Don’t Read it for Moral Lessons

I had the opportunity recently to lead a discussion class on reading the Old Testament. The class was based in part on The Lost World of Scripture, by John Walton and D. Brent Sandy, but really focused on a Veritas Forum Video available on You Tube. In 2015 John Walton and Erin Darby engaged in an on stage conversation at the University of Tennessee entitled Reading the Old Testament: The Ancient Origins and Authority of Scripture. The conversation is outstanding and well worth the time and effort. It made for a fascinating class discussion, we would watch a five to ten minute segment interleaved with time for questions and discussion.

John and Erin conversation about the Old Testament was long and wide ranging, with many true gems for consideration. One I particularly appreciate is found at 1:03:07. If I’ve done this correctly, the video embedded below should start at this point.

John is talking about inspiration and how it is not limited to the writing of a book. Canonization was a community process, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

(1:03:07) That’s the idea that we do believe that God is involved at each step along the way. After all, somebody decided that Jeremiah was an authoritative voice of God and other contemporaries speaking in the name of YHWH were not. Some community decided that and some community decided that they were going to gather the oracles of Jeremiah into a book and that would be scripture. And some community decided to accept that as canonical literature and differentiate it from non-canonical literature. In other words, you have communities of faith involved step by step all the way from the first authority figure all the way through to the canonization process. …

So how and why should we read the Old Testament?

(1:04:35) That’s the case I have to make with Old Testament all the time with my students, that yeah, this is really just as important. … I make the case by persuading them that this is God’s revelation of himself and that if we read it that way we will appreciate it at a whole new level that we never have before. In other words, don’t read it for proof texts, don’t read it for moral lessons, don’t read it for heroes of the Bible, don’t read it for behavioral objectives, don’t read it for metaphors, what are the five stones in your bag to kill the giant in your life. Don’t read it for that! Read it because it is God’s revelation of himself and this is how you read it that way.

Read the Old Testament as God’s revelation of himself. Growing up in the church I was certainly introduced to the Old Testament as a series of heroes, as moral lessons for modern life, as proof texts for Christ. God was present, of course, but as something of a distant judge coming occasionally to interact with his people. How different would our understanding and interpretation be if we looked at the Old Testament as focused on God rather than on humanity?

Watch the whole conversation. You won’t regret it.

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