Reviewed by Jeffrey Pallansch
Packed within this small pocket guide is a love for the Old Testament cultivated over nearly ninety years. It presents the insight of a seasoned scholar in a way that is both pastorally warm and intellectually accessible. Alec Motyer’s opening and closing prayer depicts well the heartbeat of the book: “Teach us to love your sacred Word, and view our Saviour there” (xvi, 125).
Alec Motyer is a well-respected, evangelical Bible expositor who was formerly the principal of Trinity College, Bristol. He is the author of numerous books which include commentaries and devotionals, as well as books pertaining to biblical theology and preaching. Among them are The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary; Isaiah by the Day: A New Devotional Translation; Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ; and Preaching?: Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching.
A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament originated from three lectures Motyer gave at “The Bible by the Beach Conference” in 2012. Converting these lectures into print form, Motyer sought to make them “more easily digestible in distinct ‘bites’” (xiv). Addressed to lay readers, the book is a great starting place for anyone wanting to develop a deeper appreciation for the Old Testament. It also lends itself well to Bible studies and small group discussions as it references numerous avenues and resources for continued study.
Throughout the book, Motyer seeks to impart a love for the Old Testament by showing his readers the essential role it plays in understanding God’s Word as a unified whole. He repeatedly demonstrates how one cannot properly understand Jesus as revealed in the New Testament without the Old. He shows how revelation is both cumulative and beautifully coherent. As one realizes how much the Old Testament enriches an understanding of God and his grand plan of salvation being fulfilled in Jesus, one cannot help but develop a love for this section of God’s word.
In chapters 1-3, Motyer lays a foundation for how the Old Testament is to be addressed. Chapter 1 sets the tone for the book as it encourages readers to value and prayerfully delight in the Old Testament as God’s word. Chapter 2 explains how the Old Testament was originally arranged under the three sections: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. It also examines the miracle and mystery of biblical inspiration whereby human authors write exactly what God intends and yet retain their own personality and language. In chapter 3, Motyer questions the helpfulness of the title: “the Old Testament.” Instead, he advocates that Jesus’ phraseology, “the Scriptures,” “the Word of God,” and “the Law,” more accurately displays its essential role and unity with the New Testament.
In chapters 4-7, Motyer develops his emphasis on the unified nature of the Bible by showing how the Old Testament is essential for properly understanding Jesus, redemption, God, and our own pre-history as God’s people. One of his key claims is that “without the Old Testament we could not know Jesus properly” (19). Chapter 4 illustrates how the New Testament often cites and alludes to themes within the Old to clarify the significance of who Jesus is and what he is doing. Chapter 5 shows how concepts that occur in the New Testament, like redemption, should be explained by understanding their various uses in the Old Testament. Thus, he states, “the Old Testament explains the New Testament” (25). Chapter 6 depicts “how the Old Testament reveals God in ways that the New Testament simply assumes and builds on” (33). One example he focuses on is how the Old Testament explains the meaning of God as creator. Chapter 7 encourages readers to embrace the Old Testament as their own book rather than reading it as if it were only theirs second-hand.
In chapters 8-11, Motyer examines some of the “great unities” that bind the Old and New Testaments together as one. He provides a brief overview on how important topics cohere as they culminate throughout scripture. Chapter 8 surveys the topic of prediction and fulfillment throughout the covenants. Chapter 9 exposes several ways in which the Trinity is referenced throughout the Old Testament but remains “incognito” until the New. Chapter 10 traces how God has always provided a plan for salvation through the means of substitutionary atonement. Chapter 11 follows the thread of salvation-history as it pertains to kingship.
In Chapters 12-14, Motyer imparts a few last thoughts. Chapter 12 addresses the particularities which often confuse new readers as they study the prophets and the Psalms. Motyer suggests, “committed reading and re-reading is the only way forward” (94). He then demonstrates through numerous passages how repeated reading can illumine a book’s structure and thus its meaning and intention. Chapter 13 depicts how the fulfillment of predictive prophecy was one of the primary ways in which Yahweh set himself apart from idols in the Old Testament. From this, Motyer reasons that Jesus’ perfect fulfillment of Old Testament predictions provides a strong basis for faith in Yahweh as the only true God. Chapter 14 concludes with practical suggestions on how readers can grow in their knowledge of the Bible. Motyer suggests adopting practices such as memorizing scripture daily and reading through the Bible yearly.
I found Motyer’s book to truly inspire a greater love for the Old Testament. His emphasis on the coherence of God’s word is a helpful correction against the prevalence of an overly fragmented view of scripture. I also appreciated the brief explanations and demonstrations that Motyer interspersed throughout the book to help guide lay readers in their own study of the Old Testament. That said, this book should not be mistaken as a complete overview or how-to guide in reading the Old Testament as several key aspects, such as wisdom literature, are almost entirely absent. Nevertheless, it is an excellent, introductory book for examining ways in which the Old Testament enriches our view of God and the significance of the New Testament. Readers will certainly find Motyer’s love for the Old Testament contagious.
Jeffrey Pallansch is a third-year MDiv student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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A Christian's Pocket Guide To Loving The Old Testament