John H. Walton and Andrew E. Hill. Old Testament Today: A Journey From Ancient Context to Contemporary Relevance, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014. 480 pp. $44.99.
The church is a bit anemic when it comes to the Old Testament; it seems that many Christians mainly read and study the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. And many who do devote their attention to the Old Testament find themselves lost in genealogies, laws, and obscure prophecies, unable to draw much more than narrative facts and moralistic lessons. John Walton and Andrew Hill, both Old Testament professors at Wheaton College, wrote Old Testament Today: A Journey from Ancient Context to Contemporary Relevance to provide students with an orientation to the Old Testament.
First, we will introduce students to the content of the Old Testament, always showing how to move beyond the details of names, places, events, and dates. Second, we will provide an orientation to the world of the Old Testament through pictures, maps, and other visuals. These will often take students beyond the focus of the textbook and into the world behind the Old Testament text. Third, we will provide an orientation to the study of the Old Testament through principles and methods that will help students read the Bible with confidence. Finally, we will offer an orientation to the theology of the Old Testament in its own right but also as a prelude to the New Testament and as a section of the church’s canon (xv).
Part 1 provides some orientating data about the Old Testament as a whole. The authors show how the Old Testament is simultaneously a book, a part of a book, and a collection of books. Then in the space of about three pages, they provide a sweeping overview of the big storyline of the Old Testament. The authors contend that because the Bible is God’s self-revelation, we must move beyond the superficial descriptions of what the Old Testament is and be reoriented to what the Old Testament does. Accordingly, Walton and Hill guide us along this reorientation by showing how the Old Testament functions as revelation, Scripture, and authority.
The authors describe each book of the Old Testament (and the Old Testament as a whole) as a tapestry. Often we become disillusioned with the Old Testament because we pull out all the threads (i.e. study and analyze individual verses and stories), and in the end we stare at a huge pile of threads on the floor but know nothing of the tapestry. This book helps us focus on the tapestry without ignoring the contributions of each thread, and to see the Old Testament as a single story about God.
The introduction continues by highlighting the many fields and disciplines that are involved in Old Testament Study. These methodological approaches “are designed to help us to understand the face value of the text. They are exegetical tasks governed by principles of hermeneutics that guide us in the process of interpretation” (15, emphases original). The authors then spend some time explaining each of these three terms. Part 1 ends with brief history of writing & how the Old Testament came together and came to be recognized as the Word of God.
The rest of the book is divided into one part on each section of the Bible (Pentateuch, narrative, prophetic literature, and wisdom literature), with a concluding epilogue that addresses various issues concerning the relationship of the Old Testament and the New Testament. Each of the parts covering a section of Scripture follows a similar format. An introduction highlights orientation, Yahweh focus, key verses, outline, key plotline terms, timeline, and map. The introduction is followed by chapters on introduction to the genre, the theology of the genre, introduction to each book within that section of Scripture, and contemporary relevance and application that genre. The introduction to each book of the Old Testament is the major change in this, the second edition of the book. The first edition did not have these chapters, and the addition is very helpful as a further guide to reading the Old Testament.
I think this book would function well as a textbook for a high school or Bible college Old Testament introduction/survey course. I can’t speak authoritatively on this since I’ve never taken such a course, but as a layperson, I do believe that this book is a great resource for the church and is a great introduction and guide to the Old Testament for laypeople. It presents a comprehensive introduction to the Old Testament that covers the topic from various angles, from cultural/historical background to summary of content to theology to application. The book-by-book introduction can be used as a helpful guide alongside one’s daily Old Testament reading or study through an Old Testament book. There is no need to be intimidated by the size or length of this book, for it is very accessible and readable, with many photographs and interesting sidebar content. It is conversational rather than erudite in tone. It’s not just academic, but also pastoral; not just about scholarship, but also about faith.
*Originally posted at Grace For Sinners. A free copy was provided in exchange for an unbiased review.