22 Sep 2006

Preach the "Old Testament" #1

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Ministry, Preaching

Preach the “Old Testament” #1

This post was written out of frustration …

This post, and perhaps a few more to follow, has been inspired by a series of discussions with two preaching brothers I have had in the last few days regarding the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. I was most distressed by the course of the conversations. The conversations were a reaction to this statement I made: “I would love to write a book that finally convinced folks that the God of the “Old Testament” is truly a God of love and grace…the same exact God in the “New Testament!”.”

Conversations like these make me really doubt the validity of our old dispensational hermeneutic that has been so vitally important in the history of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Yes, I believe there is a “new” covenant and we are part of it. But “old” covenant cannot simply be equated with “old testament,” nor can the “new” covenant be divorced from, or even understood, apart from the Hebrew Bible.

The dispensational hermeneutic, in my view, seriously handicap’s our ability to hear God’s word in the first 39 books. In what way? Because the the Old Testament was not and is not allowed to speak for itself. It is the contention of my dialogue partners that God was NOT a God of grace and love in the First Testament, that the Old Testament was essentially legalistic and concerned with carnal (fleshy) perspectives – because John 1.17 states that “law” came through Moses but “grace and truth” came in Jesus. I maintain that this text does not mean there is no grace in the Old Testament, if I make that claim do I also claim there is not “truth?” Surely not. I believe the view of many of our brothers is in fact subtle Marcionism. Even if we do not believe in two literal gods we have turned the one God into a schizophrenic! Not only are we often not so subtle Marcionites, we may even be Bultmannians unaware (Bultmann maintained that the Old Testament was ultimately a failure and worthless to the Christian). In my years of preaching I know that my own personal experience has been confirmed through countless conversations.  Just one example. A few years ago I did a sermon series from Genesis (of all books) and had a 78 year old sister thank me for preaching from the OT because she could never recall hearing a sermon on Genesis. Whether her memory was accurate is beside the point. There was not enough of it to make an impact. I am quite comfortable in cutting across the grain on this however.

I have often observed that my brothers who maintain such a low view of the Hebrew Bible for Christians have a corresponding low grasp of both the actual content and the meaning of the “Old Testament.” Here are some critical facts though from the “New” Testament regarding the “Old” (such language is not biblical btw and I resort to the NT rather than the OT here because the latter is often not allowed to testify for itself in these conversations):

1) The Law of Moses is Spiritual, holy, righteous and even good (Rom 7.12, 14).

2) Paul uses the Law and the Prophets to prove his doctrine of salvation of grace through faith. That is Abraham is the paradigm of justification through faith; David celebrates this truth; and Habakkuk bore witness to it (Rom 4)

3) Paul told Timothy the Hebrew Bible was good for equipping the people of God unto every good work (2 Tim 3.14-16)

These three cardinal truths are often not even given lip service in our churches and our preaching. The Old Testament is Spiritual according to Paul but many claim it is “fleshy” (code for unspiritual, legalistic or unimportant). In the Old Testament salvation is utterly by grace and not law keeping! In fact the Old Testament calls the relationship between Yahweh & Israel a “covenant of love” (Deuteronomy 7.9, 12) not covenant of law … there are many who will reject this simply out of hand.

Yet, the treasure of the Hebrew Bible is more relevant to our lives than simply teaching us about grace and faith though that is of utmost importance. Without the Hebrew Bible it is impossible to understand who the Creator God is, what humanity is, or even to grasp the meaning of Jesus. In future posts I will explore these in more detail.

Before we can preach from the Hebrew Bible I must be convinced it has a powerful word from God that address us today. In order to be convinced of this we must also master the content and the meaning of that content. To do this we need to learn to listen to the text. Let me recommend three books that will help us be better listeners to the text and at the same time move us to appreciate the essential narrative unity of Scripture.

Ronald M. Hals, Grace and Faith in the Old Testament (Augusburg). This small hundred page book has only six chapters and is incredibly easy to read. If I were teaching OT Survey I have no doubt this little book would be required reading for both the midterm and final. Unfortunately this book is out of print but get it through an interlibrary loan and copy it. Also Amazon is a wonderful place to buy older used books. Run, do not walk, to get this small treasure. Devour it – read it – then read it again.

Thomas H. Olbricht, He Loves Forever: The Enduring Message of the Old Testament (College Press). Again this is a short and easy to read introduction to the heart of the OT. The book plunges into the meat of Exodus 34.6-7 and traces God’s redeeming love throughout. This is also a very good book to use for an adult Bible class and I have done so several times through the years.

Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Baker Academic). This is the most academic book in this list but it is still easy to read. This book models the narrative unity of Scripture and shows how it invites us to become participants in the drama.

Tomorrow I will use the book of Exodus as a model or test case to see if we can preach from the Torah. As for me and my house we will maintain that Yahweh has always been nothing but a God of supreme love and grace. Any other god one finds in the “Old Testament” is an idol of their own making.

Thank you for letting me vent. Tomorrow will be better! I promise, 🙂

While we wait … here is a verbal exercise: Read Psalm 136 orally and see what the impact is.

Bobby Valentine

27 Responses to “Preach the "Old Testament" #1”

  1. Ancient Wanderer Says:

    #1] Don’t write a blog about talking to “weird” preachers the day after you call me 🙂
    #2] I don’t believe you have two other preaching brother who will talk to you in person or on the phone 🙂
    #3] I’m fairly certain you doubted “the validity of our old dispensational hermeneutic” way before these conversations 🙂
    #4] I think the third word on the left (Hebrew left) in your graphic is misspelled 🙂
    #5] This Hebrew Bible you speak of is it now available in English 🙂
    #6] Isn’t it sad that we live in a time that we have to use these stupid sissified “smiley faces” to have a good time 🙂

    AW 🙂

    ps- bring it on! you know me and my belief that “knowledge of God is our only real hermeneutic” and “you can’t know God if you don’t know the OT”.

  2. Stoogelover Says:

    Rant on, brother. When you write that book, be prepared to write a LONG one because the OT is filled with God’s grace!
    However, for the most part, the preacher’s I grew up hearing would have sided against you on this one. Don’t know how many times I’ve been asked a question similar to this: “Do you preach the God of the Old or the New Testament? Because I don’t want anything to do with the God of the Old Testament.” Very sad.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    All my life, even as a child I would try and read the bible. Because I believed books were to be read from beginning to end I never got very far.

    The creation story was actually the kicker because I was taught this at a very young age when my parents were getting divorced. They always hurt each other so bad that at 5 years old I actually wanted them to get divorced.

    After my father left and abandoned us I felt it was my fault. Sunday school just supported this belief because Eve picked from the wrong tree. She wanted to be like God and ruined everything for the whole family. Poor Adam was just trying to make her happy. I feared the wrath of God and it was all I could see in the Hebrew Bible.

    My point is that my experiences deeply changed the way I viewed scripture and I struggled with this until 6 years ago when I met all you guys at Southside. I ran from God that whole time because I could not see His grace in the Hebrew Bible. Funny thing is I disagreed with many of the views of those I respected deeply. Seeing the humanity and fraility of my leaders who have a deep passion for Jesus helped me to finally begin to learn how to submit. It helped me to come down from the cross and learn how truley human I am.

    You have been instrumental in deeply changing my views. I not only see His grace and love in the Hebrew Bible, I now can’t believe how I missed it before. The resources and thoughts you share have taken this simple woman into a whole new world. I’m learning how to read and interpret
    scripture in ways that blow my mind. Your sensitivity to unity helped me to listen and discern even from people I don’t agree with. Bobby, I never even went 1 day to High School. I’m not the brightest bulb in the bunch, YET!
    If there is hope for me, there is hope for all who fall short. God’s working awesome things through you and I don’t say that because I think your great or really holy, I say it because your so damn real.

    In Christ,
    Penney Winiarski

    P.S Does this mean I don’t have to tithe anymore?

  4. MommyHAM Says:

    AW, I don’t get the “weird” reference, but hey if your conscience is talking….;-) lol

    Bobby, too funny that you should bring this up. My church’s Sunday Bible Study is “Faith Lessons from the OT!”, and it is the only adult class being offered, for the stratigic reason that we ALL need to know this idea that OT and NT are relevant and interrelated to each other. The relating factor? God’s love and grace to humanity. It kind of ties into the discussion I’ve been having on Colossians 1:15-20. Per that text, Christ, who is a manifestation of the GRACE of GOD, WAS in existence in the beginning, let alone for the whole period of the OT….hmmmmm….

  5. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    AW call me SLOW (after all I am now 38!!). But I do not see any misspelled word. I have never been a good speller but the third word from the LEFT in the Hebrew graphic is “heavens” and it is spelled correctly. I may be looking at something you are not so be specific.

    BTW the conversations were real and I did reject that faulty hermen many moons ago. But conversations like these simply confirm it for me. The hermen renders anything the OT says itself inconsequential. In one conversation we looked at a dozen or so passages in the law and prophets but it mattered not.

    Bobby Valentine

  6. Frank Bellizzi Says:


    Amen, Hallelujah, and then some!

    The ark didn’t float because Noah was such a great ship builder. The same thing that floats my boat is what floated his.

    Not to mention that all of that paradigm-establishing stuff in the Book of Acts went off without one word of the New Testament. (You’ve got me started now).

    Someone else said that it’s funny how those parts of the Old Testament that bother our Christian sensibilities didn’t seem to bother Christ’s Christians sensibilities.

    To your good book list about Jesus’ Bible, I would add John Bright’s classic “The Authority of the New Testament.” He basically says that what Christians should be looking for in the OT is much the same thing we look for in the NT: an unchanging substructure of theology. Only, he says it a lot better than that.

    Great post, Bobby. Preach on!

  7. Dwight Says:

    It was always about Grace, from beginning to end. I cringe each time I hear the phrase “New Testament Christian.” Modern Christianity has far more in common with Persian, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian religions than it does with the Christianity of Peter and James.

  8. Ancient Wanderer Says:

    that Hebrew thing was just a geek test…you passed {yes i know Genesis 1.1-5}
    & BTW: you still don’t get sarcasm…i keep telling you…stay grounded with the common man 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 [is that enough silly smilies to satisfy every one]

    “weird” – strange, odd, bizarre, peculiar, unusual {As used colloquially}. The very thing everyone else who has commented thus far has called those who cannot see Grace in the OT.

    Ya’ll need to understand…I have known Bobby since he got out of High School. It was a joke…i don’t try to impress him and he don’t try to impress me.


    PS bobby: “”but it mattered not”” and it probably never will. [note] most of us bloggers are just preaching to the choir. i.e. my comments were construed as not being “on your side” and look what happened. I finally agree with all those Baconian & Eggheads [more sarcasm people] the Age of Reason is most definitely dead….obviously it died with Vaudeville.

  9. Velcro Says:

    I’m a huge fan of the O.T., because throughout it are pictures of God’s grace in the fulfillment of Christ, painted across the canvas of 4000 years.

    – The Choir

  10. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Penny you make me blush from your kindness. Btw, you may not have gone to high school or college or … but you are certainly one of the brightest people I know. Bright with the love of Jesus and bright from a knowledge of his word.

    And thank you for letting me know that I am “real.” I hope I am never anything else.

    Bobby Valentine

  11. Dee O'Neil Andrews Says:

    Wow, what a great post and great discussion here today! Can’t believe I’ve been out of pocket all day and missed all the fun. (Baconian & Eggheads, too funny! And the Age of Reason gone with Vaudville?! What are Ye saying?!)

    I’m sending your blogsite and today’s post and comments to my nearly 85 year old (according to her, now that she’s past “84 1/2”) brilliant Bible scholar mom out in Abilene, Bobby, because she would LOVE this!

    She was baptized when she was 24 years old in Chicago, Illinois in 1946 by J. D. Thomas and studied the Bible, beginning with Genesis all the way through Revelation to learn it and she KNOWS the Bible as well or better than anyone I’ve ever known.

    She is (and my dad was) an exceptional Christian and scholar and “doer of the Word” in every way and she would agree with you, here in your “elderly” 38th year of life! (“Slow” already, hunh?!) She runs circles around me in every way, including spiritually, but I’m trying my best to catch up.

    We’re leaving for a 10 day trip tomorrow, so don’t get TOO far ahead of me while we’re going, ya’ hear, guys?!

    Cheers! Dee

    (Of the NEW Finding Direction: The Wind Vane Chronicles)

  12. Royce Ogle Says:


    I too appreciate this post and agree entirely with you. I am a 45 year student of the Bible (on again off again) and the best I can tell, God has always saved people the same way, by grace through faith.

    I am amazed at how many people I discover who think God saved before the ministry of Jesus by keeping the law, then another way during the ministry of Jesus, and yet another after the resurrection.

    Thank you Bobby for your gracious teaching and even your comments on other’s blogs are always seasoned with salt, even when you disagree. I must become more like you.

    Grace and Peace,
    Royce Ogle

  13. Anonymous Says:


    Great topic! I was told several times by an elder to stop preaching from the OT on Sunday mornings. I have a good sister who is now struggling with her view of God in the OT because of what I have been saying about God’s grace. Others have told me that the NT starts in Acts 2. So this is a sorely needed discussion.

    A good friend of mine attended a class at the ACU lectures on the OT. Taught by Toby Wilson and called “Says Who?”, my friend got the impression taht Toby was saying that rather than doing away with everything unless Jesus keeps it, we should keep everything unless Jesus changes it. I’m going to pick up a cd on his class and see what he has to say.

    I’m glad to see more OT study coming from our brothers in recent years. It certainly is important. NT Wright has helped me in a number of ways in this area as well.

    Thanks again, Bobby.


  14. SD Cowboy Says:

    Hello Bobby,

    I will await your “explanation” of God as portrayed in the Old Testament with a great deal of interest.

    As I began reading your blog, my first thought was “I wonder if he’s ever heard of Marcion.” Given your education, I knew you had to have and, indeed, you have. (Marcion: The god of the Old Testament was a lesser creator god of limited power and capable of evil—sort of a storm-god of Israel. The god of the New Testament is a different god, the supreme and redeemer god who was brought to us by Jesus.)

    Marcion for his efforts was ridden out of town on a rail by the Orthodox. But the dichotomy remains between the portrayals of God between the Old and New Testaments.

    This is not some academic spinning of metaphysics. My wife, for example, says she can hardly read the Old Testament because of the way it portrays God. The business of “God is God and his ways are so far above man’s ways we cannot question them” is silly—both to her and to me.

    I will await your reconciliation.

    Jim Wyly

  15. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Jim I have no sympathy, even in the slightest, of Marcion. He is fittingly condemned as a heretic.

    I recommend Olbricht’s book for your beloved bride. That Yahweh is a God of love is testified to repeatedly throughout the Hebrew scriptures. Psalm 136 is almost monotonous with the claim! What of Hosea?? What kind of God is revealed in this prophet?

    Bobby Valentine

  16. SD Cowboy Says:

    Hello Bobby,

    You’ve got to be kidding me. Psalms 136 and Hosea set out the nature of a loving God????

    Psalms 136 alludes to the indiscriminate slaughter by God of great sections of humanity, for no other apparent reason than they opposed the Israelites. The author mentions the death of the first born of Egypt, the drowning of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, the smiting of “great kings,” the slaying of “famous kings,” the taking of the Gentile lands of Sihon and Og for no ostensible reason other than they stood in the way of Israel. This is a regional god of the Israelites, but it is not the universal god portrayed by Jesus.

    Hosea! What does one say about Hosea? God was breaking his promise to the Israelites to be their God and protector forever and saying he was going to destroy 10 of the 12 tribes (or perhaps 9 of the 11 landed tribes.) Justified or not, this is the portrayal of a vengeful god, not one of a merciful, forgiving god.

    I am truly puzzled. To me, Psalms 136 and Hosea are the antithesis of the god portrayed by Christ in the New Testament. They create part of the problem with which Marcion was wrestling. Why you cite them as support for your concept of God? And how can you?

    Jim Wyly

  17. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Jim I suppose you can ask God about his failing to measure up to what understand as love. I do not read Ps 136 or Hosea as you do.

    That God defeated the enemies of his People in eschatological judgement I do not deny. But I do deny that he did so in a cavalier or “indiscriminate” fashion. The same God who judged his enemies in Egypt and the Red Sea will do the same at the eschaton. God’s love is manifested in two concrete ways according to Ps 136: his creation of the world and his redemption of Israel. That is what the Exodus is REDEMPTION. Proof of his love … that is according to the text.

    As for your reading of Hosea I must confess it is absymal at best. God neither rejected his people nor did he fail to be their protector. That Israel continuously played the harlot in the exclusive covenant of love though is a fact. It does appear that you and Marcion have much in common. Hosea 11 is clearly the background for Luke 15. That God suffers mightly for his people is testified abundantly in the prophets (Frietheim demonstrates this conclusively in his “The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective”).

    Exodus 34 is one of the greatest texts in the Bible: new or old testament. It is the message of the Hebrew Bible.

    Bobby Valentine

  18. Falantedios Says:

    Psalm 136 celebrates the VERY discriminating judgment against various opponents of God. This IS God’s world, and the last time I checked my Greek Scriptures, Jesus said that physical death is hardly the worst thing that can happen to people.

    No ostensible reason?!? The Israelites suffered under Egyptian salvery for 400 years while the Amorites were filling up the measure of their sinfulness. Please, I beg you, do some small kind of research on ancient Near East pagan rituals before casting aspersions upon the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    First, you blast God for protecting his children, and then you blast him for ‘breaking his promises.’ Bobby has a clear point about Luke 15. You must ask yourself about the logical extensions of the parable. Did the father go to the ‘far country’ to retrieve the prodigal son? No, he allowed him to stay there as long as he wanted him to. Does the father force the elder son to join in the celebration? No, he allows him to stay outside as long as he wants to.

    Finally, two facts remain to be considered. 1) Jesus also clearly teaches that the lord of the wedding feast will close the door; and 2) Marcion disseced the NT to suit himself because Jesus says more about eternal punishment than any other person in the entie Bible.

    Might I also recommend Philip Yancey’s “The Jesus I Never Knew” and “The Bible Jesus Read.” They’ll do wonders for uniting the testaments for you.

    in HIS love,

  19. SD Cowboy Says:

    FALENTEDIOS said: “No ostensible reason?!? The Israelites suffered under Egyptian salvery for 400 years while the Amorites were filling up the measure of their sinfulness. Please, I beg you, do some small kind of research on ancient Near East pagan rituals before casting aspersions upon the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    “First, you blast God for protecting his children, and then you blast him for ‘breaking his promises.’ “

    WYLY: First of all, I don’t intend to highjack Bobby’s blog. I am genuinely interested in his reconciliation of the God of the Old Testament with the God proclaimed by Christianity. Many people perceive a difference in the two portrayals of God.

    Second, I certainly am not blasting God. The term “ending His promises to the Isrealites” would probably be an equally apt but less pejoratively loaded term for what was going on in Hosea than, as I said, “breaking his promises.”

    Finally, so far as your begging plea that I do “some small kind of research on ancient Near East pagan ritual…..”, I have a classics minor, I have continued my interest in the classics and presently own several hundred books dealing with ancient history, ancient myths, ancient religions, and ancient societies. I just counted 150 in my main library and there are at least that many scattered in other book cases in my house. I’ve read them all. So let’s not have anymore of this “if you would only study, you would know……” business.

    I am well aware of the rituals of ancient Near East pagan society. Most ancient societies, from the Greek to the Aztec, were similar. (For example, read the Iliad and see what the relationship between Iphigenia, a King’s daughter, and the winds was. The Trojan War, of which this was a part, occurred about the same time as the Amorites were destroyed.) Ancient societies were rife with human sacrifice, homosexuality, temple prostitution and many other practices that today are considered perversions. Except for Sodom and Gomorrah, the only tribe and group we are told as being whacked by God were the ones standing in the way of Isreal or occupying land the Israelites wanted. The reason the Amorites were destroyed was because of their proximity to the Israelites, not because their sinfulness exceeded that of other pagan societies.

    Jim Wyly

  20. SD Cowboy Says:

    This is in the nature of errata.

    After I wrote my note, I did some research—-always a bad sequence. The myth of the sacrifice of Iphigenia by Agamemnon as he set out on the second expedition of the Trojan War was not in the Iliad as I said, but first appeared in a now lost writing dated a couple of hundred years after Homer wrote the Iliad .

    Further, when I said except for Sodom and Gomorrah, the only societies God “whacked” were those who stood in the way of or were opposed to Israel, I was leaving out the greatest “whacking” of all—the Flood.

    Jim Wyly

  21. Falantedios Says:

    God did not ‘end’ his promises to Israel. He fulfilled them. In Deuteronomy, Moses makes it as clear as humanly possible that the promises of protection were CONDITIONAL. God made promises concerning covenant faithfulness, and he made promises concerning covenant violation. In Joshua, the Israelites experience at Ai the first of a long list of consequences of covenant violation.

    I’m glad that you have solid information on ancient Near East practices. I did not say that the Amorites were more hideous than other societies of their time. I’m merely saying that God published a timetable. He gave Ninevah time and opportunity to repent, as Jonah and Nahum portray. I see no reason to assume that God would change his modus operandi. The Hebrew Scriptures are not a catalog of God’s dealings with China or Canaan or any other nation besides Israel.

    The reason the Amorites were destroyed was because they directly opposed God’s plan for reconciling Creation to Himself.

    in HIS love,

  22. Matt Says:

    The new perspective on Paul regarding the law (ie “covenantal nomism”) is very helpful in looking at some of this. See E.P. Sanders “Paul and Palestinian Judaism”. It is very thick and has a lot of info from extrabiblical views that you may find extraneous. But the meat of the book is very good. Basically Sanders goes against the “works righteousness”/”merit theology” that has typified OT views. You are probably way ahead of me on this but thought I would mention it. Thanks for the thoughts.

  23. Brian Nicklaus Says:

    amen! God’s message isn’t complete without it.

    Have you noticed our language in defining our views of right against other churches as “New Testament Christianity, New Testament Baptism, New Testament Worship, New Testament Church” and on and on. Campbell’s sermon probably didn’t help. Whether intended or not, it created too big a chasm between the two.

    And of course, others don’t like anything that “seems” to contradict a squishy, buddy-buddy, god who is soft and never commands, requires, or judges.

    Thanks for the Book recommendations. Do you have Samuel Dawson’s book on “What’s Wrong with Churches of Christ”. He has a good chapter on this very thing–neglect of old testament writings. you can download on the web. google him


  24. Brian Nicklaus Says:

    one more thing,
    can you do something about this “sins rolled forward” garbage that is preached??

  25. Dan Smith Says:

    Bobby, thanks for the reference to Hals’ book. I did get it thru our county library and copied it. I have it as a 29 2-column page .doc file. I’ll be glad to share it with whomever wants.

    Dan Smith
    Sparks, NV

  26. Candle (C & L) Says:

    Bobby – Just finally getting back toyour always interesting and challenging and thoughful writings. Ispent too much time reading the comments on the “mark” of the Christian to really get into thisone — butinterestingly I was thinking about this “Old” & “New” concept the other day — something along the lines that while the “consitution” (description of how citizenship is granted and how citizens are to live) may have changed — the king (God) has never changed — he is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow — indeed how does a God who exists outside of time ever change when change is a time based concept). But that was merely “human” musing — I look forward to “examing the scriptures to see if these things are true” (which is as you may have gleaned a hidden clue as towhy I haven’t been visiting your site.

    God Bless

  27. Candle (C & L) Says:

    Bobby – I’m still back at the “rant” –I have a technical question about Exodus 34:7

    “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

    I have always wondered how this fit with Ezekiel’s treaching that everyone would pay for their own sins (not fathers for sons or sonsfor fathers) — I have heard “rationalizations” that Exodus is talking about consequnces whereas Ezekiel is talking about “accountability” (guilt) and that may be true.

    Another frien of mind says that he researched the original Hebrew text and the word translated “punishes” in “punishes the children …” can also allow this passage tobe translated moreinline with the Ezekiel –something like “he blesses tthe children …. despite the sins of their fathers” — Is thereany merit to this suggestion based on your knowledge of the Hebrew phrasing?

    God Bless

Leave a Reply