A Book Review from Books at a Glance
by Ross Harmon
Eric J. Tully contributes one of the first volumes in Baker’s new series Reading Christian Scripture (also available, Reading the New Testament as Christian Scripture). In alignment with the series goal, Tully seeks to introduce the prophetic books as Christian Scripture (1). From the Old Testament prophetic literature, Tully examines Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. For readers wondering why one should read “The Prophets” as Christian Scripture, Tully writes it is because they “are Christian Scripture” (2, italics original). For Tully, the Prophets are Christian Scripture for they speak of God’s salvific plan, which spans from the moment of creation to the Day of the Lord, and because Scripture attests that all the Old Testament as Christian Scripture, e.g., 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (2). In sum, reading the prophetic books as Christian Scripture is understanding how the books relate to the entire Canon, giving attention to the New Testament, and how they apply to the Christian today.
Within the introduction, Tully identifies four reasons that contribute to why it is difficult to read and understand the Prophets. His desire for the reader to overcome these difficulties justifies the book’s structure (3-5). Thus, before surveying the sixteen prophetic books from Scripture mentioned above (chs 9-24), Tully includes two parts: “The context of the Prophets,” i.e., chapters 2-3, and “The Old Testament Prophet,” i.e., chapters 4-8. Part One covers the theological context, which summarizes the relationship between the Prophets with the Old Testament Covenants, God’s salvific plan, including Christ. Moreover, it covers the historical context of the prophets, summarizing Israel’s history from the time of the exodus to the Postexilic Period, along with how her historical and geographical context relates to understanding the prophetic books. Part Two examines the prophets’ role, the significant components of their messages, and their “communication strategies” (132). Further, Part Two discusses the false prophets and the means of moving from a prophetic message to the biblical text (132).
The reader will find the book is primarily a survey of the prophetic books while highlighting theological and canonical connections, giving special attention to the relationship between the Prophets and the New Testament. Within the first section of the book, chapters 1-8, Tully fairly evenly integrates a Christian perspective to reading the Prophets, while in the survey of the prophetic books themselves, he highlights the Christian perspective predominantly in sidebar notes, i.e., colored text boxes containing additional information related to the content. The book uses a variety of sidebars: Historical Matters, Thinking Visually, Literary Notes, Canonical Connections, and Theological Issues. After each chapter, the author presents “Christian Reading Questions” that assist the reader in understanding the prophetic books as Christian Literature and applying them to their lives.
Within the volume, Tully presents traditional views, promoting authorial intent, and accredits the prophets as the authors of their respective books. Tully accepts that each of the scriptural books may have undergone various stages of composition but finds that each book “make[s] explicit claims that these books present the words of the prophets in particular historical time periods” (140). For example, the book of Isaiah was authored by the prophet Isaiah in its entirety (152). Yet, Tully presents alternative views alongside the traditional theory, such as the possibility of multiple redactors to the book of Isaiah (150-154).
Reading the Prophets as Christian Scripture is recommended to church laypersons, pastors, seminary students, and professors. The following assessment showcases three reasons the book is recommended to the four parties, which include the visual aids, the quality and coverage of the Prophets, and the application of the prophetic books for Christians. Concerning this last point, Tully accomplishes the book’s overall aim, presenting a survey of the prophetic books as Christian Scripture.
First, Tully utilizes several visual aids, like the aforementioned sidebars. He opens the volume with a detailed timeline of the prophets, which provides dates, the ruling king(s), Scripture references, and critical elements of each king’s reign (xiii-xv). Moreover, the timeline visually segregates and parallels the northern and southern kingdoms. This alone may not be unique, but, setting this book apart, Tully includes a corresponding snippet of the timeline to the beginning of each chapter covering an individual prophetic book. Thus, the reader has a complete reference at the beginning of the text, and the author has anticipated the reader’s needs, placing an appropriate portion of the timeline in chapters 9-24. The author shows his understanding of the reader’s needs in his placement of nearly all the visual aids, whether the images are maps or diagrams depicting “The Prophet’s View of the Future” (Thinking Visually sidebar, 104). One of the most impressive visuals is the sign-acts table, in size and novelty, a two-and-a-half-page chart, a visual not commonly presented to readers (114-116).
Second, the volume is predominantly about the Prophets, which includes a survey of each prophetic book. Thus, seminary professors teaching an OT survey class or a class specifically on the prophetic books would likely be happy to choose this text as required reading, or at a minimum, as a recommended resource. Still, pastors and church members will value its coverage across all the prophetic books for their independent study or reference. Further, the readers will be pleased to find that Tully discusses pivotal components for OT survey courses, such as redaction criticism (145), the Hebrew text compared with the Septuagint (e.g., 177), Imprecation (185), the OT covenants (e.g., 15, 17, 20), and the epithet “the Son of Man” (236).
Third, the overall goal of this book, “an introduction to ‘The Prophets’ of the Old Testament as Christian Scripture” (1), is a timely book considering a decline of interest in and understanding of the Old Testament in some Christian circles. Each chapter contributes to the aim of reading the Prophets as Christian Scripture, expressing the value of the Prophets for Christians today. Immediately in the book, the author connects the prophetic books and the New Testament by opening the introduction chapter with a quote from Acts 26:25-28 (1). The book focuses on the Prophets, so every page does not directly or explicitly draw connections between the prophetic books and the Christian reader. However, the material that connects the Prophets to Christian Scripture is integrated well throughout the chapters, not just an afterthought. By accomplishing the goal, the author may reinvigorate the Christians whose views of the Old Testament and its application to their lives have dimmed.
Buy the books
READING THE PROPHETS AS CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURE: A LITERARY, CANONICAL, AND THEOLOGICAL INTRODUCTION, by Eric J. Tully