Biblical Interpretations in Preaching (Von Rad)

Von Rad, Gerhard. Biblical Interpretations in Preaching.

This is not a series of sermons following the church calendar, though the table of contents may suggest as much. Rather, Gerhard von Rad gives guidelines on what to look for the text, ranging from technical Hebrew grammar to overarching themes. Of course, we can’t follow von Rad in many places. He is far too critical of the text as we have it (though he never goes as far as the liberalism that gutted mainline Protestantism). Nonetheless, we are in the presence of a master.

His introduction is a fine survey of problems in modern hermeneutics, to which he tells us that “language and mind form a unity” (von Rad 14).

Genesis 4: “Ancient man sensed it much more clearly than do we: the earth, intended by God to serve man as the maternal foundation of life itself, has drunk a brother’s blood” (21)! The sermon should center on verse 10 and the contrast between Abel’s and Christ’s blood, the former only increases the burden of the curse.

Genesis 22: “The word ‘God’ is especially emphasized by the syntax (it is placed before the verb!)” (33).

Genesis 32: “We must remember that ancient man was conscious that his life was molded and surrounded by divine powers which he could not decipher…If he encountered a numen, the most elemental question was the question of that being’s name” (41-42). If you can’t commit to that idea in some level, you simply can’t understand the world of the Bible.

Joshua 1:1-9: God’s address to Joshua “comes in an actual interim period, between promise and fulfillment, between election and ultimate…salvation” (49). Von Rad correctly notes that our word “law” doesn’t capture the essence of Torah, which was “the sum of all beneficent divine intention in Israel” (51).

2 Chronicles 20: Holy war. The narrative “certainly understands the mearbim to be heavenly powers sent by God to intervene and cause the enemy’s defeat” (67).

Psalm 32. There is a penitential aspect, but it isn’t to function as a morbidly medieval penance psalm. The “diction of the psalm resembles that of wisdom literature; i.e., it is highly didactic” (75).

Psalm 96. The enthronement of Yahweh. It begins noting that only the elect community knows of this cosmic turning point, to which it must respond with “praise” and “proclamation” (79). “All true praise lives out of certainty of the eschatological kingdom.” God’s coming in judgment is a shaphat, a settling.

This book cannot replace exegesis, but it is a fine guideline for the new student.


Hopeful Imagination (Brueggemann)

One can appreciate the way Brueggemann reads the Bible. For all of Evangelicalism’s rejection of Plato and its (rightful, if not always self-understood) suspicion of Hellenism, Evangelicals are thoroughly Platonic when it comes to thinking about the Biblical text. Evangelicals see the Old Testament as one seamless unity in which all texts have equal applicatory power to the life of the believer. Brueggemann shows how untenable that view is. While sensitive to the fact this is God’s word, these texts reveal a highly dynamic sitz em leben. Not only do many texts of the Old Testament—moral and civil texts at that—not easily apply to today’s life, they didn’t even apply to the life of the “Old Testament” believer in many cases.

His Thesis

Brueggemann’s thesis is helpfully summarized in the final pages of the book: Jeremiah urged “grief” in order for newness to come out of brokenness, a brokenness caused by idolatry. Ezekiel posited God’s holiness as the only ground of hope, for only God’s holiness remains “undeconstructed.” 2nd Isaiah points the way back from exile with new community, new hope, and both by way of a “new memory” (131-133).

Brueggemann argues that 587 B.C. is a break in Israel’s prophetic history (2). After the Babylonian exile, the Prophets had Israel’s text—or better her “collective memory”—in a different way. For example, it would not have done any good to preach the covenant promises of Deuteronomy 28-30 to the captive community without radically altering the way they are applied. Therefore, the prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel—had to draw upon new applications of Israel’s older memories. The older stories still work, but they have to work in a new way.

An Hegelian on Crack?

There are some difficulties with Brueggemann’s project. Brueggemann sets forth the prophet as the critic of the Bourgeois. The prophet calls against the moral and theological compromise in the power circles. That is good and there is no problem with that. It appears, though, that there must always be a prophet who is critiquing a system that is always corrupt and is calling forth a new system which, too, will soon become corrupt.

It is not fair to critique an argument simply based on the implications of how some will apply the argument—and I largely agree with what Brueggemann is saying. However, it would have been interesting to see how he develops the same true insights in a new setting. In other words, it would have been helpful for him to “imagine” a more normative, yet morally just setting in which these prophetic insights could play.

Human Rites: The Power of Rituals, Habits, and Sacraments

Johnson, Dru.  Human Rites: The Power of Rituals, Habits, and Sacraments

Thesis: Rituals symbolically encode our deepest thoughts and desires into a storyline.

Definition: A ritual or rite is a regular action that has been scripted for another use.

Dru Johnson, Hebrew professor at King’s College New York, exposes the daily rituals in our lives. Rituals and rites, and for some the term, sacraments, conjures up the smoky atmosphere of mystery religions. The reality of rituals, however, is quite different. Stated plainly, rituals teach our bodies when our minds are not always aware. This book is not about “rituals for church,” nor is it prescribing a set of rituals for one’s spiritual life.  The truth is probably the opposite: getting rid, or at least becoming aware, of bad rituals.

The symbolism of a ritual is important, but we should not always expect a one-to-one correspondence.  God told the Israelites to pretend they were camping out in tents and booths for one week a year. This was to remind them of the wilderness years.  That symbolism seems obvious enough.  Not all of them are, though.  God told Israel to sometimes sacrifice a red heifer?  Why that particular heifer and not another?  There really is not a good reason and looking for one probably misses the point.

Rituals are scripted by someone. God scripted rituals for Old Covenant Israel for reasons sometimes beyond the obvious.  It is easy for us to “feel out of place” or confused even when we have not sinned.  If an Israelite kills a man in battle, he does not sin (especially if God commanded the battle!).  Nevertheless, it is easy to feel confused. It is no light thing to kill someone. God knows that, which is why he prescribed purification rituals that give the man a script and a purpose and prevent a falling into despair.  

The same applies for married life, including sex.  This is especially true for young couples. Emotions are high.  Becoming one flesh; not really having a clue what is going on.  That’s normal.  God prescribed some minor rituals to “script that part of life.”

There is an excellent section on technology and rituals.  If you have read neuroscience regarding technology’s, especially smart phones, impact on the brain, then you know what he is saying.  

The reason rituals are powerful is that habits are encoded in our flesh.  Simply talking them out does not work (which is what psychologists learned in the early days of PTSD). Rituals rewire the body.

Concluding Comments

One minor criticism is that there is no hard and fast line between “rites” and “rituals.”  Using one is just as good as the other.  Other than that, the book was very informative, maybe even “formative.”

Christian Church and the Old Testament (Van Ruler)

Van Ruler, A. A. The Christian Church and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. trans. Bromiley.

The book’s initial purpose is to justify the Christian’s use of the Old Testament. He does, however, put the brakes on more fanciful readings. For the reader today much of it is dated, as is most OT work post-Vos (and certainly post-Beale). Nonetheless, there are a few fascinating and controversial sayings that are worth engaging.

He wisely points out that the OT’s identifying God as “Yahweh” and even “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” puts to rest any generic “God-in-general” god of the ecumenical movement (Van Ruler, 17; the comments on the ecumenical movement are mine, not his).

He argues that Calvin used the model of progressive revelation (II.x.2). On one level this is obvious. God didn’t give Adam and Eve a complete canon of Genesis-Revelation. That sounds silly, I know, but there are super-internet-covenanters today who say that any use of “history” or “organic” or “progressive” = pantheism. I leave that to you. On a more substantial note, however, we must question how glibly we can say that “Jesus” is in the Old Testament. He certainly is (1 Cor. 10; he is the Rock from which our fathers drank). Here’s the problem, though. If Scripture (and texts in general) have only one meaning–the meaning for the original audience is the intended meaning–then we need to ask if the original audience saw Christ as the rock. Indeed, that’s a tall (but not impossible) claim. Van Ruler questions that we can simply put Jesus wherever we want in the OT, since such knowledge, at least for the original audience, needed the death and resurrection at the very least (21).

Good quote by Kuyper: If our ideas of the Old Testament can’t incorporate national Israel in them, then those ideas are wrong” (Uit het Woord, II, 1, 180). Outstanding. In our conservative circles we might not realize how radical this claim is. A particular Israel is hard to square with “universal messages” or “timeless truths” or the ecumenical movement.

If you are somewhat familiar with Van Ruler, then you know the dangerous area he is now taking us. “The whole concern with Scripture is not with Jesus Christ” (69). That’s a fairly startling claim. What does he mean by it? He says the Spirit embraces more than Jesus does. That’s a vague statement and I am not sure how to take it. He then echoes 1 Cor. 15 that the Son’s mediatorial kingdom will come to an end. (Side note: Berkouwer claimed in The Return of Christ that Van Ruler said Jesus’s humanity will fade away, but Van Ruler doesn’t say that here). Van Ruler does leave us with a startling suggestion, though: “Jesus Christ is an emergency measure that God postponed as long as possible.” Suffice to say he probably isn’t a supralapsarian.

He does point out the wisdom of Reformed Christology and how it is anchored (and further develops) in Reformed anthropology. We believe that original righteousness “was natural rather than supernatural.” Rome believed in a pure nature to which was super-added a gift of grace. So far this is standard dogmatics. From it Van Ruler draws the inevitable but not always obvious conclusion: this means that Jesus doesn’t add a “higher life” dimension to created life. This is why with Reformed we say that grace restores, rather than perfects nature.

A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism

Gignilliat, Mark. A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism.

This is a great intellectual snapshot of Old Testament studies from the last 300 years.

Spinoza: he first tries to show the connection between Descartes’ rationalism and Spinoza’s conclusions. There is a movement away from the substance of the things themselves to the actual thinking process.

Much of Spinoza’s argument consists of typical academic grand-standing: we are neutral, etc.  He does make one important claim: the bible doesn’t make metaphysical claims. Not surprisingly, this allows Spinoza to operate on a hidden metaphysical claim:  deism. Another payoff (or more likely, crippling debt) from Spinoza’s method is the view that the Bible is a natural book with a natural history.

In light of that, Spinoza’s natural history denies Mosaic authorship, places divine law in naturalistic categories, and rejects miracles because scientific law is absolute.

M. L. De Wette: History Becomes Religion

Biblical critic as romantic rationalist.  While de Wette himself was probably a critic, he claims that Johann Herder protected him from the wasteland of biblical criticism.Herder had rejected the Enlightenment’s devaluing of historical particulars. The Enlightenment also ignored the relationship between language and culture. Herder even suggested a link between language, culture, and consciousness.

Unfortunately, de Wette’s foundation, already weakened by criticism, was shattered by Kant. The result is that we now focus on “timeless truths,” truths that only exist outside of space and time. To be fair, de Wette saw where this was going and backed off.

De Wette later discovered Schelling’s lectures on art, where Schelling argued that art manifests the Absolute. The surprising payoff is that this meant that Kant’s dominant philosophy was only a partial reflection of the Absolute.  

Julius Wellhausen: Israel’s History and Literary Sources

He says he learned from Ritschl that Graf said the law came after the prophets chronologically. Wellhausen’s project aimed to reconstruct Israel’s history from various sources.  Well. wasn’t simply saying that there were different authors for the Pentateuch. That wasn’t new. He used those various sources to construct an Israelite religion based off that most pure form of human expression: 19th century German liberalism.

Herman Gunkel

While he began on a promising note that we must understand the writings as the ancient Hebrews did, leading to the idea of a Sitz im Leben, Gunkel never transcended the methodological naturalism that crippled German scholarship. 

Gerhard von Rad

Von Rad’s life was filled with dangerous irony.  He championed the OT but was appointed by Nazis to teach at Jena.  He openly condemned the Nazi church but was later forced into the German army.  He ended the war as a prisoner of war in an American camp. 

Problem of the Hexateuch: Moses + Joshua. 

Brevard Childs

While he lived in the Northeast growing up, Childs had the background and manner of a Southern aristocrat.  He taught himself Greek while on the way to World War II.

When Childs was in Europe, he studied under the legends of the time.  


Behind almost all of these critics is a desire to get to the reality “behind the text,” whether it is “ultimate feeling” or “real history.”  The author does a good job in showing the influence of German philosophical movements on the critics without reducing the critics’ position to German romanticism.

Theology of the Old Testament vol 1 (Eichrodt)

“That which binds together indivisibly the two realms of the Old and New Testaments…is the irruption of the Kingdom of God into this world and its establishment here” (26).  

The Meaning of the Covenant Concept

  • Factual nature of divine revelation (37).  “God’s disclosure of himself is not grasped speculatively.”  As “he molds them according to his will he grants them knowledge of his being.”   
  • A clear divine will is discernable.  “You shall be my people and I shall be your God.’ Because of this the fear that constantly haunts the pagan world, the fear of arbitrariness and caprice in the Godhead, is excluded” (38).  
  • The content of that will is defined in ways that make the human party aware of the position (39).  
  • Divine election and kingdom:  Jer. 2:1; 1 Sam. 8:1-10; this dual pattern provides the interpretation of Israelite history.  
  • The bond of nature religion was broken (42).  The covenant did not allow an inherent bond in the believer, the order of nature, and the god.   Chain of being is broken. Divinity does not display itself in the mysterium of nature. Election is the opposite of nature religions (43).  Israelite ritual does not mediate “cosmic power.” “One indication of decisive importance in this respect is the fact that the covenant is not concluded by the performance of a wordless action, having its value in itself, but is accompanied by the word as the expression of the divine will” (44).  

The History of the Covenant Concept

Eichrodt discusses the dangers the covenant idea faced.  Canaanite ideas quickly muted the sharp sounds of the covenant.  “The gulf set between God and man by his terrifying majesty was levelled out of existence by the emphasis laid on their psycho-physical relatedness and community” (46).  It is interesting to compare this description with Paul Tillich’s claim that the church placed the intermediaries of saints and angels over the Platonic hierarchy of Forms.  

Refashioning of the Covenant Concept

Dt 4.13, 23 understands berith simply as the Decalogue.   A shift to the legal character. Man can violate the conditions of the covenant, but he cannot annul it (54).  

The Secular LAW

The Cultus

“Alien from primitive Yahwism, and introduced into the Yahweh cultus predominantly as a result of Canaanite influence, were the massebah, the Asherim and the bull image” (115).  The Canaanites believed this was a transference of the particular object of the divine power effective at the holy place as a whole.

  • Special places were always seen, by contrast, as memorials to Yahweh’s self-manifestation (116).

Pictorial Representations

“The spiritual leaders of Israel, however, always made a firm stand against this adoption of heathen image-worship, regarding it as an innovation which contradicted the essence of Yahweh religion” (118).  


“Indicative of the pattern of Old Testament piety is the fact that the dominant motives of prayer never included that of losing oneself, through contemplation, in the divine infinity.  There was no room in Israel for mystical prayer; the nature of the Mosaic Yahweh with his mighty personal will effectively prevented the development of that type of prayer which seeks to dissolve the individual I in the unbounded One.  Just as the God of the Old Testament is no Being reposing in his own beatitude, but reveals himself in the controlling will of the eternal King, so the pious Israelite is no intoxicated, world-denying mystic revelling in the Beyond, but a warrior, who wrestles even in prayer, and looks for the life of power in communion with his divine Lord.  His goal is not the static concept of the summum bonum, but the dynamic fact of the Basileia tou Theou” (176).

The Name of the Covenant God

Exodus 3:14:  “This is certainly not a matter of Being in the metaphysical sense of aseity, absolute existence, pure self-determination or any other ideas of the same kind.  It is concerned with a revelation of the divine will” (190).

The prophet Isaiah connects the fact of Yahweh is King with Yahweh’s eschatological act of salvation.



Theology of the Old Testament (Brueggemann)

Brueggemann, Walter. Theology of the Old Testament. Fortress Press.

It is always dangerous to write a theology around “a unifying theme.”  Still, everyone does it. Brueggemann suggests “rhetoric” as a device that evokes an alternative reality (Brueggemann 57).  To quote current sociologies of religion (Charles Taylor), it is a rhetoric that challenges the world’s social imaginary with a new and even more impossible one. 

“At the center of Israel’s imaginative enterprise are Yahweh’s impossibilities (Heb. pela’), which regularly transform, reverse, and invert lived reality, either to the delight or dismay of other participants in the narrative” (Brueggemann 68).

Brueggemann’s thesis:  God lives in the text via rhetoric (66).  Advocacy is seen in the witness to Yahweh’s sidqoth (triumphs, righteous deeds) that defies challenge and construes a new reality (133, 135).  

What is Imagination?

It is the capacity to evoke alternative plausibility structures, a new social imaginary.

“A Yahwistic version of reality refused to be monitored or tamed by safer, more controllable, more credible givens” (68).


Brueggemann introduces another category for understand old testament.  

  • Yahweh is not tamed by classical ontology but is subject only to the rules of the narrative.

Part One: Israel’s Core Testimony

Israel’s Practice of Testimony

If our subject is speech about God, then the subject of rhetoric is inescapable.  

What Israel says about God is taken by the text to be a reliable description of God’s character. Yahweh is characteristically the subject of the active verb (123).  Causative verbs in the hiphil stem.  This means Yahweh acts in decisive, transformative ways.    The active verb has a direct object, the one on whom Yahweh has acted.

God binds himself to Israel, but in an asymmetrical way.  Yahweh initiates and acts (125).  

Normative Structure of Israel’s Testimony

todah = thanksgiving.  This is the standard context for Israel’s testimony (127).  The substance of Yahweh’s action is Yahweh’s sdqh, “which is the way Yahweh is present to this needy Israelite” (127).  

Key PointThe beginning point of an “Old Testament theology is in the liturgical, public acknowledgement of a new reality wrought by Yahweh (128). 

  • This testimony (Psalm 111) is also political, since it is addressed to the nations.
  • It is also political because it is addressed to any outside observer of the todah who is neutral and reserves judgment about this rhetorical claim.

The Righteousness of Yahweh

righteousness:  “Yahweh’s ready capacity to be present in situations of trouble and to intervene powerfully and decisively in the interest of rehabilitation, restoration, and well-being” (130).  


  • Judges 5:10-11 (“triumphs” is the cognate sidqoth)
  • 1 Sam. 12:7
  • Micah 6:5

All of these memories are consolidated into the plural term “righteousnesses.”  The interplay between todoth and sidqoth is Israel’s way of construing “reality and utilizing its narrative grammar.”  Further, “The reference to Yahweh cannot be removed without disintegrating Israel’s testimony.”  


The Kantian turn to the subject has meant a turn away from the divine “Thou” to the “I.”  As a result, our suspicions continually decode the Thou until it becomes an object, not a subject.

Wrong Utterances

The Old Testament doesn’t really worry about atheism.  The real danger is idolatry. It is a wrong utterance about Yahweh.  

  • Jeremiah 5:12 and Zeph. 1:12 attack wrong speech about Yahweh.
  • right speech = Yahweh’s power to transform, create, and renew. (Isa. 44:9-20, 44:24-45:7)
  • Psalm 113:5 combines the large scope of Exodus 15 with the intimate concern of Psalm 35:10.  

Testimony in Verbal Sentences

The God who makes Promises

Yahweh creates the world by royal utterance–speech.  All ancient regimes sponsored a creation narrative. Israel’s witness about creation was heightened in Babylon.  Babylon legitimated its political authority by appealing to its gods.  

“The effect of liturgy is to create an alternative world of ordered life, made possible by Yahweh’s powerful word and will” (153).

Yahweh, the God who makes promises

The exile is the arena for which Yahweh utters new promises (171).

The newness that Yahweh intends for his people does not arise from within human agency (172).  Yahweh’s identity in the Old Testament can never be divorced from concrete events (176).

As Yahweh is the subject of these transformative verbs, he is often seen as the agent of social newness (179). 

Key Point: Holiness is linked to the concreteness of material existence in the world (169)

The God Who Delivers

“Yahweh, as the subject of these transformative verbs, is characteristically said to be an agent of social newness” (179)

Yahweh, the God who Commands

Commands are God’s way of warding off the Pharaonic system.  God deabsolutizes every other claim to political allegiance. Sabbath: at the core of creation is an invitation to rest.

“The conduct of Yahweh on the seventh day is in sharp contrast to the world of pharaoh, in which there is no rest but only feverish productivity” (185).

“The true appearance of nihilism, however, is not in some philosophical argument, but in the brickyard of Pharaoh where human life is completely exploitable, a deep, deathly disorder” (186).

“What Yahweh does in the wilderness tradition is what Yahweh does cosmically in creation” (204).  


Job NIVAC (Walton)

Walton, John H. Job The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.

Walton does theology by avoiding easy, cliched answers. It pays off in his commentary on Job. Although he is criticized for reading Ancient Near Eastern culture into the biblical text, Walton doesn’t actually do that. He goes to great pains to show how Job is different from ANE (Walton pp.33-37).

Ancient Near Eastern thought believed in “The Great Symbiosis.” We provide sacrifices for the gods and in return they protect us. If bad things happen to us, it’s probably because either a) that’s just how the cosmos is, or b) we made a ritual faux pas. Walton points out that the justice of a particular god is irrelevant. A god might be interested in promoting justice in a city, but ancient man had no reason to believe that the god himself is just.

This places “Satan’s” challenge in a new context. If the Great Symbiosis is true, and there is a strict “Retributive Principle” at work, then Satan is right. If Job even concedes that the evil has come as a result of Job’s sin, and in doing so expects God to restore the balance, the Challenger wins. By the end of the book we are affirmed in believing that God is just. The point of the book, however, is that wisdom, not justice, should be the epistemological foundation. We see God’s wisdom in the cosmos.

This book is unique among the NIVAC set in that Walton allows one of his former students to tell her story concerning a crippling nerve injury she had. It reads like a novel. Walton ends with some moving meditations about God’s will and suffering.

The ancient world believed the cosmos was ordered. However, within this ordered cosmos are spheres of disorder. Eden was an ordered cosmos, but not so the area outside Eden.

We do not always see God’s justice. The book of Job, however, promises us God’s wisdom. As Walton notes, “God has ordered the cosmos by his wisdom; justice is one of his attributes, but the cosmos do not always mirror his justice. Wisdom is at the heart of order” (Walton 411).

Chapter 1

Who are the “sons of God?” Walton correctly identifies the bene elohim as divine council members (64). They are not angels. Angels have a messenger function, whereas these have an administrative function.

Who is Satan? This is tricky. While Walton offers a lucid commentary on the morphology of the term, he muddies the waters by bringing in passages from Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. Let’s say for the sake of argument this is the “devil.” You could never make that case from Job 1. This “challenger” isn’t cast out from heaven. Nothing he says is evil (in fact, he makes a good case against the pagan ANE mindset of the time). All of that is true.

Walton, however, goes out of his way to prove that the “devil-figure” can’t be placed in the Isaiah and Ezekiel passages. This is irrelevant. I think he is wrong, but he does make a good case that since Ezekiel calls him “a cherub,” he can’t be the Serpent of Eden. That’s true. If anything, the Nachash would have been a seraph.

Some notes

4:15 is a reference to Zaqiq, the dream god (157). This would explain why when talking of the wind, Eliphaz mentions “a form before him.”

9:5-9 gives a beautiful description of cosmic geography. We have reference to the ‘pillars of the earth,’ implying a flat disc. The stars are “sealed” away (v. 7).

19. When Job asks for a mediator, does he mean Christ? Probably not. Job wanted a mediator to prove his innocence. Christ mediates for us precisely because we aren’t innocent!

25:5-6: The Realm of the Rephaim. The Rephaim are either the royal dead or quasi-demonic beings (or both). While they live in the underworld, Job identifies one of the access points as “beneath the waters.” Walton suggests that the language is the “cosmic waters,” rather than regular ocean water (250). This makes sense, otherwise we could access Sheol via submarine.

Walton correctly notes that eres can mean underworld in several locations (1 Sam. 28:13Job 10:21-22Eccl. 3.21Isaiah 26:19Jonah 2.6). Netherworld works instead of “earth” because it would be the opposite of the “heights of Zaphon.”

28:11: Sources of the Rivers. In Ugaritic literature the high god El dwells “at the source of the rivers” (Walton 286). Genesis 2 speaks of the origin of the four rivers coming from a sacred space (Eden). The origin of wisdom, then, is a cosmic mystery. There are several personifications in this passage:

  • Deep (tehom)
  • Sea (Yamm)
  • Abbadon (Destruction; Gk. Apollyon, personified as an evil Angel in Revelation 9). While Abbadon could be an evil entity, we need to be careful about reading later demonology into this passage.
  • Death

Nota Bene: Elihu mentions the spirit of God. We should be careful not to read a full Nicene theology into that phrase. For Elihu (and much of the Old Testament) the spirit of God is seen more as an extension of God’s presence than a separate person (though, of course, it is not contradictory to the later idea of the Spirit’s being a distinct person). Further, the spirit of man is “on loan” from God (Walton 376).

From the Stone Age to Christianity (Albright)


Albright, William F. From the Stone Age to Christianity. Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1957.

Reading this book was like being introduced to an old friend. No one can read widely in Old Testament studies without coming across the name of William F. Albright. But one might not have read him: some of his major works are out of print. In any case, Albright was a scholar of the highest caliber. Albright’s methods are more critical than mine, but he does defend the basic historicity of the Old Testament. While sections of the book are tedious (e.g., the dating of various pottery), the book as a whole is a literary joy to read. He writes with that old school style, somewhat similar to Arthur Lovejoy.

There is something of elitism in this book. Albright has little patience for amateurs. He’s probably justified, though. Amateurish lexicography has ruined many sermons, for example. Albright writes, “In few fields of learning has more nonsense been perpetrated by amateurs, i. e., by enthusiasts who are unwilling to submit to the painfully rigid discipline of the linguistic method” (Albright 45). He then explains how proper linguistic analysis proceeds: induction, deduction, and analogical reasoning (42-43). In other words, he helps you avoid the word = concept fallacy. “Actually, no competent lexicographer in any language fixes the precise meaning of a word by its etymology but rather by collecting as many passages where the word occurs as possible or practicable and by listing all meanings and shades of meaning in them” (46).

He explains why Hegelianism was so popular among Old Testament scholars in the 19th century. It was something of a necessity (pardon the pun). Scholars read the OT and saw a wide variety of data representing different time periods. One doesn’t even have to accept the documentary hypothesis to realize that some parts of the Old Testament represent a more “prophetic” cast while others have a “priestly” accent. Hegel allowed the reader to put all of these facts into a coherent system. He was wrong in the end, to be sure, but his system had great explanatory power.

While we don’t have to accept an evolutionary development of Israel’s worship (which Albright himself doesn’t advocate), we have to be honest that Israel didn’t fall out of the sky with a fully intact Old Testament. We know that, but examining the history can be messy at times.

We also have to deal with the problem of monotheism. The word is something of an anachronism and doesn’t really explain all the data in the Old Testament. There is only one Yahweh. No one is like him. Sui Generis. For a while it was fashionable to posit henotheism: Israel worshipped Yahweh, but other nations worshipped their gods. That doesn’t really explain the evidence, either. Those who advocate henotheism are usually pushing an evolutionary worldview, anyway. So, henotheism is out of the question. Nonetheless, we still have to deal with apparent henotheistic passages. Jepthath’s response in Judges 11:24 sounds henotheistic: “Wilt thou not possess what Chemosh thy god has given thee?” Albright fails to connect this with Gen. 10-11 and Deut. 4 and 32: God allotted the nations to various beney ha-elohim. That solves the henotheism problem.

Albright’s comparisons with other religions of the time are quite interesting, yet he doesn’t always draw the most powerful inference. He notes of Ninurta that she “spans the whole cosmos and all the gods and goddesses may be symbolically equated with parts of his cosmic body” (218). This doesn’t sound anything like monotheism or henotheism. Rather, it is almost a pure monism. And while Albright notes of monotheistic-sounding religious movements in Egypt, he cautions against reading too much into them. When men like Akhenaten or even Plato spoke like this, this was hardly a religion. These “monotheisms” were so rarified and abstract tha the masses would never fall for it. Sort of like medieval scholasticism. This is why Yahweh, perhaps ironically, is always described in anthropomorphic terms. Calling him “The Ground of Being” or the “essence beyond essence” would have guaranteed failure, and rightly so.

Albright has a quite good account of the Joshua narrative, although speculating that Joshua 10 and Judges 4-5 are probably the same event (275). He also notes clear editorializing in Judges (18:30). He then suggests a striking line of argumentation: there might have been Hebrews in Palestine before Joshua. There is very little spoken of the conquest of north-central Palestine, except for a list of conquered towns in chapter 12 (277).

This book was a joy to read. However, it is only for the intermediate level student.

Old Testament Textual Criticism (Brotzman)

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Brotzman, Ellis. Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994.

The Old Testament text finds itself in the strange place of being remarkably well-preserved yet also relatively young (in its final form).  On the other hand, it is attested by early and reliable translations and traditions. Complicating the matter is the BHS text itself.  It has strange markings in the margin.  What do they mean? Ellis Brotzman walks us through these issues.

This books gives the student confidence in approaching the Old Testament.  On one hand he can tell the Roman Catholic or EO apologist that the LXX isn’t perfect and that Jesus didn’t carry around a completed (blue) copy of the LXX.  Yet he can also show how the early dating of the LXX provides a witness to a surprisingly stable Hebrew text.

Brotzman begins by surveying different writing styles in the Ancient Near East.  This is important because the variations in spelling and grammar reflect later on in the text.

Chapter 2 is the heart of his book.  It describes OT transmission. The OT was copied by hand for 3,000 years before its first printing (37).  Its key feature is a multiplicity of family groups. If you look at the Qumran scrolls, some scrolls will line up with what was later known as the Masoretic Text while others resemble the Samaritan Pentateuch (43).

Ancient Versions of the Old Testament


Septuagint.  It’s probably better to speak of Septuagints rather than one monolithic text.  It underwent several transmissions.

Intentional and Unintentional Changes

“Typos” are going to happen.  This makes textual criticism not only necessary, but inevitable. Textual criticism is not a sinister group of atheistical scholars funded by the World Council of Churches.  Rather, it’s often just making sense of different readings that happened because of human fallibility in the copying process. Here are some examples.

  1. There could be a physical defect in the scroll copied on (107).
  2. The scribe’s eye skipped from one line to the next (cf the note on BHS, 162).
  3. Confusion of similar letters: resh and dalet; he and het; beth and kaf (1 Chron. 17:20), and yod and vav (Isaiah 30:4).
  4. Haplography (copying once of a letter that was written twice).
  5. Dittography.
  6. Errors related to faulty hearing (the negative particle sounds identical to the third person masculine singular suffix, 115).  We do the same thing. If you were copying something someone was reading aloud, and you heard them say, “You can see four miles.”  Would you write, “You can see for miles”?


Choosing the Right Reading

(1) Weighing external evidence.  This is mostly choosing between the Masoretic Text and other authorities.  Normally, we go with the Masoretic Text, but sometimes other witnesses offer a better reading, like in Deut. 32:8 where DSS read “sons of God” rather than “sons of Israel,” of which the latter doesn’t make any sense.

(2) Internal evidence.  Other things being equal, the shorter reading is preferred.  Other things being equal, the more difficult reading is preferred