I continued my study in pursuit of the doctoral degree in Biblical Studies by reading the text, Encountering the Old Testament. Little did I know when I began reading this text that it would so completely satisfy two of my greatest pleasures; studying the Word of God and studying people’s history. I am an ardent historian. Knowing and understanding the history of peoples and nations is more than exciting or simply interesting to me. It is necessary. My favorite people and times to study are the ancient Egyptians and American history as it relates to the African Diaspora and slavery.
My great grandfather, John Burdette, instilled in me a hunger for knowing our family history and in 2008 I was blessed to publish a factual account of that history. He once said to me, “Promise me you gone tell da ones to come. ’Long as we keep tellin’ it, we keep it alive. Dey gotta know who dey are. ” It was not until I was studying Encountering the Old Testament that I realized he instilled in me a need to know about humankind. Hence, Encountering the Old Testament was an exciting theological and historical journey.
All Bible references in this paper come from the New King James Version of the Bible, except where clearly noted by the student). Chapter 1: What Is the Old Testament and Why Do We Study It? Canon: What is the Bible? The Bible is a collection of sixty six books; thirty nine in the Old Testament and twenty seven in the New Testament. But there are some sacred works that are not included in the Bible and the questions of which books should be included in the Bible raises the issue of canon. Tests for canonicity of the Old Testament must focus on three factors: author, audience and teaching.
To be included in the Bible as part of the canon, a book had to be written by a prophet or prophetically gifted person, should be relevant and speak to all generations and would not contradict the messages of earlier writings God had revealed. By applying these principles the Hebrew people determined which books belonged in the Old Testament and the Council of Jamnia officially confirmed the books most had recognized for generations. Inspiration: How Was the Bible Written? The Bible confirms its inspiration in several places; for example 2 Timothy 3:16.
Unfortunately, the Bible does not describe precisely how God inspired human writers. Four of the most recognized theories are: neo-orthodox theory, dictation theory, limited inspiration theory, and plenary verbal inspiration theory. The neo-orthodox theory holds that God is completely transcendent; he is absolutely different from us and far beyond our comprehension. Neo-orthodoxy asserts that the Bible is a witness to the word of God or contains the word of God. Evaluation of this theory is critical in that the Bible is more than a witness to God’s word.
It is God’s word The dictation theory suggests God simply dictated the Bible to human scribes; individuals chosen by him to record his word. This theory asserts sometimes God communicated a precise dictation and other times he allowed the writers to express their own personalities as they wrote. The Holy Spirit insured the finished work accurately communicated God’s intention. Thus the dictation theory accounts for some of the biblical evidence but not all. Limited inspiration theory says that God inspired the thoughts of the writers but not the exact words.
Some statements are difficult to reconcile. The plenary verbal inspiration theory asserts the Holy Spirit interacted with human writers to produce the Bible. The entire Bible is God inspired down to the very words the writers chose but God allowed those writers freedom to write according to their distinct styles and personalities. Textual Transmission: How Did We Get the Bible? Scribes who copied the biblical text believed they were copying the very words of God. One group of scribes committed to preserving God’s word was the Masoretes.
They did three things to preserve the text they received: (1) they developed a system for writing vowels; (2) they developed a system of accents for the Hebrew text; and (3) they developed a system of detailed notes from the text. The majority of the text was written in Hebrew, the remainder in Aramaic. The most important Hebrew copies of the Old Testament are the Masoretic text (the most reliable), the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Samaritan Pentateuch contains only Genesis through Deuteronomy and originated with the Samaritans.
The Dead Sea Scrolls contains part of every Old Testament book except Ester. The Old Testament was also translated into other languages. The Septuagint, a translation in Greek, has been helpful in resolving some portions of the Pentateuch and the Targums helps us understand early Jewish interpretations. How Do We Interpret the Bible? Use the Grammatical-Historical Method Following the rules of hermeneutics helps us interpret the Bible. The grammatical historical method seeks to determine what the text says grammatically and what it means historically.
In order to arrive at this understanding we must first consider the context in which the text was written. Understand the Context There are three kinds of context: immediate, remote and historical. Immediate context refers to the words or phrases in the verses closest to the word or statement one is trying to understand. Remote context describes the biblical material in the surrounding chapters and beyond. Historical context refers to the setting in history in which the writer wrote the Bible passage (p. 30). Determine the Type of Literature Next we must understand the type of literature or genre in which the passage was written.
The various types of literature used in the Old Testament are stories, prophecy, parables, and poetry. Interpret Figurative Language Just as we do today, the prophets of the Old Testament used figurative language to convey meaning. One example of this is “The trees of the field will clap their hands” in Isaiah 55:12. Let Scripture Interpret Scripture Sometimes we find that one passage of Scripture will contradict another passage of Scripture. When this occurs we should find a different passage that presents clear teaching on the topic and interpret the difficult passage in light of the clear one.
Discover the Application to Modern Life The principles of the Old Testament apply to our lives today. To receive the full benefit of the application we must understand what issues in our modern life parallel the issues in the Bible passage we are studying and then apply the Bible’s teaching to our modern situation. It is our responsibility as Christians to study, apply and share the Word of God with a dying world. Chapter 2: Where and When Did the Events of the Old Testament Take Place? God revealed his truth in the Old Testament in specific times and places and to a specific group of people, the Israelites.
Ancient Israel was a small part of the ancient Near East, now called the Middle East. The three geographical regions of the ancient Near East—Mesopotamia, Egypt and Syria-Palestine—were joined by an arch of rich soil called the Fertile Crescent. The four subregions of Israel consisted of the coastal plains, the ridge or central mountain range, the Jordan rift, and the Transjordan highlands. Highways of the Ancient Near East Two important highways and communication routes of the ancient world were the Via Maris (way of the sea) and the king’s highway.
What Events Does the Old Testament Describe? The history of the Old Testament spans nearly two millennia, in contrast to the New Testament which covers a century. One significant event in that history that occurred during the Early Bronze Age is the invention of writing; cuneiform, in Mesopotamia and hieroglyphics in Egypt. Although precise dates for the lives of Israel’s patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) are impossible to determine, it is believed they began generally during the Middle Bronze Age. Israel’s Beginnings: Moses and Joshua
Sometime during the Late Bronze Age, while Israel suffered under the burden of slavery to Egypt, Moses was born to the tribe of Levi. Moses was called and prepared by God to lead the Israelites out of their bondage from Egypt. The Israelites’ exodus occurred sometime during the New Kingdom Period of Egyptian history. Joshua succeeded Moses and led the nation of Israel in conquest of the promised land, fulfilling the promises to the patriarchs. Israel’s Statehood: David and His Dynasty A group of newcomers who probably fled from Mycenaean cities in Greece arrived in the Near East.
Known as the Sea People, their presence brought political change and instability for the Israelites. The constant threat of military invasion from various other groups caused Israel to call out to God for a king. The prophet Samuel, led by God, first anointed Saul as the king of Israel. However, Saul failed to maintain a right relationship with God and was rejected as king. Samuel was instructed by God to anoint David as the next king. Under David’s strong leadership, the nation thrived and experienced a time of stability. Although internal strife existed among the nation, David left to his son, Solomon, a unified kingdom.
Under Solomon’s reign, the borders of Israel expanded northward to the Euphrates and southward to Egypt and he brought great wealth and prosperity to the nation through international trade. Solomon, like Saul, allowed his heart to turn from God and shortly after his death, the nation split into two weaker nations. Israel in the north and Judah in the south became the divided monarchy. The Davidic dynasty continued in Judah for almost 350 years. The Assyrian empire emerged and for a while dominated the political landscape of Syria-Palestine.
When Assyria began to experience internal weakness, the divided monarchy led by Jeroboam II in Israel and Uzziah in Judah, experienced a time of prosperity. Moral decay and social injustice began to consume the soul of Israel and Judah. This was the backdrop for the first of the classical prophets: Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah. God raised up his servants to warn the nations of impending doom and to call them to repentance (p. 53). Assyria rose again to full strength and was “ready to be used as God’s instrument of destruction against the rebellious northern Israel” (p. 54).
Babylonia emerged as a formidable foe against Assyria and eventually captured Jerusalem, taking King Jehoiachin into exile, along with many people of Jerusalem, including Ezekiel. They destroyed the city and tore down the temple, effectively ending the Davidic Dynasty. The loss of temple and kingship was a dominant and formative event in the Old Testament history. It forced the nation to re-think theological assumptions and re-formulate Israel’s earlier religious convictions, especially the nature of God’s covenant. Thus, emerged some of Israel’s most significant prophetic figures: Jeremiah, Habakkuk and Ezekiel.
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