Books: Biblical Studies (Old Testament)

Dominion and Dynasty by Stephen Dempster

41awPvFXR6L._AC_US218_.jpgRarely do I find a book that I know I will reread and continue to reread for the rest of my life, Dominion and Dynasty is one of those books.  The subtitle of the book describes the book well, “A theology of the Hebrew Bible.”  Dempster, sees the Old Testament, specifically the Tanak (Hebrew Bible) as one unified Story.  The Tanak is structured differently than our Old Testament; same books different order.  Dempster argues that following the order of the Tanak: Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings) shows purposeful structure, composition, and narrative plot.  By the way, Jesus seems to affirm the Tanak order as the Scripture He used in Luke 11:51-52 and Luke 24:44-47.  Dempster begins the book with a short hermetical discussion and argues for what he calls a “literary” approach to reading the Tanak (the introductory chapters 1 and 2 should not be overlooked).  Then, Dempster works through the Story from Genesis to Chronicles (the last book in the Hebrew Bible) and shows how the unified themes of “Dominion and Dynasty” develop throughout the Narrative.  The following quote will give you a taste of the entire book, “This represents the story of the Tanakh, a story that leaves Israel still in a type of exile, waiting for someone from David’s house to come and build a house to bring about the restoration of all things. To be sure, it consists of many texts, but these find their part in a larger Text. The many stories together constitute a single Story.  And this Story is about the reclamation of a lost human dominion over the world through a Davidic Dynasty. In short, it is about the coming of the kingdom of God, and it is unfinished.”[note]Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: a Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2003), 231.[/note] Overall, this book is fantastic and will revolutionize how you read the Old Testament.  I highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially Pastors and Teachers of the Word.  This will inform and transform your reading of the Hebrew Bible.  Read and see the Story about Dominion and Dynasty, Geography and Genealogy, God’s Kingdom and God’s King.

The Lost World of Genesis One by John H. Walton

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John Walton has written a fantastic little book (170 pages) on Genesis 1 that has transformed how I now understand this text.  Essentially, Walton sets out to interpret Genesis one through the lens of “ancient cosmology.”  He argues quite convincingly that we have misread and imposed our modern ideas of creation on the text and he seeks to correct this reading.  The book is formatted by 18 “propositions” which Walton then defends, giving one chapter per proposition.  The first 11 propositions were best in my opinion.  I’m not sure if Walton would agree with this, but I see him making two major points: [1] The Genesis 1 creation account is concerned with functional origins (functions in an ordered system), not material origins and [2] Genesis 1 needs to be read as a Temple text.  Point [1] is fascinating to consider, especially since the modern world has rarely (if ever) thought about creation in these terms.  Modern readers of the text have been trained to look at Genesis 1 as strictly material (i.e. God created something out of nothing).  Walton doesn’t disagree with this doctrine of creation, he just doesn’t think that Genesis 1 is talking about material origin.  Instead, looking at Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology, he argues that the meaning of the text is functional.  God is assigning functions to already existing material objects, to create a “functional cosmic temple” for Himself to dwell in.  Walton goes about arguing this point in many ways, too many to review here, but focuses a lot of attention on the Hebrew word “bara” (to create) which he feels is almost exclusively used in a functional way.  He concludes, “In the ‘after’ picture the cosmos is now not only the handiwork of God (since he was responsible for the material face all along, whenever it took place), but it also becomes God’s residence–the place he is chosen and prepared for his presence to rest. People have been granted the image of God and now serve him as vice regents in the world that has been made for them. Again it is instructive to invoke the analogy of the temple before and after its inauguration. After priests have been installed and God has entered, it is finally a fully functioning temple–it exists only by virtue of those aspects.”[note]John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 97.[/note]  I’m sold on point [2] (Genesis 1 as a temple text) and somewhat sold on point [1] (functional creation).  I now understand Genesis 1 to be more focused on functional origins than material origins, but I’m not sure the latter is entirely missing from the text.  Overall, this is a riveting read and a book that I highly recommend.

From Paradise to the Promise Land by T. Desmond Alexander

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T. Desmond Alexander (a favorite scholar/writer of mine) has written a superb introduction to the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).  Do you struggle reading through parts of Genesis (maybe), or Exodus (maybe), or Leviticus (definitely), or Numbers (yes & insert Christian pick-up line), or Deuteronomy (Idk even know how to spell that, let alone read it)?  Then this book is for you (so basically it’s for everyone).  Part 1 of the book deals exclusively with textual criticism of the Pentateuch, especially form and source criticism.  Alexander deals with the history of textual criticism, focusing a lot of attention on the good ole Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP theory).  He doesn’t necessarily seek to disprove or prove the theory, but to show that there is more and more doubt from both liberal and conservative scholars concerning the strength of the Documentary Hypothesis; he’d rather deal with the final form of the text.  Alexander puts it this way, “Although human curiosity will undoubtedly prompt scholars to ask how the Pentateuch was composed, it is vitally important that we should not lose sight of the question, why was the Pentateuch composed? While the ‘how’ question is never likely to be answered with complete certainty, the ‘why’ question directs us to the one who is the source of all true knowledge.”[note] T. Desmond Alexander, From Paradise to the Promised Land: an Introduction to the Pentateuch, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 93-94.[/note]  Don’t be turned off by the first part of the book if you have no interest in textual criticism (it’s ~100 pages), simply skip it and move onto the bulk of the book: Part 2 “The Main Themes of the Pentateuch”.  Although, the last chapter of Part 1 is worth reading for anybody, whether interested in textual criticism or not.  Part 2 is exactly like it sounds, Alexander makes his way though the main themes of the Pentateuch.  These themes include: Royal lineage in Genesis, the blessing of the nations, paradise lost, who is the Lord?, covenant,  passover, tabernacle, clean and unclean foods, holiness, and much more.  Alexander overviews the Pentateuch in the first chapter of Part 2, concluding the chapter with this statement, “Although the Pentateuch is a very distinctive history of the world from its creation to the arrival of the Israelites on the borders of Canaan, it is much more than a history of what has taken place. The divine promises of blessing and nationhood, which are so important to the development of the plot, remain unfulfilled by the end of Deuteronomy.  As a result, the Pentateuch is oriented towards the future.  What will become of these promises?  To answer this we must look beyond the concluding chapters of Deuteronomy.  As it stands, the Pentateuch is an unfinished story.”[note] T. Desmond Alexander, From Paradise to the Promised Land: an Introduction to the Pentateuch, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 100.[/note]  The Pentateuch is a story that begins THE STORY, and reading this book will help you see both.  Delight in finally coming to enjoy the Pentateuch and not cringing over hearing the word “Leviticus” or knowing more about Numbers than that cheesy (but funny) pick-up line.  Read this book!

 

An Old Testament Theology by Bruce Waltke

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This is a massive work by a colossal scholar in the field of Old Testament studies.  Bruce Waltke is an outstanding scholar; if you can get your hands on any of his works, do it.  At nearly 1,000 pages, this isn’t a book that I have read from cover to cover, but a book I’ve used as a reference tool.  Part 1 can indeed be read from front to back and is probably meant to be, focusing on the task, method, and overview of Old Testament biblical theology.  In Part 2 Waltke moves through the Old Testament book by book, though each book isn’t necessarily covered in one chapter, nor is every book given its own chapter.  For instance, Waltke spends considerable time in the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), covering it in eleven chapters, but only has two chapters to cover all of the Prophets (major and minor).  Waltke’s grasp of the Old Testament is impressive, he works through it with ease and skill and consistently makes illuminating remarks concerning any relevant New Testament connections.  Although Waltke’s knowledge of the Old Testament is obvious, his love for “I AM” (how he translates YHWH) is even more obvious.  Reading this book has helped me understand the Old Testament and encouraged my faith in Christ.  I would recommend this book to any Christian, whether new to the faith, mature believer, or biblical scholar.  There are some heavily academic sections, but I feel all would benefit from reading this great book

 

The Message of the Prophets by J. Daniel Hays

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This book is an outstanding introduction and overview of the prophetic and apocalyptic books of the Old Testament.  Hays is at home in these books and really does a great job outlining the message of each prophetic book.  The book is separated into three sections: (1) The Big Picture (2) The Major Prophets (3) The Book of the Twelve.  Section (1) introduces prophets/prophecy, the historical context that the prophets find themselves in, and the “Big Picture” message of the prophets.  Hays separates this message into three helpful and easy to remember parts: (a) You (Israel/Judah) have broken the covenant; you had better repent! (b) No repentance?  Then judgement!  Judgement will also come on the nations. (c) Yet there is hope beyond the judgement for a glorious future restoration both for Israel/Judah and for the nations.[note]J. Daniel Hays, Message of the Prophets: a Survey of the Prophetic and Apocalyptic Books of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 63.[/note]  Section (1) and (2) are essentially a running commentary/exposition (with a short intro) on each prophetic book.  The purpose here is not in depth exegesis, but an overview of the flow of the book being covered.  Along the way, Hays throws in some extra nuggets of information such as New Testament Connections, some word studies, thematic studies, and more.  As a side note, currently, my wife is reading through the prophets and is in Jeremiah.  She has been using this book as an aid in her Bible study and has really enjoyed it!  I highly recommend this book for both the scholar and laymen.  Everyone who reads this will better understand “The Message of the Prophets.”