Category Archives: Old Testament

Toward and Old Testament Theology – Walter Kaiser

9780310371014Walter C. Kaiser Jr., distinguished professor of Old Testament and president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is an excellent scholar and leader in evangelicalism. Before coming to Gordon-Conwell he served at TEDS and as president of ETS, which alone vounch for a positive repuation. There he wrote one of his most significant publications, Toward an Old Testament Theology, which I read this week while off from school. Although some may consider his work passé (it was published in 1978), Kaiser is still masterful in presenting the canonical shape of the Hebrew Bible, exhibiting keen insight and exegetical skill throughout the book. The division of the book is threefold, and I want to make a few observations for the interested reader, all of which occur in the first section of the book.

Division:

I – Definition and Method (the best section of the book)
II – Materials for an Old Testament Theology (walks through each section of the Hebrew ordering of the Bible and explains the theology)
III – The Connection with New Testament Theology (a helpful transition into the Christian era)

An initial observation deals with the nature of the Bible. Kaiser makes clear that, at the time of his writing, biblical theology had failed to restate and reapply the authority of the Bible (as was the case with Gerhard von Rad and Walter Eichrodt). It is therefore his intention to do so. The OT is not a set of detached periods with little or no unity, says Kaiser. Rather, the OT is God’s inspired and infallible Word, as it claims to be, and should be treated as such:

The nature of the theology of the OT…is not merely a theology which is in conformity with the whole Bible, but it is that theology described and contained in the Bible and consciously joined from era to era as the whole previously antecedent context becomes the base for the theology which followed in each era (9).

The most useful way to confirm this authority lies in an inductive reading. In contrast to the method used by systematic theology called the Analogy/Rule of Faith, Kaiser utilizes what he calls the Analogy of Antecedent Scripture to approach his task. In his own words,

While the Analogy or Rule of Faith is deductive and collects all materials regardless of its relative dating, the Analogy of [Antecedent] Scripture is inductive and collects only those antecedent contexts which were in the Scripture writer’s mind as he wrote this new passage as indicated by the same terminology, formulas, or events to which this context adds another in the series (19).

For Kaiser, the text begs to be understood and set in a context of events and meanings. To that end, the exegete must depend on the theology of the periods preceding his given canonical text. Otherwise, he will be using new material in the NT or subsequent OT passages in trying to grasp the meaning of a given text. Kaiser asserts that this would be “an outright rebellion against the author and his claim to have received divine authority for for what he reports and says” (19). On the other hand, by employing the Analogy of Antecedent Scripture the exegete will come to understand the theological core of the canon, which is absolutely crucial to Kaiser’s method. In my own research, albeit limited, I’ve found this method to be very helpful and true to the original intent of the author.

The second (and most important) observation is in Kaiser’s identification of a canonical theological center in the OT. He sees the problem many face as twofold: 1) Does a key exists for an orderly and progressive arrangement of the subjects, themes, and teachings of the OT?, and 2) were the writers of the canon aware of such a theme (20)? Many attempts have been made to answer these questions but Kaiser finds them unsatisfactory and ambiguous. Therefore, he sets out to do so from the text itself and without the critical presuppositions others have brought to the table. Simply stated, God’s unifying plan is bound up in the terms “promise” and “blessing,” for “the divine promise pointed to a seed, a race, a family, a man, a land, and a blessing of universal proportions – all guaranteed, according to Genesis 17, as being everlasting and eternal. In that purpose resides the single plan of God” (see Gen. 3:15; 9:25-27; 12:1-3 as the key OT passages on the promise). The promise is textually confirmed in the vocabulary of the canonical books themselves, as well as certain epitomizing formulae which summarize the central action of God in a succinct phrase or two. Kaiser calls this the tripartite formula of promise – “I will be your God; you shall be My people, and I will dwell in the midst of you.” This formula is repeated in part or in full in Genesis 17:7-8; 28:21; Exodus 6:7; 29:45-46; Leviticus 11:45; 22:33; 25:38; 26:12, 44, 45; Numbers 15:41; Deuteronomy 4:20; 29:12-13; et. al. Later it appeared in Jeremiah 7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 30:22; 31:1, 33; 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20; 14:11; 36:28; 37:27; Zechariah 8:8; 13:9; and in the NT in 2 Corinthians 6:16 and Revelation 21:3-7 (33-34). Therefore, according to Kaiser the promise is the theological center of the OT. It is indeginous to the text itself, united and supported in all parts of the canon.

This answers the first question, but what about the second? Were the biblical writers aware and actively working according to this promise? Without going into too much detail, the organic unity of the text is rooted in history through the work of the authors. Thus, history is the unifying principle. This is clear in that the entire focus of the OT lies in the content and recipients of God’s covenants. God has promised in the biblical authors that he would freely do or be something for all men as he did in the past. His “oaths,” “pledges,” “declarations,” and the like all attest to his promissary “word” that he has acted in the past, is acting in the present, and will act in the future.

At this point I’ve mentioned only positive details about Kaiser’s work, the reason being that I didn’t find too much to be critical about. I will mention, however, that Kaiser fails give attention to the literary structure of certain key passages, which, as I’ve learned from Drs. Gentry and Garrett, aid immensely in interpretation (passages like Gen. 1-2; Exod. 15; poetic forumlae in the Proverbs; resumptive technique in Isaiah; the chiastic structure of Zephaniah, etc.). Kaiser also limits his treatment of the Psalms to a few pages, breezing over key ideas and themes so clearly present. Yet Kaiser generally comes to the same interpretation nonetheless. It is understood from the beginning that Kaiser does not intend to write a biblical theology in toto, such as in the works of Brevard Childs, Gerhard von Rad and Bruce Waltke (much later, of course). Instead, he has given us a concise theology, much like Stephen Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty. As an aside, it would insteresting to compare Kaiser’s work with Dempster, but that study will have to wait, and this blog is already long enough! At this point I would probably recommend Dempster over Kaiser, but mainly because Dempster draws upon Kaiser’s previous (antecedent!) work, and is more up to date.

In the end, while reading Kaiser I was constantly reminded of the truthfulness of God’s Word in the OT, indeed the whole Bible, and the confidence Christians can have in handling it rightly. If we only had preachers to lead them in this task! I highly recommend this book for pastor’s, scholar’s and seminarians, but not necessarily for lay people. The language is often technical (but readable) and a knowledge of biblical Hebrew is a must.

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Filed under Biblical Theology, Book Reviews, Old Testament, Theology

Sidney Greidanus’ “Christocentric Method” for Preaching the OT

I found this quote from the blog at Reformed Reader helpful in thinking about preaching Christ in all of Scripture. Many pastors, young and old, continue to do a disservice to the OT text by bludgeoning Christ upon every jot and tittle.To those who make it their practice to do so, I think these wise words from Sidney Greidanus are instructive:

The christocentric method complements the theocentric method of interpreting the Old Testament by seeking to do justice to the fact that God’s story of bringing his kingdom on earth is centered in Christ: Christ the center of redemptive history, Christ the center of the Scriptures.  In preaching any part of Scripture, one must understand its message in the light of that center, Jesus Christ.

It should be clear by now that our concern is not to preach Christ to the exclusion of the “whole counsel of God” but rather to view the whole counsel of God, with all its teachings, laws, prophecies, and visions, in the light of Jesus Christ.  At the same time, it should be evident that we must not read the incarnate Christ back into the Old Testament text, which would be eisegesis, but that we should look for legitimate ways of preaching Christ from the Old Testament in the context of the New.

Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, pgs. 227-28.

A solid reminder that while we must not allegorize Christ all over the OT, as though we could make him explicitly mentioned in every verse, we must recognize that every verse providentially exists where it is as part of a canonical Bible that centers around God’s redeeming work in none other than Christ himself.  Thus to preach a given verse as though it had nothing to do with Christ and his finished work is to misunderstand the OT as Christian Scripture.

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Unveiling the Cross: Thoughts on Genesis 1-3 (Part 1)

It’s incredible how much affect the account in Genesis 1 to 3 has on our understanding of Christian doctrine. An attentive and thoughtful reading of the creation account, institution of man and woman in the garden, and of the subsequent fall is essential to understanding the entire redemptive fabric of the canon (redemptive=story of salvation). The creation account offers us cosmic truth. The garden shows us God’s intention with his creation. We so often need to remember that the current world we live in, as we will see, is cursed. But, because of the death and resurrection of Christ, the cosmos are awaiting a great and grand redemption with us. See Romans 8:18-23.

Further, we need to understand that this garden paradise was a  sanctuary. This was a place where God spoke directly to Adam  and Eve (cf. Gen. 1:28, 29; 2:16, 18; 3:9, 13-14). We are also  told that God walked in this garden (3:8). This same verbal  expression is used to describe God’s presence (lit. ‘walking’) in  the Temple (see Lev. 26:12; Dt. 23:14; 2 Sam. 7:6-7). The  imagery indicates that God’s presence was in the garden. Its  interesting to note that the Temple walls, which ‘contained’ the presence of God were inlaid with pictures of open flowers and gourds. The innermost part of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, was symbolically guarded by two cherubim whose wings stretched the entire breadth of the room (compare Genesis 3:24). Further, in Genesis 2:15 Adam is told to “cultivate and keep” the garden. These same verbs are used to describe the work of the priests’ in the temple: “to serve and keep” (see Num. 3:7-8; I Chr. 23:32). This is imagery reflective of Genesis 1-2. Its important to see that later Old Testament revelation reveals that Adam was a kind of priest, who was to keep charge of the garden sanctuary. This was more than paradise, this was where God and man dwelt together on earth.

This is why we are told in Genesis 3:23 that God “sent” Adam out of the garden. God cannot fellowship with sin! Isaiah’s reaction in Isaiah 6:5 when he sees God sitting on his throne is very instructive, “And I said: Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Seeing God did not cause Isaiah to become a sinner. Instead, seeing God made Isaiah acutely aware of his sinfulness. This sin problem is the continuing problem of mankind.

But, here’s the big question? Did Adam sin? What’s going on in this story of the Fall? Many think that the serpent testing Eve is simply a fictional story that represents the existences of both good and evil in the world. Although I’d love to spend time on these kind of theories, we must take the narrative of Scripture as historical reality. There really was a serpent and Adam and Eve were truly the first human beings. Paul himself recognizes this and prescribes Adam’s sinful actions in the garden as the reason that we are all born into sin: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). The role of Adam as priest in the garden sanctuary sheds light on his representative role for all humanity. There are many theories on how Adam’s sin has past down to us. I think these are silly and useless. The point is, that’s what happened and that is the condition we are all now in: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).

So what was this sin? Next time we shall have a closer look at the temptation of Eve and the resultant Fall. Until next time…

-Randall

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Filed under Christian Theology, Cross, Old Testament

Was Noah the first environmentalist?

Darren Aronofsky, director of “The Fountain,” “Pi,” and “Requiem for a Dream” recently sat down with Peter Sciretta of slashfilm.com and spoke about some of his upcoming film projects. One of his future movies is a “religious film” dealing with the biblical character of Noah. Here is part of the interview:

Peter Sciretta: The only thing I wanted to ask you about is when you were in San Francisco with The Fountain, you told me about your next project, which is going to be a religious film…

Darren Aronofsky: That was Noah.

Peter Sciretta: Yes, Noah, what’s happening with that?

Darren Aronofsky: We have an amazing screenplay.

Peter Sciretta: Who wrote it?

Darren Aronofsky: I wrote it. Me and Ari Handel, the guy who worked on The Fountain. It’s a great script and it’s HUGE. And we’re starting to feel out talent. And then we’ll probably try and set it up…

Peter Sciretta: So this isn’t something you can make for six million dollars?

Darren Aronofsky: No, this is big, I mean, Look…it’s the end of the world and it’s the second most famous ship after Titanic. So I’m not sure why any studio won’t want to make it.

Peter Sciretta: You would hope so?

Darren Aronofsky: Yeah, I would hope so. It’s a really cool project and I think it’s really timely because it’s about environmental apocalypse which is the biggest theme, for me, right now for what’s going on on this planet. So I think it’s got these big, big themes that connect with us. Noah was the first environmentalist. He’s a really interesting character. Hopefully they’ll let me make it. Oh that’s right I forgot I told you that whole religious thing.

It is interesting to see how our culture views biblical stories – outside the metanarrative of Scripture and inside their personal worldview. For Aronofsky, the flood narrative of Genesis 6-9 is about an environmental apocalypse, with its main character being the Al Gore of the ancient Near East. For Christians, the story is much bigger. A few things struck me as I read this interview: 1) Noah’s story is the biggest theme going on in the planet. 2) Noah’s story does connect with us. Not only are we all longing for a savior (just look at all the superhero movies that have been made in the last 5 years), the whole creation is groaning inwardly, eagerly awaiting the redemption of sons (Rom. 8:18-25). 3) Noah’s ark is much more famous than the Titanic. 4) Noah’s story is very timely.

Noah was no environmentalist or weatherman. Noah was a savior. More to the point, Noah was typological of the coming Savior who not only saves people from judgment, but also saves them from their sins. In return, those who are united to him receive life. Noah’s story is about the flood, yes, but what Aronofsky doesn’t realize is that Noah’s story is about Jesus. Unlike Noah, Jesus was (is!) an environmentalist – he walks on water (Matt. 14:22-33) and the winds cease at the sound of his voice (Matt. 8:23-27). Like Noah, Jesus ushers in a new creation as the last Adam (Rom. 5:14). Yet while Noah preaches the gospel by calling the people to turn from their wickedness and enter into the salvation that God provided, Jesus is the salvation. Jesus is the gospel.

If “Noah: The Movie” is ever made I will probably see it. But Hollywood will never get it right. The flood narrative is not the end of the story. It only points to the one through whom all men will be reconciled.

“By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” – Hebrews 11:7

- Josh

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Up for discussion…

Which OT texts drive Paul’s statement that God saved us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1)?

Leave your answers/ideas in the “comments” section.

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