A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament

Written by J. Alec Motyer Reviewed By Daniel C. Owens

Alec Motyer is a respected, senior evangelical scholar of the OT. I first learned about him through his commentary The Prophecy of Isaiah (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), and because of the quality of that commentary I was interested in picking up this work. The Foreword and Afterword are written by Tim Keller and D. A. Carson, respectively, who commend Motyer as an able guide to reading the OT in continuity with the work of Christ and the NT.

This short book provides a host of reasons why Christians should love the OT. Originating as a series of lectures for a Bible conference in 2012, the book reads like the advice of a pastor leading his flock through the Scriptures, their Bibles open on their laps in front of them.

Chapter 1 invites the reader into a prayerful meditation on Psalm 19. Using this psalm as a starting point, Motyer emphasizes the intrinsic and experiential value of God’s word in the OT. After that he lists several other passages on the theme of God’s word (Ezek 2:8–3:4; Gen 1:3, 6–7; Isa 40:6–8; Ps 12:6; Jer 15:19). At this point we might wish the text of Scripture were printed for the reader and more complete exposition given.

The next two chapters provide a theological basis for loving the OT. Chapter 2 explores how the OT was Jesus’s Bible, so we can be like him by loving it. Motyer explains the nature of the prophetic office in Israel and argues that even the historical books of the OT are prophetic because they reveal the work and principles of God. Chapter 3 argues from the NT for the divine inspiration of the OT, both from Jesus’s habit of calling it “the Holy Scriptures” or “the Word of God” and from Paul’s statement of this doctrine in 2 Timothy 3:15.

In the next few chapters Motyer explains how the OT provides essential information for Christians. Chapter 4 argues we need the OT to understand Jesus, who is “the great central reality of the Scriptures” (p. 20). Chapter 5 observes that the OT explains the meaning of NT words such as “redemption.” Chapter 6 asserts that the NT simply assumes things about God that the OT tells us, such as the doctrine that God is Creator. Chapter 7 compares the OT to a “straight line” (pp. 42–44), namely, a continuous story, that goes from creation to the NT, so it is our pre-history as Christians.

The next few chapters explore several “great unities,” those things that unite the Bible as one, not two testaments. Chapter 8 focuses on God’s covenant, summarizing covenants associated with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jeremiah. He implies, but does not explain, that these diverse covenants are part of a single covenant between God and his people. Chapter 9 discusses God himself as one of “the great unities” of the Bible. Motyer explains how the various titles attributed to God (e.g., the Lord of Hosts, the Angel of the Lord, and the Spirit of God) contribute to our knowledge of God. Chapter 10 describes the one way of salvation. Motyer emphasizes that Israelites were saved from sin through the grace of God, just as Christians are today. Chapter 11 discusses the Messiah. He portrays the failure of leadership in the time of the judges, a growing hunt for a Messiah in Samuel to Kings, and the messianic hope in the Prophets. This history shows the failure of kingship in Israel and the “rich forecast” (p. 86) of the messianic hope.

The final chapters treat various topics. Chapter 12 provides a guide to the Prophets and Psalms. He offers welcome comments on how understanding literary structure in the Prophets will overcome the problem of the reader’s unfamiliarity with these books, as well as how the Psalms teach us to “take it to the Lord” (p. 96) in all the variety and complexity of life. Chapter 13 explains how Yahweh is the only true God because he fulfills prophecy. Motyer begins with Isaiah’s teaching about God as the only God who fulfills prophecy and then lists five types of fulfillment seen in the NT. Since prophecy is often mistreated or ignored for lack of understanding, this section provides useful categories for the novice reader.

Chapter 14 concludes the book with practical advice about knowing Scripture through memorization, reading the Bible every year, and completing “projects” to keep track of topics in a book. His advice is brief and pastoral, though it is not very concrete. The book would have been improved if it had included links to online resources or a bibliography of print materials that could help in Bible reading and memorization.

This is a book geared toward a popular audience rather than being an academic work. Motyer’s original three lectures are broken down into fourteen short chapters, making each chapter a suitable length for squeezing into a busy day. At times Motyer strikes a conversational tone, such as chapter 3, where he starts out with a “silly question.” He frequently uses exclamation points and has left some rhetorical flourishes in the text. Regrettably, on p. 4, Motyer lists the terms used to describe the word of God in Psalm 19, but the heading indicates Psalm 1. Aside from that small error, the book is a welcome volume that will be useful for teachers trying to convince their students about the value of the OT or for intelligent lay persons to learn from a seasoned pastor-theologian why they should love the OT.

Daniel C. Owens

Daniel C. Owens
Hanoi Bible College
Hanoi, Vietnam

Other Articles in this Issue

The Eighth Commandment, “You shall not steal,” has massive implications for human life on earth...

Kyle Faircloth argues that Daniel Strange’s earlier work on the question of the unevangelised is undermined by his more recent theology of religions, and in particular his theory of a ‘remnantal’ revelation...

Although evangelicals agree the church must be fervent in seeking to reach those who have little or no access to the gospel, this missiological consensus has not led to a theological consensus regarding the salvific state of those whom the church never reaches...

John Barclay has written a stimulating and ground-breaking book on Paul’s theology of gift...

The literary notion of “implied reader” invokes a series of hermeneutically significant questions: What is it? Who produces it? and How can it be identified? These questions naturally lead to a further query: What is the relationship between this implied reader of a text and an actual reader of a text? This type of study is often associated primarily with reader-response theory and purely literary approaches...