If you have not read my previous posts on this topic, I recommend that you read them before you read Part 2.
6. An Introduction to the Old Testament
No one who desires to gain a comprehensive knowledge of the Old Testament for preaching and teaching can live without a good Introduction of the Old Testament. There are several introductions to the Old Testament on the market today, and selecting one is not an easy task.
The problem with recommending a good introduction hinges on the fact that all of them take a different approach. The ideal introduction for pastors would be one that gives a historical and theological introduction to each book of the Old Testament, without majoring on critical and literary issues.
Since the selection of a good introduction is complicated, I have selected two different books, each with a different approach. The reader should to select one of them. The first book is Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003). Brueggemann focuses on literary, historical, and theological aspects of each book of the Old Testament.
A second book is William Sanford Lasor, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic Wm. Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996. This book studies the three sections of the Hebrew Bible: The Torah, The Prophets, and The Writings. The book concludes with a section titled Background in which the writers cover Revelation, Canon, Geography, Archaeology, and Messianic Prophecy.
The third book is Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994). This book takes an evangelical, conservative approach to the Old Testament while trying to maintain a balance between scholarly issues and practical application. This Introduction offers a book-by-book introduction to the Old Testament.
7. Old Testament Ethics
Good books on Old Testament ethics are few. The past decade has seen the appearance of several books dealing with ethical issues in the Old Testament. A problem with recommending a book on Old Testament ethics is that each author takes a different approach to ethical issues. The one I have selected is Christopher J. H. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004). Wright’s book deals with economic ethics.
Another book dealing with Old Testament ethics is Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991). Kaiser’s book deals with moral ethics. This book takes a very conservative view on some of the ethical issues of the Old Testament. However, pastors should read this book only to become aware of debatable ethical issues and then find a better approach to dealing with some of these issues.
John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, Volume Three: Israel’s Life also deals with ethical issues. The third volume has sections dealing with “Living with God,” “Living with Ourselves,” and Living with Others.” This book is worth reading from cover to cover.
8. The Kingdom of God
John Bright’s, The Kingdom of God (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1981), is an old book. The reference to the threat of communism will give away the age of the book. The book was first published in 1953, but it has endured and it has almost become one of those classical books that people should read. The reason the book is important is because it provides a good understanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.
I have made the reading of this book a requirement in my introduction to the Old Testament. And, it never fails: when students read this book, they recognize that the work of the God of the Old Testament continues in the work of Jesus Christ.
9. Preaching from the Old Testament
Since this list of books has been prepared for people who preach and teach from the Old Testament, it is just fair that one book on preaching from the Old Testament should be included.
There is a problem with recommending a book on preaching: those who proclaim God’s Word have different styles and approaches to preaching. But the fact is, that we can learn from others in order to improve our own style of preaching.
Those who want to preach from the Old Testament should read Elizabeth Achtemeier, Preaching from the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1989). This book provides good insights on how to prepare sermons from the Old Testament.
Those who want to study different approaches on how to preach from the Old Testament can also consult Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) and John C. Holbert, Preaching Old Testament: Proclamation and Narrative in the Hebrew Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991). Of the three books, I consider Achtemeier’s book closer to my own approach in preaching from the Old Testament.
10. Ancient Israel
A book that is indispensable in the library of any pastor is Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel (2 vols.; New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1965). There are several editions of this book on the market. Be sure that you buy the unabridged two volume edition. Volume one deals with the social institutions of Israel; volume two deals with the religious institutions.
This book provides an almost encyclopedic amount of information on the social and religious life of Israel. Anyone who looks at the indices of the two books will understand the reason this book should be part of a good Old Testament library.
In addition to these ten books, I want to add three more books to the reading list. The first book pastors should read is a book about the women of the Old Testament. One of the best books on the subject is Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories. New York: Schocken Books, 2002. In her book, Tikva Frymer-Kensky discusses the experiences of several women in a patriarchal society and how their experience is relevant to modern life. Her studies deal with biblical women young and old, married and single, named and anonymous. She studies these women individually and collectively. A study of biblical women enables pastors to consider what relevance these stories have for women today, women whose lives are in many ways different from the stories of the women in the Old Testament.
The second book is Terence Fretheim, The Suffering of God (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984). This book looks at the God of the Old Testament from the perspective of divine suffering. God is presented as a God who suffers because of, with, and for his people.
Fretheim’s book is very challenging. It is the kind of book one must read consulting all the biblical references the author cites. As the introduction of the book says, the purpose of the book “is to broaden our understanding of the God of the Old Testament by showing the ‘suffering belongs to the person and purpose of God.’”
Fretheim’s book changed the way I viewed the God of the Old Testament. When the Bible says that God is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6), most people do not understand the full implication of this statement. After I finished reading The Suffering of God, I fully understood what kind of God God is. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to become acquainted with the God of the Bible.
Modesty aside, I believe pastors should read my book Divine Violence and the Character of God (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock 2022). The reason I recommend my book is because the God of the Old Testament is under attack by many sides. The God of the Bible is not a savage God. People have said that the God of the Old Testament is an unforgiving, vindictive, bloodthirsty, misogynistic, and homophobic God. People have said that God sponsors genocide and that he caused women to eat their own children.
In my book I deal extensively with the statement, “I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me” (Exodus 20:5). I explain the meaning of this statement and how it is applied in various situations in the Old Testament.
I address all these issues in my book. I show that the real intent of God is reconciliation of sinful humanity to himself. I emphasize that God is a gracious and merciful God who became a human being in Christ and dealt with violence by dying a violent death on the cross.
If you notice the books selected for this list, the selection is aimed at providing a comprehensive introduction to the Old Testament. The list contains, in addition to the Bible, one book on the history of Israel, one on the introduction of the Old Testament book by book, one on a historical and theological introduction to the Old Testament, one dealing with Old Testament theology, one dealing with Old Testament ethics, one dealing with a theological commentary of the Old Testament, one on preaching, one explaining the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, and one book dealing with daily life in Israelite society.
Those who make a commitment to read these books with attention to details and a desire to learn will gain a good understanding of the Old Testament, the kind of knowledge which will provide a solid foundation for preaching and teaching from the Old Testament for a lifetime.
I am afraid, however, that many pastors will not read even half of the books listed here. The reason is that many pastors believe that a seminary education is enough preparation for the ministry. The fact is, that a good seminary education is only the beginning of a pastor’s theological education.
Real theological education happens after graduation. In seminary, pastors are only exposed to all the resources that are available to prepare them for the ministry.
Theological education happens in the privacy of one’s study, when the pastor takes time to read, think, and evaluate the information read. True education happens when one builds a reservoir of knowledge that will serve as the solid foundation for preaching and teaching.
The words of the wise can be a good guide for those who study: “Do not neglect the studies of the learned, they can teach you to understand and to have an answer ready in time of need” (Sirach 8:8, 9).
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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