Book Plunge: On The Reliability of the Old Testament

Can we trust the Old Testament? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

The Old Testament is an important aspect of the Christian story. After all, we say Jesus is the solution to the problem, but in order to understand the solution, we need to understand the problem. After all, hearing that the answer to the question is 42 doesn’t help until you know what the question is. Many of us spend much time studying the NT since the resurrection is absolutely essential to Christianity after all, but we should not neglect the Old Testament. Yet there is much literature to read in that area as well. Is there any resource that can tremendously help us with that?

There is. It is Kenneth Kitchen’s book “On The Reliability of the Old Testament.” Kitchen is a fine scholar in the field who wrote this to be a parallel to the work on the reliability of the NT. There are some 500 pages worth of content and it is fully packed. Hundreds of pages go to notes.

The book starts off in a spot I found odd, that of the divided kingdom of the OT. It is my suspicion that Kitchen starts here because this is where most of the archaeological evidence is. He goes on throughout the book to the rest of the OT and is quite blunt in his argumentation. He does not hesitate to refer to a position as poppycock or nonsense. He definitely has a strong antagonism to the JEPD hypothesis.

It is important to note that this book mainly focuses on people and places and shows that they were realities, although Kitchen readily admits when the case is that we do not have enough evidence in somewhere yet. Kitchen’s defenses include that of David, the patriarchs, the Exodus, and even the long lifespan of the people in Genesis 5. If Kitchen is using a hypothesis instead of something far more backable, he lets it be known.

The reader of this work will be benefited highly by Kitchen’s expertise. Nevertheless, there are some ways I would like to see the work improved.

I would not mind seeing more on the transmission of the text and how we know the text has been handed down accurately. Much of this has been written on the NT, but we have very little said about the OT in comparison.

I would also like to see more moral issues dealt with. There are times Kitchen does talk some about the conquest of Canaan and what happened morally, but not many, and I don’t recall much on the concept of slavery in the Ancient Near East.

Also, much of this is not written in language readily accessible for those of us who do not study archaeology and it would be nice to see some more explanations and perhaps even a small section on how the archaeology is done and what can be expected to be found through archaeology.

Yet these downsides do not outweigh the positives. Anyone wanting to defend the OT owes it to themselves to get a copy of this book and read it. The reader who finishes will definitely walk away better equipped than when he came.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Old Testament Matters

Do Christians really need to read the Old Testament? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Imagine that you go into a movie such as Avengers, the one that came out not too long ago. When you walk in, you get to the part where you see all of the Avengers fighting off the alien invaders in New York. Now you could sit down at this point and quite likely figure out who the bad guys are and who the good guys are and a general idea of why the good guys are fighting the battle and still enjoy the movie. You would also see afterwards a spoiler of what’s to come in a sequel. Yet would anyone say you have really taken into account the whole film?

Too many Christians do the same thing with Christianity. We turn quickly to the New Testament and we see the story of Jesus and we gather quickly that Jesus is the hero of the story and the devil is the villain and sin is the problem and we get in the apocalyptic parts of the New Testament the hints of what is to come.

Now you will be a Christian if you do just this. If all you have is the New Testament, you can get the message of salvation, but you will miss so much more. You will not understand the world Jesus came into, you will not understand the back story, and you will not understand why Jesus is the solution to the problem.

How do you get that information? You read the Old Testament and we Christians need to read it and really think about it. For instance, what role does Abraham play? We look at a passage like Romans 4 and say “Abraham is an example.” Not at all. Abraham is not listed as the way we ought to live, although we certainly should follow his footsteps of faithfulness. Abraham is more the prototype. How is it that we are justified? We look at how Abraham was.

There is no one else that could have been used in Romans 4 but Abraham and the only way you understand that is if you know your Old Testament. How will the promise to Abraham come about? What is it that God is seeking to do by calling out Abraham? Does the story of Israel play any role in the New Testament?

Is Israel just this failed experiment and God moved on past it? When we say Jesus is the Messiah, does that really matter? Paul and the other NT writers certainly thought it was important to say Jesus is the Messiah. Why? Does it really make a difference if you know what the prophets said or what the history of Israel is?

If you go to the book of Revelation, it certainly does. Revelation is a book in the Bible that rarely rarely quotes the OT, which is a shock for such a long book. Yet Revelation assumes you have a thorough thorough knowledge of the OT. Remember that in the days of Jesus, most people had the OT well-grounded in memory and would recognize allusions constantly. In fact, the early church that read Paul’s epistles would have as well, and these would be churches that included Gentiles. Already, Paul was quoting the OT to them knowing they would find it authoritative.

In fact, one of the first major heresies was that of Marcion who sought to remove the OT God from the message of Jesus. Now we today will not say what Marcion said or do what he did. (Although some internet atheists would make the same claims about God in the OT) Still, we behave the way that he did by cutting the NT away from the OT.

I simply urge you to really think about the OT and make sure you read it like you read the NT. It is just as much Scripture as the NT is and essential for your understanding of the gospel. I’ve found lately at night that in going to sleep I will think about the OT and try to understand it for itself. I don’t mean just “What does this mean about Jesus?” I want to know first “What does this mean?” If I had been an Israelite living in the time of Moses as he was writing, what would Genesis mean to me?

We often look at the gospels and realize some writers chose to include some things and others chose to not include some things. Moses and the other biblical writers would have done the same thing. Moses surely had much information he did not include. Why did he choose to write what he wrote? What purpose was there in the story that Moses wanted the children of Israel to get? We can afterwards then ask, “And what did the divine author intend for us?”

If you want to understand the fullness of the Scriptures, you must understand the Old Testament and treasure it like the Scripture that it is. If you don’t, you can still have salvation, but you’ll be missing the deepest truths that can come from the knowledge of who Jesus is based on the story that came before Him and a deeper knowledge of what is to lie ahead in our own future.

In Christ,
Nick Peters