of Isaiah? Was it one, two, three or many, many more? Did Moses truly write the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament)? There is all kind of speculation.
I am not concerned with any of that at this point. I will be later. For now, if I believe in an inspired, inerrant and authoritative Bible, I believe it is God's word. Think about the language of the Bible itself. All over the place it says: "Thus sayeth the Lord". Count them. It means this is what God is saying; not me. Count it up one time. Look in a concordance. "Thus sayeth the Lord". It means God is speaking at this point. What you will find is that there are many, many more references to the Lord speaking than to any other human speaking in this text.
The primary authorship is God. The historical individuals participated in the process, but it is understood that God Himself oversaw the production of the entire Bible, both the Old and New Testaments from beginning to end. He inspired those men to write in the way in which they wrote.
We will save this for a different time. It is outside the parameters of this class. Think about how inspiration actually occurred. How did it take place? What was the level of inspiration? Was it 50/50? Was it 50% God and 50% human? Or was it 49/51? Was it 100% God and 0% man? Was it like a tape-recorder device. There are lots of ways people conceive of those realities. For us, at a very minimum we must assume that God has least 51% of the shares here. He is the controlling shareholder in the Biblical record and the Biblical Scriptures. Does that make sense?
IV. Basic Methodology
How are we going to approach this course? It is like this.
a. Providing the Big Picture
These first few lectures are very concerned with seeing the forest before the trees. We want to look at what is the big picture. We will look at individual books and individual blocks of books or groupings of books. But first, we are going to look at the entire Christian Bible. Then we will look at the Old Testament. Then we will look at certain divisions within the Old Testament. Then we will look at individual books. We are going to continually narrow our scope of interpretation down and down and down. What that does for us is that it allows the context to always set the agenda.
Where are we in the Bible: Old or New? Where are we in the Old Testament? Are we in the first part that Moses wrote? Are we in the prophets (who appear to most people as cranky people? Or are we in the writings where you have praise and wisdom and all of that good esoteric material that you like to quote and memorize? Those things will determine how you interpret the text.
Now listen to this. This is very important. Where you are in the Bible will determine how you interpret the Bible. This is very important. For example, you cannot impose the Sinai Covenant stipulations upon Abraham because he lived before the law. Nor can you impose them on the apostles, because something that has happened with Jesus has changed their relationship to the law. So there are things like that. You will have to be aware of them. You will have to be aware of where you are at. There are great examples. We will talk about specific books that way when we get there.
Let me give you another metaphor that may help. This is the one that comes from everyday life for many of us – for me at least. I do not know if you put together puzzles as a kid or if you have done them with your children or you still like to do them today. There is a universal way of going about putting together a puzzle. The first thing you do is you open the box and dump out the pieces. Then what do you do? You turn all the pieces over so you know what you are looking at. You have to at least look at the puzzle piece the right way up. You cannot look at it face down and really have much success with it. Then you look at the picture on the front. The picture on the front (or the image on the front) is going to help you determine where it goes. The second thing you do is take the box lid and stick it right in front of you so you know what that puzzle should look like in the end. The finished product should guide you putting the puzzle together. Does it not? I have never done a puzzle where I have not had the box (the picture) in front of me. That picture (that finished product) guides the way in which I put the pieces together. Then, the last thing you do before you get started in all the nuts and bolts is this. You find all of the edge pieces and you try and put the edge together first.
Primarily, my introduction to the Old Testament is going to do this for you. It is going to give you the picture and put the edge together. We will talk about all the individual pieces that fit in the middle. For example, we will talk about where Ruth goes and why the book of Psalms is where it is and how the prophets fit together and what they are doing. We will talk about all that. But I think the power of this introduction and the way I am doing it – this is the strength or the uniqueness of what I am doing compared with other great introductions that are done – is that I am going to give you the picture and the edge. Then you should be able to put all the other puzzle pieces together without much difficulty. That is really what I want to do for you in this course.
I do believe that, in eight to ten to twelve hours, I can give you a way of looking at the Christian Bible, specifically the Old Testament, that will help you understand it in some ways that you have never even thought of before. Certain things are important – like ordering of the books, the positions of the books, where things are in the Bible. Oftentimes we do not think of those things as important. But actually where things are placed in the narrative or in the story of God's word is important. That is why no one has ever thought of putting the account of creation after Solomon's rise to kingship. There is a certain logic behind the ordering. So we are going to talk about what is the order. Is it important? If it is important, how does it help me understand those events that are encapsulated in those areas? So that is another methodological approach.
b. Dealing with the Final Form of the Bible
Another aspect of our methodology is this. Our methodology is going to be primarily descriptive of what in fact does exist in the final form of Scripture. I am not, at this point, interested in setting before you theories on how things got to where they are at. I am not primarily concerned with describing for you the possible prehistory of certain texts. For example, did Moses write all of the Pentateuch? Or did someone edit it at the end? Or how did the book of Psalms get into its arrangement and ordering? In terms of the book of Psalms that is a great question. For the book of Songs we have five books. They are specifically structured in such a way as to teach us something. Specifically or importantly, they teach us about the kingship of God or Yahweh in the Old Testament. Those are important things to know. We will have time to mention some of those things. But my big agenda here is to talk about the final form of the text.
Now for most of us, that is almost a non-issue. Of course we want to discuss the final form of the text. What else do we have? But in Old Testament studies in general, that is not the prevailing mood or ethos or scope of study. There is a big interest in what came before the text. How did the text look before? Does that help understand it? For our purposes, we are going to skip that. If you are interested in that material, you can get introductions to the Old Testament that cover it in writing. I am not going to do it here. Given that we only have a few hours, I am going to do what I think is most helpful at this point.
V. Basic Epistemology
In terms of basic epistemology, I think it is important to cover a couple of other things first as well. I will give you three points. First, you cannot understand the Bible without divine help. Secondly, you cannot believe or obey the Bible without divine help. Thirdly, you cannot appropriate the Bible for teaching or preaching or anything like that without divine help. That is to say, we need God's help every step of the way to understand the Bible.
a. We Need Divine Help to Understand the Bible
All human effort would be for nothing if God had not first redeemed us, put His Spirit in us and illuminated us with that Spirit. Without that, we might as well pack up our books and go home and call it quits, because we do not have the tools necessary in our hearts to get at the true nature of Scripture. We need God's help.
Let me give you a couple of Biblical references that may help you think about these things. John 3:3. "It is written, 'I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again'." For me, the kingdom of God is going to be one of my controlling frameworks for thinking about the Bible. For me, the Bible is about the kingdom of God. Here in Scripture it says: no one can see that kingdom unless he is first born again. So we must be born again.
Luke 24:45 is another great text. Jesus is resurrected and He is on the road to Emmaus with a couple of disciples. They are befuddled by what has happened and they are trying to understand the events. Then it says, "Then He," that is, Jesus, "opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures." Think of this. These disciples had seen Jesus, walked with Him, heard Him teach and seen Him crucified. They had been through all this and they still did not have a clue. They still did not have a clue because they needed something that we need. They needed divine illumination. We must pray for that when we study and when we teach. In all aspects of our Biblical devotion we must pray for understanding the Scriptures. We must ask for God's help to understand His word and to see the kingdom of God.
Graeme Goldsworthy, one of my favorite Biblical theologians, says it this way in Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics. It is his new book. Page 16 says this: "Our ability to interpret Scripture must be saved, justified and sanctified through the gospel." Then on page 18, he says: "Hermeneutical conversion takes place when one becomes a believer." By hermeneutical they mean the ability to interpret. Continuing the quote: "The Bible will never be the same to us again, because we, as believers, have made a quantum shift from unbelief and rejection of God's word to faith and trust in that word and submission to it."
b. We Need Divine Help to Believe the Bible
That brings us to the second point that I mentioned earlier. You cannot believe or obey the Bible without divine help. For example, the approach to understanding the Bible which Carl Henry characterized Augustine with was this: "It appears in the well-known expression, 'I believe in order to understand'." That means faith precedes proper understanding. That is important. That is so important. Faith precedes proper understanding. You cannot appropriate the Bible, either in order to ascertain the gospel or, for most of us, to teach that gospel, without divine help. We are constantly dependent upon God.
VI. The Goals for this Course
What are some of the goals for this little brief course? Here is what I am intending as a few basic goals for this hermeneutical introduction to the Old Testament. At the end of this introduction on the Old Testament, we should be able to:
1. outline the basic history of Israel presented in the Old Testament from Abraham through Ezra-Nehemiah;
2. describe the basic structure of the Old Testament especially as it relates to the canon and covenant model presented in the following lectures;
3. summarize the basic content and message of each individual book located in the Old Testament; and
4. finally proclaim the Christological significance of the Old Testament message in the person of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God.
So those are my goals.
a. Outline the Basic History of Israel
I can read those quickly to you if you are trying to write them down, as I see you are. First, is the more generic one. Outline: this is the content issue. What are we talking about? We are going to outline the basic history of Israel presented in the Old Testament from Abraham down through the history to Ezra-Nehemiah. That does not mean that there is not history in the Bible before Abraham. We just cannot date it with any certainty. I do not know, for example, the dates of Noah living. I do not know the date of Methuselah's birth. I do not know the exact date in terms of B.C. when Cain and Abel would have had their little murderous episode. For me it is impossible to tell.
The earliest precise dating we can have in the Old Testament is Abraham. Then it takes us down through Ezra-Nehemiah. Abraham is roughly 2000BC to Ezra-Nehemiah around 400BC. Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, those books at the very end of the Old Testament, are around 400BC. In terms of concrete history, the Old Testament covers from the beginning of time with creation all the way down to 400BC. That is the Old Testament, creation to 400BC. But in terms of actual datable history that I can get my hands around, we are talking about Abraham, roughly 2000BC to 400BC. That is 1600 years, which is a remarkable amount of time to cover in such a short body of literature.
It has obviously been a selective history of Israel. It does not include everything Israel did. Even when David and Solomon and Saul and all the other kings after them have their episodes completed in the Bible (for example, in Samuel and Kings), they do not include everything. At the end of their lives there is this little phrase that is included: "And are not all the other acts and deeds of Solomon or David written in the annuls of the book of kings of Israel." There was a record of what they did in a more literal, specific, daily event in those annuls. It was more comprehensive perhaps. But this is what God, as the author of inspired Scripture, has chosen to include to preach the gospel to us in the Old Testament. We are going to look at those events carefully. That is the first goal.
b. Describe the Basic Structure of the Old Testament
Secondly, we want to describe the basic structure of the Old Testament, especially as it relates to the canon and covenant model presented in the following lectures. That means this: I hope to provide you with a way of outlining or structuring the Bible that you can reproduce for a person on a napkin in less than fifteen minutes. I do not want you to provide me with a thirty-page Roman numeral outline (for example, Roman numeral I, sub point A, sub point 1, sub point small "a"). Thirty pages would paralyze anybody. Few of us have the mental ability to precisely recall a thirty-page outline like that. I need something that will fit on a napkin.
I do not know if any of you are in marketing or sales. There are things, actually, that are called elevator speeches. Have you ever heard of those? It is where you have got fifteen or thirty seconds on an elevator with an individual. How do you sell your product? How do you explain yourself? In some sense, what I want to do in the outline for you is give you an elevator speech. It is going to be a little more than fifteen or thirty seconds, but you could boil it down to that if you had to. I will show you how – because you want to get them hooked in and then you want to pound them into the pulpit as soon as you get a chance. That is evangelism today. It is aggressive evangelism.
That is structure. I want to do an outline of the history. I want to describe the Old Testament in terms of its structure, because, for me, structure is going to help you understand meaning. Structure and meaning are related. Let me give you an example of that. If I were to come up here and lay before you a bunch of parts and give you tools and tell you take the tools and take the parts and put it all together for me. Suppose I did that, but I gave you no structure. Or if I just said, in a very postmodern sense, do whatever you want with it. Make something out of it. There is no structure to that. You are probably not going to get it right. But if I came and put all the parts here and then all the tools and said make for me this mousetrap. And if I gave you the structure of the mousetrap, you could probably do it. Or if I told you these are the parts of an air-conditioning unit. Put it together. You could probably do it. Or if I said these are the parts for an automobile engine, then you could probably at least have a guess at what it should look like (if you have ever looked under the hood).
You need structure to put all the parts together. If you do not have the structure, you have no idea what the parts should do. Those things are important. I want to describe the structure for you.
c. Summarize the Basic Content of Each Book
Then thirdly, I want to summarize the basic content and message of each of the individual books. In a format like this, where you have just got ten or twelve or fifteen hours in the long term of things, it will be a summary. Suppose you are doing a one-semester Sunday school class in introduction to the Old Testament. According to our English Bibles, how many books do we have in the Old Testament? That is right, thirty-nine. That is a lot of books to jam into a one-semester class. Few people can get out of Genesis in thirty-nine different lectures much less cover the whole Old Testament. If you covered one book per lecture for thirty-nine weeks, that is way more than a semester. So we need to figure out a way to summarize the content of each book. For me, content and structure go together to describe meaning.
d. Proclaim the Christological Significance
One of the things the Bible does is tell us that ultimately the meaning of the Old Testament is Christ and the kingdom of God. I am going to argue that in a little bit. So we have got the outline. Then we have got the structure and the summary of the contents. Together they provide us with the meaning. And we know that the meaning must ultimately be Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. I am just saying that now, but in a little bit I will argue for that.
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