One of the real problems of the preaching ministry today is making the principles of the Bible pertinent to a space-conscious era. Yet it is the space-consciousness of our time that has caused many a serious person to rethink his own place in life and in the universe. Swift changes and fears in an age of science have provided opportunity of contact with such people for the gospel of an unchanging God and the assurance of his timeless grace.

It is in view of this opportunity that the message of the Old Testament, with its revelation of a this-worldly peace by means of a covenant relationship to God, is shown to have real application to our needs. New Testament answers to the human predicament have their roots in the theological concepts and religious experience of Old Testament believers and writers. Scholars of quite varying shades of opinion have recognized that Christianity is the flower that stems from the prophetic roots of the Old Testament. There is, therefore, in recent literature of the Old Testament, revisions of older, liberal reconstructions of Israel’s history. There is, as well, almost a complete volte-face with respect to the value of Old Testament theology.

The books which are surveyed here are those which have been printed in English and are available to the American and Canadian reading public. They range from those of most interest to the advanced student to those that will prove helpful to the Christian worker with little theological training.


In biblical archaeology the Qumran (Dead Sea) documents continue to dominate interest, though important work is being done in other areas as well. Continued concern with the Qumran discoveries is due to two main factors. One is that the discoveries are related to the Bible and to the cultural milieu in which Christianity began its separate course. The other is that the finds are literary and the evidence from them is more clearly understood than it might be with artifacts.

The outstanding authority on the Dead Sea materials in the United States is Frank M. Cross, Jr., whose conclusions on several topics are presented in The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies (Doubleday). Though the reader who has no knowledge of Hebrew or modern foreign languages may have to skip most of the extensive but valuable footnotes, he will receive genuine pleasure and important information from the body of the text. Considerable light is shed on Old Testament textual criticism, which is the science of ascertaining the exact text of the original writings. Stimulating also is the presentation of Messianic interpretation of the Old Testament among Jews outside the Pharisaic and early Christian circles.

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The Monuments and the Old Testament (Judson Press) is an older text on general Old Testament archaeology by Ira M. Price which has been thoroughly revised by O. R. Sellers and E. Leslie Carlson. In addition to many changes in the original text, chapters have been added to cover archaeological advances in the Near East during the last three decades and, of course, the materials from Palestine itself, including the Dead Sea scrolls. The authors favor Rameses II, who died about 1224 B.C., as the Pharaoh of the oppression, and this dates the exodus much later than the biblical data seem to allow and later also than the date suggested by such men as W. F. Albright and G. Ernest Wright. At times it appears that certain problems have been skirted rather than faced. Yet the book is written with clarity, avoids the use of bewildering technical terms, and ought to be useful for biblical backgrounds.

A more compact handbook is provided by Donald Wiseman’s Illustrations from Biblical Archaeology (Eerdmans). The text is a summary in briefest compass of the evidence which tends to confirm or explain the biblical story. The layman can read it quickly and grasp it readily. For those who want to read more extensively on the subject, a bibliography is provided at the end of the book.

It is almost a century since Julius Wellhausen reconstructed the history of Israel as he conceived it to be from an evolutionary standpoint. The past 25 years have seen his position attacked often and forcefully. No doubt in years to come, some of these attacks will be considered as ‘dated’ as was Wellhausen’s own position. The most recent of newer presentations is that of Martin Noth, whose German work on The History of Israel (Harper) was translated into English. Noth believes that Israel’s history begins only with the settlement of the tribes in Canaan and not, as older historians believed, with the patriarchs or the exodus. For Noth, the patriarchs are dim figures almost lost in the mists of folklore. Contrary also to the views of W. F. Albright, who has written persuasively that the military conquests of Joshua are indicated by archaeological remains, Noth is certain that the Israelites gradually infiltrated the hill country of Palestine in peaceful fashion. Distinctive to Noth is his contention, accepted by a number of modern scholars, that Israel first became a confederacy of 12 tribes at Shechem. There Joshua united several, probably six, tribes which had been in Egypt and were led out by Moses, to other tribes which had never been in Egypt at all. The author recognizes, of course, that this is not the biblical picture but feels that literary evidence rightly handled supports his view. The book is the product of prodigious learning, but conservative readers will find such subjective handling of the Scripture narrative very distressing.

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An entirely different type of history is S. M. Wright’s A Brief Survey of the Bible (Loiseaux Bros.). Here the traditional view of the story of the Old Testament is maintained. The book of Job, as representing the patriarchal period, is discussed prior to the Pentateuch. The style is in general devotional, rather than scholarly, and could prove most helpful in high school groups.

An excellent book, dealing with a narrower period of Old Testament history, is The Exilic Age (Westminster), by C. F. Whitley. The author is convinced, wrongly I believe, that Jeremiah disagreed with the principles of Deuteronomy, and that Isaiah 40–55, the Second Isaiah, is from the exilic period. Whitley has a wide acquaintance with the literature on the culture of the Near East and summarizes his conclusions in pleasing form. His positions are well reasoned in most instances. One grasps the poignant grief of Jeremiah, the challenge and consolation of Ezekiel, and the victorious hope of Isaiah as God’s message to his people.

Prophetic Studies

Prophecy in Israel has been an intriguing subject to students of the Bible throughout the history of the Christian Church. Some efforts have been made to reduce biblical prophecy to the level of its counterparts in ancient Babylon and Syria. These efforts have shed some light on the nature of false and even of professional prophecy in Israel, and have served to enhance our appreciation of the canonical prophetic writings.

In a brief study entitled Vision and Prophecy in Amos (Eerdmans), J. D. W. Watts has elicited from modern scholarship, more than from biblical evidence, a picture of the situation in which Amos worked and the conditions under which his prophecy arose. The author conjectures that the words of Amos were recorded by disciples or adherents both in Israel and in Judah, and that the two strands of his message were later united into one book. In this way the question of why Amos predicted the restoration of the house of David to the Northern kingdom is readily answered. He didn’t. The last three chapters originated in the Southern kingdom. Nevertheless, both strands of the book are the authentic message of Amos, and one must not, therefore, be critical of Watts’ investigations. Certainly the reader will have a much clearer view of the syncretistic religion of Jehovah (Yahweh) as it was practised in the Northern kingdom and so rigorously condemned by all the prophets.

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A warmhearted study of the ministry and message of Jeremiah is set forth by J. Philip Hyatt in Jeremiah, Prophet of Courage and Hope (Abingdon). A minister could do much in reclaiming the precious truth of this great prophecy by reading this work. It must be said that the author sometimes reaches what is, in my opinion, unwarranted conclusions. Defenders of the doctrine of human depravity have usually found support in Jeremiah 17:9, but Hyatt says categorically that Jeremiah attributed man’s corruption not to natural depravity but to stubbornness which is derived from custom and habit. Theological predilections, however, should not hinder one from seeing the truth that Jeremiah’s message is in reality a plea for repentance with the promise of forgiveness and of hope in God.

Another of the great prophets receives commendable treatment in H. L. Ellison’s Ezekiel, the Man and his Message (Eerdmans). Ellison brings out the high points in the prophet’s ministry while he is at the same time moderate in his interpretation. Dispensationalists will disagree with the author’s view of the battle of Gog and Magog and of chapters 40–48. Amillennialists will not agree with his handling of certain passages. But neither can resent the kindly and scriptural approach which characterizes his work.

Isaiah has been in the forefront of discussion for over a hundred years, and the heat of debate has only increased with the appearance of the Qumran manuscripts. Conservatives have found evidence from the Isaiah scroll that the book was considered a unit by the second century B.C. The theories of radicals, who said that the book was united in its present form only about 150 B.C., have been refuted. The hypothesis of Duhm, that Isaiah falls into three parts, each in itself a collection, is still popular among critical scholars. E. J. Young, in Who Wrote Isaiah? (Eerdmans) has made an attempt to prove that the original Isaiah is the author of the corpus of the book which bears his name. The arguments adduced are valid, I believe, but likely to be unimpressive to those who hold a low view of the authority of Jesus Christ or the trustworthiness of the New Testament record. An example of a writer who holds such a view is Sheldon H. Blank, author of Prophetic Faith in Isaiah (Harper). He is of Judaistic faith, and it is not surprising that he identifies the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah as the national Israel. The Servant in his suffering is a musar which Blank understands to mean one who has suffered as a gruesome example to others. The concept of the vicarious suffering of the Servant is dismissed. Hebrew verb forms are said to indicate that the Servant’s sufferings are all in the past and his glory in the future. It is impossible for one to follow the rather cavalier assignment of so few passages to the original Isaiah and so many to the “later Isaiahs” of whom one would scarce venture to say how many there were. The Christian reader will disagree rather radically with the author’s point of view which is nevertheless clearly expressed.

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The scarcity of good commentaries is a trend to be noted, though Concordia Publishing House has been valiantly filling part of the gap. Those who knew and loved the vigorous preaching of the late Dr. Walter A. Maier will welcome a commentary on Nahum which comes largely from his hand. The author is forthright in his disagreement with some modern views of the prophecy, but those who, with Dr. Maier, believe that the Scriptures are the living oracles of God, will welcome the enlightening exposition and its careful use of the Hebrew original.

The same publishers are in the course of producing Luther’s works in English translation. The translators have been carefully chosen for their ability to bring the medieval Latin and German of the Reformer into good English idiom, and the results of their labors are quite gratifying. In the Old Testament field one volume has appeared covering Genesis 1–5 as well as three volumes of selected Psalms. Naturally much of Luther’s material is dated as, for example, when he finds in the Turkish conquests in Europe a fulfillment of Psalm 2:1–2. Many of the expositions reflect his own soul’s struggle. Yet, as he found the timeless truths of the Word to be relevant to his own needs and those of his day, his presentation of them may help us to do the same. The historical value of these publications is unquestionably excellent.

A further publication of Luther’s commentary material is the appearance of his Commentary on Genesis (Zondervan), translated by J. Theodore Mueller. There is a freshness to the translation as well as a preservation of Luther’s own inimitable style. The work is less a commentary, perhaps, than a series of expositions in which Luther managed to cast off the allegorical style of medieval interpreters while preserving a Christological balance.

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A new critical commentary has appeared in the work of T. Henshaw, The Latter Prophets (Macmillan). The prophetic writings are arranged in what the author believes to be their chronological order, so that Isaiah 56–66 is placed after Haggai, and Joel and Jonah follow Malachi. Attention is given to the influence of the prophet and his ideas on the current of biblical or Judaistic thought, a feature which provides a unifying element in the book itself.

Biblical Theology

I would draw attention to two works on Old Testament biblical theology which were reviewed last year in CHRISTIANITY TODAY (Vol. III, Nos. 4 and 6). A Hebrew Christian, Dr. Jacob Jocz, deals with one aspect of biblical theology in his work, A Theology of Election (Macmillan). While Dr. Jocz is very obviously a dialectical theologian, his work should stimulate every Christian to search out the biblical relation of Israel and the Church in the divine election. The author’s knowledge of rabbinic and Judaistic learning, combined with his love of Jesus Christ as Messiah, has provided matter worth reading. His prejudice against infant baptism, which is stated several times, seems based upon the abuse rather than the Reformed understanding of that practice. His method of formulating the New Testament doctrine of election strongly resembles that of Barth. These comments are not intended to depreciate the many values of the book, however.

Ludwig Kohler has long been respected in Europe for his Old Testament studies. It is gratifying to see an English translation of his Old Testament Theology. The majority of biblical theologians have denied that theology is presented in the Bible as a system, yet all of them have been obliged to use some system in their presentation of material since the human mind refuses to be disorganized. Kohler’s material is arranged under topics usually reserved for dogmatic theologians, namely, theology, anthropology, and soteriology. Kohler finds divine revelation in God’s names, his covenants, his laws, but not in the cult or ceremonial laws until the time of Ezekiel (p. 195). The spirit of Kohler’s work is epitomized by his closing sentences which deal with the Messiah. “This Messiah—if one may really call him that—is a Messiah who suffers. He is a Messiah who suffers vicariously. At this point the theology of the Old Testament comes to an end. In the New Testament the question is asked: ‘Understandest thou what thou readest?’ ”

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If any trend distinguishes the direction of Old Testament studies at the present time, it is that which recognizes that the substance of biblical writing is often more important than the source. In some instances this trend is carried so far as to attempt to hold to a fairly orthodox theology alongside the most radical views of the literature of the Old Testament. In some other instances it has led to a higher respect for the integrity of biblical documents. In almost any case, whether a writer be an evangelical or not, consistency is a jewel not often obtained.

I list below certain titles which are either reprints of older works or are more largely devotional in nature:

Otto J. Baab: Prophetic Preaching (Abingdon). This is a homiletical study using an alliterative outline of the prophet’s passion, his problem, purpose, and power. It makes for inspirational reading.

J. Allen Blair: Living Reliantly (Loiseaux). Here is a beautiful devotional study of the 23rd Psalm which is recommended for private or family reading.

F. J. Denbeaux: Understanding the Bible (Westminster). Part of a series in the Layman’s Theological Library, this book is an effort to make the main theological ideas of the Bible pertinent to modern needs in modern terms.

H. G. G. Herklots: The Ten Commandments and Modern Man (Essential Books). An incisive application of the spirit of the Decalogue to twentieth century ethics, this work is slanted toward readers in Great Britain, but yields too much to older critical views. It is nevertheless a convicting exposition.

D. T. Niles: Studies in Genesis (Westminster). The author interprets certain aspects of the Genesis story in terms of modern discussions of Eros and Agape, of Chronos and Kairos, which as categories were far removed from the ancient writers. It is however an effort to help us see ourselves as God sees us.

Arthur W. Pink: The Life of David (Zondervan). This two-volume reprint is a fine, devotional exposition by a great conference speaker.

Samuel Ridout: The Book of Job (Reprint). Judges and Ruth (Loiseaux). These expositions from a Brethren point of view breathe life and warmth. They are recommended as aids in preparing for Bible study groups and midweek devotional meetings.


David W. Kerr has been Professor of Old Testament at Gordon Divinity School since 1953. He holds the B.A. degree from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and the B.D. and Th.M. degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary.

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