The Necessity, Nature, and Benefits of Old Testament History -- By: David P. Murray
PRJ 4:1 (January 2012) p. 5
The Necessity, Nature, and Benefits of Old Testament History
Shakespeare said that history is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” In stark contrast stands the Christian view of history: we believe God ordained it, organizes it, and moves it towards a meaningful, definite, and certain purpose. However, many Christians entertain a negative view of Old Testament history, of its usefulness, and even of its accuracy. It is often regarded as “far away” and “distant” chronologically, geographically, socially, and theologically.
In this article, we will study the necessity and nature of biblical history with a special focus on Old Testament history, and we will conclude with a summary of the practical benefits of studying and teaching Old Testament history.
The Necessity Of Old Testament History
The majority of biblical literature, especially Old Testament literature, is historical narrative. Unless that history is reliable, taught, and known, we lose most of our Bible. As Sidney Greidanus writes: “The faith of Israel and the faith of historical Christianity is founded not in lofty ideas or ideals but in God’s acts in human history.”1 Yet Greidanus goes on to note how the historicity of scriptural events is under a cloud of suspicion today, resulting in a lack of confidence among preachers to preach these texts with the same confidence as past preachers did. He concluded: “Before all else, therefore, it is necessary for preachers to be clear on the historical foundations of their
PRJ 4:1 (January 2012) p. 6
message. The issue is, Is the Bible historically reliable or is it not? Do we approach the Bible with skepticism or with confidence?”2
The foundational nature and practical importance of biblical history is further underlined by Douglas Stuart in his book Old Testament Exegesis, in which he follows two sections on “Text” and “Translation” with a third section entitled “Historical Context.” He argues that the Old Testament expositor must research the historical background:
Try to answer the following questions in your research: What is the setting of the passage? Exactly what events led up to this point? Did major trends or developments in Israel or the rest of the ancient world have any bearing on the passage or any part of its content? Are there any parallel or similar passages in the Bible that seem to be related to the same historical conditions? If so, do they provide any insight into your passage? Under what historical conditions does the passage seem to have...
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