Introduction to the Old Testament: Chapter 1 (Introduction)

  • General introduction discusses topics that cover the OT as a whole (text, canon, etc.), while special introduction discusses individual books of the OT.
  • Focus on historical background, literary analysis, and theological message are treated separately, but function in a fully integrated manner in the biblical text.
    • The caution to read the Bible in its context does not simply refer to its literary context, but its historical context as well.
    • The Bible is indeed timeless, but only in the sense that it is applicable to every generation. The Bible is still bound to a culture, and needs to be understood in that context both literally and historically to derive its theological import.
    • It is necessary to understand what was happening when the Bible was communicated to interpret what is communicated, which is of primary import.
  • History refers to past events; historiography refers to the writing of these events. When a book is historical or not refers to the authors intent, as well as his success in achieving his intent.
    • Even if a book is historical, the author is still acting as an interpreter of events.
    • The authors of the OT provided a historical account of events but did not seek to prove they occurred, as that was not their intention in describing them. Rather, their purpose was theological; to assume the historicity of events in order to explain something theologically.
    • Alter (1981) uses the Bible’s use of literary genres to argue that it is fiction rather than history. But the difference is that fiction is unbounded where as history is bounded. The events themselves constrain what the Bible communicates, but like fiction, the author is still free to communicate history in whatever way he chooses.
  • A person who views everything skeptically will doubt the Bible’s historicity, whereas someone who accepts God’s supernatural intervention in history would have no problem believing its claims. This is the root of the argument between conservatives and critical scholars. Nevertheless, conservative scholars shouldn’t overhistoricize the Bible. We must still answer legitimate questions about genre in our interpretation of certain books.
  • Minimalists argue that the Bible is not objective about history; hence, its claims must be supported extrabiblically before anything it presupposes may be deemed true. They prefer archaeological evidence for reconstructing history.
  • Traits of biblical historiography:
    1. Selective: Biblical writers could not document everything historical, as that would consume too much time and space, but what they documented also had to serve their intent.
    2. Emphasis: Certain aspects of history are emphasized over others.
    3. Order: While most of the biblical history is chronological, it is not always so. Sometimes the author’s emphasis may require presenting events out of their chronological order.
    4. Application: Biblical authors sought for their readers to apply what they were presented to their relationships with God.
  • Archaeology cannot in itself be used to disprove biblical history, as archaeological remains are mute. They require an interpreter to give them voice.
  • The OT is not dry and technical, but composed primarily of stories and poems designed to elicit responses from its readers.
  • Characteristics of biblical poetry:
    1. Terseness: Unlike prose, which uses sentences and paragraphs, poetry uses short clauses grouped by levels of repetition and stanzas. Poetry frequently suppresses conjunctions and particles, which relate one clause to another in normal prose, and utilizes vivid imagery.
    2. Parallelism: High degree of repetition (although it does occur in some prose). Requires understanding the relationship between the parallel lines.
    3. Meter: Important for other types of poetry; not clear how it impacts biblical poetry.
    4. Imagery: Contributes to the terseness of the text, as the image fills in the missing details.
  • Biblical prose is l
  • ess literary than poetry. It has less concern for how something is said, with fewer metaphors or images. Nonetheless, biblical prose is still shaped and requires extensive literary analysis.
  • Genre: a group of texts that bears a common resemblance to one another. The similarity may be related to content, structure, phraseology, function, style and/or mood. Genres are not strictly defined, and may be fluid.
    1. Genres trigger expectations on the part of the reader. It also helps clarify texts that would be otherwise difficult to understand.
    2. Narratives are either first-person (limited perspective) or third-person (typical; narrator displays omniscience and omnipresence). Readers typically react to third-person narratives with submissiveness, as the narrator conveys a sense of authority.
  • OT theology requires divorcing oneself from their contemporary setting and imagining themselves to be part of the ancient setting of the book. We must bracket the illumination the NT sheds on the OT.
  • John Murray: biblical theology stands between exegesis and systematic theology. The major themes of the biblical books are understood through careful exegesis of individual biblical texts, and these themes provide the data for the work of systematic theology.
  • There is no single OT theological motif. Poythress is probably right that though there is organic unity to biblical revelation, there is also a proper diversity (= “multiperspectivalism”).
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