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Bruce K. Waltke with Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007. 1,040 pp., cloth, $44.99. 

 

For many, Bruce Waltke needs no introduction.  He is a well-respected biblical scholar who has given us excellent commentaries on Genesis, Proverbs and Micah, as well as other solid works.  An Old Testament Theology is the product of decades of careful exegetical and theological study critically tested in schools such as Dallas Theological Seminary, Regent College (Vancouver), and Reformed Theological Seminary.

As indicated by its title, this book adopts exegetical, canonical and thematic approaches to the development of a theology of the Old Testament (OT).  Waltke describes his book as “a profession of faith – a reasoning faith, I hope, and reasonable,” (10) and expresses its objectives as to know God personally, to understand the nature of God’s revelation, to know self, to understand the OT and the NT, and to contribute to spiritual formation.  From the beginning the reader anticipates hearing not only the mind of a scholar, but also the heart of a shepherd.

Waltke’s theological perspective is biblical and evangelical.  He has a high view of Scripture; he accepts biblical inerrancy and infallibility (77).  This work is a biblical theology, rather than a systematic theology; Covenantal, not Dispensationalist (although he acknowledges the usefulness of dispensations); Evangelical, not Liberal, Neoorthodox, Traditionalist or Fundamentalist.  Clear distinctions are made between this work and other recent OT theologies, notably those of Walter Brueggemann and James Barr (68-73).  Those who begin from a different reference point will likely find much with which they may not agree.

Waltke argues that the kingdom of God is the dynamic, unifying center of the Bible: “the irruption of the holy God’s merciful kingship” (147). 

The book is organized in three parts.  In Part 1 (Introduction), Waltke sets forth and defends his basis, task and method of biblical theology.  He states clearly that the task “is to articulate the distinctive theologies of individual blocks of writings in the Old Testament and to trace the trajectory of their major themes and concepts to their fulfillment in Jesus Christ and his church to their consummation in Christ’s second coming, the Parousia … that introduces the final eschaton” (20).  This part includes valuable summaries of hermeneutics (chap. 3), narrative theology (chap. 4), and poetics and intertextuality (chap. 5) – all necessary components of his method of biblical theology.  The concluding chapter of Part 1 (chap. 6) is an insightful overview of the proposed “center” – the irruption, or in-breaking, of the kingdom of God.

In Part 2 (22 chapters), Waltke traces numerous themes through blocks of writing from the “Primary History” being Genesis through to 2 Kings (excluding Ruth), to which he adds Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and Esther.  Each of these blocks of writing is examined exegetically and then theologically with an eye to demonstrating the centrality of the kingdom of God.  Later, I will briefly critique one of these themes.

Part 3, takes up those blocks of writing not addressed in Part 2.  These include the books of the prophets, Ruth, Psalms and Wisdom.  As in Part 2, the reader is treated to a discerning but brief exploration of these Scriptures, particularly as they contribute to the theme of the kingdom of God.

Thorough indices (71 pages) are provided for works cited, Scripture and ancient literature, subjects, and authors.  In addition, numerous helpful charts and several excursuses are provided throughout the text.  A table of these charts and excursuses would have been a useful addition to this book.

As indicated, I return to critique one of the themes examined in Part 2 which, hopefully, will give insight into the method and perspective of the book as a whole.  The “Gift of Land” is an integral component of the kingdom of God and is considered in three successive chapters.  The first of these chapters (chap. 18) is subtitled “Joshua” and is an excellent 22 page mini-commentary of the book of Joshua, but there is no biblical theology as such.  As with other themes, exegesis is the initial step for two reasons.  First, Waltke argues that exegesis is a necessary prerequisite to biblical theology.  Second, many readers are biblically illiterate (21).

Chapter 19 (subtitled “The Old Testament”) is a brief, yet masterful, survey of the “Land” in OT and Second Temple literature.  Some might question the inclusion within an Old Testament Theology of Chapter 20 (subtitled “The New Testament”), however, this is consistent with Waltke’s canonical approach.  This chapter provides a stage upon which to explore various issues as well as demonstrate the OT trajectory in the NT.  It is here that most of the theology appears to be unpacked in the NT’s definition (or, re-definition) of “Land” (viz., spiritually, transcendentally, and eschatologically).  In short, Waltke contends that “Land in the Old Testament is a type of the Christian life in Christ” (560).

Although I noted some minor flaws such as the odd missing or inaccurate citation, misspelling, or detracting language (e.g., “twit”), these are mere quibbles.  Despite Dr. Waltke’s explanation for using I AM for the tetragrammaton (YHWH – 11), my sense is that this translation reduces more than it illumines.  My preference would have been to use YHWH and provide an explanation of its richness and significance.    

I would suggest this is a work which is somewhat larger than its title – it is more a biblical theology with an OT focus than an OT theology.  This book is accessible and has much to inform and reward the scholar, student, pastor and diligent Christian.  In keeping with my high regard for Dr. Waltke’s scholarship and spirit, I recommend this book as a valuable and enduring addition to any serious biblical collection. 

John B. MacDonald, Metro-Vancouver, Canada

 

Notice: This review was first published in the Ashland Theological Journal 41 (2009): 153-154.

                                                                                                            

 

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