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Everything from Genesis to Ps. 151

by
16 December 2016

John Rogerson assesses an OT guide that can spring a few surprises

Companion to the Old Testament: Introduction, interpretation, application
Hywel Clifford, editor
SCM Press £25
(978-0-334-05393-4)
Church Times Bookshop £22.50

 

 

THIS Companion is an introduction to the Christian interpretation and use of the Old Testament, and as such is very welcome. An introductory chapter is followed by chapters on the Pentateuch, the historical books (i.e. Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther), poetry and wisdom, prophetic books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the Twelve Minor Prophets), and Apocryphal/Deutero-Canonical books (including 3 and 4 Maccabees, the Prayer of Manasseh, and Psalm 151). A concluding chapter discusses resources for further study.

This outline of contents makes it clear that the book is concerned with the Old Testament as traditionally understood within Christian interpretation, and not with the Hebrew Bible as designated in much current academic study. Each chapter follows the same basic outline. There is a brief description of the content of the books to be considered, after which there are five sections on interpretation: Early Christianity, Mediaeval Christianity, Reformation Christianity, Modern Christianity, and Global Christianity.

The accounts are accompanied by “boxed” quotations from scholars from Paul through the Fathers, and Reformers to modern scholars including feminist and liberation writers. It is in the section Modern Christianity that matters of modern biblical criticism are touched upon, together with some conservative reactions to critical theories. A final section is entitled Application.

The summaries of the various epochs of biblical interpretation are necessarily brief, and there is a certain amount of repetition in introducing, for example, aspects of the Reformation and the Reformers themselves; but this is understandable in a book intended more for reference than to be read through from page 1 to the end.

I was particularly glad to see an emphasis placed on the ethical use of the Old Testament, including discussions about how, and to what extent, the laws of the Old Testament have been thought to be binding upon Christians. In the section on the Apocrypha, there are “boxed” quotations from the Geneva Bible and the Council of Trent indicating different Christian views of these texts (the Geneva Version did, in fact, include the Apocrypha), and there is more material on the use of the Apocrypha in Global Christianity and modern mission than might have been imagined.

It is to be hoped that this imaginative compilation will help to combat the ignorance in the Churches both of the content of the Old Testament and of its importance in Christian mission, historically and currently.

 

Canon John Rogerson is Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at Sheffield University.

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