Old Testament Theology: Reading the Hebrew Bible as Christian Scripture

By Pettus, David | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 2014 | Go to article overview

Old Testament Theology: Reading the Hebrew Bible as Christian Scripture


Pettus, David, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Old Testament Theology: Reading the Hebrew Bible as Christian Scripture. By R. W. L. Moberly. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013, 352 pp., $34.99.

Fifteen years ago, R. W. L. Moberly expressed his desire for a new direction in the practice of OT theology. For him, the time had come for a via media that took seriously interpreting the OT both in the context of the Christian canon (Childs) and in a way that took seriously the need for contemporary relevance, à la Brueggemann ("OT Theology," in The Face of OT Studies [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999]). This current work is his second recent foray into this theological arena, the first being his groundbreaking Theology of Genesis published in 2009 by Cambridge University Press. In the book's preface, Moberly flatly states he is trying "to model a way of doing Old Testament theology that is built around a dialectic between ancient text and contemporary questions, within a Christian frame of reference that is alert to other frames of reference," which for Moberly are primarily Jewish frames of reference (p. ix).

Rather than the usual comprehensive approach covering all the Tanakh, Moberly selects eight passages from the Law, Prophets, and Writings that in his view represent some of the chief concerns of Israel's Scriptures (p. 1). These concerns include many of the standard topics in OT theology such as God, election, idolatry, monotheism, covenant, torah, prophecy, wisdom, and psalms (p. 1). Though each topic can be read alone, the author suggests each chapter be read in sequence for a cumulative hearing of the significant voices in OT theology and a clearer understanding of the hermeneutical proposals (p. 4).

Moberly points to the hermeneutical focus reflected in his book's subtitle "Reading the Hebrew Bible as Christian Scripture," by stressing both the need to understand the Hebrew Bible as a Jewish compilation that preceded Christianity while still embracing the reality that these Jewish Scriptures were received by early Christianity and function as authoritative Scripture for the church. While he recognizes that reading the text as Christian Scripture is not the concern of all scholars, he is hopeful that a well-carried-out reading of this sort will still provide illumination to interpreters outside the Christian camp.

Chapter titles include: (1) "A Love Supreme"; (2) "A Chosen People"; (3) "Daily Bread"; (4) "Does God Change?"; (5) "Isaiah and Jesus"; (6) "Educating Jonah"; (7) "Faith and Perplexity"; (8) "Where is Wisdom?" These are followed by an epilogue, which helpfully distills the main theological point made in each chapter. The main body of the book is followed by a comprehensive twenty-page bibliography and the usual author and Scripture indices.

For Moberly, the first five chapters of his work provide the doctrinal foundation for Israel's vision of God and life lived out in the divine presence while the next three topics wrestle with perennial problems in our human response to God (p. 281). Within each chapter, smaller font is used to discuss in more detail topics related to his main argument (p. 5).

The author's chapter on "Isaiah and Jesus" (chap. 5) provides one sample window into the methodological world of this book. Moberly acknowledges the central role that the book of Isaiah has played as a witness to Jesus as the Christ. To evaluate historic Christianity's appropriation of Isaiah, the first part of the chapter discusses the "principal issues" raised by such an approach. After noting the obscure nature of Isaiah's prophecy such that some of the Church fathers (e.g. Augustine) had trouble understanding the Christological focus of passages in Isaiah, Moberly recites the standard critical view that Hebrew prophecy has been found to be primarily forthtelling and concerned with the immediate response of the hearer to Yahweh's word. "Within the world of the text, the Jesus of the Gospels is not envisaged" and the Jewish objections to the use of Isaiah's prophecy as pointing to Christ are valid (p. …

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