Biblical Studies Book Reviews Old Testament

Book Review: An Old Testament Theology (Bruce Waltke)

The OT takes up 3/4 of the space in the Bible. Is it just history? A picture of half-heroes of faith? One long backdrop to the NT? Bruce Waltke, professor of Old Testament at RTS, presents a canonical look at the OT and how the 39 books of the OT really do contribute to one story. Waltke exegetes the texts before him and shows how God reveals himself in the OT (primarily in the narrative books—Genesis-Ezra/Nehemiah). He shows how the books of the OT fit together within the OT canon, and within the canon of the Bible.

Waltke wants his readers to know God personally for who he is, the “I am here” and “I am eternal” and to understand how God has revealed himself through his word throughout history. And he wants you to know who you are. He writes, “A significant portion of the Old Testament recounts the history of the people of God. These are the narratives that constitute the memories of the Christian community. These memories inform our identities as Christians. Thus, Abraham is our spiritual father. His story becomes part of our past. The exodus, the monarchy of Israel and Judah, and the exile cease to be ancient tales of a distant people, but the triumphs and tragedies of our own history” (14).

The OT stories actually “communicate at a level beyond cognitive propositions. They challenge us to identify with Abraham as our father, to share his faith that rejoices to see the day of Jesus christ, and to look forward to a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God” (14). So Waltke hopes to turn the OT from looking like disconnected stories of biblical heroes to a unified narrative in which we all participate. He wants you to understand not just the OT, but the NT as well, the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ for us. This is meant to bless our own faith and to grow us as we walk by faith with the Lord.

The book contains three main sections: Part One is the Introduction which looks at the basis, task, and method of OT theology. Waltke spends time explaining what narrative theology is to help us understand how to, well, read the narratives theologically. What is God trying to tell us throughout Numbers? Why is what I just read being repeated…again? All of this serves a purpose to help us understand the depth of character in the people we read about. In the chapter on Poetics and Intertextuality, Waltke explains how the authors formed their narratives—chaisms, causation, omission of details, inclusio, generalization, etc.

Sometimes the author omits details (like Isaac’s reaction when he realized he was Abraham’s sacrifice on Mt. Moriah) because the author wants us to focus on Abraham’s faith. Inclusios run amok throughout the Bible, with one example being how Psalm 8 begins and ends with “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (vv. 1, 9). (See also how Matthew’s Gospel begins with Jesus being “God with us” and ends with Jesus being with us always, 28:20). This section, though sometimes general or brief, is good for an introduction such as this book and helps you to understand the different ways the OT authors craft their stories.

Parts Two and Three (which cover the entire OT) view God’s self-revelation to the world throughout history in the form of “gifts.” For example:

  • The gift of the cosmos
  • The gift of the Garden
  • The gift of the Abrahamic covenant
  • The gift of I AM: Deuteronomy
  • The gift of Land: Joshua
  • The gift of Providence: Chronicles and Esther
  • The gift of Love: Ruth

In these chapters, Waltke explains the inner-workings of the OT’s theology and even its connections to the NT, For example, there are three chapters on the “gift of land” where Waltke looks at the book of Joshua, then the OT, then its fulfillment in the NT. Each chapter fits the theme of the title. 1 Kings shows us “the gift of God’s history-shaping word” and how God rules through his prophets and their political spiritual speeches to kings (Nathan reminding David of his promise to install Solomon as king, 1 Kgs 1:11-21; God’s wisdom to Solomon, 1 Kgs 3; though even when Solomon fails to keep the proper laws for kings, God’s covenantal oath to Abraham still stands; God’s faithful prophets rule Israel and determine’s their destiny, not their unfaithful kings, 1 Kgs 20). Waltke consistently shows us God’s goodness and faithfulness amidst a faithful and unfaithful people.

The Spoiled Milks

The only really disappointment I found id the amount of space dedicated to different parts of the OT. 630 pages are given to Genesis-Kings, Chronicles, Esther, and Ezra/Nehemiah (with Chronicles receiving only 11 pages). the prophets. Part three is made up of two chapters on the Prophets (45 pages) and Ruth, Psalms, Proverbs, and Job receive 120 pages, a total of only 165 pages. The information is excellent, but it’s just a shame that books like Jeremiah (the longest book in the Hebrew OT) and Ezekiel receive one page each, Isaiah receives five, and the minor prophets receive anything from a few paragraphs (Haggai and first Zechariah) to one (Obadiah). Don’t let this deter you from purchasing this book. It’s excellent! Just know it has its limits. It’s strong point is not in the section on the prophets.

Recommended?

Yes indeed. Waltke has provided a magnificent work on the OT. The OT has been plagued with critiques and criticisms throughout church history. Not only is Waltke an evangelical scholar, but one who loves the OT, and his (and Yu’s) joy exudes throughout this book over the gift God has given us in the OT, an oft-neglected part of the Bible (a part which makes up 3/4 of the Bible). The OT was Jesus and the apostles’ Bible, it is God’s Word, and it deserves to be studied.

Other OT Theologies (according to size):

Lagniappe

  • Author: Bruce K. Waltke w/ Charles Yu
  • Hardcover: 1040 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan Academic (October 14, 2007)

Buy it from Amazon or Zondervan Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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