Saturday, February 18, 2012

Old Testament in the Modern World

Christians claim belief in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.  Yet, many tend to read more New Testament than the Old Testament. Just look at some numbers. The Old Testament has 39 books while the New Testament has 27 books, many of which are letters. The bulk of the Bible contains the Old Testament. The Bible that Jesus read is essentially the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus Himself has said:

"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill." (Matt 5:17, NAS)
Yet, in general, churches tend to preach more sermons on the New Testament than the Old.

Dr Iain Provan is a very respected Professor of Old Testament at Regent-College. I have taken several courses with him before and have been fascinated with his calm, gentle explanation of biblical history and old testament studies, laced with a warm Scottish accent. These 4 interviews are excellently interviewed by a Regent alum, Simon Smart, a director of the Centre for Public Christianity in Sydney, Australia.

Part 1 - Can We Trust the Old Testament? (Link)

Can we trust the Old Testament? from CPX on Vimeo.

This interview addresses the criticisms surrounding the reliability of the OT. Provan argues against simplistic generalizations of such critics, the need to read the literature beyond simply reporting facts, but to recognize biblical claims for what they are. The real problem is how to deal with the fragmentary pieces of evidence of biblical data. While problems exist, the disciplines of study are themselves interpretative too. Too many people read OT based on their own presuppositions, and fail to read the Bible for what they are. Too many start off erroneously by reading the OT to prove or disprove something. A good way to read OT is to read and put together all the biblical accounts to discover a common story, in real ancient space and time.

Part 2 - The Old Testament, a Context for Violence (Link)

The Old Testament: A context for Violence from CPX on Vimeo.

This interview talks about violence which critics throw at Christians surrounding ancient tribal barbaric practices. Provan points out that 'the modern world is pretty violent too .  . . 21st Century way more violent. . . ' He argues that the picture of an angry Old Testament God is but one view. Provan says that God works within the different contexts of the world, and that the very people who pass stories are not simply telling a story but framing an ancient reference of law and justice. In other words, ancient literature of harsh violence highlights not the violence but the necessary justice. Other points include the OT often describes violent events to tell us the contextual justice in a world of exceeding dark evil. Not all are meant to be literally applied in our modern world. More importantly, the Old Testament begins with the understanding of God being holy and good.

Part 3 - The Relevance of the Old Testament Today (Link)

The relevance of the Old Testament today from CPX on Vimeo.

How do we get people excited about the Old Testament? Education and understanding of the backgrounds and cultures will help. Firstly, read the Bible on its terms, not ours. Second, compare with parallel ancient conquests and narratives, and we will see that other literature during the Ancient Near East are quite similar to biblical accounts. In other words, biblical story is essentially told through contexts familiar to the biblical audiences at that time. Think about biblical principles and contexts. Read how the Jesus and Paul are able to apply ancient texts to their worlds during their time.

Part 4 - The Bible's Gift to the West (Link)

The Bible's gift to the West from CPX on Vimeo.

Provan asserts that the modern world owes its existence to the capital of a Judea-Christian tradition. For example, people are considered precious due to the sacredness the Bible has held with regards to the sanctity of life. On doubts, Provan says that all thinking people will have questions and doubts. Even Christians too, just like all of life. The point is the context and what we do with our doubts that is the key. Jesus Himself builds on the traditions of the ancient Scriptures. Likewise, one can read to see common themes between the OT and the NT. Themes like forgiveness, salvation, grace, and God's initiatives in the world. The key idea in the OT is not simply about one God. It is about God is good. Everything else flows from this.

Check out the videos. Provan is very clear in explaining the points and we can all learn a lot about the Old Testament through these 4 short video clips.


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