Studying the Old Testament

Dillard

Boadt

I have read pages 13-37 (Introduction) of An Introduction to the Old Testament by Tremper Longman and Raymond Dillard as well as pages 89-108 (The Pentateuch) of Lawrence Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament. Longman and Dillard discussed the purposes of writing such an introduction. According to both books, such an introductory work would greatly aid students and readers of the Bible in understanding the historical, geographic, archaeological and literary background of the Old Testament. Longman and Dillard divide their work into three major topics, to wit: historical background, literary analysis, and theological message. Each of these topics is covered in the analysis of each of the Old Testament books under consideration following this introductory chapter beginning with Genesis.

It is worth noting that Longman and Dillard write from an Evangelical perspective while Boadt writes from a Catholic perspective. What this means is that the biblical text is treated as the church has received it, while not denying the possibility of sources and the history of development of individual biblical books. More specifically, the focus of their work will be squarely on the finished form of the canonical text. On the other hand, while many Catholic scholars were attracted to the possibilities of critical methods, they did little with them until the 1940’s because of the crisis of modernism. Finally, in 1943, Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical entitled Divino Afflante Spiritu that gave Catholic biblical scholars encouragement to examine the ancient sources and literary forms in order to deepen the understanding of the sacred texts. From that time on, Catholic scholars such as Boadt have pursued a sober use of source and form criticism as seriously as do most Protestant and Jewish scholars.

Hermeneutical Spiral

Grant Osborne, in his book Hermeneutical Spiral, gives us, his readers, a good introduction to the art and science of hermeneutics. According to Osborne, hermeneutics is derived from the Greek word meaning “to interpret”. Although other biblical scholars, such as Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart distinguishes, at least for their purposes, between “exegesis” and “hermeneutics” in that the former refers to the study of the text’s original meaning while the latter refers to its significance in the present, Osborne opposes such practice because technically, hermeneutics is the overall term, while exegesis and contextualization are two aspects of that larger task. In this regard, I would tend to agree more with Osborne.

As a lawyer, we also had a similar subject in law school entitled Statutory Construction. That subject was also called legal hermeneutics. As students of the law, we were required to learn the skills necessary to properly understand and interpret the laws of the land. If this skill is required in studying human law, more so when it comes to studying God’s Law! In the study of both civil or State laws and Scripture, we are dealing with words. Albeit that ultimately, God is the author of the Bible, God used human beings and their skill in the usage of conventional words to record and communicate His message. That is exactly why as reader, students and especially, teachers of the Bible, we should possess the skills to correctly interpret what it says.  Preachers and teachers of the Word, it is our responsibility to make sure that we are accurately transmitting the heart and message of God to His flock. For we are Christ’s ambassadors, it is as if God is making His appeal through us. We must be faithful to the calling God has given us so as to be trustworthy mediators of God’s message.

I liked the way Dr. Osborne explained the three levels of the hermeneutical enterprise, namely, the third-person approach, asking ”what it meant” (exegesis), then passing to a first-person approach, querying “what it meant for me” (devotional) and finally, taking a second-person approach, seeking “how to share with you what it means to me” (sermonic/homiletic). He further stated that “Hermeneutics is important because it enables one to move from text to context, to allow the God-inspired meaning of the Word to speak today with as fresh and dynamic a relevance as it had in its original setting. Moreover, preachers or teachers must proclaim the Word of God rather than their own subjective religious opinions. Only a carefully defined hermeneutic can keep one wedded to the text.”

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth

I first read the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart in its entirety back in 2008. I read it just because I wanted to know how to properly understand the Bible and thereby maximize my learning. A few months thereafter, I was invited by my friend and co-faculty member at the University of Makati to speak at their church during their Lenten seminars. It was a Catholic parish in Makati and the topic was Scripture. So, I quickly grabbed the opportunity and reviewed the above-mentioned book in preparation for my talk! I felt so privileged that in spite of my being a “Protestant”, I was still invited to speak and teach about no less than the Bible.

Of course, as an Evangelical Christian, I hold to the five solas trumpeted by the Protestant Reformers, the most hotly contested of which was sola scriptura or scripture alone. This was relevant because unlike Protestants and Evangelicals, the Catholic Church teaches that God’s infallible Word is not only found in Sacred Scripture but also in Sacred Tradition as handed down by the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church. Nonetheless, when it was my turn to speak (there were three of us, the others were Catholic seminary graduates), I only focused on Scripture and its primacy.

I started my talk by stressing the importance and significance of the Bible in our daily lives; that as God’s immutable Word, it should be the basis of all our beliefs about how to live our lives on earth and hereafter. Most of all, it is by reading the Bible that we get to know God better. However, it is not enough for us to just read the Bible but to read it with understanding. And that’s how I got into discussing hermeneutics, which I learned primarily from reading Drs. Fee and Stuart’s book and secondarily Knowing Scripture by Dr. R.C. Sproul.

I told the congregation that just like Jesus, Scripture has a dual nature, that of the human and divine. As a work of human hands and skill, it has historic particularity, meaning, that every book in the Bible is conditioned by the language, time, and culture in which it was originally written. But because the Bible is also the Word of God, it then has eternal relevance in that it speaks to all mankind, in every age and in every culture. Interpretation of the Bible is thereby demanded by the tension that exists between its historical particularity and eternal relevance. It is incumbent for teachers of the Word to stress this because while we adhere to the “plain meaning” of Scripture, there are still certain things that we need to consider, otherwise, we might fall into the common trap of “prooftexting” without context. Albeit Catholics usually just depend on the “official” interpretation given by the Magisterium, i.e. the Pope speaking “ex cathedra” together with the College of Cardinals, I nonetheless stressed the indispensability of hearing or reading God’s words to us directly from the Scriptures. To be able to do this effectively, one must at least have an idea of the basic principles of sound exegesis and contextualization. It was really good to have re-read the introduction portion of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. It reminded me of the important things to consider while reading the Bible. All in all, it should be a recommended reading not only to seminary or Bible school students but to each and every Christian who considers the Bible to be the infallible written Word of God.

Affidavit of Life

“But these were written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31; NIV)

One of my close friends recommended that I watch this movie entitled “The Encounter”. He said I would like it because the main character of the movie was Jesus and that it would make me cry. Well, I didn’t, it just made my eyes sweat.

The movie began with five people who got stranded in a mysterious diner during a storm. Among them were a young runaway girl, a successful businessman, a married couple, and a young woman on her way to meet her boyfriend to surprise him. Apparently, the owner and sole operator of the diner was a man named Jesus. As these people—strangers to each other—had various problems and issues on their own, Jesus started telling each of them about themselves and addressing their problems. He said that all he wants is for none of them to be lost and all of them to spend eternity with him in heaven, echoing what the apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:4.

In the same way, God gave us His written Word, the Bible, in order for us to know who Jesus is and to come to a saving knowledge of Him. The Hebrew word used for “knowledge” or “know” (yadah) in the Bible connotes not only information but an intimate relationship. Now, this intimate relationship with Jesus results in faith in Him. Likewise, the Greek word for “faith” or “belief” (pistis) as used in the Bible connotes not only intellectual assent to a set of facts, but also includes trust. We believe facts but we trust a person. The apostle John said that he wrote his account of Jesus’ life in order for us to believe in Jesus. To believe in Jesus means to trust Him and the efficacy of His redeeming work on the cross for our salvation.

Thirsty?

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” (John 7:37b NIV)

All of us have experienced being thirsty at some point in our lives. Thirst may be the result of the heat of the sun, physical exertion or just the lack of potable water itself. Studies show that humans can go on living for several weeks without any food intake but usually not more than three days without any water.

In John 4:14 Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that whoever drinks the water that He gives them will never thirst. He says further, “Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus offered this same living water to the Jews on the last day of the feast in Jerusalem. He took advantage of the fact that there were a lot of people gathered when He cried out His invitation once more, and, if they will hear His voice, they shall live. Jesus knew that many of the people there were only present because of the festivities and that most of them would not have another chance to hear and surrender their lives to Him. Thus, the offer of eternal life through Him was given to anyone within earshot.

In the same way, we are already living in the last days. Jesus still offers His living water to anyone who desires it before it’s too late. However, the difficult part for most people is admitting that they are thirsty, thirsty for Jesus Christ. Only when we realize our sinfulness will we recognize our need for this living water, the only kind of water which can extinguish the flames of the sinful nature in us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. This living water that Jesus offers is the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life as the Nicene Creed calls him. It is only by the indwelling of God’s Spirit that we can be born again into newness of life in Christ. So what are you waiting for? Call on the name of the Lord and be saved!