Below you’ll find a brief interview I had the honor of conducting with renowned scholar and author Walter C. Kaiser Jr. regarding the Old Testament (OT) and its complexities. Among many other works, Dr. Kaiser is the author of a The Messiah In The Old Testament, a book I heartily recommend. My questions are in bold.
What do you feel are key factors in the negative attitude many Christians hold towards the Old Testament (especially in light of a positive view of the New Testament)?
Walter: Many believers do not read or understand the OT and therefore they have little appreciation for it.
They also believe incorrectly that we must reinterpret the OT in light of the NT, thus giving us a canon within a canon.
The topic of Jesus in the OT proves to be a tricky one. On the one hand, some are guilty of treating the OT as merely an overabundance of verses proving Jesus’ Messiahship (which downplays the Bible as narrative). Advocates for this leave no stone unturned in finding texts that apparently prove Jesus’ Messiahship. On the other hand, there exist some Christians who think that the OT does not really provide any clear evidence that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel. What is your response to these two groups and their approach to the OT? How is the Christian layperson to understand Jesus/the Messiah in the OT?
Walter: It is always necessary to follow the single meaning of the writer of Scripture. One group wants the OT to be so up to date that they spiritualize almost every verse and see Jesus is in every verse. Over against this group are those who seek recognition from non-conservative scholars and therefore they tend to disavowal any or very few predictions of Messiah. (See my book on Messiah.)
It is clear from the outset that the narrative of the OT does not ask our modern sentiment for advice. In the Hebrew Bible, women are portrayed as second-class citizens, slavery is viewed as normal, and genocide of even women and children is ordained by God. What are Christians to make of these “backwards” and offensive parts of the OT, of which there are many? How are we to approach those texts which make us queasy?
Walter: See my 2015 book by Kregel on “Tough Questions about God and His actions in the OT.” There I treat the topic of women.
What about the OT and science? The Hebrew Bible claims that the earth rests on four pillars (1 Sam 2:8), that the earth was formed in seven days, and that the first female on our planet was formed from a man’s rib. Such notions make many who work in the scientific field uncomfortable. Does the OT hinder modern scientific advancement?
Walter: The Bible uses figurative language in connection with the creation just like our news casters use language that says they gathered their news from the four corners of the earth. The Bible makes science possible. For example in the law of uniformitarianism.
Thank you Dr. Kaiser for your time!
An American evangelical OT scholar, educator, and public speaker, Dr. Walter C. Kaiser Jr. was the President and Academic Dean of Trinity from 1980-1992. From 1997-2006 he was the President of Gordon-Conwell, and is currently the President Emeritus and Distingushed Professor of Old Testament and Ethics at Gordon-Conwell. He most recently co-authored A History of Israel: from the Bronze Age through the Jewish Wars (2017). Other works of Dr. Kaiser’s include Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations (2012), Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics (2007; coauthored with Moises Silva), and Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament (2003).