Book Review: Enjoying the Old Testament: A Creative Guide to Encountering Scripture by Eric A. Seibert

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Think Apologetics. Tabernacle of David considers this resource trustworthy and Biblically sound.


Enjoying the Old Testament: A Creative Guide to Encountering Scripture by Eric A. Seibert, 234 pp.  250pp. IVP Academic, 2021.

Jesus, Paul, and the apostles were raised on the Old Testament. Thus, there was no “New Testament” during the ministry of Jesus. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3: 16-17, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”  Here “Scripture” (graphē), must refer to the Old Testament written Scripture, for that is what the word graphē refers to in every one of its fifty-one occurrences in the New Testament.  

It was for this reason that I was eager to get a review copy of Enjoying the Old Testament: A Creative Guide to Encountering Scripture by Eric A. Seibert.

Seibert has a great love for the Old Testament. However, he knows not everyone shares the same enthusiasm for the Old Testament. He says “Truth be told, many Christians really struggle with this part of Scripture, especially with its archaic laws, tedious genealogies, strange customs, and prophetic tirades. They know they are supposed to read the Old Testament but feel little desire to do so” (pg. 5).

Seibert’s goal is to help us to have meaningful and edifying encounters with the Old Testament on a regular basis because he believes this is one of the main ways Christians grow and mature” (pg. 9).

“Why don’t Christians read the Old Testament?” Seibert lists some reasons:

  1. It is boring.
  2. It’s irrelevant.
  3. It’s hard to understand.
  4. It’s foreign and particular.
  5. It’s filled with problematic portrayals of God.
  6. It’s morally offensive.  
  7. It’s oppressive (pg. 16-21).

    One thing Seibert rightly mentions is there is a problem with assuming the only purpose of the Old Testament as being a prologue to the New Testament, an informational preamble to the main attraction (pg. 28). In other words, many Christians think the Old Testament solely exists to make the life of Jesus more understandable. But as Seibert says, “while it is always good to bring these two testaments into conversation with each another, subordinating the Old Testament to the New or suggesting that its real value lies in its ability to illuminate the New Testament is misguided. The importance of the Old Testament, even for Christian readers, is not dependent on its serviceability to the New” (pg. 29).

When it comes to our attitude towards the Old Testament, Seibert lists some helpful tips:

  1. We should slow down and make careful observations. Yes, this goes for the entire Bible. But in a hurried and distracted world, this will take some real effort.
  2. Hopeful Expectancy: We should realize there are treasures waiting to be found.
  3. Humility and Respect: This means reading the Old Testament as it is, not as might wish it was. This also means reading it on its own terms, by reading it in it’s own cultural and historical context (pgs. 61-65).

Seibert then makes some suggestions as to how to go about reading and enjoying the Old Testament. He suggests that we need to pick a story in the Old Testament and really explore it. We should read do the following:

  1. Read  the entire story.
  2.  Make an outline of it.
  3.  Pay attention to the use of repetition in the story.
  4.  Notice how people are “named” in the story.
  5.  Recognize the use of functional details in the story.
  6.  Write a character sketch of someone in the story.
  7. Explore parallel passages.
  8. Investigate unfamiliar items.
  9. Ask a lot of questions and answer the important ones (pgs. 72-94).

Now I know many of us may say, “That’s too much work.” In response, I guess you will have to decide how much value you place in knowing God and knowing his Word. If you have time to scroll for hours on your phone, perhaps you have some misplaced priorities?  

Seibert gives advice on how to understand the importance of prophetic literature (see Ch 7) and what to do with what we may consider the boring parts of the Old Testament (see Chapter 8). While Leviticus may seem boring and irrelevant to us, he discusses how reading and studying Leviticus can enhance our worship.

One of the most significant chapters is called “Dealing with Morally and Theologically Troubling Texts” (see Ch. 9).

There are texts that offend our moral sensibilities (i.e., “the Levite’s concubine” in Judg. 19). There are also texts that conflict with our view of God (i.e., God flooding the earth, judging Sodom, annihilating individuals, and of course, the difficult texts that atheists think shows God is a genocidal maniac). Christian scholars have written countless books to try to reconcile a picture of God that is violent yet loving and compassionate. There have also been texts that have been used to harm others (i.e., texts that have been misinterpreted to justify slavery and harm those in the LGBTQ community). As Seibert righty asks, “Should we enjoy these texts?” He says we should take no pleasure in the destruction and death of others. Nor should we enjoy reading about someone else being harmed (pgs. 137-138). Seibert thinks even if there are bothersome texts, we can learn to read them in constructive, generative, and life-giving ways (pg. 140). He suggests that we need to be honest about what bothers us and remain convinced that these texts are worth the effort. Thus, even if we find certain aspects of the text problematic, offensive, and unsalvageable that is not the end of it (pg. 144).

But while this will take some hard work and struggle, Seibert quotes Phyllis Trible who says, “Do not abandon the Bible to the bashers, [those who disparage the Bible] and thumpers [those who use the Bible to harm others]. Take back the text. Do not let go until it blesses you.” (pg. 144).

In the end, in regards to enjoying the Old Testament, Seibert encourages his readers to open to God and to be patient with ourselves and our progress.

If you want to understand the full counsel of God, you will need to dig deeper into the Old Testament. The God of the Old Testament is the same God as in the New Testament. Perhaps this book can help curb the tendency by some Christians who fall into the Marcionite trap. This was reiterated by scholar Richard B. Hays says the following:

“Many “mainstream” Protestant churches today are in fact naively Marcionite in their theology and practice: in their worship services they have no OT reading, or if the OT is read it is rarely preached upon.  Judaism is regarded as a legalistic foil from which [Jesus] has delivered us.  (I once had a student say to me in class: “Judaism was a harsh religion that taught people to fear God’s judgment, but Jesus came to teach us to love God with all of our heart and soul and strength.”)  This unconscious Marcionite bias has had a disastrous effect on the theological imagination of many Protestant churches, at least in the United States….” – Richard B. Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco: Baylor University, 2014), 5.

I highly recommended Seibert’s book.

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