Reading the Prophets as Christian Scripture: A Literary, Canonical, and Theological Introduction

Written by Eric J. Tully Reviewed By Drew N. Grumbles

Eric Tully, associate professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, focuses his research on the prophets, particularly Hosea. He is thus well equipped to write an introductory textbook on the Latter Prophets. The book serves as a textbook for college or seminary students studying the prophets, and the majority of the work serves up the standard information about each of the books. The author argues from a perspective that is overtly evangelical, sees the unity of the canon, and is biblically conservative in its scholarship.

Tully begins the book with the theological and historical contexts of the prophets. Theologically, the author focuses on the context of the covenants, for they form the “theological backbone of the Prophets” (p. 36). He examines God’s covenants with Noah, Abraham, Israel, David, and the promise of a new covenant. Tully concludes, “[The prophets] are preachers who apply the previous covenants to their listeners or readers, as well as reveal the new covenant that God will accomplish in the future” (p. 36; emphasis original). Next, the author examines the historical context of the prophets by focusing on the time of the monarchy through to the post-exilic period. This chapter helpfully shows how the prophets are constantly referring to events relating to Assyria and Babylon. Moreover, a basic knowledge of the division of the kingdom of Israel is necessary to even understand who “Israel,” “Ephraim,” or “Judah” might refer to in a particular book.

The next part of the work explains OT prophets in general. This overview includes what a prophet did, who the non-writing prophets were, what false prophets were, what other ancient Near Eastern nations thought about prophecy, what the prophets’ message was, and their strategies for communication. In terms of the prophetic message, throughout the book Tully uses a helpful grid of five phases the prophets may use (p. 126). These include looking to the past (how the people have sinned), looking to the near future of judgment, looking to the near future of restoration, looking to an eschatological future of judgment, and looking to an eschatological future of restoration.

The third part, making up over half of the work, proceeds through each of the prophetic books. In each book, Tully gives an “orientation,” providing the basic facts and overview of each book. Next is “exploration,” in which he goes through the biblical book section by section, explaining each part’s meaning. He ends with “implementation,” showing how the message of the book applies to Christians today. He also lists several discussion questions for each chapter. In his examination of each prophet, Tully takes a conservative view of the scholarly issues. For example, he believes in the single authorship of Isaiah, the traditional dating of Daniel and Zechariah, and that Jonah was swallowed by a large sea creature. The textbook also contains relevant illustrations and frequent “sidebars” about difficult questions or how a text relates to the NT.

Overall, Tully’s work is interesting, helpful, and useful. The book could have been improved by shortening parts 1–2, which precede the examination of the prophetic books. As a student, it would be difficult to have to wade through 150 pages before getting to the prophets themselves. Though the covenants are important, that section, especially, could have been briefly summarized in a few pages rather than taking up 26 pages.

The subtitle also raises a question with its claim that the book is a “literary, canonical, and theological” introduction. This reader expected that, as a “canonical” study, Tully would examine intertextual links within the prophets and the OT, such as a canonical reading of the twelve, or intertextuality between Ezekiel and Leviticus. Such exploration is absent, notwithstanding a few brief references to the Twelve. Tully succeeds in showing how prophetic texts are fulfilled and quoted in the New Testament, an aspect many readers will appreciate, but that is not exactly “canonical reading.” Moreover, the author does discuss standard issues of dating and authorship, so what was distinct about this work as a “literary” introduction?

The main difference between this work and the many other OT/Prophet introductions is that Tully writes from an unabashedly evangelical perspective. He examines the prophets in light of Christ (e.g., Hosea, p. 262). He is even evangelistic, ending his chapter on Zephaniah by saying, “seek him now” (p. 350)! In this way, the textbook can be very useful at many colleges, seminaries, and even churches. This is the first textbook to recommend when wanting students to learn about the prophetic books from a biblical viewpoint. Hoffmeier recently published Prophets of Israel: Walking the Ancient Paths (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2021), which stands out for its teaching on the historical context. McConville’s work Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Prophets (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), gives a good overview of scholarly issues. This work by Tully provides some of both, yet with a focus on reading the prophets from a Christian perspective. Thus, it is a welcome contribution to the field.

Drew N. Grumbles

Drew N. Grumbles
Central Valley Community Church
Hartford, South Dakota, USA

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