What the OT Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible (Review)

Posted on December 9, 2013

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What the OT Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus' BibleThe tree of the New Testament rises from the roots of the Old; the roots of the Old Testament break out in the tree of the New. The New Testament is nonsensical without the Old; and the Old Testament is unfulfilled and ultimately uninterpreted without the New.

Therefore, I’m grateful to Jason DeRouchie of Bethlehem College & Seminary for pulling together a team of impassioned believers, experienced teachers, and clear writers to illuminate the message of the Old Testament in What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible (Kregel, 2013).

Despite its bulky title, this multi-author work joins the top shelf of OT surveys. It offers a unified team unfolding the message and themes of each OT book in their canonical context. Its primary contribution: clarity.

STRUCTURE AND SUMMARY OF THE BOOK

DeRouchie begins with a full summary of the structure and message of the OT (26-59). He explains the storyline of the Bible with the acronym K.I.N.G.D.O.M., illustrating each movement with crisp, custom-made graphics (31).

Kickoff and Rebellion: Creation, fall, and flood
Instrument of Blessing: Patriarchs
Nation Redeemed and Restored: Exodus, Sinai, and wilderness
Government in the Promised Land: conquest and kingdoms (united, divided)
Dispersion and Return: Exile and initial restoration
Overlap of the Ages: Christ’s work and the church age
Mission Accomplished: Christ’s return and kingdom consummation

Rather than following the traditional English ordering of books, DeRouchie follows the original Hebrew ordering of Law, Prophets, and Writings. Before each of the three sections, he also provides a separate 5-10 page overview for that section. These introductory overviews help maintain the aerial view, keeping the overall storyline clear.

Each 10-20 page chapter then includes:

  • A single-page introduction to the biblical book answering the questions Who (author), When (date), Where (location of events/writing), and Why (purpose).
  • A carefully crafted list of the book’s themes which functions as a table of contents for the chapter since each list of themes forms the sub-headings for its chapter.
  • A clear, concise walk through the literary flow of the book.
  • Crisp and colorful photos, tables, charts, and images illustrating portions of the text being discussed.

I deeply appreciate how DeRouchie and team have honored our embodied, sensory humanity by engaging us not as disembodied brains only interested in text and logic but embodied beings best taught by a creative blend of proposition and illustration, statement and explanation, story and image.

ORDER MATTERS: LAW, PROPHETS, WRITINGS

DeRouchie joins the welcome renaissance of OT teachers following the three-part structure of the Hebrew Bible: Law, Prophets, and Writings. Rather than following the pragmatic ordering of contemporary English Bibles, this approach roots itself in the ancient soil of the canonical structure assumed by Jesus himself (Luke 24:44). The nutrients of this soil feed the reader in ways that contemporary arrangements simply cannot, and DeRouchie is careful to explain, defend, and promote the benefits of this arrangement using clear terms and clarifying charts.

IMAGE AND ILLUSTRATION

Although the Hebrew Bible is a text, the OT narrative is an earthy account played out across the garden of Eden, the sands of Egypt, the hills of Canaan, and the rivers of Babylon. This survey honors the earthiness of the OT with almost 200 photos from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands by Todd Bolen. Further, customized images, figures, charts, and outlines fill the book. Far from afterthoughts strewn through the book to break up the text, these are well-planned and well-executed illustrations that truly illuminate the points being made. Thoughtful pedagogical strategy permeates the book.

CLEAR AND CONCISE WRITING

Proper order and colorful images can’t overcome poor writing. But DeRouchie and Kregel have overcome multiple challenges inherent in a multi-authored academic book by publishing a final product with a unified voice marked by clarity and consistency. Because the OT is already challenging to grasp, it’s especially important that authors not veil its message with dense communication.

LIGHT TREATMENTS OF DEBATED ISSUES

To explore how DeRouchie and team treated debated issues in OT books, I thought up a sampling of interpretive debates and checked to see how much and what kind of attention each issue received: the age of the earth, the date of the Exodus, the ethics of Joshua’s conquest, the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s temple vision, the structure of the Psalter, and the interpretation of Song of Songs. Here’s what I found:

  • Stephen Dempster (Genesis) doesn’t discuss the age of the earth.
  • Kenneth Turner (Exodus) mentions the date of the Exodus in a short paragraph.
  • Boyd Seevers (Joshua) doesn’t address the ethics of Joshua’s conquest, though Jason DeRouchie provides a thorough two-page chart comparing “Judgment Wars of Annihilation” vs. “Judgment Wars of Defense and Subjugation” (182-83). The chart mentions that these wars have “nothing to do with racism, nationalism, or prejudice” (182).
  • Preston Sprinkle (Ezekiel) discusses the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s temple vision for a full page and clearly articulates his NT-informed view (268).
  • John Crutchfield (Psalms) briefly mentions the structure of the Psalter and notes that it demonstrates intentionality and a general movement from lament to praise (348-49).
  • Daniel Estes (Song of Songs) briefly mentions the debated allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs, concluding simply that “most interpreters have come to understand [Song of Songs] to speak of human love” (393).

Clearly the authors don’t intend the book to include nuanced treatments of background issues or major interpretive debates within OT books. Rather, they minor on basic background facts and interpretive problems while majoring on the flow of each OT book in the context of the OT canon. Here and there I would have appreciated a text box or chart describing interpretive issues, like Preston Sprinkle’s explanation of Ezekiel’s eschatological temple. However, one benefit of avoiding these discussions is that each chapter stays the course by unfolding the message of each OT book without distraction.

CONCLUSION: POOR TITLE, GREAT BOOK

Unfortunately, the title of the book is unwieldy and a bit misleading. First, what does “really cared about” mean? Is it emphasizing authorial intent, introducing Christocentric interpretation, or separating the book from some unnamed mainstream of OT interpretation? Second, the term “Jesus’ Bible” may not be clear to those who don’t think in terms of chronology and canon. A brief comment in the introduction seems to acknowledge the unfortunate title.

This survey’s title is drawn from the companion New Testament volume — What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Their Writings (Kregel, 2008) — and was set before the Old Testament project even began. A positive aspect of this title is its stress on authorial intent as the basis of meaning — a conviction held to by all contributors in this volume (14).

Despite its title, Jason DeRouchie has put together a properly ordered, clearly written, vibrantly illustrated, pedagogically savvy, theologically impassioned retelling of the OT story. Its crystal-clarity sets it apart and will make it useful for pastors, teachers, and students, as well as any Christian desiring to learn more about the Scriptures which Jesus used, and which he came to fulfill.

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Thanks to Kregel for providing a free copy for unbiased review.

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