On the whole 1961 has not been characterized by many reprints of Old Testament works. There are, however, some notable exceptions. Zondervan has issued a one-volume edition of Matthew Henry’s Commentary. Dr. Leslie F. Church has abridged and condensed the work, preserving the best of Matthew Henry and so making it available in this attractive form. There is no need to praise Matthew Henry’s work. Suffice it to say the abridgment is most useful and its reading will truly bring blessing to a new generation of students.
Just ten years ago Prof. H. H. Rowley edited a volume, The Old Testament and Modern Study, and Oxford University Press has now put out this work in a paperback edition, thus rendering a helpful service to serious students of the Old Testament. The 12 essays which comprise this volume are a reliable guide to the study of various aspects of the Old Testament. At the same time, they are one-sided, for they practically ignore conservative scholarship. For a survey of archaeological research, textual criticism and recent negative higher criticism, however, these essays are very valuable.
Two “Introductions” call for special mention. Curt Kuhl’s work The Old Testament, Its Origins and Composition (John Knox) has been issued in English translation, as has also the Introduction of Arthur Weiser, (The Old Testament: Its Formation and Development, Association Press). Both of these books (particularly the latter) give good surveys of recent literature; both are written from the standpoint of modern negative criticism.
Both are also characterized by a feature which calls for special comment, namely, the inclusion of the Apocrypha. This is distressing, for it creates the impression that the apocryphal books are a part of the Old Testament, and that between the Apocrypha and the canonical books there is no essential difference. Thus the distinctive character of the Old Testament as a special revelation of God is blurred. Weiser’s book even contains material on the Dead Sea Scrolls, but why this is placed in a section headed “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament” is difficult to understand.
Archaeology And The Old Testament
Progress in archaeological research continues unabated, and those who make available the results of such research deserve the gratitude of all who are interested in the Bible. Archaeology and the Bible by G. Frederick Owen (Revell) is an excellent introduction, ideal for one who is making his first acquaintance with the subject. Furthermore, it is truly up-to-date, including discussions of Nuzi, Tepe Gawra, Mari, Hazor and the ever-present Dead Sea Scrolls. The book’s title is not accurate, however, for the work confines itself to discovery as it relates to the Old Testament. Practically nothing is said with respect to the relationship of archaeology and the New Testament, and there is no mention of the remarkable finds at Nag Hamadi. For Old Testament archaeology, however, this book may be warmly recommended. It is such a book as will strengthen one’s confidence in the trustworthiness of this portion of God’s Word.
As a result of archaeological research attention is more and more being focused upon the age of the patriarchs. It is a pleasure, therefore, to welcome a popular introduction to this subject, The Patriarchal Age (Baker) by Charles F. Pfeiffer. Dr. Pfeiffer has drawn on the vast resources of archaeology to illustrate the background of this period, and has produced a most worthwhile book. There are many questions, such as the location of Ur and the date of the patriarchs, which we wish he had discussed further, but what he has given is excellent.
The same may be said for Baker’s Bible Atlas, edited by Dr. Pfeiffer, in collaboration with E. Leslie Carlson and Martin H. Scharlemann as consulting editors. This beautifully printed and bound work is a pleasure to peruse. The text is broken up into well-spaced paragraphs, often provided with headings so that reading is a pleasure. 26 colored maps and 18 black and white maps, together with 75 illustrations make this a truly useful and valuable atlas. The photographs are clear and distinct, adding immeasurably to the value of the book, and helping to make it an altogether attractive volume and a real help to Bible students. Included is a gazetteer which supplies concise data on significant biblical locations.
For a number of years a little quarterly known as The Biblical Archaeologist has been making its appearance. Its articles have usually been popular, intended for the layman. A selection of these articles has just been published in paperback under the title The Biblical Archaeologist Reader (Doubleday). An amazing variety of subjects is covered, and this little work should prove to be a handy reference volume for those interested in archaeology.
Perhaps the most significant book in this field to appear during the year is The Bible and the Ancient Near East (Doubleday) edited by G. Ernest Wright and dedicated to William F. Albright. The various articles are rather technical and often reflect an approach to the Bible which would impair its supreme authority. Some of the articles are of unusual value, such as that of Albright on the Canaanites and that of Moran on the Hebrew language. This latter article may appeal only to specialists, but it is full of useful information.
Today one should perhaps no longer speak of Israel’s religion. Have we not been told almost ad nauseam that the barren study of the nineteenth century is past and that we have now rediscovered the Bible and its abiding message? Today it is Biblical Theology! But the nineteenth century has reached right down into 1961 to give us a book that reads as though its author had never heard of Biblical Theology. And what a refreshing book it is! Religion in the Old Testament (Harper) contains material left by the late Robert H. Pfeiffer of Harvard and edited by a former student, Charles Conrad Forman. This is old-line liberalism; no “biblical” theology, no enthronement festival, no amphictyony, no high-speed word studies with exaggerated “covenant” emphasis! Just old-fashioned liberalism. We disagreed with just about everything in this book but we thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It would be well if young theologians of today would read this work if for no other reason than to learn firsthand what was held by Old Testament scholars before the deluge of present-day nonbiblical “biblical” theology. For, wrong as it was, there was a forthrightness about old-fashioned “higher” criticism that is lacking in certain more modern approaches to the Old Testament.
There is, however, a true and proper science of Biblical Theology, one which does justice to the Scriptures as the absolutely authoritative Word of God. In Preaching and Biblical Theology (Eerdmans) Edmund P. Clowney has much to say about the use of the Old Testament in modern preaching. He is interested in a biblical theology that rests upon the firm foundation of Holy Scripture, not one that rests upon modern existentialism and irrationalism. And, although one must be restrained in praising the work of a colleague, we nevertheless venture to assert that genuine progress in the study of true biblical theology will be made along the lines laid down in this volume.
Two general works on biblical interpretation call for special mention. In The Interpretation of Scripture (Westminster) James D. Smart, writing from a neoorthodox standpoint, discusses the question of modern Scriptural interpretation. This book should be of value as an introduction to some of the questions that are in debate today. A conservative will feel, however, that the author’s basic presuppositions preclude any really satisfactory discussion of revelation, inspiration and genuine biblical interpretation.
A second work is the History of Interpretation (Baker), the Bampton Lectures (1885) of Frederic W. Farrar. This reprint contains a tremendous amount of information on the interpretation of the Old Testament. It is vitiated, however, by Farrar’s hostility to the Scriptural doctrine of inspiration, and hence, must be used with caution. Farrar’s strictures on Hengstenberg, for example, are certainly ill taken. This book is at its best in dealing with the prereformation period.
Two introductory guides to Old Testament study call for special mention. John Patterson writes on The Wisdom of Israel and George Knight on Isaiah (both published by Lutterworth Press and Abingdon Press). Both works are written in popular style, designed to help the layman. Both guides are arranged in such a manner as to make them easy and attractive to read. But both show the influence of modern negative criticism. Patterson acknowledges that there may be Solomonic proverbs but thinks that we cannot identify them. Knight holds to the “three Isaiah” theory. Will these guides inspire confidence in the Scriptures as the trustworthy Word of God?
Herbert Lockyer has written a large work titled All the Miracles of the Bible (Zondervan). Although the work is popular in nature it is not superficial, and the author really believes in miracles. There are points at which we cannot follow Dr. Lockyer, but his book is eminently worthwhile.
Of an entirely different nature is The Genesis Flood by Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb, Jr. (Baker). This is a controversial work and it must be taken seriously. It evinces wide research and great learning. One need not agree with all the writers have set forth to realize that this is a significant book. The present reviewer does not believe himself qualified to pass judgment on all the scientific matters discussed in this volume, but what is most impressive is the earnest desire of the authors to be faithful to the Scriptures. No one can read this book without profit. We hope that it will receive the serious consideration which it deserves.
At the Foot of the Mountain by Dorothy M. Slusser (Westminster) bears the subtitle Stories from the Book of Exodus. This little book is full of practical wisdom and application and is a delight to read. Mrs. Slusser is an unusually gifted writer. She has been influenced by the negative approach to the Old Testament, however, with the result that one misses an understanding of the deep theological significance of Exodus and its position in the history of redemption.
We are not likely to have a clearer or more engaging presentation of Israel’s thought, written from a neoorthodox standpoint, than that of James Muilenburg, The Way of Israel (Harper). Kant’s distinction between the phenomenal and the noumenal seems to underlie the position adopted in this book that whereas the Exodus from Egypt is a meeting and a revelation, nevertheless the historian cannot say what actually happened at the Sea of Reeds. Only faith can answer “Our God delivered us from bondage” (p. 49). Until this approach, so widespread and influential, is abandoned, there can be no true progress in the study of the content of the Old Testament.
James Burton Coffman brings us face to face with the Ten Commandments as the moral law of God whose transgression brings death. The Ten Commandments Yesterday and Today (Revell) is a practical exposition of the law such as causes one to see both that the law is holy and also that its transgression is our undoing. Of particular value is the discussion of the eighth commandment and the seriousness of the sin of gambling.
An attempt to examine certain unifying themes, which bind the two testaments with particular reference to the Cross, is found in The Old Testament in the Cross (Harper). J. A. Sanders, the author, writes from the standpoint of modern negative criticism, and is unusually candid. He speaks of the resurrection as “—a victory over death about which there is not a shred of evidence from history past or present” (p. 12). Salvation is defined as “—the faith-perspective of God’s inevitability” (p. 67). How gloomy this definition is, for to realize “God’s inevitability” would only make one more aware of his sin. The wonder of the Christian message, however, is that God has done something about man’s sin. We are also told that “We do not, we must not, worship Christ. Apart from the God of Abraham, Moses, Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah there is no Christ” (p. 129). This is simply unbelief, but it is more candidly presented than in many works written from the same standpoint.
During the year two interesting commentaries on Genesis have appeared. The Message of Genesis (Broadman Press) by Ralph H. Elliott is not a verse-by-verse commentary but seeks to give a theological interpretation. The author has read the modern literature but his history of interpretation leaves much to be desired. In fact, this section should be rewritten. The work accepts the validity of the documentary hypothesis, and so we are told, for example, of the “double account of creation” (p. 2). Serious exegesis, however, will show that there is no double account of creation in Genesis. Revelation is said to mean “—God’s disclosing himself in mighty acts for salvation” (p. 14). There are many fine statements in this book, but the theological standpoint adopted is one which precludes a clear-cut presentation of the wondrous unfolding of this “history of revelation” actually found in Genesis.
The translation of Gerhard von Rad’s commentary Genesis (Westminster) is quite a significant event. But here is radical criticism. One has but to compare it with the masterful exposition of Keil, for example, to see the difference. Von Rad’s work assumes the documentary hypothesis—an untenable hypothesis, if ever there was one. The Yahwist, we are told, working with an old cubic credo and a number of loose compositions, forged the material into a basic unifying tradition in which one may see in all areas of life God’s divine guidance and providence. This is the Genesis of an imaginary Yahwist, not the Genesis of Holy Scripture.
In concluding this survey there are two thoughts which need to be expressed. If there is to be true progress in the study of the Old Testament there must first be a wholehearted abandonment of the unproved and untenable documentary hypothesis. When a scholar sets his own judgment above the express statements of Scripture, he cannot expect to arrive at a proper understanding of the Bible. Secondly, if the time devoted to reading neoorthodox works and seeking to impose a neoorthodox pattern upon the Bible were devoted to serious studies in Hebrew philology, genuine advance could also be expected. How rich and wondrous is the Old Testament! May those of us who have devoted our lives to its study first learn humility, that as little children we may approach the Old Testament ready to hear what the King of glory says!
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more