The pastor's guide to resource materials on the Old Testament

Old Testament materials that are a must-have for every pastor-theologian.

Greg A. King, Ph.D., is professor of biblical studies at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, TN, United States.

Of making many books there is no end,” declared Solomon long ago.1 Evidently, even many centuries ago, there was already the sense that written material had proliferated to where it was difficult for any single reader to read it all. If that was so prior to Gutenberg’s use of movable type and the printing press, how much more so today when, according to statistics, the year 2004 saw a staggering 450,000 new books become available in the English language alone!2

Not only is there a multiplication of the written page, but the price of books continues to escalate. Meanwhile, pastors operate on a limited budget and also have limited opportunities in their busy schedules for study and reflection. Thus, there simply is not enough time to delve into all the available resources. Considering all these factors, it is all the more important for the minister to choose wisely when deciding which resources to consult and which volumes will be part of his or her pastoral library. The purpose of this article is to give some suggestions as to which resources and books would prove the most helpful for the pastor, particularly relating to Old Testament studies. The intention is that this article will be read in conjunction with and will supplement the previous Ministry article “The pastor’s guide to resource materials on the New Testament.”3

Bibliography

A very useful and extensive bibliography of Old Testament resources, covering most of the leading works of the past quarter century, is published by Richard Hess and M. Daniel Carroll as part of the electronic Denver Journal. It is available online (and without fee for subscription) at www.denverseminary.edu/dj/ articles2005/0100/0101.php. In addition to author, title of book, publisher, and copyright date, brief but helpful annotations are given for most volumes listed. One good aspect of this online bibliography is that not only does it cover books dealing directly with the Old Testament (such as Old Testament introductions, theologies, and commentaries), it also has sections dealing with archaeology, the history of Israel, Bible atlases, and so on. Another positive aspect of this bibliography is that, being online, it can be regularly and easily updated by its compilers, though I did notice several recent titles missing that are worthy of inclusion. This would be a good first stop for bibliographic information.

If a hard copy volume is preferred, you may wish to consider David R. Bauer’s An Annotated Guide to Biblical Resources for Ministry (Hendrickson Publishers, 2003). Additionally, an extensive bibliography with descriptive comments is available in a lengthy chapter of the third edition of Douglas Stuart’s Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors (Westminster John Knox Press, 2001). Both of these are to be preferred over Brevard Child’s dated Old Testament Books for Pastor and Teacher (Westminster Press, 1977).

Online and electronic resources

Several Web sites offer online resources related to Old Testament studies. Two worth exploring are the Old Testament Gateway site and the iTanakh site, found respectively at www.otgateway.com and www.itanakh.org. Both of these sites incorporate materials on a wide variety of topics. In addition to having resources on the various books of the Old Testament, the Old Testament Gateway site has links to articles on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Old Testament archaeology, the Intertestamental period, and more. The iTanakh site, maintained by an Old Testament professor from Pepperdine University, has an even more diverse menu and includes selections on homiletics, narrative criticism, textual criticism, and many others. One valuable aspect of these Web sites is that their menu items often link to a useful journal article or some other written material that gives a nice presentation of the topic at hand, though some of the links no longer work. Also, be advised that the resources represent a variety of theological perspectives, ranging from those that take a high view of Scripture (such as the article by the late Gerhard Hasel on the Old Testament Gateway site titled “The ‘Days’ of Creation in Genesis 1: Literal ‘Days’ or Figurative ‘Epochs/Periods’ of Time?”) to others that approach Scripture largely as an ancient human literary document.

As indicated in the May 2006 Ministry article on New Testament resources, it is helpful for pastors to have access to an excellent online database of biblical and theological articles. The most extensive is the electronic American Theological Library Association (ATLA) Religion Database with ATLA Serials, which combines the leading index to journal articles, book reviews, and essays in all fields of religion with an online collection of religion and theology journals. A number of seminaries will provide access to this database to their graduates through their library Web site. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this database is that it provides the full text of articles in electronic format to some of the most helpful journals for preachers, such as Bibliotheca Sacra and Interpretation, thus rendering it unnecessary to spend a day tracking down an article at a local library, only to discover that it wasn’t as useful as one had hoped.

Additionally, individual journals that are useful sometimes provide access to their archives. For example, past issues of Ministry can be found by selecting “Online Archives” from the menu at www.ministrymagazine.org, though the search feature is not as transparent as one would hope for and the site uses the less familiar DJVU browser instead of the Adobe Reader. However, often a past Ministry article can be helpful in crystallizing a thought or sparking a new one. Moreover, a number of fine articles have appeared in the Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, and most of the last eight years’ worth can be found (and searched by author, title, verse, and key word) online at www.atsjats.org/ publication.php?journal=1.

The Academic Search Premier from EBSCOhost, available at many libraries, offers full text access to a number of helpful journals and magazines, including more popular ones such as Christianity Today and Christian Century, as well as more scholarly titles, such as Journal of Biblical Literature and Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. The pastor will benefit by having access to such databases as part of his or her study life and sermon preparation.

Specific books related to Old Testament studies

Notwithstanding the plethora of electronic resources, it is still important to have a library well stocked in certain core areas in order that the minister may have good tools to assist in the understanding and proclamation of God’s Word. What books, particularly those related to the study of the Old Testament, are recommended to be part of the pastor’s library? Of course, there must be some allowance for personal tastes and interests, but the following suggestions provide some direction.

Hebrew language resources. The pastor who has taken Hebrew in college or seminary probably still has the grammar, lexicon, and Hebrew Bible that were used for class. Though there is no need to purchase an additional grammar if you have one, the recent Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar by Gary Pratico and Miles Van Pelt (Zondervan Publishing House, 2001) is unusually thorough in its coverage. It also includes in most every chapter a section that gives an example of the practical use of Hebrew for the understanding of the biblical text, which is a welcome feature. The most helpful lexicon is William Holladay’s A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972). For the busy pastor, this work is much easier and more up-to-date than the famous Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon. A useful tool that shows how the various Hebrew words of the Old Testament are rendered in English and where they appear in the text is The Hebrew-English Concordance to the Old Testament (edited by John Kohlenberger, Zondervan Publishing House, 1998) or The Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance of Old Testament (edited by George Wigram, Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), both of which are tied in with Strong’s concordance numbers. If one’s Hebrew has become a bit rusty, an interlinear Bible can be of help, such as The Interlinear NIV Hebrew-English Old Testament (edited by John Kohlenberger, Zondervan Publishing House, reprinted 1993). And even if one’s Hebrew is still rather strong, reading the Old Testament in Hebrew is facilitated by the use of A Reader’s Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament (edited by Terry Armstrong et al., Zondervan Publishing House, 1989), which gives, in verse-by-verse order, a brief definition for all words used fewer than 50 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. All of these tools can be supplemented and augmented with a good Bible software package such as BibleWorks, Accordance, or one of the packages available from Logos Bible Software. You are advised to do some careful research and read several reviews before buying a program to ensure that you are purchasing the item best suited to your own personal research needs. There is no need to buy a “Cadillac” program when all one needs is a “Chevrolet.” For more in-depth study of specific Hebrew words, useful articles on key words that provide some helpful fodder for sermon development can be found in the five-volume New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (edited by Willem Van Gemeren, Zondervan Publishing House, 1997). However, if these five volumes are too overwhelming—or too expensive—the pastor might wish to opt for the two volume Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (edited by R. Laird Harris et al., Moody Publishers, 1980).

Bible dictionaries. A must for the pastor’s library is a top-notch, fairly recent, multivolume Bible dictionary/ encyclopedia. In my opinion, the best set available, both for breadth and depth of coverage as well as theological perspective, is the four-volume International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (edited by Geoffrey Bromiley, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979–1988). It is replete with articles on the various books of the Bible, key words and concepts in the Bible, archaeological finds, people, places, andso forth, nearly all of which were written by evangelical Christians. It is something of a one-stop reference for many items and topics connected with biblical studies. It can also be had at a price that doesn’t break the bank, if one looks around. (For some helpful suggestions on all book purchases, see the section on purchasing books online in the previous Ministry article “The pastor’s guide to resource materials on the New Testament.”) Also helpful is the five-volume Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (edited by Merrill Tenney, Zondervan Publishing House, 1975) and the six-volume Anchor Bible Dictionary (edited by David Noel Freedman, Abingdon Press, 1992), though the latter can sometimes provide more material than the busy reader might desire and evinces a lot of variety in theological perspective. It is also wise to have a couple of one-volume Bible dictionaries when one wants a quick overview of a biblical concept or topic instead of a more extensive article. The New Bible Dictionary (edited by I. Howard Marshall et al, InterVarsity Press, 1996) and the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary (edited by Siegfried Horn, Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1979) are useful in this regard.

Commentaries. In addition to looking at the online Denver Journal bibliography mentioned previously, the busy pastor can find some helpful evaluation of commentaries in books such as John Glynn’s Commentary and Reference Survey: A Comprehensive Guide to Biblical and Theological Resources (Kregel Academic and Professional, 2003) and Tremper Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey (Baker Publishing Group, 1995). The former of these volumes lists about eight hundred commentaries (in addition to some twelve hundred other volumes in the area of biblical, theological, and historical studies, and is thus useful in the overall area of bibliography). Additionally, it denotes the theological perspective of the commentator, whether the volume is technical, and it sometimes indicates the commentary’s position on a key issue (such as whether it is dispensationalist). Of course, when considering a commentary series, one should keep in mind that series can be uneven and that no commentary set has a stellar contribution for every volume. However, there are a few series whose volumes are still worthy of consideration. For Old Testament books, ministers would do well to consider the volumes of the ongoing New American Commentary series (Broadman and Holman) and the now complete Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (InterVarsity Press). For helpful exposition along with application and the development of themes from specific Old Testament books and passages, certain volumes from two other sets can be very useful, namely, the mostly complete Bible Speaks Today series (InterVarsity Press) and the ongoing NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, Publishing House), which has several Old Testament volumes still to come. Commentary series that are more technical in nature but whose volumes often contain some excellent exposition are the New International Commentary on the Old Testament and the Word Biblical Commentary.

Exegetical method. The aforementioned Douglas Stuart’s Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors (third edition, Westminster John Knox Press, 2001) sets forth a step-by-step method to use in doing biblical interpretation and focuses especially on the Old Testament. Chapter 3 of this volume is specifically helpful for ministers, being titled “Short Guide for Sermon Exegesis.” Another helpful book in this genre is Handbook for Bible Study, an award-winning book by Adventist minister Lee Gugliotto (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1995). It includes a number of helpful charts and worksheets for analyzing biblical passages and getting at what they are really trying to say. In addition to having chapters on verbal analysis, theological analysis, homiletical analysis, and so on, it also includes valuable information in a number of other areas related to biblical interpretation. Also worthy are the popular How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (now in its third edition; Zondervan Publishing House, 2003) and Grasping God’s Word, by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays (Zondervan Publishing House, 2001).

Other areas. Having a volume or two in a few other areas will assist in the study and proclamation of the Old Testament. In theology, Paul House’s Old Testament Theology (InterVarsity Press, 1998) provides a helpful chapter setting forth the theological message of each of the various Old Testament books (or in some cases, such as the minor prophets and Ezra/Nehemiah, group of books). As for Old Testament ethics, worthy of mention are Walter Kaiser’s Toward Old Testament Ethics (Zondervan Publishing House, 1991) and Christopher Wright’s Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (InterVarsity Press, 2004). In the field of archaeology, the pastor would benefit from Archaeology and the Old Testament by Alfred Hoerth (Baker Academic, 1998) and On the Reliability of the Old Testament by Kenneth Kitchen (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003).

Conclusion

While making good and appropriate use of the various tools mentioned above, the interpreter must remember that the tools are not an end in themselves. The ultimate goal is not to understand what the tools are saying, it is to understand more clearly what Scripture is saying, or better yet, what God is saying through His Holy Word. Highlighting this tendency to put the cart ahead of—or instead of—the horse, a wag once remarked sarcastically, “It’s good to consult the Bible once in a while. It sheds some light on the commentaries.” It must not be the case that the minister of the gospel masters the tools but does not know the Word. The reason a minister makes use of any tool was stated in Paul’s challenge of long ago, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.”4

1 Eccl. 12:12, NRSV.

2 This statistic is provided by Bowker, a company that collects bibliographic information on published works and maintains a Books in Print database. See the information available at www.bowker.com and www.bookwire.com.

3 By John McVay and Phillip Long in the May issue of Ministry.

4 2 Tim. 2:15, NRSV.

 

 


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Greg A. King, Ph.D., is professor of biblical studies at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, TN, United States.

July 2006

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