Tuesday, August 30, 2011

what good is the old testament?

I'm reading a great book, and just came across a paragraph that captures so well the value of the Old Testament.  Christopher Wright, in his Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, says this:

"When the human race chose to rebel against God and fell into disobedience, arrogance, strife and violence, God's response was not simply to rescue individuals for some disembodied existence at a safe distance from the doomed planet.  Rather, God chose to call into existence a community on earth and in history that would be different, and through whom he would eventually bring the blessing of redemption to humanity as a whole.  Even in its origins in the book of Genesis, this community was given an ethical agenda.  In a world going the way of Sodom they were to walk in the way of the LORD, by doing righteousness and justice.  The way of the LORD was made clear to them through his great acts in their history - especially the exodus.  This community was further shaped by the law God gave them at Sinai, and by the other great traditions of their faith - prophets, wisdom writers, psalmists, historians and so on.  The purpose of all this was not merely for Israel's sake alone, or merely to keep God happy.  Rather, Israel as a society was intended from the start to to be a paradigm or model to the nations, a showcase of the way God longs for human society as a whole to operate.  We are not only justified, therefore; we are indeed expected to make use of the social patterns, structures and laws of Old Testament Israel to help us in our thinking and choosing in the realm of social ethics in our own world." (73-74)

Christopher Wright is one of the few scholars who have focused on the ethical value of the Old Testament for us today.  His work is a joy to read!  He emphasizes again and again that Israel's election was not proof that they were better than anybody else, but that they were meant to be a model for the nations of the character of Yahweh, the God who called them.  The nations were supposed to be able to look at Israel to find out what Yahweh was like.  Israel's history is littered with failures, but one Jewish man who carried out this mission flawlessly is still alive today.  (You can read about him in the New Testament.) I look forward to spending the next three years of my life digging into these truths!


  1. Carmen,

    You might be interested in reading Suzanne McDonald's (PhD diss published) book: Re-Imaging Election; it dovetails nicely with the gist of Wright's thoughts here.

    And a question: Wright writes this in the quote above:

    [R]ather, God chose to call into existence a community on earth and in history that would be different, and through whom he would eventually bring the blessing of redemption to humanity as a whole. . . .

    I am curious; does Wright get into any kind of discussion on "Universalism" in his writing on this -- or does he simply mean that redemption to humanity as a whole has the potential to do so? I recently read Greg MacDonald's (Robin Parry) book Evangelical Universalist, and I think he would certainly pick up on what Wright says here as something that at least bolsters his thesis on "universalism." Anyway, just wondering; I'm probably not going to have the time to read Wright (at least this Wright ;-) any time soon.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Carmen. Hopefully at some point I'll have time to read it. If you haven't read it, you might enjoy Wright's Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. Although it seemed at times to discount Jesus' own understanding of His divinity, it was still informative and an interesting read.

  3. just wanted to say hi! i do miss seeing you. i'm glad you all are doing well!

  4. Jen,

    Christopher Wright is one of my favorite scholar/writers and "Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament" transformed how I read and understand the OT. My one and only criticism of the book is exactly the one you pointed out. In a few places he seems to imply that Jesus did not know from the first who He was and what His mission was.


    It's nice to find another Seminary-Mom-blogger type!

  5. Bobby,

    No, I didn't get any sense of universalism in Wright's book. I think "potential" would be his approach. Thanks for the tip on Suzanne McDonald's book. I'll have to check it out!

    Jen and Leslie, I bought Wright's 'Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament' at ETS, so I hope to have time to read it soon. I'm intrigued!

    Leslie, I'd love to know how to find your blog and how you found mine. (Obviously, I'm way behind on responding to comments. I'm hoping to be quicker in 2012. :))


  6. Hi all,
    I just finished reading Wright's 'Knowing Jesus through the OT' and LOVED it. Well written, accessible, and persuasive. Jen, you're right about his implying that Jesus gradually discovering his identity and mission. If you click on my "Best Books" tab, you'll see that I've now added this one.
    Bobby, I bought McDonald's book this year at ETS, and it's waiting to be read!