Interpreting the Old Testament Theologically: Essays in Honor of Willem A. VanGemeren

Andrew T. Abernathy, ed.

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018. 352 pages. Hardcover. $49.99.

Reviewed by Ryan M. Tietz on 04/01/2020

Throughout his significant academic career, Willem VanGemeren exemplified an approach to Old Testament exegesis that constantly sought to read texts within their broader canonical context. As both a prolific writer and teacher, VanGemeren left an important legacy for the broader church seen not only in his writings but also in the teaching careers of his many students. For VanGemeren, the primary issue was how texts interact with each other and function within a redemptive-historical context. This approach attempted to acknowledge both the Old Testament’s discrete witness, but also its broader witness to Christ. This Festschrift is a fitting tribute to this important scholar. The essays written by his colleagues at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, as well as many former students, contributed to this important volume. The book centers around two primary questions. First, how does one read the Old Testament Christologically? Second, how does the Old Testament that originally addressed Israel nourish the church today? As with any collection of essays, the challenge is that the diversity does not allow a review like this to address every essay.

The first section addresses methodological questions of what it means to read the Old Testament theologically. Readers will find these methodological discussions important and at times provocative. Perhaps the most useful essay in this section is written by John Monson. While VanGemeren’s legacy was primarily literary in nature, Monson argues for the importance of reading the Old Testament within its cultural and geographical contexts. Here, one appreciates Monson’s ability to interact both with linguistics, Ancient Near East backgrounds, archaeology, and geography. Another helpful essay in this section is written by Stephen Dempster. He argues that the interpreter needs to be mindful of the significance of the canonical arrangement of the books of the Bible. He looks particularly at the pairing of the Former and the Latter Prophets within the Old Testament and argues that the Latter Prophets function in the canonical ordering as a way of answering the problem of the end of the Davidic line at the end of the Former Prophets. This essay is an encouragement for exegetes to read the Bible in terms of broader patterns of arrangement.

The second section of the book focuses on individual texts and their theological significance. These essays cover a wide variety of texts from the Torah, Prophets, and Writings. Bo Lim’s essay on the Cyrus passages in Isaiah, for example, demonstrates that the primary importance of Cyrus is pointing to God’s ultimate agent of salvation, Jesus. The other essays in this section cover a similarly wide range of topics.

The third section broadens the discussion to matters of the Old Testament’s impact on the life of the church. Dana Harris, the only New Testament scholar represented in this volume, has an important argument for a typological reading of the Old Testament based on her examination of Hebrews. This essay looks at Hebrews’ use of Psalm 95 and Psalm 8. She concludes, “In many ways the appropriation of these texts presents an insightful example of theological interpretation of Scripture that attests to the unity of Scripture as well as the culmination of all of God’s plans and purposes in the present work of Christ”(280). This essay therefore provides a helpful way of using the book of Hebrews to read the Old Testament Christologically.

VanGemeren’s career was spent modeling a method that emphasizes the theological nature of the Old Testament and its value to the church. These essays are a fitting tribute to this approach. Like an anthology, the contributions are fairly diverse. Readers will find this volume to be a helpful way to explore different ways of reading the Old Testament christologically and ecclesiologically as well as an entry point into the important contributions that are being made within theological interpretation of Scripture.