The Old Testament

July 13, 2019

Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Old Testament

The Old Testament contains 39 books divided into four main sections: the Pentateuch: Genesis to Deuteronomy; the historical books: Joshua to Esther; the Wisdom books: Job to Song of Songs; and the prophetic books: Isaiah to Malachi.

The word Pentateuch is a combination of two Greek words which together mean “the five scrolls.” Writing then was on scrolls, not in books like we have today. The five books are often referred to as the Law or the Torah. It is in these five books that God specifically reveals who He is and how humanity is to be related to Him and to each other. The Israelites took these books very seriously. The education system of the day required boys to memorize the five books. The students who passed would go to the next level of learning (which was to memorize the rest of the Old Testament), and those who did not make the grade would fall out of school and go to pursue the family trade such as carpentry, fishing, and being shepherds. Girls were taught at home by their fathers and/or brothers. But from time to time there would arise some iconoclastic girl who would memorize the Torah even better than boys.

The historical books cover the entire history of Israel from inception to exile and to return from exile in Babylon which later became Persia. The Wisdom and prophetic books happened during the time described in the historical books. The prophets prophesied during the time of the kings. Samuel was a prophet before kingship was instituted. He was both a judge as well as a prophet. He crowned the first king which he didn’t want to do. He wanted the nation to be ruled directly by God, but the people clamored for a king. God told Samuel to go ahead and anoint a king as the people asked. Samuel was devastated that the people were rejecting the kingship of God preferring a human king. The historical books illustrate the fact that sin does not come upon us in one dramatic swoop. No. It comes in slow incremental steps arising out of unwatchfulness and the succumbing to the influence of surrounding ideologies.

The people of God failed miserably. God gave them the land of Canaan and a blueprint of how they were to live in the land. Unfortunately, they got more interested in remaining in the land and accumulate wealth, than in following God’s blueprint. Fidelity to God was to be central to all of life. Their apostasy led to their being expelled from the land.

There are five books characterized as Wisdom books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. They are sometimes referred to as the Writings. In the Hebrew Bible, these books are positioned differently from the English Bible. These books are the Word of God indeed. In them, God speaks to us through the meditations, prayers, reflections, cries, and laughs of human beings like ourselves.

The books are called Wisdom books or Wisdom Literature because they offer insight into the living of life well. According to these books, wisdom is the ability to know what to say at the right time, what to do at the right time, and how to express different kinds of emotions the right way at the right time. The wisdom given in these books states how life normally works, not necessarily how it will work 100 percent of the time. Wisdom was considered a gift endowed by God and not a human achievement.

The books of the prophets are divided into two parts: the major prophets, which are longer than the others, namely, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. Then there are the books of the minor prophets or the Twelve prophets, Hosea to Malachi. These are shorter by far than the major prophets. The term prophecy and its verb to prophesy do not necessarily mean foretelling the future. They do indeed sometimes speak about future events, but for the most part, they mean speaking God’s Word to the people for the living of life the right way now and not later, and warning of the dangers of disobedience to God and setting His law aside. It is more like teaching and preaching to a congregation.

The prophets worked in different kinds of environments. Many of them suffered persecution and torture. Others were killed by kings, and others shunned by the people. Isaiah was sawn into two by King Manasseh. Jeremiah, known as the Weeping Prophet, was hated by the political leaders as well as by the people. Of his day. He foretold the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Solomon’s beautiful temple. The people could not imagine God destroying His own temple. But at the same time, they were not willing to give up the worship of idols.

Not all prophets had their messages written down, and perhaps not all messages of the writing prophets were written down either. Elijah and Elisha are mentioned as prophets in 1 Kings, but they didn’t have their messages written down in separate books. Only a few incidents of their ministry are recorded in the books of the kings. Surely they did more than what is written about them.


The Anglican Catechism (ACNA)

The catechism is a question and answer format of teaching the basic principles of the Christian faith. The catechism is not meant just to be memorized by rote. Rather, it is meant to be discussed, reflected upon, internalized, and allowed to form us. I urge every family to take the time to study the catechism at home, discussing it word for word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence, without passing over any statement that is not understood or is unclear. Parents, please take the lead to teach your children and to anchor them in the Christian faith. Let everyone ask questions and get answers. Please write down any questions that arise in your discussions, questions you cannot answer locally, and pass them to the Rector. May the Holy Spirit guide your learning.

(Continued from last week…)

26. What is the Apostles’ Creed?

The Apostles’ Creed says:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth;
I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Concerning Holy Scripture

26. What is Holy Scripture?

Holy Scripture is “God’s Word written” (Articles of Religion, 20), given by the Holy Spirit through prophets and apostles as the revelation of God and his acts in human history, and is therefore the Church’s final authority in all matters of faith and practice. (2 Timothy 3:16)

27. What books are contained in Holy Scripture?

The thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament form the whole of Holy Scripture, which is also called the Bible and the canon. (Articles of Religion, 6)

28. What is in the Old Testament?

The Old Testament contains the record of God’s creation of all things, mankind’s original disobedience, God’s calling of Israel to be his people, God’s law, God’s wisdom, God’s saving deeds, and the teaching of God’s prophets. The Old Testament points to Christ, revealing God’s intention to redeem and reconcile the world through Christ.

29. What is in the New Testament?

The New Testament contains the record of Jesus Christ’s birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension, the Church’s early ministry, the teaching of the Apostles, and the revelation of Christ’s coming eternal Kingdom.

30. How are the Old and New Testaments related to each other?

The Old Testament is to be read in the light of Christ, incarnate, crucified and risen, and the New Testament is to be read in light of God’s revelation to Israel. As Saint Augustine says, “the New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed.” (Hebrews 8:1-7; Augustine, Questions in the Heptateuch 2.73)

31. What does it mean that Holy Scripture is inspired?

Holy Scripture is “God-breathed,” for the biblical authors wrote under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit to record God’s Word. (2 Timothy 3:16)

32. What does it mean that the Bible is the Word of God?

Because the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is rightly called the Word of God written. God is revealed in his mighty works and in the incarnation of our Lord, but his works and his will are made known to us through the inspired words of Scripture. God “has spoken through the prophets” (Nicene Creed), and continues to speak through the Bible today. (Hebrews 1:1-2; 3:7-11; 10:15-17; 12:25-27)

33. Why is Jesus Christ called the Word of God?

The fullness of God’s revelation is found in Jesus Christ, who not only fulfills the Scriptures, but is himself God’s Word, the living expression of God’s mind. The Scriptures testify about him: “In the beginning was the Word” and “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Therefore, “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” (John 1:1, 14; Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah, prologue)

34. How should Holy Scripture be interpreted?

Just as Holy Scripture was not given through private interpretation of things, so it must also be translated, read, preached, taught, and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the Church’s historic and consensual reading of it. (2 Peter 1:20-21; Jerusalem Declaration; Articles of Religion, 2)

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