Category Archives: Reviews: Old Testament

Reviews of books on the Old Testament.

Calvin on Genesis 11-20

Calvin Genesis 11-20A review of Calvin’s sermons on Genesis 11-20

For those who like to take their Calvin “neat” and relatively unfiltered, the Banner of Truth have been busy reproducing some of his sermons, on Acts 1-7. These are beautifully produced, as usual, and translated by Rob Roy McGregor from the original 16th century French recently published in the Supplementa Calviniana series.

Genesis 11-20 is covered in 48 sermons from the first half of 1560, of about 15-20 pages each. That gives a sense of how quickly Calvin moved through the book, a few verses per sermon, taking his time to unpack the details and apply them to his congregation.

The reader should be warned that this is not a cold exercise for the historically curious, because Calvin truly preaches the Bible, rather than just reading out his exegetical notes (which counts for expository preaching in some circles). By 1560, Calvin had completed the final edition of his much revised Institutes, opened the Academy, and enjoyed a period of relatively uncontested authority in the city, but he had burst a blood vessel in his lungs so preaching was never easy. In written form the sermons are easy to read, with plenty to stimulate the mind and strengthen the soul.

The editor has added the occasional note to help us with Calvin’s biblical or classical allusions, and to point out some interesting features of the preaching, such as where Calvin attacks those who completely christologize the Old Testament and inadequately account for its historical features. Some will not like the way he expounds circumcision and baptism, or other aspects of the Abrahamic covenant narratives, but there is a huge amount of edifying and suggestive material here.

This review was first published in Churchman 128/2 (2014).

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Sujin Pak on the Judaizing Calvin

Judaizing CalvinA brief review of The Judaizing Calvin: Sixteenth-Century Debates over the Messianic Psalms

G. Sujin Pak’s excellent study is well worth a small investment of time and money for those who are interested in the Old Testament-New Testament debates, Christian use of the Psalms, or Calvin himself.

There was clearly a diversity within early Protestant approaches to exegesis, not least on the issue of Christ and the Hebrew Bible, and she brings this out in a most illuminating and thought-provoking way.

Lutheran and Calvinist interpreters had different ideas on how to go about locating the Psalms in terms of biblical theology, and identifying their literal and historical sense, while remaining equally keen to distinguish their hermeneutics from both Roman Catholic and Jewish interpretations. Those interested in the interpretation of the Psalms particularly addressed here (Psalms 2, 8, 16, 22, 45, 72, 110, and 118) or who have an interest in modern debates over Christological readings of the Old Testament will be fascinated by this rich and sophisticated study.

This review first appeared in Churchman 128/2 (2014).

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The Death of Scripture

LegaspiA review of Michael Legaspi’s The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies

Over the last few months, I’ve put up some reviews of various new academic books on biblical studies. Michael Legaspi would no doubt tell us that those sort of books are indicative of what he calls The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies.

This fascinating study, arising out of a PhD dissertation, focuses ostensibly on obscure German critic Johann David Michaelis (1717-1791), but tells the wider story of the changes in academic perspectives on the Bible over the last few centuries very well. Legaspi is concerned with the Bible’s loss of authority as “scripture” and how this led to the development of academic “biblical studies” as a new science: “textualization” he calls it. Unusually, he doesn’t link the demise of a “scriptural Bible” to the Enlightenment alone, but traces this back to Reformation conflicts, which fundamentally undermined the Bible’s authority he claims.

He looks at how academic university departments began to focus on non-confessional, antiquarian, and supposedly irenic readings of “the text”, replacing the “dogmatic” and controversial approaches of earlier centuries to the word of God.

Stimulating and well-written, with some really interesting glances at Old Testament poetry and how it has been understood (Legaspi knows his Hebrew), but sometimes exasperatingly broad-brush without adequate documentation.

Legaspi’s conclusion that the academic Bible and the scriptural Bible will always be at odds with each other is well worth pondering further, especially for those who are engaged in academic courses of theological study.

Stephen D. Moore and Yvonne Sherwood’s The Invention of the Biblical Scholar: A Critical Manifesto (Fortress. ISBN: 978-0-8006-9774-7) is similarly provocative, claiming that “professional biblical scholars”, even when they imagine they are doing something else such as serving the church and its confession, are actually “sustaining Enlightenment modernity and its effects.” This is a caustic and confrontational book, though quite entertaining at the same time, no mean feat for something so heavily theoretical.

These reviews were first published in Churchman 128/2 (2014).

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Reverence for the Word

reverenceA brief review of With Reverence for the Word: Medieval Scriptural Exegesis in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

A medieval look at various aspects of interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Koran can be found in McAuliffe, Walfish, and Goering (eds.), With Reverence for the Word: Medieval Scriptural Exegesis in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Looking at interpretative issues across the three religions over the course of the period is actually quite illuminating, and reminds us that we are not immune to currents of thought flowing into the church from elsewhere. Allegory, narrative, and the various “senses” of scripture (in all three canons) are common themes.

Some individual chapters are brilliantly illuminating (such as John Boyle on Aquinas’ “division of the text” method as seen in his commentaries). Others seem more esoteric.

For anyone involved in “scriptural reasoning” or “meetings for better understanding” with those of other faiths, or for those interested in the middle ages, this could be a valuable volume to dip into.

This review first appeared in Churchman 128/2 (2014).

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Reception History of the Bible

Reception HistoryA brief review of The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible

A wide range of modern interpretations of the Bible is on display in Michael Lieb, Emma Mason, and Jonathan Roberts (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible. This large volume is somewhat uneven, often frustrating, occasionally quirky, but vastly stimulating.

Its 44 chapters cover the reception history of certain portions of the Bible (such as Genesis, Job, Psalms, John, and Revelation) followed by a wealth of more specialised studies, such as “The Bible and Anti-Semitism”, “Esther and Hitler”, “Ezekiel 1 and the Nation of Islam”, “Exodus in Latin America”, and “Gnostic Interpretations of Genesis.” There are also a range of personal chapters on the biblical understanding of, for instance, Dante, Bob Dylan, Samuel Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley, Handel, Gandhi, Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, and Joanna Southcott.

Vast amounts of further reading are suggested in a sumptuous volume that is not without its lighter moments and bizarre interludes.

This review first appeared in Churchman 128/2 (2014).

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Brief History of Old Testament Criticism

GignilliatA brief review of Mark Gignilliat’s, Brief History of Old Testament Criticism: From Benedict Spinoza to Brevard Childs

This book is by a scholar who previously taught at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and is now Lay Canon Theologian at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama. Essentially, it is a study of seven major figures in Old Testament studies from the seventeenth century to the twenty-first: Benedict Spinoza, W. M. L. de Wette, Julius Wellhausen, Herman Gunkel, Gerhard von Rad, W. F. Albright, and Brevard Childs. These are used as windows into the major trends in critical studies over the last 400 years. It is a broadly reliable and readable textbook.

It is less brief, but it is worth noting at this point a new English translation of Henning Graf Reventlow’s four volume masterpiece, History of Biblical Interpretation. Each volume contains a number of 10-20 page biographies of major biblical interpreters, looking at their life and works and attempting to locate each one in the broader streams of thought in their age. This is a substantial and impressive work from a single scholar.

These brief reviews first appeared in Churchman 128/2 (2014).

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Use and Abuse of the Bible

WansbroughA brief review of Henry Wansbrough, The Use and Abuse of the Bible: A Brief History of Biblical Interpretation

This is a very helpful and short (179 pages) overview of the whole history of interpretation and misinterpretation. Many will know Gerald Bray’s magisterial Biblical Interpretation Past and Present, which remains a much stronger and more reliable source, but this primer from a Benedictine Monk and former Chairman of Oxford’s Theology Faculty is vivid and well-written, even if he does think the Bible is sometimes historically inaccurate (and Paul employs “doubtful” arguments).

Wansbrough shows how theologians such as Aquinas have been sadly neglected as exegetes of Scripture, and digs deep to uncover the less than savoury motives of some interpreters throughout history. Further reading is helpfully indicated at the end of each chapter.

This review first appeared in Churchman 128/2 (2014).

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