Last night I had the privilege of attending a lecture delivered by renown Old Testament scholar Dr. Tremper Longman III, where he discussed the importance of understanding how to responsibly read the Old Testament as a Christian. Understanding the theological relationship between the testaments is a crucial area for Christians to grasp today in their reading of the whole Bible as the inspired word of God. Dr. Longman demonstrated masterfully through two specific examples of biblical trajectories (the tabernacle, and God as warrior) how the contours of expectation roll through the pages of the Bible until they reach Jesus, and that the resurrection is the hermeneutical key with which to interpret all of Scripture; just as Jesus demonstrated in Luke 24 on the road to Emmaus.
Probably the most valuable insight that I took away was that a responsible reading (and subsequently, responsible preaching) of the Old Testament text necessarily requires that we must first hear what Brevard Childs called the ‘discrete voice of the Old Testament’. It is so important that upon first reading an Old Testament text, we don’t move too quickly to seeing Christ in the text (a very easy danger to succumb to, as we naturally read the Old Testament with knowledge of the New Testament in front of our eyes). Rather, we should slow down and linger to see the richness of what Longman called the ‘cognitive environment’ of the original audience, in order to see how YHWH relates to his people, and the lessons to be learned therein. After this comes the time to do a second reading of the same Old Testament text, wherein we can now open our eyes to begin to see the biblical trajectories, Christological expectations, and the way in which Jesus often takes these texts and not only fulfils them, but imbues them with greater, fuller meaning and requirement.
Dr. Longman firmly believes that when it comes to preaching from the Old Testament, this is the most faithful method of study/delivery and that we should incorporate into our preaching time dedicated to drawing lessons from both the first and second reading in this manner. Further, he disagreed that allegory is an appropriate way to preach the Old Testament stories (Goliath does not represent your struggle with your broken toaster, and Daniel’s den of lions is not a picture of your difficult situation at work). He does believe that they contain moral lessons that carry forward to us today, but these are brought out through a proper treatment of their historical context first, and greater awareness through the lens of the New Testament second.
This was such a valuable lecture, and very timely given the current discussions around the importance of the Old Testament in the life of the contemporary Christian. There’s much more to say, but the reminder of the Old Testament’s utter relevance to the Christian today, and his methodology on how to faithfully apply the Old Testament were invaluable to me. I praise God for his gifting men like Dr. Longman with minds that can wrestle with these issues, and clearly communicate them in ways that I can understand.