It is important for Christians to grow in biblical knowledge, however, the word “commentary” can be intimidating. The second edition of Believer’s Bible Commentary,Thomas Nelson’s best-selling commentary, is specifically designed as a user-friendly tool for believers wanting to better understand the Bible but aren’t sure where to begin. The commentary, written by the late William MacDonald, explores all 66 books of the Bible and tackles controversial issues from a theologically-conservative standpoint while also presenting alternate views. Believer’s Bible Commentary is a great introduction to Bible study, giving clarity and context to scripture in easy-to-understand language and practical application.
- Nelson's best-selling Bible commentary
- Balanced approach to linguistic studies and useful application
- Easy to understand
- 14 pages of 4-color maps
- Use with any Bible translation
- Best used with the New King James version of the Bible.
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INTRODUCTION TO THE OLD TESTAMENT
"For us the supreme sanction of the Old Testament is that which it derived from Christ Himself. ... What was indispensable to the Redeemer must always be indispensable to the redeemed."
— Professor G. A. Smith
I. The Name "Old Testament"
Before launching out into the deep seas of OT studies, or even the comparatively small area of studying a particular book, it will prove helpful to outline briefly some general facts about the Sacred Book we call "The Old Testament."
Our word "covenant" translates the Hebrew word berîth. In the NT covenant and testament both translate the same Greek word (diatheke). In the title of the Scriptures the meaning "covenant" seems definitely preferable because the Book constitutes a pact, alliance, or covenant between God and His people.
It is called the Old Testament (or Covenant) to contrast it with the "New" one, although "Older Covenant" might be a better title, since Old to some people suggests that it is not worth learning. This would be a deadly error from a spiritual, historical, or cultural viewpoint. Both Testaments are inspired by God and therefore profitable for all Christians. While the believer in Christ frequently turns to that part of the Bible that specifically tells of our Lord, His church, and how He wishes His disciples to live, the importance of the OT for a fully-furnished believer cannot be overstressed.
The relationship between the OT and the NT was nicely expressed by Augustine: The New is in the Old concealed; The Old is in the New revealed.
II. The OT Canon
The word canon (Gk. kanon) refers to a "rule" by which something is measured or evaluated. The OT Canon is that collection of divinely inspired, and hence authoritative, books recognized by the spiritual leaders of Israel in ancient times. How do we know that these are the only books that should be in the canon or that all of these thirty-nine writings should be there? Since there were other religious writings (including heretical ones) from early days, how can we be sure that these are the right ones?
It is often said that a Jewish council drew up the canonical list in the late first century of our era. Actually, the books were canonical as soon as they were written. Godly and discerning Jews recognized inspired Scriptures from the start. However, there was a dispute for a time over some of the books (Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, e.g.) in some quarters.
The Jews divide the OT into three parts: The Torah, the Prophets (Former and Latter), and the Writings.
There are several theories as to why, for example, the Book of Daniel, a prophecy, should be among the Writings, and not among the Prophets. A common liberal view is that Daniel was written too late to get into the second section, which they see as already "closed" when Daniel wrote (see Introduction to Daniel). A conservative view sees Daniel in the third section because he was not a prophet by office, but a statesman used by God to write a prophecy. Dr. Merrill F. Unger taught that the three-fold division is determined by the position of the writers:
This is the conservative and (we believe) the correct view. The Old Testament books were written with the definite purpose of being held sacred and divinely authoritative. Therefore, they possessed the stamp of canonicity from the moment of their appearance. The three-fold division is due to the official position and status of the writers and not to degrees of inspiration, differences of content or chronology.
The council that officially recognized our canon was actually confirming what had been generally accepted for centuries. The council drew up not an inspired list of books, but a list of inspired books.
Even more important for Christians is the fact that our Lord Himself quoted frequently and treated as authoritative books from the three sections of the Hebrew OT. See, for example, Luke 24:27 and 44; endnote 4. Furthermore, Christ never quoted from the so-called apocryphal books.
III. The Apocrypha
Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant Bible students all agree on the twenty-seven-book NT Canon, generally in the same order, with the exact same 260 chapters. The situation with the OT is a little more complex.
Protestants and Jews agree on the content of the OT, but the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics accept several Jewish books of history and poetry which they call "deutero-canonical" (Gk. for secondary canon) and Protestants and Jews call "apocryphal" (Gk. for "hidden").
The thirty-nine books of the current King James, New King James, and other truly Protestant versions constitute the exact same materials as the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible. The difference in number is because of several combinations in the Jewish editions. For example, the six books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are considered to be just three books, and the Minor Prophets, called "The Book of the Twelve," are seen as just one book.
The Jews wrote many other religious books, often not even in Hebrew, that they did not consider inspired and authoritative. Some, such as 1 and 2 Maccabees, are valuable for inter-testamental history. Others, such as "Bel and the Dragon," need only to be read by the discerning to reveal their non-canonical status.
The least valuable of these Jewish books are called Pseudepigrapha (Gk. for "false writings") and the better ones are called Apocrypha.
Some ancient Jews and Christians, but especially the Gnostics of Egypt, accepted a larger canon, including some of these books.
When scholarly St. Jerome was asked to translate the apocryphal books into Latin by Damasus, the Bishop of Rome, he did so only under protest. This was because he knew his Hebrew text well and also that they were not authentic parts of the Jewish Canon. Hence, although Jerome could discern their (at best) secondary status, he did translate these books for the Latin Vulgate. Today they also appear in Roman Catholic versions such as the New American Bible and the Jerusalem Bible, and usually in such ecumenical versions as the New English Bible, the Revised English Bible, and the New Revised Standard Version.
Even the Roman Catholic Church did not officially recognize the Apocrypha as canonical until the Counter-Reformation Period (1500s). One reason that the Vatican did this was that a few of her teachings, such as praying for the dead, are found in the Apocrypha. Actually, the Apocrypha is largely Jewish literature and history, and not directly relevant to Christian doctrine. While not inspired, some of these books are worth reading from a cultural and historical viewpoint, after one has a firm grip on the inspired books of the Hebrew Canon.
The Divine Author of the OT is the Holy Spirit. He moved Moses, Ezra, Isaiah, and the anonymous authors to write under His guidance. The best and correct understanding of this question of how the OT books were produced is called dual authorship. The OT is not partly human and partly divine, but totally human and totally divine at the same time. The divine element kept the human element from making any errors. The result is an inerrant or flawless book in the original manuscripts.
A helpful analogy to the written Word is the dual nature of the Living Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is not partly human and partly divine (like some Greek myth) but completely human and completely divine at the same time. The divine nature made it impossible for the human to err or sin in any way.
Unlike the NT, which took only half a century to write (about A.D. 50–100), the OT took at least a millennium to complete (about 1400–400 B.C.). The first books written were either the Pentateuch (about 1400 B.C.) or Job (date unknown, but the contents suggest an era before the law was given).
Other books followed that were written before the exile (about 600 B.C.), such as Joshua through Samuel, during the exile (such as Lamentations and Ezekiel), or after the exile, such as Chronicles, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi (about 400 B.C.).
The contents of the OT, presented in the order of the Protestant versions, may be summarized concisely as follows:
Genesis through Deuteronomy
Joshua through Esther
Job through Song of Solomon
Isaiah through Malachi
Separate introductions to these four main sections of the OT will be found in the Believers Bible Commentary at the appropriate places.
A Christian who gets a good grasp of these books, along with the later and fuller revelation of the NT, will be "thoroughly furnished for every good work."
It is our prayer that the BBC will greatly aid many believers to be just that.
Except for a few sections in Aramaic, a related Semitic tongue, the OT was originally written in the Hebrew language.
Believers are not surprised that God used a thoroughly suitable vehicle for the earlier portion of His Word, an expressive language rich in color and idiom, well adapted to the inspired narratives, poetry, and laws that constitute the OT. Hebrew is one of the ancient languages — but it is the only one that (almost miraculously) has been revived as the modern everyday speech of a nation — Israel.
Hebrew is written from right to left, originally in consonants only. The person reading aloud supplied the proper vowel sounds from his knowledge of the language. Providentially, this made it possible for the Hebrew text to remain readable for many centuries, since it is chiefly the vowel sounds that change from century to century, from country to country, and from region to region.
Sometimes what was written (called kethîv), such as the name of God, was thought too sacred to pronounce and so a marginal note told what to read aloud (qere). This was also the case for copyists' errors and for words that, over the centuries, had come to be considered vulgar.
In the earlier Christian centuries Jewish scholars called Masoretes (from the Hebrew word for tradition) arose. Seeing that Hebrew was becoming an obsolete language, and desiring to preserve the correct reading of the sacred OT text, they devised a sophisticated phonetic system of dots and dashes above, and in, but chiefly below, the twenty-two Hebrew consonants to indicate the accepted vocalization of the words. Even today this ancient "vowel pointing," as it is called, is more scientific and precise than English, French, or even German spelling!
The consonantal text is also the source of disputed readings, since a set of consonants at times can be read with different vowels, and therefore different meanings. Usually the context will determine which is original, but not always. The variant spellings of names in Chronicles (see commentary there) that differ from Genesis, for example, are partly due to this phenomenon.
By and large, however, the traditional, or Masoretic Text, is remarkably well-preserved. It is a living witness to the Jews' great reverence for God's Word. Often the ancient versions (Targums, Septuagint, and Vulgate) help us to choose the correct variant where a problem exists. Since the mid-twentieth century the Dead Sea Scrolls have given added information on the Hebrew text — chiefly as a confirmation of the accuracy of the Masoretic Text.
Fortunately for us who read the OT in an English translation, Hebrew translates very nicely into English — much better than it does into Latin, for example, as the great sixteenth century Reformation translator William Tyndale pointed out.
The version on which the BBC is based is a direct descendant of Tyndale's beginnings in the OT. He managed to complete Genesis through Chronicles and some poetic and prophetic sections before the Inquisition had him burned at the stake for his efforts (1536). His OT work was completed by others and updated in the King James Version of 1611 and more recently in the New King James Version of 1982.
Like Hebrew, Aramaic is a Semitic language, but a Gentile one, spoken widely in the ancient world for very many centuries. As Hebrew became a dead language for the Jews, the OT had to be interpreted for them into Aramaic, the closely related, but different, language that they had come to adopt. The script that we associate with Hebrew was probably borrowed from Aramaic about 400 B.C. and developed into the artistic square letters that are familiar to Hebrew students today.
Most of the above facts concerning Hebrew are also true for the Aramaic portions of the OT. These passages are few and, understandably, chiefly concern Israel's contacts with her Gentile neighbors, such as in the Babylonian Exile and afterward.
English is blessed with many translations (perhaps too many!). There are, however, far fewer translations of the OT than of the NT. These translations fall into four general types:
1. Very Literal
J. N. Darby's "New" Translation of 1882 (NT much earlier), the English Revised Version of 1881 and its U.S. variant, the American Standard Version of 1901, are extremely literal. This makes them helpful for careful study but weak for worship, public reading, and memorization. The masses of believers have never abandoned the majesty and beauty of the Tyndale-King James tradition for these useful — but rather wooden — versions.
2. Optimum Equivalence
Versions that are quite literal and follow the Hebrew or Greek closely when English allows it, yet still permit a freer translation where good style and idiom demand it, include the KJV, the RSV, the NASB, and the NKJV. Unfortunately, the RSV, while generally reliable in the NT, is wedded to an OT that plays down many Messianic prophecies. This dangerous trend is seen today even among some previously sound scholars. The BBC was edited to conform to the NKJV as the most viable position between the beautiful (but archaic) KJV and today's usage, yet without using any thee's and thou's.
3. Dynamic Equivalence
This type of translation is freer than the complete-equivalence type, and sometimes resorts to paraphrase, a valid technique as long as the reader is made aware of it. The NEB, NIV, and the Jerusalem Bible all fall into this category. An attempt is made to put whole thoughts into the structure that Moses and Isaiah might have used if they were writing today — and in English. When done conservatively, this methodology can be a helpful tool. The danger lies in the theological looseness of many translators who use this method.
A paraphrase seeks to transmit the text thought by thought, yet it often takes great liberties in adding material. Since it is far removed from the original text in wording there is always the danger of too much interpretation. The Living Bible, e.g., while evangelical, makes many interpretive decisions that are at best debatable.
It is good to have a Bible from at least three of these categories for purposes of comparison. However, we believe that the complete, or optimum-equivalence translation is safest for the type of detailed Bible study presented in the BBC.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Believer's Bible Commentary"
Copyright © 2016 Thomas Nelson.
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Table of Contents
Author's Preface, 5,
Editor's Introduction, 7,
List of Illustrations and Tables, 9,
List of Maps, 9,
INTRODUCTION TO THE OLD TESTAMENT, 17,
Introduction to the Pentateuch, 25,
Introduction to the Historical Books, 215,
1 Samuel, 269,
2 Samuel, 295,
1 Kings, 321,
2 Kings, 351,
1 Chronicles, 383,
2 Chronicles, 403,
Introduction to the Poetical Books, 461,
Song of Solomon, 843,
Introduction to the Prophets, 853,
General Bibliography, 1085,
THE INTERTESTAMENTAL PERIOD, 1091,
NEW TESTAMENT, 1097,