Why Old Testament History?

Many everyday Christians I talk to read little of the Old Testament. They pay a vague tribute to Judaism, if anything at all. I understand that point of view - I held it for many years. But I have come to love studying Jewish history, especially with regard to the Jewish messianic expectations.

Here's a great book on the topic that I've found incredibly useful.

Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament, by J. Julius Scott, is 416 pages of insightful historical study.

Do you want to understand (as best we can from a vantage point 2000 years distant!) the mindset and expectations of first-century Jews?

"Huh?", you say, "why would I want to read that stuff?"

Well, because if you don't, you'll likely interpret Jesus as a 21st century westerner living in a postmodern society. "Not me," you say, "I know better than that!"

OK, well, maybe not you - but most people I talk to have no idea how Jesus' first-century listeners would have heard him. And if they have no idea what those people heard, how in the world are they to interpret Jesus' words and works for themselves today?

Dr. Scott does a grand job. Especially worthwhile to me was chapter 10 on apocalyptic literature. Chapters 14-18, though, dealing with Jewish expectations for the Messianic Kingdom are just superb.

Incidentally, this is graduate-level reading and can be quite densely packed. But Dr. Scott has a way of giving you the meat without all the extras. This book will remain a permanent part of my library.

Now if only I could find it in hardback...


RT said...

I could not agree with you more. I have completed a three year study on Revelation and if you do not have a real understanding of the Old Testament, you can not grasp much of what is there in Prophecy. For instance the star that falls to earth at the trumpets sound called wormwood- you understand so much more when you see the use of that term in the Old Testament. It has to do with the test for adultery under Jewish law. A woman suspected of adultery had to undergo a test, the priest would mix ashes from the temple floor with water, and the woman would then drink these "bitter" waters- the word "wormwood" means "bitter". In the Old testament wormwood is always spoken of in terms of Israel's adulterous relationship with her neighbors- serving foreign Gods.

That is just one of many insights found in the law and in the old testament. It is just amazing.

God Bless


Mike Aleckson said...

Yes, it's things like that - offhand references to things common to the Jews in their history that we have no idea about. Wormwood. Camels going through a needle's eye, etc.

In particular, I've been focusing on the Messianic Expectation in my historical studies. Jesus words and works make sense primarily in their first-century, Jewish, prophetic, Messianic context. Otherwise we've created a Jesus of our own imagination.

I'm amazed at how far the modern church is from the first century Jews and Christians with regard to our understanding and expectation of Messiah.

I believe this leads to all kinds of downstream troubles in interpretation of Jesus' words and works.

Thanks RT!