An Introduction to the Old Testament
WELCOME to this course. It was originally designed for people in training as readers in the Church of England, and then successfully adapted for people training for ordained ministry. But don't worry! The course is not complicated or academic. I began with the assumption that students would be unfamiliar with large parts of the Old Testament. I also deliberately chose a non-academic approach, mixing lecturing with group exercises designed to help students practice exploring the Old Testament for themselves. They told me that this approach brought the Bible alive for them in new ways and helped them to make connections between the Old Testament Scriptures and the New Testament. As a result, their understanding of all that God has done for us through Jesus Christ was enriched and deepened.
THE AIMS of the original course were to help students preach confidently on the Old Testament. This may be your aim. Perhaps you are a preacher or teacher or hoping to become one. There are few higher callings! But you need to be suitably prepared with a knowledge of and love for the Scriptures. But whether or not you want to be a preacher, this is what I hope you will gain from this course:
It will equip you to study the Old Testament for yourself to the level that you will be confident reading it with the aid of a Commentary.
It will show you how to read the different types of literature that the Old Testament is made up of.
It will give you a love for the Scriptures and a respect for the people who wrote them and their experience of God.
It will take away some of your misconceptions, such as that the God of the Old Testament is somehow different from the one we meet in Jesus.
It will introduce you to some issues in biblical interpretation, though for a fuller understanding of these you will need to read further.
It will deepen your understanding of the New Testament and, most important of all, it will deepen your understanding of and love for the Lord Jesus Christ.
THE METHOD of the course is different from most others. I have not tried to follow the "text-book" order in presenting the topics, for the very simple reason that you can get this from any good text-book. Instead, we are going to plunge in to a particular time and place – the Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century B.C. – and we will meet a person - the prophet Hosea – who was called by God to interpret the "story" of his people for the times in which he was living.
When you visit a new country, there are broadly two ways of doing it. You can visit as a tourist and take a guide to all the main sites. Or you can arrange to stay with a family and learn to see the country through the eyes of the people living there. The one will give you an outsider's view of the country, the other an insider's. What I am aiming to do by the method I have employed is to give you an insider's view of the Old Testament.
Of course, we are not insiders, and we always have to remember the cultural distance between ourselves and the people we encounter in the pages of the Bible. But on the other hand, if we are Christians, their God is our God and we have the same Holy Spirit dwelling in us who inspired the Scriptures in the first place. Not only that, but our story is linked to theirs. Their story is the one of how God prepared a people for the coming of his Son, who would save and eventually rule the whole world. They played their part in God's story and we have ours to play too. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. So perhaps it is not too fanciful to imagine ourselves staying for a while with part of our own family, learning the ways of this new country and experiencing it from an insider's point of view
TO HELP YOU on the course, there is a page of helps. From that page, you will be able to download a time-line of Old Testament history and a more detailed summary of part of that history. There is also a book-list with the books I think you will find most helpful. However, I may not be aware of all the books and new ones are coming out all the time, so don't avoid any just because they are not on my list.
The books I think you will find most useful to supplement the course are these:
Bernhard Anderson: The Living World of the Old Testament, Longman.
This is expensive but worth it. Detailed and clear, a superb companion.
John Drane: Introducing the Old Testament, Lion
Written from an open evangelical standpoint. Covers a lot of the same ground as Anderson but also looks at some theological themes separately.
Etienne Charpentier: How to Read the Old Testament, SCM.
A more critical approach, workbook style, good to use alongside Anderson or Drane for a different approach. Good value for money.
I will be giving chapters from both Anderson and Drane to read to follow up the topics we will be covering. I recommend that you buy either Anderson or Drane, and Charpentier as a different approach. When buying second-hand, beware! These books go through several editions and you need to be sure you are buying the most up-to-date one.
WHAT YOU WILL NEED to follow this course is a Bible, preferably the New Revised Standard Version, and a notebook. This could be an ordinary paper notebook, or you could open a folder on your computer and make your notes here.
The course alternates between activities you do and information from me. Of course, you could skip the activities if you chose to do so. But let me urge you not to. By taking this time for reflection, you will learn a great deal more.
You may be part of a group which has got together to follow this course. In that case, you can use the activities as group exercises, and will get a lot more out of them. When there are several activities to do at once, split them up and use reporting back. If you can report what you have learned back to the group, you will know that you have understood it.
At the end of each session there will be a reflection sheet to download and fill in. You might find it helpful to download it at the beginning of the session so that you can make notes as you go along.