The last few weeks have been a bit intense for us. We moved house and gave birth to our second child, first son: Whitfield Stephen Kennedy. Now that our internet is hooked up again, I will be finishing my review of Logos Mobile Ed by way of John Walton’s Old Testament Genres course. In prior posts we talked about Mobile Ed, the video, the supplemental material (workbook, exams, tutorials), and the iPhone/iPad app. What’s missing is a review of the Old Testament Genres course itself! In tomorrow’s (final) post I will give my concluding thoughts on my Mobile Ed experience.
John Walton: Old Testament Genres
Having already praised Walton’s teaching ability and charisma in front of the camera, I will restrain myself to the content. All quotes are directly from the workbook transcripts.
Old Testament Genres is an introduction-level class to, well, Old Testament genres! Walton’s aim is clear: “Knowing God is the key, and we’re going to find out how the Old Testament opens up the doorways to knowing God through its various genres”. This is not mere academic reflection; notice Walton’s pastoral intentions. Understanding the OT genres makes one a better reader and reading the OT better results in knowing God better.
Old Testament Genres is broken down into six units. Genres are presented in the the Hebrew OT order: Law, Former Prophets, Latter Prophets, and Writings.:
- Genres: Law
- Genres: Narrative
- Genres: Prophecy and Apocalyptic
- Genres: Wisdom and Psalms
- Theology and Faith
Foundations introduces the OT as a whole, giving guiding principles for becoming effective readers. Crucial for reading well is recognizing a few commonly overlooked elements – Biblical authors carefully chose what they wrote, emphasized certain facts, selectively recorded dialogue, and structured the material in a particular way. We must be readers who carefully follow the text as it is intended to be understood, and respond rightly to its message.
Walton’s discussion of genres is very clear and often illuminating. While the Law does not save, it was still a gracious gift and a guide to holiness. Its transcendent relevance for modern believers is discerned through asking ‘how is this revealing God’s holiness?’ God is the primary character in OT narrative, and it shows us God’s attributes in action. An all too common moralizing approach to reading narrative – children should follow David’s example by fighting the local bully – will inevitably miss the author’s intended message. Walton is careful here though, since the Bible does in fact sometimes present its characters as role models: Hebrews 11, for one!
The treatment of Prophecy and Apocalyptic was mixed. Walton rightly corrects popular misconceptions that prophecy is merely future-telling and also helpfully distinguishes between the prophets’ message and its fulfilment. For example, it is mistaken to read Daniel only looking for its ‘fulfilments’ in history. Prophecy meant very much to its readers; even if they did not understand the fulfilment, the message was clear.
There is much good here, but I think Walton errs when discussing fulfilment. Using the admittedly knotty example of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15, Walton wrongly concludes that the NT (mis)uses the OT in a way only permissible due to the authors’ divine inspiration. In his words, “We don’t have to worry about what hermeneutics Matthew might be using. Hermeneutics don’t matter very much if you have authority…But we recognize that we can’t do the same thing.” Following this, Walton unsurprisingly had very little to say about Messianism throughout the course; it only came up in the prophetic literature. This was quite disappointing for one who believes the OT is a thoroughly Messianic book and that the NT authors interpret it legitimately and in a way we can emulate.
Also mixed were statements on the Spirit’s role in aiding the reader. Walton rightly insists that the Spirit does not give us new meanings to the text, as if we could make it mean whatever we want. “The Spirit is not going to redo the work that was done with the author or with the text as we read the text”. Instead, the Spirit guides and enables us in the application of a text. However, Walton insists that the Spirit doesn’t “tell us even what that truth is”. Yes and no. Interpreters certainly cannot play a ‘the Holy Spirit told me so’ card to trump any differing views! However, statements like, “The Spirit does not tell us what the meanings of the authors were” must be clarified in light of passages such as 2 Timothy 2:7 and Proverbs 2:1-6. It seems that God does play a role in our understanding. We cannot take full credit for exegetical insights!
Criticisms aside, John Walton’s Old Testament Genres is an excellent course. This would serve very nicely as an introduction to the OT, in and out of a classroom setting. Though an introduction, it is not tedious for someone more familiar with its contents.
The Old Testament needs to be (re)claimed by the church, and crucial in achieving that aim is in understanding how it works and how to be better readers.