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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Book Review: Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, by Kaiser

There was a time in the past (I say this in that the website I am about to refer to no longer exists, as far as I can find), that Campus Crusade had called “tough questions” (I no longer remember whether it was .com or .org). Given that their main concern is evangelism, it contained approximately 30 questions which they were guessing would be the most problematical for a person who was not a believer, but seriously considering the claims of Jesus and the hisotric Christian faith. For the most part, they weren't really difficult questions to answer.
Some phrases can be taken different ways. So, according to the book, Hard Sayings of the Old Testament by Walter C. Kaiser Jr. (InterVarsity Press, 1988), what is a “hard saying”? In some cases, it is a statement that apparently runs contrary to what we feel to be the character of God. In other places, there is a more subtle problem, oftentimes one a believer without extensive experience with the original language, cultural context, or the history of the church easily would not realize exist.
The author, Walter C. Kaiser Jr., was dean at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. IVP, the publisher, has a dedication towards teaching that the historic Christian faith and intellectual thought can go together, from a postition of not being expected to defend any given organization's position, other than historic Christian belief, directed to persons as early in the faith as college freshmen. Obviously, if you have read any of my previous blogs, I write on topics connected with the flavor of “simple, organic church,” and, for a book written by a person outside that flavor, has quite a few statements in this volume that run congruent with this positon.
This book has 254 pages, but 73 chapters! This is because Kaiser has chosen 73 Old Testament scriptures, explains the problem, and gives a basic answer that is reasonably understandable by a reasonably intellegent person that doesn't have any studies in Hebrew or any theological subjects, in two to six pages, with the possible exception of chapter 5. As such, much like reading Proverbs chapters 10 through 30, where each verse stands by itself, and not in a literary context which verses before and after, the 73 chapters stand disconnected from the previous and next, except that they are in order of where they appear in the Old Testament.
For instance, in my opinion, chapters 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 23, 32, 34, 40, 43, 44 46, 48, 51, 52, 53, 62, 63, 66, 68, and 69 deal with Hebrew idioms and words, their multiple meanings, and believers and/or unbelievers misconstruing or mistranslating a meaning, possibly unintentionally, possibly intentionally. Chapters 1, 4, 11, 16, 18, 25, 32, 37, 38, 39, 54, 60, 61 and 65 deal with what a word meant then verses its current meaning and modern attitudes around it. Chapters 3 and 45 deal with the role of women as leaders among God's people. Chapter 5, mentioned above, deals with variances in possible Hebrew pointing. Progressive revelation and prophecy, theophany, directive verses permissive will of God, God's character verses God doing something that appears to be the opposite of that character trait, proverbial statements versus promises, the Holy Spirit in the Old Covenant, anthropomorphisms, obedience verses received or progressive revelation are subjects examined in the context of these difficult verses.
Kaiser specifically deals with the theology in the verses, and not with how differences in meaning between then and now came to be, as Barna and Viola deal with in Pagan Christianity, which answers some of those occurances that appear here.
With the small size of the chapters, this book could be used as a devotional, something to build or accent interactive Bible study preparation, and as somewhat of a reference (in the back is an index of scriptures referenced, but nothing to refer one to scholarly sources).
In 2009, IVP replaced this book with and updated, “Hard Sayings of the Bible”, which is currently in print.

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