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Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God's Address

Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God's Address

by Craig G. Bartholomew (Editor), David J. H. Beldman (Editor)

In Hearing the Old Testament world-class scholars discuss how contemporary Christians can better hear and appropriate God's address in the Old Testament. This volume is part of a growing interest in theological interpretation of the Old Testament.

Editors Craig G. Bartholomew and David J. H. Beldman offer a coherent and carefully planned volume, a truly


In Hearing the Old Testament world-class scholars discuss how contemporary Christians can better hear and appropriate God's address in the Old Testament. This volume is part of a growing interest in theological interpretation of the Old Testament.

Editors Craig G. Bartholomew and David J. H. Beldman offer a coherent and carefully planned volume, a truly dialogical collaboration full of up-to-date research and innovative ideas. While sharing a desire to integrate their Old Testament scholarship with their love for God - and, thus, a commitment to listening for God's voice within the text - the contributors display a variety of methods and interpretations as they apply a Trinitarian hermeneutic to the text. The breadth, expertise, and care evidenced here make this book an ideal choice for upper-level undergraduate and seminary courses.

Craig G. Bartholomew
David J. H. Beldman
Mark J. Boda
M. Daniel Carroll R.
Stephen G. Dempster
Tremper Longman III
J. Clinton McCann Jr.
Iain Provan
Richard Schultz
Aubrey Spears
Heath Thomas
Gordon J. Wenham
Al Wolters
Christopher J. H. Wright

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Daniel I. Block
— Wheaton College
"This welcome volume addresses the famine in the land (Amos 8:11-12), specifically, the famine of hearing the lifegiving word of God to the contemporary church through the Old Testament. With a fine mixture of contributions from both internationally renowned and younger Old Testament scholars, this collection of essays guides readers through vital aspects of biblical interpretation, helping us hear afresh the voice of God in the texts of Scripture. . . . An invaluable resource for all who long to hear for themselves God's address in the Old Testament."

Michael W. Goheen
— Trinity Western University
"How can we hear God speak to us in the text of Scripture to equip us for our missional vocation? This should be the fundamental question for critical biblical scholarship. Yet an Enlightenment agenda has too often separated God's address from the tools of biblical scholarship, leaving the church bereft of a word from God. This book is an urgent plea by an eminent cast of scholars for biblical scholarship to serve the church so that we can hear God speak through the text of Scripture. The pressing importance of this issue makes this volume priority reading!"

Bulletin for Biblical Research 
“A helpful tool for Old Testament specialists, preachers, and students. The book is appropriate for a course on biblical hermeneutics and comes highly recommended.”
Review of Biblical Literature 
“This volume includes high-quality essays from a range of authors who are well known in Old Testament scholarship, particularly within evangelical circles.”

Product Details

Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Publication date:
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5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

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Listening for God's Address

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2012 Craig G. Bartholomew and David J. H. Beldman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8028-6561-8

Chapter One

Listening for God's Address: A Mere Trinitarian Hermeneutic for the Old Testament

Craig G. Bartholomew

The unique feature of this book is that it makes the telos of reading the Old Testament listening for God's address. The bifurcation of theology and biblical studies is well documented, and recent decades have witnessed welcome attempts to overcome this chasm. Nevertheless, the renaissance of theological interpretation of the Bible is still in its early years, and it remains rare to find scholarship on the Old Testament that embodies the kind of integrated theological hermeneutic that retains critical rigor while aiming throughout to hear God's address. This volume aims to fill that gap.

Any theological hermeneutic worth its salt must be Christocentric. As Karl Barth says of Jesus, "This man is the secret of heaven and earth, of the cosmos created by God." Similarly, Lesslie Newbigin asserts that Christ is the clue to the whole of creation. And as Aquinas puts it, "This human being is divine truth itself." And precisely because a theological hermeneutic is Christocentric it will be trinitarian. In the context of first-century Jewish monotheism, the New Testament awareness of Jesus as "truly God" made the post-canonical development of the doctrine of the Trinity inevitable. The credit for full elaboration of the doctrine of the Trinity goes to Athanasius, the three Cappadocians, and Augustine.

In our late modern age of wild pluralism it may seem strange, but it needs to be said, that a trinitarian hermeneutic aims at truthful interpretation of the Old Testament. Let me elaborate. There are many biblical entrances into the concept of truth, but here I will follow several theologians in entering through John's Gospel. The question of truth comes famously to the fore in Pilate's interrogation of Jesus in John 18:28–19:16a. At stake is whether or not Jesus is "king of the Jews." Jesus replies (18:37) that he came into the world to testify to the truth, and that everyone who belongs to the truth listens to his voice. As Herman Ridderbos notes,

Jesus' kingship consists in the utterly unique authority with which he represents the truth in the world. His birth and coming has no other purpose than to "bear witness to the truth," in the absolute sense in which the Fourth Gospel continually speaks of the truth: Jesus testifies to what "he has seen and heard of the Father" (cf. 3:31-36), indeed to the truth that he himself is (14:6) and for which he answers with his life, person, and work. By speaking of himself as "witness," Jesus—standing before the judgment seat of Pilate—is using the language of the courtroom (cf. 1 Tim. 6:13), but not as the accused testifying on his own behalf but as the one who, in the suit that God brings against the world, has come to testify against the rule of the lie and for the "truth," that is, for God and for God's claim on the world. In that testimony Jesus' kingship consists.

In a postmodern idiom, Pilate replies, "What is truth?" Doubtless many today would see Pilate as the winner of this debate, as Nietzsche famously did. However, Jesus, by reversing his role in the interrogation and thus reframing Pilate's court case in the context of a larger narrative, alerts us unequivocally to the resistance a trinitarian view of truth affords to the relativism of so much postmodernism. The reader of John's Gospel knows the answer to Pilate's question; it is Jesus himself. "Truth is not simply personal; for John truth is a person. Even this is too weak: truth is not just any person, but this human being in particular: Jesus of Nazareth, and among human beings only he. Knowing what truth is and deciding about truth, so this Gospel suggests, finally depend on becoming adequately acquainted with this person." However, Jesus is not the truth all by himself but by virtue of his unique relationship with the Father (5:30; 16:15), who sent him into the world, and by virtue of his unique relationship with the Spirit, whom he sends into the world (16:13-14). "So as John's Gospel and Letters depict it, 'truth' is an attribute of the triune God. Indeed, truth is in some deep sense identical with the persons of the Trinity. Apparently both saying what truth is and deciding what is true depend on identifying the triune God, and on being the subject of his community-forming action."

It is this trinitarian view of God that distinguishes the Christian church from other communities. Bruce Marshall notes the comprehensive scope of the doctrine of the Trinity: "The one God is identified as Trinity through the unfolding of a complex narrative which links Israel, Jesus, and the church; this narrative identification of the triune God organizes a comprehensive view of all things, and especially of human nature, history, and destiny."

The post-Enlightenment legacy in theology was to marginalize the doctrine of the Trinity. Much modern theology has been an attempt to correlate Christian doctrine with the modern worldview (or worldviews), in a quest for an epistemic middle. However, as Bruce Marshall rightly notes, such an approach has turned out to be not so much mistaken as empty. "Correlation holds out the promise that theologians can do justice both to the contents of Christian beliefs and to the epistemic priorities of modernity while keeping each in its place. Like the dependence thesis generally, correlation makes a promise which in the end it lacks the logical resources to keep." Not surprisingly, the doctrine of the Trinity was a major fatality of this sort of approach.

In contrast, the latter half of the twentieth century, partially in the context of the reaction to modernity signified by postmodernism, has witnessed a remarkable flowering of trinitarian theology. Undoubtedly the father of this renaissance was Karl Barth, but major contributions have also been made by Jürgen Moltmann, John Zizioulas, Colin Gunton, and many others. This renaissance is of great importance to theological hermeneutics because "prime reality" for the Christian is the God who has come to us in Jesus, and epistemologically it is essential that a theological hermeneutic take this prime reality as its starting point. An exciting development of our time is that a multitude of scholars have come to this view via a variety of theological traditions. Some, such as Hans Frei, George Lindbeck, and Bruce Marshall, have journeyed to this point via the Barthian tradition; others, such as Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, via the neo-Calvinist one; still others have come to it via Catholic and Orthodox routes. All have in common Marshall's point that "Christians can and should have their own ways of thinking about truth and about deciding what to believe."

For Christians "God" is the starting point from which everything else is to be understood. And in Christian thought the doctrine of the Trinity specifies the meaning and reference of "God"; as such it is the primary Christian doctrine, with major epistemic significance, and not least in relation to the Old Testament. The link between the Trinity and the Bible is unavoidable:

The action whereby the Spirit induces us to love God by sharing in the mutual love of the Father and the Son is epistemically decisive: from it ultimately stems our willingness to hold true the narratives which identify Jesus and the triune God, and to order the rest of our beliefs accordingly. We cannot love the triune God, let alone love him with his own love, unless we hold a complex collection of beliefs which together pick out and describe the actions in time by which this God identifies himself in the world, and thereby makes his life available to our desires.

James Barr articulates this clearly: "All Christian use of the Old Testament seems to depend on the belief that the one God who is the God of Israel is also the God and Father of Jesus Christ." Again: "All our use of the Old Testament goes back to this belief. What is said there that relates to 'God' relates to our God. Consequently that which can be known of our God is known only when we consider the Old Testament as a place in which he is known."

How, then, does the doctrine of the Trinity shape a theological hermeneutic for the Old Testament? In the remainder of this chapter I will propose five ways in which it does so.

1. The Doctrine of the Trinity Implies an Acceptance of the Old Testament as Authoritative Scripture

The doctrine of the Trinity commits us to the view that Scripture as a whole is authoritative in that it renders Jesus Christ to us adequately. This implies, contra Marcion and his many successors, an acceptance of the authority of the Old Testament as just that, the Old Testament. Where did this highly creative grafting of the new onto the old come from? Henri de Lubac rightly asserts that

it was the consequence of the fact of the Incarnation on the conscience of some few Jews. In the end what was originally known by intuition was developed into a skillfully constructed theory capable of withstanding Jewish attacks on the one hand and those of Gnostics on the other, at the same time providing the means for preserving the scriptures and using them as a basis ... right from the beginning the essential was there, the synthesis was made, in the dazzling and confused light of revelation. Novum testamentum in Vetere labet: Vetus nunc in Novo patet.... Very early, of course, separate traditions in the interpretation of scripture were established, different schools arose.... But the same fundamental principle compelled the recognition of all. From the beginning "the harmonious agreement of the Law and the Prophets with the Testament delivered by the Lord" was the "rule of the Church."

De Lubac here perceptively notes that central to Christian faith from its inception is an intuitive sense of the unity of the Testaments in Christ. In this respect a view of the canon as a whole originates, as it were, in the Christ event and in the Bible itself. According to Henning Graf Reventlow, the relationship of the Testaments is the issue in (modern) biblical theology, and de Lubac helpfully points us to the source of the Christian commitment to —and concern to articulate the logic of — the inner unity of the Bible. Not surprisingly, therefore, this pattern and concern are evident in different ways in catechesis and homiletics from the outset and in all the major Christian thinkers who follow the church fathers, not least Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and so on.

In his struggle with Marcion and the Gnostics over the unity of the Bible, Irenaeus articulates the unity of the Bible as a single story, as Robert Louis Wilken explains:

Two histories converge in the biblical account, the history of Israel and the life of Christ, but because they are also the history of God's actions in and for the world, they are part of a larger narrative that begins at creation and ends in a vision of a new, more splendid city in which the "Lord God will be their light." The Bible begins, as it were, with the beginning and ends with an end that is no end, life with God, in Irenaeus's charming expression, a life in which one is "always conversing with God in new ways." Nothing falls outside its scope.

With Irenaeus's narrative approach to the Bible we have an incipient biblical theology seeking to articulate the inner unity of the Bible in response to Marcion. The unity of the Testaments is affirmed — there is one God who called Abraham, spoke with Moses, sent the prophets, and is also the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ — and is articulated in terms of the story shape of the Bible as a whole. Furthermore, the story is explained in terms of the theme of renewal or re-creation.

Yet trinitarian theology has sometimes led to neglect of Scripture. An example of this is David S. Cunningham's dealing with the question of same-sex desire in the context of a trinitarian framework. He asserts,

I have already suggested that the doctrine of the Trinity can help us to understand and evaluate the nature of the relationships among bodies, including relationships that involve sexual desire. And as far as I can see, there is nothing in trinitarian doctrine that has a word to say, in any prima facie sense, against monogamous gay or lesbian relationships. In such relationships, mutual participation is clearly possible, just as it is in opposite-sex relationships. The same-sex partner is still an "other," and fully capable of embodying the trinitarian virtue of particularity. The doctrine of the Trinity does not seem to address anatomical features of the desired body; God manifests yearning, desire, and love for the otherness of the other, but this is not limited to—nor does it necessarily even involve—questions of sexual difference.

What is striking here is the absence of close attention to the very biblical narratives out of which trinitarian theology emerges. If the doctrine of the Trinity has a prima facie connection with creation, which in terms of the Christian tradition is impossible to deny, and if redemption involves, as Oliver O'Donovan argues, the reaffirmation of creation, then the Trinity has much to say about sexual and gender differences and about marriage and relationships.

This is not to suggest that the hermeneutics of same-sex desire are necessarily simple, but it is to insist that a trinitarian theology cannot become an excuse for bypassing Scripture. Rather, a healthy trinitarian hermeneutic will lead us more deeply into the Old Testament rather than away from it. Calvin is alert to this when he says of his Institutes: "It has been my purpose in this labor to prepare and instruct candidates in sacred theology for the reading of the divine Word, in order that they may be able both to have easy access to it and to advance in it without stumbling." As we have noted above, the doctrine of the Trinity implies an acceptance of the Scriptures as an authoritative rendering of Jesus Christ, so that a trinitarian hermeneutic should always lead us deeply into Scripture.

2. The Doctrine of the Trinity Alerts Us to the Fact That the Old Testament Is Part of a Larger Whole

The Old Testament by itself is not Christian Scripture; it functions as such only within tota Scriptura. We do not read the Old Testament truthfully unless we read it as the Old Testament that is "fulfilled" in the New. Thus, a trinitarian hermeneutic commits us to biblical theology with its quest for the inner unity of the Bible. If we imagine the Bible as a grand cathedral, it becomes apparent that there are many entrances into such a cathedral, so that biblical theology can adopt a variety of methodologies to uncover the unity of Scripture. A particularly fecund approach is that of Irenaeus, whereby the Bible is approached as an overarching narrative. Recently N. T. Wright has developed such a hermeneutic by suggesting that we view the Bible as a drama in multiple acts. Such a dramatic hermeneutic is inherently trinitarian with its sense of perichoretic narrative development.

A trinitarian hermeneutic for the Old Testament also provides the basis for typological or figural analysis of the Bible, which rests on the trinitarian assumption that the footsteps we observe in the New Testament are from the same God we find active in the Old. According to Christopher Seitz,

Figural reading is not an exegetical technique. It is an effort to hear the two-testament witness to God in Christ, taking seriously its plain sense, in conjunction with apostolic teaching. This teaching is guided by the conviction that the persons of the Trinity are to be seen in their fundamental unity, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, one God. And this teaching is derived from the two-testament witness itself.

3. The Doctrine of the Trinity Alerts Us to the Importance of Attending to the Discrete Witness of the Old Testament

Too often a Christological hermeneutic has been imposed on the Old Testament, thus restricting its voice from being heard on its own terms. A trinitarian hermeneutic alerts us to the historical unfolding of God's revelation and does full justice to his revelation of himself in and through the life of his elect people, Israel. The emphasis on perichoresis in trinitarian doctrine similarly points in this direction, with its stress that, while all three persons of the Trinity are involved in all their acts, the Father is particularly associated with creation and Israel, the Son with the fulfillment of redemption, and the Spirit with mission. In this respect James Barr rightly notes that

it is an illusory position to think of ourselves as in a position where the New Testament is clear, is known and accepted, and where therefore from this secure position we start out to explore the much more doubtful and dangerous territory of the Old Testament.... Insofar as a position is Christian it is related to the Old Testament from the beginning.


Excerpted from HEARING THE OLD TESTAMENT Copyright © 2012 by Craig G. Bartholomew and David J. H. Beldman. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Craig G. Bartholomew is H. Evan Runner Professor ofPhilosophy and professor of religion and theology atRedeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario, andprincipal of the Paideia Centre for Public Theology. His otherbooks include Old Testament Wisdom Literature: ATheological Introduction and Where MortalsDwell: A Christian View of Place for Today.,

David J. H. Beldman is an instructor at Redeemer UniversityCollege and is currently completing his doctoral degree inOld Testament at the University of Bristol.

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