On a previous post, Books Pastors Should Read, I wrote about pastors and their libraries. In that post I emphasized the importance of reading and studying. Pastors who do not read good books will have little worth saying in their sermons and Bible studies.
You will not understand the reasons I selected these ten books if you do not read my post on pastors and their libraries. So, before you go any further, stop and read that post and the reasons I selected these ten books pastors should read.
Since the publication of the present post in 2006, some of the books mentioned on my list of ten books pastors should read may be out of print. The following observations may be made about the list:
1. The intent of this list of books is not to keep pastors updated with the newest development in Old Testament studies. Newer studies on the Old Testament have focused mostly on literary study. Such an approach can help readers understand the Old Testament as a literary work without providing the kind of help that will help pastors preach and teach from the Old Testament.
2. Recent books on Old Testament studies have taken a minimalist approach. This approach is detrimental to the study of the Old Testament because it makes the Old Testament become a work of fiction. If you are not familiar with the minimalist approach to the Old Testament, I recommend that you read this post, Mario Liverani and the History of Ancient Israel.
In that post, I wrote the following about the minimalist view of the Old Testament: “The minimalist view may be an acceptable issue for discussion in academic circles, but their views have nothing to say to pastors and seminary students who accept as a matter of fact that God has entered human history and made his presence known in the historical events that gave birth to biblical Israel.”
3. The purpose of the books on the list of books pastors should read is to help pastors gain the kind of knowledge that will help them teach and preach from the Old Testament in order to help their congregations know and love the Old Testament.
4. Several of the books on the list are still in print. Those which are out of print can be bought from bookstores that specialize in used books. Amazon sells many used books. Amazon’s price for used books can be very reasonable.
Thank you for reading my post about pastors and their libraries. Now that you understand why I selected these ten books, here is my list. These are the ten books pastors should read:
1. The Bible
It is more than obvious that the most important book in a pastor’s library is the Bible. The Bible must be the focus of anyone who preaches and teaches the Good News. Dwight L. Moody once said that he read the whole Bible every year for fifty years. The greatest tragedy in the church today is that there are many pastors who have never read the Bible from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 at least once. Pastors who have never read the Bible from beginning to end at least once are not worthy of their call.
Any translation is a good translation, even though there are translations that are better than others. I teach from the NRSV and preach from the NIV, since most of the members of my church have the NIV.
In order to help pastors study the Bible, I recommend a study Bible. Study Bibles can be useful since they provide an introduction to each book of the Bible, outlines, and brief information that can help clarify the meaning of a word or a text.
There are many study Bibles on the market today. I recommend The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (NRSV), The New Oxford Annotated Bible or The New Harper Collins Study Bible. For those who use the NIV, I recommend the NIV Life Application Bible.
I recommend The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (NRSV), even though the original release of this study Bible has some bad typos. As a matter of disclosure, I have to say that I wrote the study notes for “1 and 2 Kings” in the NISB.
2. A History of Israel
Anyone who desires to acquire a good knowledge of the Old Testament must know some basic facts about the history of Israel.
When it comes to the history of Israel, there is a hot debate about the proper understanding of what happened to biblical Israel. For those who want to preach and teach from the Old Testament, the minimalist view offers little help. The minimalist view says that most events in the Bible never happened or that these events were created by writers in the postexilic community in order to provide a theological justification for the existence of the Jewish state.
For those who want to gain a good understanding of the historical narratives of the Old Testament, the best book is still John Bright, A History of Israel (4th ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000).
To me, no other book provides a better introduction to the history of Israel. There are many books on the market written to provide an understanding of the history of Israel. Most of these books, however, try to reconstruct the history of Israel and in the process, they almost rewrite the Old Testament. Others, such as Walter Kaiser, A History of Israel (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1998), try so hard to defend some of the traditional conservative interpretations of the history of Israel that the book becomes almost useless to the preacher.
3. Understanding the Old Testament
Those who desire to teach and preach from the Old Testament need to gain a good understanding of the content of the Old Testament that is presented within a historical and theological context. One book I recommend is Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament. 4th ed. Englewood Cliff, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1986.
The strength of Anderson’s book is that he uses historical, archeological, literary, and religious perspectives to trace the history of Israel from the Exodus to the Hellenistic Era. The weakness of Anderson’s book is that he begins his study with the exodus of Israel from Egypt and not with the book of Genesis.
Another book that takes a similar approach to Anderson’s is Henry Jackson Flanders, Jr., Robert W. Crapps, and David A. Smith, People of the Covenant (4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1966).
The advantage of Flanders et al is that their book begins with the creation stories in Genesis and goes through the emergence of Judaism. However, both books will provide an adequate knowledge of the biblical text and give a historical and theological context for the different books of the Old Testament.
Another good introduction to the Old Testament is Bruce C. Birch, Walter Brueggemann, Terence E. Fretheim, and David L. Petersen, A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament. Second Edition. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005. These writers provide a theological interpretation of the Old Testament from creation in Genesis 1 to life in Judah after the return from exile.
4. Theology of the Old Testament
Selecting a theology of the Old Testament for pastors is not easy. The reason is that when scholars write a theology of the Old Testament, they take different approaches in organizing their books. The issue of the theological center of the Old Testament is complicated. The constraint of time and space does not allow a discussion of the problem.
I recommend that pastors read Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (2 Vols. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1967). The only problem I have in recommending this book is that Eichrodt is hard to read. Those who take time to read Eichrodt will be highly rewarded.
The reason I selected Eichrodt is because he takes a dogmatic approach to his presentation of the theology of the Old Testament. By this I mean that Eichrodt writes his theology under the topics of covenant, God, sin, forgiveness, and piety. Thus, pastors can read Eichrodt and learn much about issues that can provide information for good sermons and Bible studies.
There are many other Old Testament theologies on the market. For instance, I strongly recommend that pastors read Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997). His approach to Old Testament is different, but his book has much to teach to those who desire to gain a theological perspective of the people of Israel. Brueggemann’s theology is written from the perspective of how Israel experiences God.
Brueggemann’s approach is to present Israel’s testimony about God. He presents Israel’s testimony and Israel’s counter-testimony about God. His section on Israel’s counter-testimony may sound too critical about God. However, it is a section that must be read in order to understand some very difficult issues about the God of Israel.
Those who take time to read Brueggemann will not be disappointed. Within the pages of his book there is much to be learned. His fresh insights will also provide valuable information to those who want to preach and teach from the Old Testament.
Update. Today, I recommend that pastors begin studying Old Testament theology with Robin Routledge’s Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008. This is a very good book. This is the textbook I used in my course on Old Testament Theology at Northern Baptist Seminary.
Routledge’s Old Testament Theology takes the historical principle of interpretation side by side with the systematic approach in a complimentary way. Routledge studies individual religious concepts by taking into account the major elements of Israel’s faith as understood in their proper religious background.
Routledge presents several criteria for an Old Testament theology. First, an Old Testament theology should be biblical in content and form. Second, an Old Testament theology should contain all the Old Testament, but it should concentrate on the positive, pervasive, normative features of Israelite faith.
Third, an Old Testament theology should use all the hermeneutical tools available in Old Testament studies: textual, literary, form, history of tradition, and canonical criticism. Fourth, the presentation should be formulated in some kind of structure in order to present the theological material of the Old Testament in an orderly fashion.
5. Old Testament Theology. Volume 1: Israel’s Gospel
Although section four presented three books on the theology of the Old Testament, the book described in this section is different.
John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology. Volume 1: Israel’s Gospel (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), is a theological presentation of the narratives of the Old Testament. Goldingay begins with the creation stories in Genesis and provides a theological interpretation of the history of Israel, culminating with the coming of Christ. The emphasis throughout the book is on what God does. Pastors who read this book will gain a theological perspective of the Old Testament narratives. They will also learn how God has acted in the history of Israel.
Update. Since the publication of this post, Goldingay has published Volume 2 and Volume 3 of his Old Testament Theology. Volume 1 dealt with God’s dealing with Israel. Volume 2 deals with Israel’s faith. Volume 3 deals with “the life that Israel should live in its present and future, including its worship, prayer and spirituality, as well as its practices, attitudes and ethics before God.”
These three volumes are a must reading for pastors who want to know more about God and how he dealt with his people and how the people responded to God. These volumes offer a wealth of information and ideas for good sermons and Bible studies.
Another book that takes a similar approach to Goldingay’s is Christoph Barth, God with Us: A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991). The strength of Barth’s book is that he does not attempt to reconstruct the text, but deals with the biblical text as written. Those who read this book will also learn much about the theological perspective of the Old Testament.
I have come to the end of my post. I have been able to list only the first five books on my list. I will have to continue with books six to ten on my next post. But, before you order these books for your library, let me say two things.
First, if you are going to buy these books, read them. Good books were written to be read. If you buy these books and then do not read them, you have wasted your money.
Second, dedicate time every day to read. Many pastors become so involved in their ministries that they do not take time to read every day. If time is at a premium, commit yourself to read one chapter every day. Also, try reading a chapter in the morning and one chapter at night. Reading requires discipline.
NEXT: Ten Books Pastors Should Read – Part 2
Now, go ahead, have fun reading!
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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