Interview with Miles Van Pelt, author of A BIBLICAL-THEOLOGICAL INTRODUCTION TO THE OLD TESTAMENT: THE GOSPEL PROMISED

Published on November 8, 2016 by Joshua R Monroe

Crossway, 2016 | 608 pages

 

There are books, and there are books. Now more specifically we can also say, there are Old Testament Introductions, and there are Old Testament Introductions! They are definitely not all created equal.

Hi, this is Fred Zaspel, editor here at Books At a Glance, and we’re talking today to Dr. Miles Van Pelt, editor of the really excellent new book, A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament.

Miles, welcome, and thanks for talking to us today!

Van Pelt:
Thank you very much. I’m glad to be here.

 

Zaspel:
Before we talk about your book specifically, let’s begin with genre: What is Old Testament Introduction, and what do Old Testament Introductions typically look like?

Van Pelt:
That’s a great question. The point of an Old Testament Introduction is usually to introduce you to each of the individual books in the Old Testament. That can contain something like historical background, genre, literary style, date of the book, issues of authorship and things like that. It’s generally designed provide readers with an introduction to the issues necessary for understanding that particular book.

 

Zaspel:
Okay, now your own book. Why another OT Introduction? What is a “Biblical-Theological” Introduction to the OT? What contribution are you hoping to make?

Van Pelt:
I think in my teaching experience I have found that most introductions currently available on the market give undue time and energy and effort to background issues that don’t entirely cover the theological nature of the text or the message of the text. Now don’t get me wrong – those introductions are great and necessary. We need introductions that deal with issues like authorship or historical backgrounds or issues on dating particular events or times. Those are all important; but I think, in general, introductions have lacked dealing more with the content of the book and the theological message of the book in the context of the Old Testament and of the canon as a whole. So the goal of this particular introduction is not to replace those other good introductions but to provide a larger discussion on the biblical theological content of each book. Assuming, as we do in ours, that the Old Testament is the inspired infallible inerrant authoritative word of God. We are going to assume that; and we’re going to work from that particular category; and were going to interpret each of the individual parts in light of the whole, again, focusing on the nature of the message and the structure of that particular book. So that someone who wants to preach or teach from a particular Old Testament book has a theological content surveyed.

 

Zaspel:
Your book is subtitled, “The Gospel Promised.” We’ve all heard that the gospel is promised in the Old Testament, but tell us how this idea distinguishes your book.

Van Pelt:
One of the things that we have set out to do is to interpret the Old Testament in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ is the one who has fulfilled all of the promises and the realities of the Old Testament. And we do that because Jesus himself says that he is the ultimate fulfillment and culmination of the Old Testament. I think, for example, in John 5:39, where Jesus says that you diligently search the Scriptures because you think that by them you have eternal life but these are the Scriptures that testify about me. And, similarly in Luke 24, or Paul in Romans 1 calls the Old Testament the gospel promised beforehand concerning Jesus Christ. What we’re trying to do is, we are trying to give ultimate expression to the reality: how does the Old Testament testify to the person and work of Jesus Christ in each of the books. And one of the things we have done in the back of each section in the introduction, is provide a section entitled Approaching the New Testament where we try to specifically deal with that issue. How does this particular Old Testament book testify to the person and work of Jesus as he is recorded in the New Testament? It’s a book that works with a Christocentric interpretation of the Old Testament as its starting point.

 

Zaspel:
It is often said in Old Testament studies that what we ought to do is read the Old Testament on its own terms. And as legitimate as that is on some level, on its own terms isn’t reading it rightly, according to Jesus, until we see Him in it and as he directed us to read it, and that is to read it now with our New Testament glasses, right?

Van Pelt:
That’s exactly right. I don’t think you can get away from that with any of the New Testament authors, whether it’s Jesus in the Gospels or Paul or the book of Hebrews where it rehearses the entire history of Israel in Hebrews, chapter 12 that says these people are witnesses to the person and work of Jesus and they cause us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. So if we are not reading the Old Testament in a way that causes us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, then we are not reading the Old Testament properly.

 

Zaspel:
Exactly. I have to tell you that the Introduction to your book that you wrote is itself worth the price of admission. I’d love to talk to you about it all day, but let’s at least give a brief taste of what you give there. You begin by emphasizing that the Bible is a single story with a unified message and design that direct our attention inevitably to Jesus as the central figure within the larger framework of the Kingdom of God. Can you give us a bird’s eye view of this?

Van Pelt:
Yes. I take my starting point from the end of the book of Acts where Luke is summarizing Paul’s two-year curriculum in Rome and he talks about that he is trying to convince everyone about Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God from the Law of Moses and the Prophets. I take those three items as a cue for how to understand the Old Testament in three categories. I take Jesus Christ to be my theological center. He is the person around whom everything revolves; he is what makes sense of the entire Old Testament. Then I take the Kingdom of God as my thematic framework; it’s the theme within which all other themes find meaning and purpose. Every theme in the Old Testament is a Kingdom of God theme. And then I take that reference to the Law of Moses and the Prophets; or, what Jesus makes reference to in Luke 24 as the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. And I try to identify the nature of that threefold division. I try to characterize the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings as covenantal divisions of the Old Testament Covenant, Covenant History, and Covenant Life, respectively. Each of those different divisions have different covenantal functions and we learn to interpret the books in light of where they are placed in the Old Testament canon and in light of their function in the covenantal economy in which they exist. So we have the Covenant Life books – how to think and live in light of the covenant; the third section, the writings, and we have books like Psalms and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes or even Ruth. These are the books that provide for us instruction on how to live in the Kingdom of God and examples for godly living. One of the things I realized over the course of my teaching ministry is that the Bible is structured in such a way that 1) it is covenantal, but 2) it is instructive. And if we step back to take a look at the whole we see that there is this macro canonical hermeneutical complex that allows us to safely navigate and use each of the particular books in a way that perhaps we wouldn’t initially see if we are looking at each book out of its original context.

 

Zaspel:
You treat each Old Testament books in your book, but the ordering of them is not according to our English canon. How might that be important?

Van Pelt:
That gets right back to what I was saying in that the Law and the Prophets in the Writings are Covenant, Covenant History and Covenant Life. That order, that threefold ordering that I am making reference to is what we might think of as the Jewish arrangement of the Bible. It’s still around today in the modern Jewish Bibles called the Tanak and it is actually the oldest order that we have record of. Jesus makes reference to it in Luke 24. In the prologue to The Wisdom of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus the grandson of Sirach writes three times about the Law, the Prophets, and the Other Books; so even about 134 BC he makes reference to this threefold division. In the Babylonian Talmud, which is after Christ, they still make reference to that threefold division; they actually explain it as having a theological arrangement to it and I think the theological arrangement is covenantal. Our English Bibles are arranged by genre, basically, and then chronological matters in a little bit of authorship. That makes sense to us as modern Westerners; but originally the Bible had three divisions and it ran from Genesis to Chronicles, not four divisions from Genesis to Malachi. The difference is in terms of its functionality and usefulness, I think, in that sense. It’s the oldest one and I think in terms of its covenantal reality, helps us to use the books properly.

 

Zaspel:
Who is your intended audience?

Van Pelt:
The intended audience for this particular book is anyone who would like to study the Old Testament as the gospel promised beforehand. I think one of the unique angles for this particular introduction is that it really works to make sense of the Old Testament in light of the person and work of Christ in the New Testament. In fact, the arrangement of the Old Testament is a mirror image of the arrangement of the New Testament. Or, to put it another way, the New Testament is actually a mirror image of the Old Testament and when you see that mirror image-ness, it begins to make sense of the Old Testament in a way that we might not normally see when we see the connections going between the Testaments. I think the better connected we see the Testaments the more unity we can see; but also, it informs us in certain levels of diversity as well, our discontinuity.

 

Zaspel:
This book is a collaborative effort. Explain for us how that adds to its strength.  And maybe you can give us a sample to illustrate the point.

Van Pelt:
One of the reasons that I like this book is that it’s a collaborative effort and it comes from the Old Testament faculty of Reformed Theological Seminary both past and present. I went after those men who were experts in a particular book or had a specialty in that book. We had John Currid, for example, doing Genesis and Exodus and Scott Redd doing Deuteronomy and Michael McKelvey doing Ezekiel and so on. These men teach these books every year; they’ve written on these books and they’ve got a sense of how to introduce these books to people who will teach and preach from them. Rather than just simply being a monolithic authorship where strengths and weaknesses are present, I tried to go with a collaborative effort where we cull the best resources and authors in each of the particular sections and let them go at it given the fact that different books require different sensitivities and strengths and investments. So this book represents that from RTS; as something we could do together.

 

Zaspel:
We’re talking to Dr. Miles Van Pelt, Professor of Old Testament and Academic Dean at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS, and editor of the new Biblical Theological Introduction to the Old Testament. It’s wonderful contribution to Old Testament studies and a wonderful guide for understanding the Old Testament – a resource you’ll not want to be without.

Miles, congratulations on your new book, and thanks so much for talking to us today.

Van Pelt:
Thank you so much for taking time to speak with me today.

Buy the books

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised

Crossway, 2016 | 608 pages