The year 1960 saw a diversity of works dealing with the Old Testament. To examine all of them would, of course, be impossible; therefore we shall only look at a number of volumes which represent different types of study of the Old Testament.
THE ENTIRE OLD TESTAMENT
Two works covering the entirety of the Old Testament call for special mention:
In The Biblical Expositor (Holman) of which Carl F. H. Henry is Consulting Editor, we are dealing not with the product of one author but of many. Each writer seeks to bring out the message of the Old Testament book with which he is dealing. Each treatment begins with an outline which is followed by a development of the message of that particular book. To include so much material in two volumes is indeed an accomplishment, and what is pleasing is the high character and quality of most of the comments. The work is a good one to place in the hands of a person who does not know much about the Old Testament, for it really turns him to the sacred text itself. The writers are men who believe in the truthfulness of the Scriptures and their comments are in line with this basic conviction.
Explore the Book is the work of one man, J. Sidlow Baxter. In a series of six volumes (two devoted to the New Testament) Zondervan has issued this challenging study which is designed to introduce the reader to the Old Testament itself. The books contain many outlines, charts, and helps to aid the reader in his exploration. Dr. Baxter loves the Old Testament as the Word of God and there is no question as to his loyalty to the Scriptures. His work follows the lines of some of the great teachers among the Plymouth Brethren and leans toward a dispensational position.
One who wishes to become proficient in the study of the Old Testament must know the tools that are indispensable. These tools are books, but what books should one purchase? So much is written that one cannot keep up with it all and, indeed, much of it is of little genuine value for a student of the Old Testament. There are, however, certain necessary helps which one ought to have. A fine service has been rendered by Frederick W. Danker in his Multipurpose Tools for Bible Study (Concordia): he discusses in an interesting way the books which every serious student of the Old Testament must own, and also includes New Testament materials. Although he presents a remarkable amount of material, there are surprising omissions, and some of his comments are disappointing, as for example, the consideration of the pioneering grammar of G. Douglas Young. Dr. Danker discusses Young’s work but does not mention its uniqueness, which is its treatment of the Hebrew vowel system. In the discussion of commentaries, we wish that the theological presuppositions which underlie the volume in question had more frequently been pointed out. Too many works are listed as helps which do not regard the Scriptures as the inerrant Word of God. This section could have been strengthened by calling the reader’s attention to more genuinely conservative works. There is, however, much valuable and helpful material in the book, and it should prove of use to those for whom it was intended.
Another type of help is found in the Lists of Words Occurring Frequently in the Hebrew Bible, by John D. W. Watts (Eerdmans). This list has been taken from Harper’s Hebrew Vocabularies and revised in comparison with the Lexicon of Kohler-Baumgartner. It is an excellent piece of work. In the learning of a foreign language, the study of vocabulary is all important, and one of the quickest ways we may obtain a reading knowledge of a language is through constant learning of new words and repeating those we have already learned. Dr. Watts has provided an admirable manual for such a purpose and has made all students of the Hebrew language his debtors.
He who loves the Old Testament cannot help but have a deep and profound interest in those lands in which the wondrous events of redemption took place. There are many books written on Palestine itself, but those on Transjordan are not so numerous. Indeed, Transjordan is not so well known to the average Bible reader as Palestine proper. A real need is therefore fulfilled in G. Lankester Harding’s The Antiquities of Jordan (Crowell): it is one of the most interesting geographical studies the reviewer has had in some time. The book is well illustrated with photographs and maps and gives a clear and biblically related discussion of the land in question.
A distinct service has been rendered by G. P. Putnam’s Sons in making available in paperback edition (Capricorn Books) the Ancient Semitic Civilizations, by Sabatino Moscati. It is time that someone gave us a popular, readable account of the nations which surrounded the Israelites, such as, the Egyptians, Babylonians, Canaanites, and others. The discussions are clear and readable as well as extremely interesting. A consideration of the Hebrew nation is also included which, to the present writer, is the most disappointing part of the book, for it does not do full justice to the uniqueness of the Hebrew religion as a special revelation from God. For its treatment of the other peoples of antiquity, however, the work may be confidently recommended.
SERMONS AND COMMENTARIES
Good sermons on Old Testament subjects are always welcome, and when the preacher is Charles Haddon Spurgeon we may be sure that the sermons are good. Two volumes of his sermons, Men of the Old Testament and Sermons on the Psalms, have been issued by Zondervan.
The past year can hardly be said to be characterized by the appearance of many commentaries. Possibly this is significant, for it is a sad day for the Church when she is not engaged in deep exposition of God’s Word. Zondervan however, has reissued the Ellicott Commentaries on the Old Testament under the title Laymen’s Handy Commentary Series. Ellicott’s works are well known for their devotion to Scripture and their concise and lucid expositions. They are now in print in handy, pocket-size volumes, and can be recommended as good interpretative helps in the study of the Old Testament.
The Epworth Press has published a work of J. Yeoman Muckle, Isaiah 1–39 which embodies the fruits of modern scholarship. The comments are lucid, but a negative criticism characterizes the work. The Isaianic authorship of the entire prophecy is abandoned and some of the interpretations seem far removed from what Isaiah proclaimed. To take two examples, the treatment of Isaiah 7:14 is disappointing as is also that of 9:6. But in its study of historical and geographical detail, and as a faithful representative of a certain type of modern critical scholarship, the book may well receive commendation.
In much modern Old Testament study the question of myth is prominent. What is myth and to what extent does it appear in the Scriptures? The great impetus to modern considerations of the question stems in large part from writings of the late Hermann Gunkel. In a small work, Myth and Ritual in the Old Testament (Alenson), Brevard Childs deals with the question. His work shows the influence of modern writers such as Gerhard von Rad. Although he has many useful things to say, he is under the influence of a negative type of criticism which does not regard the Old Testament as the specially revealed Word of God. At times there appears to be too much reading into the text, as when, for example, the Helal of Isaiah 14:13 is said to be a Canaanite deity, the chief god of the pantheon (p. 69). And it is difficult to be satisfied with the following statement concerning our Lord: “Not just in his teachings or in particular actions, but in the total existence of the Jew, Jesus Christ, the entire Old Testament receives its proper perspective” (p. 104). Is Jesus Christ simply the Jew, or is he the eternal Son of God? Childs has included much valuable information, but the basic standpoint from which he writes would not be acceptable to an evangelical.
Of an entirely different nature is the little volume The Old Testament View of Revelation, by J. G. S. S. Thomson (Eerdmans). This work is written with full awareness of what modern scholarship has to say. Indeed many modern scholars are quoted, although for the most part they really adopt a viewpoint different from that of the author. But here is a serious consideration of the Word of God. And it is particularly refreshing to be told that Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6, for example, contain names given to the Messiah, and that these names are not distinguishing labels but expressions of nature, attribute, function, and office (p. 45). Thomson’s book will repay thoughtful reading.
For those who know little or nothing about the Old Testament, Howard Hanke’s From Eden to Eternity (Eerdmans) should prove helpful. As its title indicates, the author carries the reader through the pages of biblical history and explains various questions and matters as he proceeds. He writes so as to strengthen one’s faith in the trustworthiness of the Sacred Oracles, and his attitude toward the Bible is never open to question. This is altogether a useful book.
HISTORY AND PROPHECY
American scholarship may be truly proud of the achievement of John Bright, A History of Israel (Westminster). So far as scholarship goes, we would rate this work above that of Noth without question. Dr. Bright possesses many peculiar qualifications for writing a history of Israel. He has already distinguished himself by his treatment of the views of history of certain modern scholars, namely, Alt, Noth, and Kaufmann. He is fully aware of modern trends in Old Testament studies and is thoroughly at home for instance in the work of Alt. Some of the discussions in this volume show a remarkable grasp of the subject. For example, I have in mind the excursus which treats of the problem of Sennacherib’s campaigns in Palestine (pp. 282–287). In future studies of the problems of Old Testament history, Professor Bright’s opinions will have to receive a hearing.
At the same time, we regret that the author has alligned himself with those who have rejected the time-honored view of the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God. To adopt the documentary hypothesis of the Pentateuch (pp. 64–66), the view that there is a second and a third Isaiah, or the late date of Daniel is in reality to place oneself in a position where it is impossible to do justice to the Old Testament. His work, therefore, must be used with caution, and where it deviates from Scripture itself its views cannot be accepted.
Works on the prophets of Israel usually prove to be of interest, and the translation of Curt Kuhl’s The Prophets of Israel (John Knox) is no exception. It surveys the entire subject and discusses the nature of the prophetic phenomenon and the teaching of the individual prophets themselves. But does it really help us to understand the prophets? The views of a certain type of modern criticism abound throughout with the result that we are told, among other things, that Isaiah 7:14 probably has reference to the prophet’s own wife. If this is the case, why in 7:14 does the mother name the child, whereas in 8:3 the prophet gives the name? Throughout the book we have to listen to the views of modern criticism. Here again are second and third Isaiah. Daniel’s depiction of the future is said to be poor and jejune (p. 185). In painting a picture of the theophany of the Lord, Micah, through his lack of poetic power, is said to come to grief at the outset (p. 91). We cannot see that this book has made any genuine contribution to the understanding of the prophets. The appended bibliography is particularly one-sided in its omission of conservative works.
Perhaps mention should be made of the second volume (written in German) of Gerhard von Rad’s Theology of the Old Testament. The same cautious scholarship which characterized the first volume is found here also. Dr. von Rad has given a thorough treatment of the whole prophetic movement. Like the first volume, this one is filled with keen insights and exegetical suggestions, but it is based upon a view of the Old Testament which is out of accord with what the Bible teaches concerning itself. For our part we tire of hearing of a “deutero” Isaiah and of other “critical” axioms as though there were no question concerning their correctness. One of the weakest positions of the negative critical movement is its partition of the book of Isaiah into at least three works, written by different authors. We wish that modern scholarship would examine its foundations in the light of the Word of God and submit itself to that Word rather than seek to compel the Word to submit itself to what the minds of twentieth century men may happen to be thinking. Hence, we are disappointed with von Rad’s work as with all books which do not do full justice to the Bible as the Word of God.
THE OLD TESTAMENT MESSAGE
It is refreshing to turn from the often repeated shibboleths of negative scholarship and examine a book that does accept the Bible as the infallible Word of God. Samuel J. Schultz has written The Old Testament Speaks (Harper), and the best thing to be said about the book is that it is true to its title. Here it is the Old Testament which speaks and not a modern reconstruction and reshuffling of the Old Testament. For that reason we may heed what Dr. Schultz says.
The work is not an introduction as such, although it contains much material of introductory nature. It is not a history of Israel, although it contains much history. It is not a biblical theology of the Old Testament, although it contains biblical theology. It is what its name implies—a volume which seeks to present the message of the Old Testament. The book takes the reader through the pages of the Old Testament and permits him to hear what the Scriptures have to say. What is striking and so out of line with much modern writing on the subject, but what is at the same time so pleasing, is that one is brought face to face not with what the ancient Hebrews supposedly thought about their god but rather with the living God himself. In other words, his work leads one to God, the true God.
From a scholarly standpoint, the work can match anything that has appeared in the Old Testament field during the past year. It is a credit to conservative, Bible-believing scholarship, and should be hailed as such. It is written with full awareness of what the modern “critical” school has to say and yet with complete loyalty to the Scriptures.
Here then is a challenge to the evangelical: we need more scholarly writing on the Old Testament. Perhaps as never before, there is a need for a positive exposition of the depths and riches of this portion of God’s Word. In the deep study of the Sacred Scriptures there is great reward indeed.
Samuel M. Shoemaker is the author of a number of popular books and the gifted Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh. He is known for his effective leadership of laymen and his deeply spiritual approach to all vital issues.
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