Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Old Testament Story - Week 1

Here are my notes from the class I'm teaching at my church on the Story of the Old Testament.

Story of the Old Testament (1)

Week 1 - Introduction

Opening Questions:
In your experience, what are the biggest obstacles to your understanding and applying the Old Testament to your life?

What would you like to get out of this course?

Read Luke 24
Walking with Jesus
He opened the OT Scriptures to them
He opened their minds to understand the OT – it is all about the gospel!

Some Basic Presuppositions
Inspiration and Authority of the OT (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21)
Christ is at the center of the Scriptures (e.g., Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 24)
There is both continuity and discontinuity between the testaments; the Bible contains diversity in the midst of unity.
The OT is deeply relevant for us today as the people of God in Christ
The God of the OT is the same God of the NT

3 Metaphors for understanding the Story
God's Kingdom: God's people in God's place under God's Rule[1]
i. God's People: What are we told about the relationship between God and people? People and creation?
ii. God's Place: What do we learn about the place that God created?
iii. God's Rule: How does God rule his people in the place he has created? What are the benefits of living under God's rule and the dangers of rejecting it?

Sacred Romance - God's heart on trial[2]
i. Act One: Eternal Love
ii. Act Two: The Entrance of Evil
iii. Act Three: The Battle for the Heart
iv. Act Four: The Kingdom Restored
Theodrama – Scripture provides us with the script to be lived out, not just information to be learned.
Canon and Story
i. Definition: from the Greek kanon, which refers to a rule of measurement, a straight edge.
ii. “As applied to literature, canon has come to mean those writings which conform to the rule or standard of divine inspiration and authority.”[3]
iii. God’s people did not declare the canon, they discovered it. The inherent authority of God’s books made themselves known to his people.
iv. The Issue of the ordering of books
1. Our English Bibles have a different order of books than the Hebrew Bible has. The Hebrew Bible reflects the order of the Masoretic Text, whereas our English Bibles follow the order of the Latin Vulgate (4th century AD) which followed the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament).[4]
2. Though the order is not inspired, we recognize the fact that Jesus and the Apostles used the threefold division of the TaNaK[5] of the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Luke 24) and therefore must have significance for us today (see handout).
3. In the Hebrew TaNaK, the order is determined more by literary connections, rather than historical chronology of our English Bibles. The implication of this is that literary connections can be harder to see in the English ordering (e.g., placement of Ruth).
Canon provides the boundaries for the Story; what constitutes God's Story, and what does not
Narrative and poetry make up the majority of OT genre
Overall framework is Story
A Brief History of OT Interpretation[6]
Pre-Modern (AD 100-1400)
i. Dominated by subjectivism
ii. Marcion (2nd Century AD) – influenced by Gnosticism, viewed a radical distinction between the God of the OT and the God of the NT. So much so that he threw out the entire OT and most of the NT (anything that had any OT flavor to it).[7]
iii. In fourth century two schools of interpretation fought it out for influence in the church, Antioch and Alexandria. The former focusing on grammatical-historical interpretation and the latter focusing on allegorical interpretation (e.g., Origen). Alexandria won the day.
iv. Four-fold sense made famous by Augustine (4th Century AD) [8]
1. Literal sense - In this sense the city of Jerusalem could symbolize the actual city in Judah.
2. Tropological (i.e., moral sense of Scripture). In this sense the city of Jerusalem could symbolize the human soul.
3. Allegorical (i.e., reference to church). In this sense the city of Jerusalem could symbolize the church.
4. Anagogical (i.e., eschatological or heavenly reference). In this sense the city of Jerusalem could symbolize the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem.
v. Of all these “senses,” the allegorical was by far the most influential.
Modern (AD 1400-1960)
i. A response to subjectivism, this age was dominated by objectivism.
ii. Rennaisance – emphasized the human side of texts from the past, and an attempt to understand them in their own right.
iii. Reformation – emphasized the issue of authority in the interpretation of texts. What is the final arbiter of truth in Scripture – the problem posed by allegory, which has no “right” interpretation.
iv. The recovery of the biblical, historical gospel in Luther led inevitably to the recovery of the literal, historical value of the OT in its own right.[9]
v. Enlightenment – commitment to history without God, led to the undermining of historicity and inspiration of the OT.
vi. We are still living with many of the effects of this period, as can be seen by the over-abundance of historical work for and against the biblical text, especially in the 20th Century.
Post-Modern (AD 1960 – present)
i. Modernist experiment has failed, loss of the belief that there are such things as “bare historical facts.” There are only perspectives, narratives; there is no Meta-narrative that governs all narratives.
ii. Response to the objectivism of modernism, extremely subjective.
iii. Deconstruction of texts is used to ascertain its particular narrative slant.
iv. Good: an acknowledgment of our presuppositions, of the biases that we bring to the text; an acknowledgement that God’s word contains redemptive presuppositions that shape us.
v. Bad: an erosion of biblical authority – how can there be an authoritative Meta-narrative that is not oppressive but liberating, allowing us to become fully human before God?
An Answer to the dilemma: Scripture as Story
Scripture is the Meta-Narrative, the Story that brings together and judges all other stories.
An attempt to bridge the gap between subjectivism and objectivism
“Sometimes we are told that the Bible is a library made up of many kinds of writing; poems and hymns, sermons and letters, visions and dreams, genealogical lists and historical chronicles, moral teaching and admonition and proverbs. And, of course, story. But that is not so. It is all story. . . . Nothing comes to us apart from the form. And we cannot change or discard the form without changing or distorting the content. This biblical narrative gathers everything into it, providing a beginning and ending, plot and character development, conflict and resolution.”[10]
Our problem: we don’t know how to read or how to live
“We live today in a world impoverished of story; it is not surprising that many of us have picked up bad habits of extracting ‘truths’ from the stories we read: We summarize ‘principles’ that we can use in a variety of settings at our discretion; we distill a ‘moral’ that we use as a slogan on a poster or as a motto on our desk. We are taught to do this in our schools so that we can pass examinations on novels and plays. It is no wonder that we continue this abstracting, story-mutilating practice when we read our Bibles. ‘Story’ is not serious; ‘story’ is for children and campfires.”[11]
“Somewhere along the way, most of us pick up bad habits of extracting from the Bible what we pretentiously call ‘spiritual principles,’ or ‘moral guidelines,’ or ‘theological truths,’ and then corseting ourselves in them in order to force a godly shape on our lives.”[12]
Story is a basic requirement to becoming human
i. Life has a narrative shape: beginning and end, conflict and resolution, plot and characters.
ii. Life is not a collection of abstractions; it is an organic unity that holds all details together.
Story is the language of the heart (center of who we are). “The deepest convictions of our heart are formed by stories and reside there in the images and emotions of story.”[13]
To grow as Christians we don’t just have to learn the story, but immerse our-whole-selves in it until its priorities, values and reality becomes our own.[14]
As we prayerfully and imaginatively read the Scriptures, God invites us into His Story. He transitions us from the position of lord of our own lesser stories to His servants and friends in His Story. He addresses us as one of the characters in our particular story, and calls us to respond within the context of the larger Story He is telling. A life of faith & obedience and the practice of spiritual disciplines is a covenantal, contextual, storied response to the God who speaks.
Genre in the Bible
i. a type, or form, of literature that operates by certain rules or conventions
ii. Inseparable from the content, a tool chosen by the author to convey meaning
iii. Each specific genre within the overarching Story (law, visions, genealogies, poetry, prophecy, narrative, etc.) uses its conventions to create a world in the reader that forms the covenantal context for meeting with God. It is all story, and there is always provided a place for God and our real selves to encounter one another, involving both mind and heart. Each of these “settings” is really the exploration of a new room in our Father’s dwelling, Christ-in-us, our true and authentic selves (see diagram 1).
iv. As we are immersed in the particularities of the Story (genres of Lament, Law, etc.), like rooms in our Father’s house or new clothes that we put on, we enter them to learn to be human, to be worship, to be the kingdom intersection of God’s world and our own. Christ-likeness is “put on” through genre participation in God’s Story, resulting in what I would call “Storied Spirituality” (see diagram 2).

Diagram 1.

Diagram 2.

[1] See Graeme Goldsworthy’s books, Gospel and Kingdom (1981) and According to Plan (1991); see also Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Story-line of the Bible (2003).
[2] John Eldredge, Epic: The Story God is Telling and the Role that is Yours to Play (Thomas Nelson, 2004). See also Sacred Romance by Eldredge.
[3] Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 66.
[4] F.F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments (Pickering & Inglis, 1971): 90. Cf. Archer, 66-67.
[5] TaNaK stands for: Torah, Nethubim, and Kethubim, or the Law, the Prophets and the Writings respectively.
[6] See John Goldingay, An Ignatian Approach to Reading the Old Tesament (Grove Books, 2002).
[7] Marcion’s canon included a shorter (edited) version of the Gospel of Luke, and the following of Paul’s letters: Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians.
[8] Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, 13-16.
[9] See Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, 16-17, and his articles, “The Kingdom of God and the Old Testament,” and “Hermeneutics and Christ.” These articles are available at
[10] Eugene Peterson, “Eat This Book: The Holy Community at Table with the Holy Scripture,” Theology Today 56 no.1 (Ap 1999): 13.
[11] Eugene Peterson, “Eat This Book,” 14.
[12] Eugene Peterson, Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians (Harper SanFrancisco, 1997): 4.
[13] John Eldredge, Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God (Thomas Nelson, 1997): 38.
[14] See Alister McGrath, Christian Spirituality (Blackwell, 1999): 119-120.

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