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A SURVEY OF OLD TESTAMENT INTRODUCTION
By GLEASON ARCHER, JR.
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2007 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
All right reserved.
The Holy Bible is like no other book in all the world. It is the only book which presents itself as the written revelation of the one true God, intended for the salvation of man and demonstrating its divine authority by many infallible proofs. Other religious documents, such as the Muslim Koran, may claim to be the very word of God, but they contain no such self-authenticating proofs as does the Bible (e.g., the phenomena of fulfilled prophecy).
As the record of God's holy will for man, the Bible is of utmost importance to understand aright the true meaning of the revelations it contains. It will not do to construe the words of Scripture as if they were given in our modern age and addressed to present-day English-speaking peoples facing twentieth-century problems. To be sure, the Bible does convey God's message to us today and is as relevant to us as it was to the Hebrews of ancient times. But the form in which that message was given was an ancient Hebrew form, and it was in the first instance addressed to people who faced the special issues and circumstances peculiar to their own day and age. We cannot properly understand the underlying and permanent principles contained in these ancient utterances of God unless we first of all take stock of the problems and challenges that confronted His people in the generation in which He spoke to them.
The Purpose of the Bible
The Bible comes to us as a set of directions, right from the hand of the Manufacturer who first invented and produced the human race. For any piece of machinery a purchaser must consult diligently every word of instruction as to how to put the machine or contrivance together, or else his result will be frustration and disaster. For such a marvelously constructed creation as man, with all of his spiritual and material components, the need of an authoritative book of directions is utterly necessary. Why are we here on planet Earth? What makes us different from other biological species, and what is the purpose of our existence?
Basically there are two possible answers to this question, as set forth in the third chapter of Genesis, where Adam and Eve have enjoyed an ideal setting of safety and plenty in happy fellowship with the God who created them to be His children, engaged in His service and committed to His glory. The clear and evident purpose of their existence was to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. But since they were moral agents possessing a free will, it was necessary for them to be faced with an alternative purpose of life.
This was persuasively presented to them by the serpentine agent of Satan, who suggested that God did not really love them for their own sakes and only wished to exploit them by forbidding access to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Lord was accused of depriving them of their basic right, which was to seek their own interests and assert their own just prerogatives. The life proposed by Satan was to live for themselves, to seek their own happiness and ascend to a godlike knowledge of good and evil.
When Eve accepted this ego-centered principle for her life's purpose and persuaded Adam to join with her in this stand against God and His holy will, the love relationship between God and man was interrupted and profoundly altered by the Fall.
God had to seek Adam and Eve out as they vainly tried to hide in the bushes from His gaze and then direct them to confession and repentance, followed by expelling them from Eden, and subjecting them to labor and pain as they shifted to the more hostile environment of the world outside. But He was able to counter the triumph of Satan by the plan of redemption, which was first intimated to Eve in Gen. 3:15, to declare to them that a messianic descendant of the woman would someday crush the head of the Satanic serpent and pay full atonement for their sin upon the altar of sacrifice. The skins with which their naked bodies were covered came from animals who had been slain, and Abel's later offering of a sheep upon the altar indicates quite clearly that Adam's family believed in and looked forward to the redemption that the Lord Jesus achieved for them and all of their believing descendants upon the hill of Calvary.
Sophisticated modern scholarship may dismiss this record in Genesis as childish myth, but the fact still remains that the two alternatives set before Eve must be chosen and answered by every member of the human race. Either we human beings are created for loving fellowship with God with the purpose of living for His glory; or else we replace Him with our own ego as the highest value in life. There is no other eligible choice left to us, for even a dedication to the welfare of others or of mankind or society in general can be valid only if we have indeed as a human race been given a special value as children of God. No such value is capable of confirmation or proof, once the authority and trustworthiness of the Bible have been rejected. Those who put themselves above God as the most important person in the universe become guilty of moral insanity and take no more benefit from the Book of directions which comes to us in the Holy Bible.
It should also be pointed out that modern intelligentsia who assert a knowledge of the purpose of life (intelligent self-interest) which surpasses that of the prophets and apostles of old, and of the Lord Jesus Himself, put themselves in a very awkward fideistic position. The Scripture confronts them with a pattern of prediction and fulfillment which is completely beyond mere human ability. None of us really knows what the future may bring; even the events of the morrow are hidden from us day by day. But the Bible is replete with short-range and long-range predictions that could not possibly have been foreknown by man apart from the inspiration of God. A selection of these predictions will be found in excursus 1 at the end of this book. Suffice it to say that this evidence is so clear and irrefutable that no thinker can honestly, say that he is intellectually respectable if he rejects the divine inspiration of the Holy Bible.
The Scope of Introduction
Old Testament introduction is the term applied to a systematic study of the ancient background against which the first thirty-nine books of the Bible are to be properly understood. It deals with matters of language, custom, historical situations, persons, places, and events alluded to in the various books of the Bible. In its larger scope it includes the following branches of study:
1. The languages in which the Old Testament was originally written, that is, Hebrew and Aramaic, along with those related Semitic languages (such as Arabic, Assyrian, Phoenician, Ugaritic, and Syriac) which help us understand the meaning of the words used in the biblical text.
2. The history of the Hebrew people and of those neighboring countries with which they had contact.
3. The religion and culture of these non-Hebrew nations, as they are revealed to us by ancient pagan authors and by the discoveries of modern archaeology.
4. The authorship of the several books of the Bible, since the question of who wrote the book has an important bearing upon its meaning and its reliability.
5. The date, or at least the approximate time, when each book was composed-since this often gives a due as to what issues were confronting God's people when He spoke to them.
6. The historical situation and contemporary problems to which the inspired authors addressed themselves as spokesmen for God.
7. The original text of each book as it existed before slips of the pen or other copyists' errors may have crept into the form of the text that has been preserved to us. (This is known as textual criticism.)
8. The integrity of the text, that is, the question of whether each book was entirely written by the author claimed for it, or whether the writings of others have been combined with it.
9. The history of the transmission of the text, that is, the way in which each book was copied and handed on in the various manuscript families, and translated into the various ancient languages of the peoples to whom Judaism and Christianity came during subsequent centuries, until finally the Hebrew text itself (and its various translations into Greek, Latin, Syriac, etc.) was put into printed form after the invention of the printing press.
As a general rule, the first three divisions of introduction described above are dealt with in separate courses in language or history, while Old Testament introduction as an academic subject is restricted to the last six divisions. Furthermore, within introduction itself there are two main subdivisions: general introduction and special introduction.
General introduction deals with matters of the text (both in the original language in which it was composed and in the early versions into which it was first translated). It also considers the canon, that is, the question of which books are truly inspired and authoritative, and the approximate period in history when they were so recognized by the people of God. It gives an account of the origin and extent of the canon and arrangement and preservation of the books that comprises it. Since the question of the date and authorship of the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses) is so deeply involved with the theory of the canon, it is usually included in the field of general introduction.
As for special introduction, it treats the individual books of the Old Testament one by one, giving an account of authorship, date, purpose, and integrity. It may also discuss the overall structure and basic message of each book, although a detailed treatment of its contents belongs more properly to a course in Bible survey than in introduction.
The Relationship of the Old Testament to the New
The New Testament authors regarded the books of the Old Testament (the Law and the Prophets) as a single composite whole (the Scripture), ultimately authored by God Himself, although mediated through human authors who wrote down His truth under His infallible guidance (cf. Gal. 3:8; 2 Peter 1:20). The inspired apostles regarded the intention of the divine Author of the Hebrew Scriptures as the important thing; the intent of the human author was a merely subordinate matter. It could even happen that the human author of the Old Testament prophecy did not understand the full significance of what he was writing, although his actual words expressed the purpose of the divine Author who inspired him (see 1 Peter 1:10-11). The New Testament writers viewed the entire Hebrew Scriptures as a testimony to Jesus Christ, the perfect Man who fulfilled all the law; the Sacrifice and High Priest of the ritual ordinances; the Prophet, Priest, and King of whom the prophets foretold; and the Lover whom the poetical books described. They saw prophetic significance even in the historical events of the Old Testament record. Thus the crossing of the Red Sea prefigured Christian baptism (1 Cor. 10:1-2); Joshua's conquest of Canaan prefigured the spiritual rest into which Christians enter by faith (Heb. 3-4); and the calling of Israel out of Egypt foreshadowed the experience of the child Jesus (Matt. 2:15).
In general we may say that the Old Testament presented the preparation of which the New Testament was the fulfillment; it was the seed and plant of which the New Testament was the glorious fruit. Precisely because Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled what the Old Testament predicted, His life and deeds possessed absolute finality, rather than His being a mere religious sage like many others. For this reason also, the gospel of Christ possesses divine validity, which sets it apart from all man-made religions. The Old Testament demonstrates that Jesus and His church were providential, the embodiment of the purpose of God; the New Testament proves that the Hebrew Scriptures constituted a coherent and integrated organism, focused upon a single great theme and exhibiting a single program of redemption.
The Semitic Family of Languages
Just as truly as the genius of the Greek language imposed its stamp upon the New Testament revelation and the terms in which its message was cast, even so was the genius of the Hebrew language determinative for the expression of the Old Testament message. It made a great deal of difference that Greek was precise in expressing time values, and that Hebrew laid chief emphasis upon mode of action rather than upon tenses. Adequate interpretation of the Old Testament revelation demands a thorough grasp of these peculiar traits of the Hebrew verb and of Hebrew syntax generally; otherwise much misunderstanding and wresting of the Scriptures will result.
To a very large extent, Hebrew shared these grammatical and syntactical characteristics with the rest of the Semitic languages. Therefore it is important to examine these related tongues and derive from them the light that they can throw upon Hebrew usage. Moreover, in the matter of vocabulary, the study of Comparative Semitics is of utmost significance. It often happens that a word which appears only once or twice in the Hebrew Bible is found quite commonly in some of the related languages, and can be interpreted with a high degree of accuracy by comparison with them.
The traditional classification of the various Semitic languages divides them, according to the geographical location of the nations speaking them, into north, south, east, and west. East Semitic includes but one main language, Akkadian, divided into the slightly differing dialects of Babylonian and Assyrian. South Semitic includes Arabic (subdivided into North Arabic, the classical, literary language; and South Arabic with its subdialects: Sabean, Minean, Qatabanian, and Hadramautian) and Ethiopic (or Geez), with its modern descendant, Amharic. Northwest Semitic embraces both the Canaanite and the Aramaic dialects, which is usually divided into eastern and western branches (the eastern being the basis for the Syriac language of the Christian era, and the western being the basis for biblical Aramaic as found in Daniel and Ezra). West Semitic (often classed with Aramaic in what is called Northwest Semitic by modern scholars) is comprised of Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Canaanite (of which Hebrew and Moabite are dialects).
It should be added that the newly discovered Eblaic language from Tel Mardikh would seem to be basically Canaanite in its vocabulary, but somewhat East Semitic in its morphology. Dating from the twenty-fourth century B.C., it is as old as the Akkadian of Sargon I of Agade. For a more extensive treatment of Ebla, see excursus 2 (cms 8.190).
Non-Semitic tongues which contributed some terms in the Hebrew language include: (1) the basically Hamitic speech of Egypt (which was subjected to Semitic influence upon the Hamitic inhabitants of the Nile Valley); (2) Sumerian, the agglutinative speech of the earlier, non-Semitic race that conquered and civilized Lower Mesopotamia prior to the Babylonians; and (3) the Indo-Iranian Persian that appears in postexilic books like Daniel and Ezra, and is distantly related to Greek. Each of these contributed a small percentage of vocabulary to biblical Hebrew.
Chapter TwoThe Inspiration of The Old Testament
Before commencing a higher critical study of the Old Testament, it is appropriate for us to come to terms with the basic question of what kind of book it is. If it is merely a product of human genius, like many other documents upon which religions have been founded, then the data it presents must be handled in one specific way. That is, these revered writings must be dealt with in purely literary terms, and naturalistic explanations must be found for every feature that appears to be supernatural (such as fulfilled prophecy). If, on the other hand, the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament are inspired by God, employing human instruments to record the truth He revealed to man, then the data must be handled in a quite different fashion. That is to say, everything which might appear to be inconsistent with that standard of accuracy and truth which divine inspiration presupposes must be carefully investigated in order to arrive at a satisfactory reconciliation of apparent discrepancies. Thus the whole line of investigation is profoundly influenced by the premise with which we start.
Evidence for the Unique Inspiration of the Bible
This is not the place to enter into a thorough treatment of Christian evidences; that is the province of textbooks on apologetics. But it is appropriate to suggest here, at least in a cursory way, why it is reasonable and proper to start with the premise that the Old Testament is a collection of books inspired by God.
Excerpted from A SURVEY OF OLD TESTAMENT INTRODUCTION by GLEASON ARCHER, JR. Copyright © 2007 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
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