What is the Purpose of the Old Testament? (RJS)

What is the Purpose of the Old Testament? (RJS) February 2, 2012

One of the major points of Peter Enns’s new book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, perhaps the major point, is that the Old Testament points toward Christ. The form this takes, however, is not exactly the traditional evangelical understanding and we would do well to rethink the form and purpose of the Old Testament.

The second chapter of The Evolution of Adam addresses the question of when and why Genesis, the Pentateuch, and indeed the entire Old Testament, was collected, written, edited, and shaped into the form we have today. This is a question that does not get enough serious thought in the church.  The Old Testament is the foundation for the story of Jesus in the New Testament.  God’s work in the world is rooted in time, place, and people and extends back in time. The image to the right (taken from wikipedia) is of a silver scroll dated to sometime around 600 BCE. This scroll has phrases from the Pentateuch, in particularly the Priestly Blessing of Numbers 6:24-26, inscribed upon it. As I understand it, this is one of the oldest existing fragments of the biblical text. It is on display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where I saw it and first learned of its existence. This scroll and a second found at the same time predate the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in 587 or 586 BCE.

There were certainly sources and even holy texts that predate the exile, and the scroll pictured to the right makes this clear. But the Old Testament as we have it is more than a collection of texts. It has form and purpose. The argument Enns makes is that the text we have in our Bible was shaped by and complied in response to the exile and the return from exile.

The exile was the most traumatic event in Israel’s ancient national history and was therefore extremely influential on how the Israelites thought of themselves as the people of God. The Israelites  understood themselves to be God’s chosen people: they were promised the perpetual possession of the land, the glorious temple as a house of worship, and a son of David perpetually sitting on the throne. With the exile, all of this came to a sudden and devastating end. …

The impact of this series of events cannot be overstated. Since these long-standing ties to Yahweh were no longer available to them, the Israelites turned to the next best thing: bringing the glorious past into their miserable present by means of an official collection of writings. Some of these writings were collected and edited at that time, with additions and thorough updating – like the Pentateuch. Others only came into existence then. Either way, the trauma of exile was a significant factor – if not the driving factor – in the creation of what has come to be known to us as “the Bible.” (p. 27)

What do you think the Old Testament is?

Is it reasonable to view the collected and edited form of the Old Testament as, in large part at least, a response to the experience of the exile?

Enns gives some examples where the reshaping and collection of the text shows the influence of the experience of exile and return from exile. The OT can be summarized something like this:

The Deuteron0mistic History – that is Joshua through 2 Kings – was assembled around the time of the exile. It certainly used earlier written sources and mentions some of these sources in the text we have. This set of books tells the story of Israel from the death of Moses to the exile and release of King Jehoiachin about 561 BCE. The final form of this text is no earlier than the mid 500’s.

The Pentateuch sets up the Deuteronomistic history and was also brought into the final form we have today during the exilic and postexilic period. It also uses older sources, of this there is no real question.

1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther are clearly post-exilic. Ezra and Nehemiah relate the return from exile and Esther is set in the reign of King Xerxes (486-465 BCE).

The writings have a range of dates and often represent collections of materials from different sources. Some of the material dates back quite a ways – Song of Songs, Job, and Proverbs fall into this category (on Song of Songs Enns suggests that it is best to remain open to an early or late date). The book of Psalms is a collection of some 150 poems, praises, laments, hymns – at least some of which are clearly post-exilic. In fact Enns notes that “the Dead Sea scrolls show that books 4 and 5 of the Psalter were still in considerable flux near the time of Jesus.” (p. 31)

Among the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel deal with the exile and subsequent events. Isaiah is a subject of some controversy, but Enns notes that there is “virtually unanimous scholarly consensus” that Isaiah was written over a long stretch of time. The last section, Isaiah 40-66 appears to have been written after the return from exile.

Some of the minor prophets clearly date to the exile or after the exile. The collection of the twelve minor prophets was brought together after the exile – Enns suggests the Persian period, possibly later.

So how does this come together and what does it mean for us as Christians?

First, the Old Testament is a theological document and serves a theological purpose.

It was after the exile that Israel’s sacred collection of books came to be – not out of a dispassionate academic interest on the part of some scribes but as a statement of self-definition of a haggard people who still claimed and yearned for a special relationship with their god. The Bible, including the Pentateuch, tells the old story for contemporary reasons: Who are we? Who is our God? (p. 32)

Second, the theological purpose of the Old Testament was fresh in the minds of first century Jews. It was into this mix that Jesus came when the time was right, as the fulfillment of the  Scriptures, as God’s Messiah. The first Christians were first century Jews.

Their view of that same history was shaped by a defining moment – not one of crisis but of good news, the appearance of the kingdom of heaven and the Son of God, crucified and raised. That defining moment shaped how the New Testament writers engaged Israel’s story – better put, it forced a fresh engagement of that story. They believed Jesus to be the focal point of that drama. …

The defining moment for the New Testament writers remains the defining moment for Christians today. The Old Testament – including Genesis – is the church’s theological self-defining document recast in light of the appearance of God’s Son. (p. 33)

For Christians the Old Testament is a fundamentally Christ-centered document. It is rooted in history and in God’s interaction with his people throughout history, but it is focused on the return from exile and the coming of God’s Messiah as fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This shaped how first century Christians, including the New Testament writers, viewed scripture and used scripture.

What is the purpose of the Old Testament for the Church?

How does this shape your reading of the text?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

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  • John W Frye

    Thank you for these thorough posts on Enns’s book. I can hear push back from our less than convinced brothers and sisters in Christ about the nature of Old Testament prophecy. It was considered “liberal” when I was in seminary to believe, for example, that any part of Isaiah was “prophecy after the event” (that Isaiah 40 – 66 was post exilic).

  • RJS


    I know that I often heard derisive comments about this – that, for example, the only reason people doubt that Isaiah was written by one preexilic author is because they dismiss the supernatural, that they were tied to rational naturalism. And, of course there was also the necessity to protect the inerrancy of scripture as well – the books is presented as all of one author, Isaiah, and thus it must be or the foundation on which we base our faith tumbles down like a house of cards.

    I am willing to listen to arguments for and against mono-Isaiah of course. But I don’t buy the inerrancy argument, and I don’t think the argument for two Isaiahs is and artificial construction based on the need to remove the supernatural.

    I am not saying that you are arguing either way, I am really just saying that we need to approach the question from the proper directions.

  • T

    That is a thoroughly interesting post. National identity and formation (and preservation) seem like very important and not especially controversial purposes of the OT, both from God’s standpoint and Israel’s. Certainly I can see from Israel’s standpoint that compilation and preservation of their national and prophetic history (both written and oral) and even their songs, wisdom and parables would be vital after the exile.

    Exodus, Davidic monarchy, exile. No doubt the latter shook Israel to its core.

  • Amos Paul

    >I don’t think the argument for two Isaiahs is and artificial construction based on the need to remove the supernatural.

    Then what’s the motivation? One of the things that annoys me is whenever anyone asserts a *general scholarly consensus* without even gesturing towards a ‘why’.

    I’m certainly no inerrantist. But is it because Isaiah begins to refer to his direct surrounding and historical situations as though it were a later date, or is it because the *Prophecy* starts talking about things that happened later?

    If it’s the former, okay. But if it’s the latter, then I don’t see that argument flying theologically. Just because there’s evidence of a potential mutli-authorship does not necessarily imply which specific time period each section derives from.

    And, I ask the ‘why’ question so generally because (honestly) it’s been awhile since I’ve read Isaiah. Can’t say I have the prophetics memorized or anything ;).

  • RJS


    I would like to have some people who know the arguments about Isaiah step in and give an explanation.

    It is common, though, for evangelicals to point to a desire to eliminate the supernatural and use this to ridicule and dismiss arguments. It happens a lot in the discussion of evolution. The desire to eliminate God from the picture did not and does not drive the acceptance of evolution, nor are people driven to bizarre contorted positions accepting evolution by this desire to eliminate the supernatural. I rather expect the dismissive evangelical/fundamentalist attitude with respect to 2 Isaiahs has as little basis as the dismissive attitude with respect to evolution.

  • J.L. Schafer

    This discussion has made me realize how much of my previous conservative, evangelical approach to Scripture was dominated by an impure agenda to demonstrate that the Scripture is inerrant and those danged liberals were wrong. Why must I read every passage of the Bible through lenses so heavily tinted by the 20th century culture wars? Why can’t I just put aside the modern agenda and look at what the text is actually saying? I’m grateful to Peter Enns for spawning this discussion, which I find incredibly useful.

  • Amos Paul


    Similarly, wouldn’t you expect a predominantly secular academia to be biased against and dismissive towards the idea that *any* prophecy pre-dates actual events? This is the point that troubles me, and it’s why I say that I’m annoyed by statements such as ‘this is the scholastic view’ with no allusions at the *reasons* behind the view.

    I realize that it’s not an easy either/or answer, but I wonder how many peeople who enter the debate go in thinking that it’s either *obviously* inerrant or *obviously* written during/after the events depicted prophetically depicted.

  • The primary argument I’ve heard in seminary for two Isaiahs is the abrupt shift in tone and timing from Isaiah 39 to 40.

    Isaiah 39 is narrative, and it ends with Isaiah and Hezekiah in conversation:

    “Then said hezekiah to Isaiah, ‘ The word of thr Lord that you have spoken is good.’ For he thought, ‘there will be peace and security in my days.'”

    Clearly a pre-exilic text.

    Isaiah 40 opens:

    “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

    All of a sudden we’re in the middle of the exile. The text talks about exile as if it’s ongoing, not as if it’s a future event. Israel is already in the midst of the punishment for her sins, according to Isaiah 40, whereas just sentences earlier, Hezekiah is rejoicing in the peace he expects for the remainder of his life. The abrupt shift in tone, style and setting argue against a univocal text, though I know many people disagree.

    I also was a little dissatisfied by Enns’ broad brush on this topic, an appeal to scholarly consensus without any substance. But then he’s not really trying to hash out the authorship disputes of Isaiah in a book about Genesis, Adam and Paul. In his defense, he is right. I haven’t heard or read any scholarly material arguing for single authorship of Isaiah outside of my NIV and ESV study Bibles, and it’s hard to put much weight on any scholarly effort that’s put into those short blurbs.

  • Apologies for the typos in the above post. 😛 Trying to type too fast.

  • I read Beale’s defense of a single Isaiah in his book response to Enns’ first book. And this is over simplifying, but essentially he believed that Jesus, Paul and other NT authors understood Isaiah to be written by a single authors because they didn’t specifically cite that it was written by more than one author. So it must have been a single author to uphold the testimony of Christ (and Paul and other NT authors).

    Amos, I think I understand your point. But with literary criticism is actually a fairly advanced field. Yes there are bias, yes there will be future advances in the science. But then the tone, language and style of a book shift, it is likely because the author is different. The simplest answer is probably that the author is different.

  • RJS

    Adam (#10) and Paul (#8),

    Thanks. That helps – and perhaps others will chime in as well.

  • Amos Paul


    I feel that I must specify once again. Whether there was one author, two others, 3 authors, or 47 is completely irrelevant to the question of *when* scholars decide to place them.

    Having attended a public university myself, the ‘scholastic consensus’ on most Biblical prophetic texts was always taught to be contemporaneous or after the events prophetically discussed. Because, obviously, it couldn’t have been before. It was like a wild, non-academic, un-serious proposition to consider that any of the texts could be from *before* the events they prophetically described. Those sorts of professors see such an assertion as asking wether or not we’ve discovered any round squares–a laughable impossibility.

    However, if we *include* the possibility of actual prophecy in our beliefs–then what does the scholastic evidence imply? And how reliable is their consenus to believers if they don’t generally even consider the possibility?

    As Paul A suggested (with the Isaiah language seeming as though it refers to a contemporary exile)–I was looking for what *evidence* do we have to place the potentially mutli-authored Isaiah texts in this or that time period beyond the specifically prophetic allusions to events.

  • Amos, you are dragging two issues together. One issue is timing. I have not experience and not expertise in this. The second issue is whether there is one, two or three authors. I have read enough on this to understand the arguments.

    My only point is that you can’t charge someone for being a liberal for believing that two or more authors is the best understanding.

    I happen to believe that many prophetic (future prophesy) was valid future prophesy, but I don’t believe that those that do not believe in it are automatically discounting the possibility of God’s miraculous power. I don’t believe the earth was created in 7 days. I believe that God could have done that if He wanted. I just don’t believe that a 7 literal day creation is the best reading of the text. It is much the same here

  • Amos Paul


    I haven’t been dragging two issues together. Nor anything about ‘liberal’ accusations. Your putting words in my mouth.

    I’ve been focusing on ‘timing’ in all my posts. The OP talked about a scholarly consensus that Isaiah was written over a large stretch of time (Enns). The multiple authorship view was used to support that claim. I’ve *never disputed* the possibility of multiple authors–but there is to support the assertion about the lengthy time periods.

    The idea that two (or more!) authors automatically means these two specific time periods vastly removed from one another seems to be assumed. And it is the idea that this view removes the possibility of supernatural prophecy that offends people about ‘two Isaiahs’.

    Thus, I’ve stated–if there’s scholarly consensus about the time periods, why? Is it to remove the supernatural element? Or other reasons? Because multiple authors is not relevant evidence to back up or assume this claim.

  • PaulE

    #12 – Even if the language is of a contemporary exile, do we have to accept that it was in fact penned contemporary to the exile? After all, Matthew 3:3 picks up the same language in chapter 40 and applies it to the situation contemporary to his own experience.

    The author of Hebrews seems to do the same thing, quoting prophecies like, “You are my son; today I have become your Father”, “Here am I, and the children God has given me”, or “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Despite that they all have a strong present tense, none of these were penned contemporaneous to the events they spoke of. Same thing with Psalm 2 in Acts 4.

    How do we view the relationship between the eternal word of the eternal God and time? How did the NT authors view that relationship?

  • jason

    Amos #12 – You’ve asked for “evidence” but then you discount explicit references to events as simply a bias against the possibility of prophecy. But for most readers of literature, especially ancient literature, it is precisely those references that help to anchor a text in a particular context. For example, when we read in The Parables of Enoch of a conflict with the Medes and the Persians (1 Enoch 56:5), it’s entirely reasonable to see this as an allusion to the Parthian invasion of 40 BCE and to, on the basis of this evidence, date the text sometime during the reign of Herod the Great, or later. So also the explicit reference to Cyrus in Isa 45. Such historical allusions or references are really one of the only ways to date ancient texts. For me, even more than the explicit reference to Cyrus in Isa 45, the entire message of 40-66, with its emphasis on comfort and hope for the restoration of Jerusalem, makes no sense in an 8th century context.

  • AT

    The question of Isaiah (and other OT prophets) is a biggie for me…but then again so did the question of evolution.
    Can someone please recommend a great balanced book discussing the issues of prophetic literature in the OT by someone with a ‘progressive evangelical stance’ (e.g. not a ‘deny the resurrection’ kinda liberal and not a 7 day creationist). If we question the validity of some of Isaiah, daniel and Ezekiel (in a contemporary predictive sense)…why can we trust any of their prophesies (even their messianic proclamations). I find it interesting that both arguments of this argument sometimes use the same prooftexts in their arguments. Ezekiel’s Tyre ‘predictions’ are used by skeptic websites and also conservative apologetic sites as flagship texts.

  • DanO

    Amos @#14,there is only a little data within Isa. to point to when things might be happening. In 6:1 the reference is to 739 and in 36:1 the time would be about 701. That would make about 38-39 years between the events described (we’re not sure if Isaiah is writing this down as it happens or if it is penned later by him or others). That’s a long time but Hosea took that long to cover. At the end of ch. 44 Cyrus is named. If it is a prophecy, then it is an extremely specific prophecy (a ruler named as opposed to a general reference to a *leader*). Cyrus won’t take power until 559 and that will be 180 years after the date of 6:1 (death of King Uzziah).

    You make a good point to bring up the presuppositions at play in our interpretation. It seems that there is not enough in the text itself of Isa. to force one to adopt a late date except. Jason says @#15 that the reference to the restoration of Jerusalem makes more sense if Jerusalem had already been destroyed but that too could be prophetic as a fait accompli. Presuppositions ought to be examined and acknowledged. If there is evidence in the texts themselves, or if terms or phrases are used elsewhere.

    IMO the possibility of multiple authors is not that big of a deal. If Peter did not write 2 Pet. it does not mitigate against the inspiration and how the church has treated it. Seems the same sort of thing is going on in Zechariah, with theories for 2 or 3 authors based on differing tone (more pessimistic) of the writing(s).

  • Dan Arnold

    I’ve gotta say, I’m surprised there is much pushback on the Isaiah issue at point. Beale aside, I don’t know of any scholars of the Hebrew Scriptures who don’t accept multiple authorship for Isaiah. As I understand it (and I haven’t had the chance to do a careful study of the book myself), based on literary, theological and historical reasons, the book of Isaiah evidences at least two and possibly three distinct authors. Even at Goldengate Seminary (SBC), my friend’s professor supported three authors for Isaiah.

    AT, the introduction to most commentaries will give an overview of the issues, even if they may address things based on the goal of the commentary. (e.g. C Seitz’s canonical hermeneutic shaping how he frames the issues.)

  • D. Foster

    There are a lot of reasons scholars (even professing Christian scholars) see Isaiah 40 onward as written at a much later date.

    It is admittedly possible that Isaiah could have written all of the Book of Isaiah. Yet the question isn’t one of possibility, but probability.

    Here are some facts to consider.

    1) Outside of Judaism, there are prophetic writings from the Ancient Near East which employed figures of the author’s past as the vehicles to deliver oracles with great specificity about “the future,” that is, the author’s present. Among these writings are the Dynastic Prophecy, the Adad-Guppi Autobiography, the Shulgi Prophecy, and the Uruk Prophecy.

    2) Within Judaism, there are numerous texts outside the Bible that were composed using figures of the past to deliver oracles with great specificity about “the future,” that is, the author’s present. These authors were not trying to dupe people into believing they were prophecies. This was a Jewish convention for conveying God’s truth to exhort and encourage the audience living in the time that the author was writing.

    Among these works are 1st and 2nd Enoch, 4th Ezra, Baruch, the Apocalypse of Adam, the Assumption of Moses, Letter of Jeremiah, and too many others to list. See the following link for an extensive list of Jewish writings outside the Bible: http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/

    3) Within Judaism, there is evidence of various streams of tradition in which material was edited together differently. Daniel is an excellent case. The Greek version of Daniel inserts long portions of material not found in the Hebrew. Esther is another example of this same phenomenon: the Greek version is significantly different in some places. So it is evident that Jews did indeed edit various materials together in some very clear cases.

    Keeping all of that in mind, now we turn to Isaiah 40-66. The first thing to note is that it addresses the context of the exiles, not the pre-exiles of Isaiah’s day. There are specific prediction about events in the distant future (from Isaiah’s time), such as the prediction of Cyrus the Persian (Isaiah 45:1) rebuilding the Temple about 150 years later. Interestingly, there is no mention of Isaiah in any chapters after chapter 39, which raises the question to scholars of whether Isaiah 40 onward could have been redacted with the earlier material to form a thematic continuity.

    With all of that in mind, we now ask a question. Which is more probable: that Isaiah wrote Isaiah 40-66 or that this material was written by someone else?

    We’re not asking whether God could have given Isaiah prophecies about the future. Of course God could have done that. We’re asking, What kind of writing are we dealing with here? And the answer, given the context of everything above, seems fairly clear: we’re dealing with a type of old Jewish apocalyptic literature that’s been tacked onto the end of some older Isaianic material.

    Some people here have brought up the argument that biblical figures treat Isaiah as if he was the one who wrote the entire book. I think this is a misunderstanding of an ancient convention. For example, the New Testament Book of Jude quotes verbatim from 1st Enoch 1:9, a book that is absolutely not historical in any sense. Yet Jude treats this Enoch as “real” as other biblical figures of the past get treatment in the New Testament. The Church Fathers quote from purely fictional figures from pagan mythology all the time. “When Icarus flew toward the Sun,” “When Jupiter swallowed his offspring,” “When Narcissus looked upon his reflection”: none of the Church Fathers think these things really happened; that’s just the way everyone back then talked about figures in and from literature, both historical and fictional.

    When Jesus speaks about the Abomination of Desolation “spoken of through the prophet Daniel,” he’s not making an endorsement of the historicity of the statement: he’s just quoting from the book. Likewise, the New Testament authors referencing Isaiah are primarily concerned with citing the doctrine or example that the quote provides, not its historical literalness.

    Rather than coming to Isaiah with the default position, “Historical until proven otherwise,” it makes more sense to see it as a piece of non-historical Jewish apocalyptic because it has so many similarities with the genre.

    Let me also say that this does not make the text of Isaiah 40-66 uninspired. It just means we have to rethink what “God-breathed” actually means.


  • Norman

    That is absolutely one of the best and concise explanations of this issue that I have ever seen. Thank you so much for taking the time to logically make that presentation.

    Since you seem knowledgeable on the subject I want to pick your brain for a moment. I’m trying to get a better feel for the Book of Daniel which I gather may have been compiled over a period of time. It’s especially interesting because of its first 7 chapters of Aramaic writing. However it appears to make a prediction of the 4th beast out of the Sea coming in the future. Many believe this represents Rome which didn’t come into play until the first half of the first century BC and then it predicts the number of rulers until the coming second Temple destruction of Israel in AD70. Of course there are variations but this seems a common view. I don’t see how we can put it completely in the genre of 4 Ezra which also discusses this subject and Daniel probably from the late first century AD perspective. But Ezra can easily be seen as writing history from the present time but how would Daniel be so accurate since I’ve never seen it dated any later than the second century BC. It seems to defy the idea that is used to discredit prophecy in general such as possibly in Isaiah. How do scholars deal with Daniels supposedly accurate prophetic models? If Daniel is accurately prophetic even from the second century BC but just not as far back as people suppose what does that say for OT prophecy in general. If one can draw any conclusion.


  • Andrew Foley

    Thanks Derek,

    So how does this pair with the prophetic declarations of the NT and the apocalyptic proclamations – had it developed into a totally different genre at this stage of the game or is it similar…I’m interested can you link to any resources or share any insights….

  • D. Foster


    I’m actually just about finished with a small series on the Book of Daniel. If you’d like, I could e-mail them to you. Just give me a buzz at DerekFoster83(at)yahoo(dot)com


  • Amos Paul


    I read your post, and you still seem to be equating the idea that Isaiah being written by one (or more) subsequent people *means* that the second half was written at a much later date. Why?

    I *see* that you, also, asserted that 40-66 addresses the exiles. So there was that. But what I’ve tried to say again, and again, and again–is NOT to ‘prove’ that Isaiah was written by two (or more) people. That appears to be what your post has set out to do. Frankly, it annoys me that so many scholars want to prove this point at beleagured length–and then say, quite obviously, that the second portion was written at a much later date.

    All I’ve asked for is the specific evidence *for the much later dating*, not the multi-authorship. For it’s the much later date stuff that, generally speaking, bothers the people who want to speak out against multi-authorship. Because, as I’ve stated, when (predominantly) secular scholars say there were two (or more) authors, they often use it to ‘fix’ the idea that Isaiah (or other prophetics) was ever written *before* any particular events occurred.

    ‘Proving’ multi-authorship doesn’t ‘prove’ anything about dating. Addressing the exiles rather than pre-exiles is certainly some, but definitely not nearly enough evidence to clearly imply the much later date. At best, for those believing in the prophetic, it’s fuzzy.

  • RJS –

    I think it highly plausible that the whole book of Genesis is a storied account that takes in the origins traditions of the Hebrew community and ancient near east, but shaped in a way as to speak into the exilic and post-exilic community. Some see this proposal, which would entail edits-updates-reshaping at a later time, as detrimental to God’s character, God’s word and the Christian faith. They might argue passages like Deut 4:2; 12:32; Prov 30:6; Rev 22:18-19. But I think this is over reactionary without thinking through some of the realities of what we find in the text and that it does not have to be seen as detrimental to our faith.

    For me, it is quite easy to notice actual edits/updates in the text, and God did not micro-manage His people nor did He want to smite them for such edits-updates. And the usual quoted verses above don’t have a full Scripture canon in view like we have today. They are rather speaking directly into the context of God’s word coming into the Hebrew community at a particular point – “don’t add to what God is saying to you right now.”

    So I think it very interesting to consider that Genesis, the Pentateuch and the OT as a whole is shaped in a way to speak powerfully into the exilic and post-exilic community. I think Enns, Brueggemann, Kenneth Sparks, etc, are not too far off base in considering this as a plausible option.

  • D. Foster

    Andrew (#22),

    A good place to start here is with N.T. Wright’s introduction to early Christianity and Judaism: “The New Testament and the People of God.”

    You can preview parts of the book here. One pertinent section you can read is the section called “According to the Scriptures,” beginning on page 241. See the following link:



  • D. Foster

    Amos (#24),

    I think I addressed what you’re asking for: (a.) prophecies address the concerns of a present audience, and that audience from Isaiah 40 onward is the exiles, (b.) Isaiah 40 onward contains a specific prophecy about a future king named Cyrus rebuilding Jerusalem, (c.) the species of literature of this prophecy is not history, like in Kings or Chronicles, but apocalyptic, which is not a genre concerned with being absolutely historical.

    Given the context of my original comment (#20), the most plausible explanation is that this material was written at a later date–by someone other Isaiah, of course.

    My reason for trying to demonstrate this is because I think many Evangelicals believe that the locus of the Bible’s authority is in the prophecies that make specific predictions about the future, and that these predictions come to pass. This in turn “proves” that the Bible’s inspired.

    I don’t believe the Bible’s authority lies primarily in its historicity. Evangelicals often spend lots of energy trying to prove certain parts of it historical which in reality aren’t. I personally caused myself a lot of mental anguish in the past when I believed it was all historical. I’ve since discovered a much deeper connection to the Scriptures now that I’m not using up all my energy trying to hold a particular system of interpretation together.


  • RJS

    Derek (#27)

    I’ve since discovered a much deeper connection to the Scriptures now that I’m not using up all my energy trying to hold a particular system of interpretation together.

    The same for me. I have no particular concern whether Isaiah was written by 1, 2, or 3 different authors. But letting the text be the text leads me to a much deeper connection and understanding. I am not fighting it anymore.

  • The answer to the first question is yes. Any responsible approach to biblical exegesis will consider Mediterranean literature that was written or compiled during the same time that the Bible was written and compiled. However, that does not mean that the Y or P were monolatrous. Also, some of the Hebrew patriarchs could have been naively monolatrous, but that still would not imply that Y or P were monolatrous.

    The answer to the second question is no. First, the Bible is a progressive revelation; God never revealed everything to Abraham, but God progressively revealed himself through ancient history. Second, God reveals himself in the context of each culture; he never limited his ancient Mediterranean revelation to modern standards of history and science.

    I also wrote a related blog article back in 2007: