Do you think the Old Testament is confusing, out of date, and essentially replaced by the New Testament? What if you could capture in a few sentences its grand narrative that reveals God’s work, his purposes, and his wisdom, and understand how the Old Testament Scriptures prepared for the identity and mission of Jesus as Messiah, Savior, and Lord?
Bible Gateway interviewed Christopher J.H. Wright about his book, The Old Testament in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic (IVP Academic, 2019).
Is it presumptuous to summarize the Old Testament in seven brief sentences?
Christopher J.H. Wright: Well, Jesus summarized it in two! There’s some value in taking an X-Ray view of the skeleton structure of the whole canon of the Law, Prophets, and Writings (the Hebrew canon). And, of course, I do use my seven sentences as ‘bones’ on which to hang as much of the essential sinews and muscles of the rest of the book as I can.
How does this book help a person better understand the Old Testament?
Christopher J.H. Wright: It’s often a good idea, when trying to grasp something vast and daunting, to get the big picture clear first, before getting down into the weeds of the detail (not that the Old Testament is in any sense ‘weeds’!). So this book tries to give a guided tour of the main highlights along the journey of the Old Testament story. After reading this book, the reader will (I hope!) want to go back and dig into the books of the Old Testament in more detail and with other helps.
Describe your decision-making process for selecting the sentences.
Christopher J.H. Wright: I wanted to help people see that the Old Testament is the first major part of the over-arching grand narrative of the whole Bible. So, several of my sentences trace that narrative, from creation, through the covenants with Abraham, then with Israel at Sinai, then with David, and then on to the message of the prophets which eventually points forward to the new covenant in Christ Jesus. Finally, after that narrative journey, I needed to give the final chapter to the worship and wisdom of Israel, since that’s a major part of the library of Old Testament books.
People tend to think the gospel pertains to the New Testament, yet you include “gospel” as one of your seven categories for the Old Testament. How so?
Christopher J.H. Wright: Well Paul tells us in Galatians 3:8 that the gospel began in Genesis, not in Matthew. The word ‘gospel’ simply means good news that is to be announced (it was not originally a Christian word). The New Testament word translated gospel is the same as the one Greek translators used for the announcing of good news in the Hebrew Scriptures, for example in Isaiah 52:7-10, or Psalm 96:1-3. And the Old Testament does indeed announce the good news of what God plans for all the nations of the world through the people of Abraham. And it’s that good news that the New Testament announces has come true in the arrival of Jesus, and through his death and resurrection. That’s why the opening chapters of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all insist that the good news they’re announcing (their ‘gospel’) is simply the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises already made centuries before.
What are the three horizons you describe in writing about Old Testament prophets?
Christopher J.H. Wright: When interpreting Old Testament prophetic texts, it’s important to see that most often their words applied to the Old Testament horizon of their own times. But some times their words have an additional horizon in that they ‘land’ in the world of the New Testament gospel, through fulfillment in Christ and all the events surrounding him, right up to Pentecost. And sometimes also, their words point to a future horizon that’s still ahead of us: the eschatological horizon of the final judgment and the new creation.
Why do you include worldview as a subject matter in this book?
Christopher J.H. Wright: Because we all have a worldview, whether we know it or not. The trouble is that so many Christians simply absorb their worldview (how they think about life, the world, work, the present and future) from their surrounding culture and its ‘story.’ But the Bible tells the true story of the universe: creation, human rebellion, God’s promise of blessing to all nations (Old Testament), the gospel of Christ, the mission of the church (New Testament and still ongoing), the final judgment (God will put all wrongs right), and the new creation (God will make all things new). That’s the story from which we should take our thinking about everything else.
Why is it important for Christians to read and know the Old Testament?
Christopher J.H. Wright: Because without it, they have literally lost the plot—by which I mean the whole Bible story—the story we’re in. They have a truncated Jesus, cut off from his roots, who can then be manipulated into whatever instrumental kind of ‘savior’ they want him to be—not the incarnate Holy One of Israel, the LORD God. And because God has revealed so much of his character, his purpose in creation and history, and the identity and mission of God’s people in the world in the Old Testament, in ways that are taken for granted and not necessarily repeated in the New. And most of all, because it was the Bible of Jesus. The more we know and understand what we call the Old Testament (for Jesus it was simply, ‘the Scriptures;’ remember, Jesus never read the New Testament), the closer we’ll get to the mind and heart of Jesus himself.
Quite simply and bluntly, it’s impossible to have an adequate understanding of Jesus, Paul, Acts, the epistles, Revelation, without the Scriptures that they constantly quote and that shaped their whole understanding of what God accomplished in and through Messiah Jesus.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Christopher J.H. Wright: Psalm 130:3-4. If that were not true, I would not be here answering your questions and you would not be there.
Bio: Rev Dr Christopher J H Wright is the International Ministries Director of the Langham Partnership, which provides literature, scholarships, and preaching training for Majority World pastors and seminaries. He taught in India for five years. As well as commentaries on several Old Testament books, his books include Old Testament Ethics for the People of God; The Mission of God; The God I Don’t Understand; and The Mission of God’s People. Chris was the chief architect of The Cape Town Commitment – from the Third Lausanne Congress in October 2010. Chris and his wife Liz have four adult children and ten grandchildren and live in London, as members of All Souls Church, Langham Place.
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