Last week, on Moore to the Point, Jim Hamilton presented a compact and compelling case for reading the Old Testament according to the earliest Hebrew organization: Torah, Prophets (Naviim), Writings (Ketuvim). Citing Roger Beckwith and David Noel Freedman, Hamilton argued that we should consider the interpretive ramifications canonical arrangement has on our biblical theology, and make adjustments according to the oldest arrangements. He makes three arguments for such a change, which he summarizes here:
We should accept the tripartite division of the OT into Law, Prophets, and Writings, and we should order English translations of the books of the OT accordingly because (1) the order in use by English translations now does not match the orders of the books in lists drawn up by early church fathers; (2) Protestants have agreed with Hebrew tradition rather than Septuagint tradition on which books should be included between the covers of the Bible, so Protestants should also agree with Hebrew tradition on how those books should be arranged; and (3) this is the order that Jesus endorsed and that Matthew and Luke apparently expected their audiences to recognize.
The most compelling reason for considering this original, Hebrew reading is that it may help us read the Bible as Jesus did and in turn, it may help us see the Hebrew Bible as unified redemptive story that founds its fulfillment in our Messiah. Both of those seem like very strong reasons to read the Scriptures this way.
Stephen Dempster, in his outstanding work on the Hebrew Bible, Dominion and Dynasty, appeals to this arrangement and constructs his OT theology accordingly. His excellent book supports Hamilton’s case, and would be a good read for anyone who wants to think about this issue more. It also shows how this re-arrangement could (and should) impact theology and biblical understanding. Read Hamilton’s blog, “Stirring the Pot: How Should the Books of the Old Testamen Be Ordered?” and decide for yourself.
One final thought, how would you teach this in the local church?
Dr. Hamilton answered that question in his class, “Messiah in the Old Testament,” and said he would do so humbly, patiently, over time, advocating the veracity of God’s Word and teaching his congregation about the history of its reception and transmission. Maybe he will offer a follow up post that gives practical steps to introducing this sort of thing in the local assembly.
If you accept this older reading, how would you teach it to your English Bible congregation?
Sola Deo Gloria, dss