What’s the best way to read the Old Testament? Should we even engage the OT since it’s hard to understand? Dr. Dominick Hernández is a professor of the Old Testament and the author of a new book Engaging the Old Testament. We discuss some bizarre passages in the Old Testament and offer some practical tips for reading the OT well.
Dr. Dominick Hernández currently serves as an Associate Professor of Old Testament and Semitics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. Dominick completed his Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible at Bar-Ilan University (Ramat Gan, Israel), where he was trained in Semitic Philology. He is the author of Proverbs: Pathways to Wisdom (Abingdon), Illustrated Job in Hebrew (GlossaHouse), Engaging the Old Testament: How to Read Biblical Narrative, Poetry, and Prophecy Well (Baker, forthcoming), The Prosperity of the Wicked: A Theological Challenge in Job and Ancient Near Eastern Literature (Gorgias Press, forthcoming) and has forthcoming commentaries on Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (Cascade), and Song of Songs (Eerdmans). Dominick teaches on an array of topics including biblical wisdom, ancient Near Eastern literature, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. You can learn more about Dominick Hernández at his website: www.domshernandez.com.
Sean: What's the best way to read the Old Testament? In fact, given some of the ethical challenges and other challenges that arise in the Old Testament, should we read it at all? Well, these are just a few of the questions we're going to explore today with our guest, Dr. Dominic Hernandez, a colleague of ours at Talbot School of Theology. You're the author of a new book, which I read all the way through and thoroughly enjoyed. It's called “Engaging the Old Testament.” We're going to dive into that. I'm your host, Sean McDowell.
Scott: I'm your co-host, Scott Rae.
Sean: This is "Think Biblically." Dr. Hernandez, I'm curious, what motivated you to write a book? And it's a long book, and I mean that. I can tell you spent a lot of time probing into this, trying to help Christians understand and read the Old Testament well. Why spend probably years of your life, I imagine, writing this book?
Dominic: Well, gentlemen, thank you for having me. When I became a believer in Jesus in my teenage years, and then started reading the Bible lots as I went to, mostly my college years, there were a couple of things. I realized that– I fell in love with the word of God and started going to churches that would say things like, "The Bible's the very word of God," and I actually believed that. But as I progressed in my studies, I eventually found my way to a school of ministry. And at the school of ministry, we studied much more Greek than Hebrew, even though I was learning much more about our doctrine of scripture, and that is, we believe that the entirety of the Bible is the Word of God. We believe that Jesus's red letters on the pages of the New Testament were equally as inspired as books like Leviticus or the Chronicles, the genealogies. And so at that time, I dedicated myself to helping Christians understand difficult sections of the Old Testament, and even sections that I hadn't figured out quite yet, and I'm still working through.
Scott: So Dominic, I suspect part of the backstory on a book that's about reading the Old Testament well is lots of exposure that you've had to people who are reading it not so well. So what would be some of the main pitfalls that people fall into when they try to read the Old Testament, most likely in good faith, but they just have never had any guidance on how to do that.
Dominic: So there are two things. First of all, this book started off as a book that– I was contracted to write a book called "Not Engaging the Old Testament," but rather "A Basic Guide to the Old Testament." And "The Basic Guide to the Old Testament," I started writing it and I realized that lots of the information that I was writing down could really be obtained by a good study Bible. And so I thought as I was teaching graduate and undergraduate intro courses at my previous institutions, the students didn't just need more basic information, but what they needed to do was learn how to engage that information well. So that's where this book, which is essentially a combination of some of my hermeneutics notes and Old Testament intro notes, that's where this emerged from this idea of a basic guide into how to engage the Old Testament. But I will say to answer your question that there's one thing that I noticed about Christian evangelical readings of the Old Testament. One time I went and spoke at a church and I said something about my displeasure for fantasy literature, and the pastor who was my friend complained to me afterwards, mostly in a joke, that some of his congregants complained to him that I didn't like good fantasy literature. And these types of fantasy literature, they're kind of canonical, especially in Christian circles like “the Lord of the Rings” and “the Chronicles of Narnia” and things like that, and his congregants complained to him, and I thought to myself at that moment, isn't it interesting that these books are engaged so much and so well by Christian audiences, but we don't engage the Bible with the same intensity, we don't look for the same sort of literary aesthetic devices and things like that. If I were to say in that congregation, maybe I didn't like a particular section of the Bible, it may have been better received, to be honest. So, I want to encourage Christian people to engage the Bible with the same type of intensity that they engage--with which they engage really good literature.
Sean: But it's not just the Bible as a whole, as you point out, because we're doing a decent job engaging Romans and the Gospels and the New Testament, but the Old Testament, some have suggested maybe we should unhitch this from the New, maybe it has less significance. But you start walking through in your book, this is, what is it, two-thirds of the Bible as a whole, maybe three quarters. This is what lays the entire groundwork for the new. So I'm just curious why you think we've lost this and why is it so vital to engage it today?
Dominic: When I was a student at Columbia University, I vividly remember one of my professors saying in class, uh, this type of Christian group is really attached to this and this type of Christian group is attached to this. And he got to evangelicals and he said, and evangelicals and Evangelicalism, everything is about the Son, the Son, the Son. Now, I really love Jesus, I do. And I think I know what he was saying. It was an interesting observation. He was saying that everything in our circle focuses around the Son. And I think it's very difficult for Christians sometimes to engage texts in which there isn't a direct, straight and short line to Jesus. It becomes very difficult to engage those texts. So for example, if we're in the Gospels, we're reading the stories of Jesus, we're in Romans, we're in Galatians, we're in these stories that are in these epistles that speak directly to the person in the work of Jesus the Messiah, we love Jesus. And so it becomes much easier to engage those texts than it is, for example, to say Song of Solomon or Ecclesiastes or some of the Proverbs where we're kind of like, how does it, what does it, How do we get to Jesus from here? Now, I think we can, I just don't think it's as intuitive. Additionally, one more small thing, it becomes very easy when we're reading the letters of Paul to make ourselves the interlocutors, as if Paul's writing directly to us.
Sean: Yes, agreed.
Dominic: It's more difficult to do such things when we're reading Leviticus, for example. But sometimes we do this, we make ourselves the interlocutors of these letters. Paul says to us, And we have a more difficult time doing such things when we're reading genealogies and chronicles.
Scott: Although sometimes I think some of the people who have suggested that we unhitch the gospel from the Old Testament, part of the reason they suggest that is that there's a reading of the Old Testament that actually undermines faith and confidence in the gospel and undermines people's willingness to look at the gospel seriously. So, they see them more in conflict than in harmony. How would you respond to that?
Dominic: Well, here's the thing. Sometimes we read the New Testament viewing it, as Christian people, viewing it as the culmination of God's work on the earth. Now, we all believe, as Paul says in Colossians, that Jesus is the fullness of the Godhead bodily. We believe what the book of Hebrews says with regard to Jesus being the exact representation of the deity. Like this is– we all agree with that. But if we exclusively focus upon what the New Testament has to say about God, we're not getting a holistic biblical picture as to what the entirety of the Bible says about God. So we all as Christian people recognize that, despite the fact that we indeed believe that Jesus is the exact representation of God, that there is, you said 75% or so of the Bible representing God's relation to humankind and to God's creation that we would ignore if we exclusively focus on what we read revealed about God in the contents of the New Testament.
Scott: Yeah, I think some of that objection has to do with some of these troublesome texts and ways that God seems to be portrayed in the Old Testament as seeing God sort of fundamentally different in the Old Testament than in the New. So how would you help people understand that even though the picture, the portrait, may be a little bit different, that God is the same.
Dominic: Right. You know, one of the points that I make early on in the book relates to how to engage in the Bible, to continue to read the Bible, to recognize that when we engage with a particular text, we're actually engaging in one particular depiction of who God is and what God is doing at a particular time. Now, the reason why I say that, and that sounds intuitive, but the reason why I say that is because I liken this to, I liken reading sections of the Bible to reading a diary. If I were to pick up Dr. Rae's diary from when he was 14 years old.
Scott: God forbid.
Dominic: Or Dr. McDowell's diary from when he was 20. And I were to read a section, I would have a very good idea as to what was going on in that particular time period in his life. But I actually wouldn't get this holistic view as to who Dr. Rae, Dr. McDowell is unless I read all of the diary entries. Now, it's not like God matured like Dr. Rae did and Dr. McDowell did. That's not what I'm getting at. What I am saying, however, is we can sort of view the various depictions that we have of God in different time and different spaces to be a more holistic view of what the Bible teaches about God, as opposed to saying we have different views.
Sean: That's really helpful. I like the diary illustration, 'cause I imagine if there was a diary when he was 14 and I was 20, there'd be some differences, but there'd be some continuity about who we are that you see fully played out.
Dominic: He hasn't lost a hair since he was 14.
Sean: Yeah, exactly, right?
Dominic: I'm wondering how he does this.
Sean: That is true.
Sean: Good question. When it comes to scriptures, we see this commonality throughout all the scriptures, even though it might be highlighted more differently. So we see the mercy of God in the Old Testament. We see the grace of God. We also see judgment in the New Testament. So that kind of progressive kind of revelation that reveals more and more about God, looking at it holistically, I think is really helpful. Now, one of the things in your book that jumped out to me, and after I read it, I was like, "Why didn't I think about this? It feels like it should have been obvious to me." But you talk about this massive shift that took place at Mount Sinai. When communication shifted from the voice of God to a written text. And obviously Moses comes after Abraham and there's been hundreds of years of God speaking. What do you mean by that shift? And how should that affect the way we approach the text today?
Dominic: So throughout the entirety, starting from the very beginning, we could say going back all the way to Eden, we have the Garden of Eden. In the Garden of Eden, God's very presence is there with Adam and Eve God is communicating, at least we have depicted in the text, God communicating in this sort of verbal, like, audible communication with Adam and Eve. And that is how God communicates with human beings in the garden. Says, don't do that, they do it. Then he comes in, his very presence is there, and we could continue, we sort of know, read chapter three, you know what happens, right? Page three. But what ends up happening is we see in multiple occasions after that God's audible voice culminating really in the Sinai account where God speaks from Sinai, and the people of Israel say, "Moses, let's not do that again. Like, you go up to the mountain and we'll do whatever you tell us to do." So Moses then, what we have depicted in the scriptures, goes up, hears the Word of God, and comes back down and functions as a prophet. So Moses's voice essentially becomes the very word of God. And we see from there on some of this being put in writing. So we have God writing with the anthropomorphic finger, the actual "Shenei Luchot HaBrit" we have Passover in the season, the two, you know, commandment tablets, and then we have Moses writing some of this down. So ultimately what we end up seeing is if there is a person that's functioning as an intermediary between the divine God and humankind, properly communicating what the divine is saying to humankind, that person then essentially becomes equally as authoritative as the very Word of God.
Scott: Dominic, you use a term that I'm not super familiar with when it comes to the Old Testament. You describe the phenomenon of people today under-reading the Old Testament. I admit I was just so puzzled by what you meant by that. Then it became clear once you talked about it. And you claimed that both, as you call them, fundamentalists and critical biblical scholars are both guilty of underreading the text. So explain to our viewers and listeners, what do you mean by that and how is it that both ends of the spectrum are guilty of the same thing?
Dominic: Well, I'm happy I just stumped you with a word. That's awesome.
Scott: You did.
Dominic: Or an idea, that's just like– Yeah, so everybody knows that fundamentalism works on different extremes of, many times on the same spectrum. Now, for us as evangelical readers, contemporary evangelical readers, I teach a course called Critical Issues in the Old Testament in which we talk through many of the real serious critical issues, recognizing that there are some issues the study of the Old Testament, but we work through these. One of the first things I say to our students is we recognize that there are real issues here, but we approach our reading with a hermeneutic of trust as opposed to hermeneutic of suspicion. When I say critical biblical scholars, I'm not talking about people that are critical, but rather people that are critical in destructive ways that approach the text with a hermeneutic of suspicion as opposed to a hermeneutic of trust. So, on the one hand, many people that are--that come to the text intentionally striving to criticize it, to pull it apart, anything that doesn't meet their expectation is open to be reinterpreted or pulled out, or an additional source, or whatever it might be. Now, generally speaking, evangelicals that are conservative in their reading would be whoa, we don't do that. We believe it's the very word of God. And what's interesting is on that same side of the spectrum, right, you have people that are like, we believe it's the word of God, we believe it's the very word of God. We don't just read it like any other book. We can't read it like any other book. This is the very word of God. And that leads to us actually not even engaging with the text well, sometimes, right? So it leads us to us, for us to have such a reverence of the text that we don't engage it nearly as well as we would engage something like the Chronicles of Nardia or some of Tolkien's work, because we perceive it to be irreverent. We shouldn't read it like it's any other book. It's not any other book. And my contention throughout at least the first section of this book is to say, we should engage the Bible bare minimum as if it's any other book. It's much more than that. Sure. But we should at least engage it as if it were any other book.
Sean: That's interesting.
Scott: That's helpful.
Sean: You can underread it by not being critical enough and underread it by being too critical, in a sense.
Dominic: And both sides tend to end up making stuff up, to be honest with you. In my opinion. This is just me, right? So maybe the overly critical person will sort of invent theories that were kind of like, "Where's the evidence for that?" and then maybe the more fundamentalist type person will make up doctrines that aren't there. Just sort of hedge in what they believe to be fundamental to at least the faith that they create.
Sean: One of the passages in your book that most stood out to me is your take on Joshua, in the book of Joshua, in which Rahab is seemingly rewarded for deceiving the authorities when she hides the spies in Jericho. Now I've been asked this somewhat frequently in my life as an apologist. Your response was the first time I had heard it laid out like this. So tell us your take on that passage. And really the heart of the question is, how can she be rewarded for lying and deceiving, which she seems to be held up as an example of faith in the book of Hebrews?
Dominic: And this is like an ethics question. So I'm kind of like burning, you know, did Dr. Rae write about this someplace? Should I have read it? Should I have incorporated it in the book?
Scott: I did actually.
Dominic: Okay. Well, I don't know if we're going to agree or disagree, but here's my take. That's all right. It's okay. It's like this. Many of your viewers will like American football. Many won't think that it's real football, but many will like American football. Now, I have, there are several different types of sports in this world, right? But the majority of the sports that we follow in North America tend to be called invasion games. They're a type of sport where you invade another team's territory and you accomplish a goal there. Basketball's like that, football's like that, soccer's like that. Several other sports are like that. Field hockey's like that, lacrosse is like that. Now, why am I bringing this up because it's based, it's a metaphor essentially for war. So in American football we get that. We intuitively get that. We're like, oh, this is a war. They're battling it out. We utilize all these war metaphors. I'm going to answer your question, I promise. So here goes nothing. When a quarterback takes the ball from the center and puts it in the belly of the running back, that's called a handoff. But sometimes what the quarterback will do is he'll take the ball, he'll put it in the belly of a running back and he'll pull it back so that the defense thinks that he handed it to the running back and then he'll hide it and then he'll turn and he'll pass it. That's deception. Is it sinful? He's intentionally deceiving his opponent. Okay. And most people would say that's ridiculous and that's not in the Bible. Well, of course it's not in the Bible, but it's not ridiculous in my opinion. What I perceive Rahab is doing is engaging in a battle. This battle is about to happen. She demonstrates with her words that she has already come to believe that the God of Israel, the people of the God of Israel will come into the land and take it. So she is being very shrewd. And she's saying, "Hey, here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to fake handoff. I'm going to lead people astray and by way of doing that, facilitate what I know is going to happen." That's what I see her doing here. I don't perceive this to be a lie in the traditional sense, but a lie in the sense of a war tactic. Deceiving the opponent in war is the best way that you can get an upper hand on war.
Sean: Interesting. Kind of a preemptive war strike on her behalf.
Dominic: I wouldn't even say it's preemptive. Oh, okay. I would say it's there there there hasn't been any physical fighting yet.
Dominic: But in based upon her comments, This war has already been fought and won. So she's participating like any wise person would do. You would participate if you came to-- we as Christian people believe that there are battles that are already won and all we want to do is participate in that, right? So I view very much-- I view what she's doing very much as that.
Scott: I think we fundamentally agree, I think.
Dominic: Oh good.
Scott: On what she did. So, but that raises, I think, the kinds of questions that I've been most interested to talk about. And I think this is probably where our viewers and listeners are thinking, please get to the stuff that I really want to know about, which are these just puzzling Old Testament texts like, you know, sentencing somebody to death for violating the Sabbath or the test for adultery, which is so odd and so strange. We have to spell out what that is. And then even something like the levered marriage, which is what happens when a woman's husband dies leaving her childless. Those just seem so odd today. And I think we're just, it's not that, I don't think, it's not that we're not willing to take the Old Testament at face value, it's just they are so puzzling to us. So why don't we just, why don't we take first, how on earth could somebody be sentenced to death for violating the Sabbath?
Dominic: Well, if it's okay, I do want to get to these examples, but I will just say one of the things, what you just said is one of the reasons why people struggle with engaging the text. That's right. You mentioned three examples that were, that are in the Torah, in the first five books of the Bible. And I would just like to say, there's one chapter in this book that encourages people to engage with biblical law well, to not be embarrassed by it. Why would I say such things? Because sometimes we're embarrassed by these types of things. Levirate marriage, I think, is probably the weirdest out of all the ones you just mentioned, so maybe we can talk about that. But here's the thing. I think that it's imperative for contemporary evangelical Christian readers to recognize that we are reading a law that is part of a narrative of ancient Israel. So if that law--and that law is contextualized in that narrative. So if we were to receive the law today in North America in this day and age, it would look different because it was contextualized. So I think maybe the best way to talk about the contextualization is "Livert marriage," if I could jump to that.
Sean: Go for it.
Dominic: So "Livert marriage," "Livert" is a funny word even. We don't even know what that means in contemporary English. It comes from the the Latin word "L'vire," which means "brother." Basically means that the law, well, the custom in the Bible in the ancient Near East was that if a man dies, his brother would have relations with the dead man's wife to create offspring. So there's for the brother, for the dead brother's name. Now there's so many things to think about that we get in the Bible and other ancient Near Eastern literature that help us work through this. So first and foremost, we have to recognize that it was a curse in the Bible as per traditional wisdom to not have offspring. And many people perceive this way. Now, it wasn't genuinely a curse from the God of Israel, but it was perceived this way. We see this in the Proverbs, Proverbs chapter 10 verse 7, which says, you know, “the wicked person has no name or memory.” That's traditional wisdom and we see this repeated. That's sort of the background for this. There was no Facebook or Instagram or pictures being taken. Your name and your memory was through your descendants. That was it. And if you didn't have any, you could conceivably be forgotten after your death. It's important. We're not in that. We don't have that at the forefront of our minds. We have pictures and things like that. So that's one thing. That's sort of the one of the spaces that we would have to think through. Another thing is that this whole lever at custom is not just a Torah thing. It shows up actually earlier before the laws given in the story of Judah and Tamar, which is well before Moses and the giving of the law. And in that case, it's a bit different. But here's what's interesting, and this is what I mean by contextualization. There's ancient Assyrian law and an ancient Hittite law that's very similar. They're both very similar to what we see in the ancient Israelite law, in the Torah. But here's the difference in the Hittite and Assyrian laws. We have it being the responsibility of the family of the dead man to take the woman and to create offspring. If you read the Torah passage well, it becomes the right of the woman to do this if she wants it. And here's– and there's– so there's a difference here. The difference in the Torah, it contextualized for the people of Israel, is that God seems to be looking out for the widow, saying, if this is the case, she has a right to shame the man if he doesn't want to do it, right? Because of many of the contextual circumstances in that, in her particular environment. So on the one hand, in extra biblical literature, we see the husband's family essentially takes this woman and brings up the offspring for the dead person. In the Torah we see this woman can do this if she wants to and she can shame the husband's brother if he doesn't want to participate. So we have again...
Scott: So this is basically what happened at the end of the book of Ruth.
Dominic: Sort of. There's a couple of things, that's all right, there's a couple of things combined happening at the end of the book of Ruth, but what, and this is the last point, what we end up seeing I think in extra biblical, some of the extra biblical laws is that the woman is thought of as more of a possession, but in the biblical laws the woman is thought of as a vulnerable person in society, who has the ability to be able to now bring someone else into her family by way of this Livert marriage. With Ruth, it's a bit tricky because it's not exactly followed like we see in the Torah, though there are several similarities. It's not exactly the same thing that we see in the Torah. It's not the husband's brother per se. It's a kinsman. It's a kinsman through her Your father, it's a bit different.
Sean: Fair enough.
Dominic: And it's joined to a property in Ruth, which also makes it a tad different. Yeah.
Sean: So in the Old Testament, two of my favorite stories, of course, for Samuel 17, David and Goliath, no brainer, and Samson, like just fascinating story. One of the insights you make that I just hadn't thought about it this way is that the life of Samson is a microcosm of the whole story of Israel. Make that connection for us.
Dominic: Right, so this is in the chapter called "Why is the Book of Judges So Weird?" Now have you ever thought through-
Sean: It's a good title.
Dominic: Have you ever thought through- I mean, but this is dealing with some of the issues that we talked about already. Like, we read the book of Judges and we're like, "That is so weird." Like-
Sean: And troubling too.
Dominic: Like, "Kill his daughter," or "Cut that person up and send them to different tribes." Like, my goodness, why is that there? And we don't read those stories to our children at night, do we? I mean, those are the ones we skip in Judges. So why is it so weird? And what we, what I think we see is that the author of the Book of Judges is intentionally depicting a period of chaos. And anytime you have narrative, right, anytime you have narrative, that narrative is selective. So the author is choosing these stories in a specific order, sometimes I would say there might even be out of order, to depict the literary and theological goals of the Book of Judges. So we have several of these judges that we would know by name, leading up to Samson, and the majority, well, let's say the largest portion of the book is spent on Samson. So that should take our– as for any of the judges, right? So that should make us think, what in the world is the author doing with Samson? Why is Samson, why is he highlighted? What I think that we see in the story of the book of Samson is essentially this cyclical behavioral behavior that many study Bibles point out with regard to the people in the Book of Judges, how they're serving, they fall into apostasy, then someone else comes and rules over them, and then there's essentially redemption, calling on the name of the Lord, some sort of redemption, or a judge brings them out of this cycle. I think that the cycles that we see culminate in the life of Samson. That's how it's depicted. I should note, it's a selective depicting of the life of Samson to achieve the goals, the theological goals, of the author of the book of Judges. Now what that means is, when we get to the New Testament, and the writer of Hebrews 11 is referring to some of these people as if they're like heroes of the faith or whatever, we have to recognize that we don't get the full story all of the time in all the biblical narratives. There are things that biblical writers may have known, whether it be by divine inspiration or tradition, that we simply don't get directly stated in lots of the texts of the Old Testament.
Sean: Okay, so what does the end of Samson tell us then? Because he sacrifices and he goes down taking one for the team, so to speak. What's the takeaway from Samson for Israel? That it's heading towards destruction and this house is coming down?
Dominic: You said it. Well, you made it sound cooler than I would make it sound, because you said this house is coming down and that was clearly a play on words with the house of... But here's what I would say. Right after the Samson narrative, this sort of cycle doesn't continue the way we see it at the beginning of the book. We have complete chaos and repeated--it's reiterated, "There was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes." You know, that phrase in some ways repeated several times throughout the book of Judges. And so we have complete chaos ultimately leading us into, I think, ultimately leading readers to expect or even to want a king in Israel during a time in which people would not do what was right in their own eyes, but do what's right in the eyes of the Lord, which is another saying that we see frequently throughout, as it relates to whether the kings obeyed God or not.
Scott: Dominic, I'm going to move away from some of the passages we tend to stay away from. and more toward the ones that I think most of our viewers and listeners are most familiar with, which is the Psalms and the poetry. But your claim is that we sometimes misread the poetry as well. Help us read and appreciate the poetic sections of the Old Testament better.
Dominic: So, frequently in the Psalms, as well, this shows up also in the book of Ruth, which is, but it's a phrase. Frequently we hear or read phrases akin to, "The God of Israel will keep you covered under his wings." And we are forced to think, or we are forced to conclude that either the God of Israel has wings, like literal wings, and we were to hide under them, or that there's a metaphor happening here. It's reasonable to suggest that this is a metaphor. Now, the reason why I bring that one up is because many people are familiar with this whole idea of taking refuge under the wings of God, or something like this. It shows up relatively frequently in the Psalms. But frequently as we read the poetic sections of the Bible, we gloss over too quickly, in my opinion, discerning the metaphors and how adjacent lines are set in parallel with one another. And those two things are really the heartbeat of biblical Hebrew poetry. Biblical Hebrew poetry wasn't written like contemporary English language poetry, especially, right? Or, you know, for me, I like to, I think many contemporary rappers are poets. And many people are familiar with the imagery, the words in the imagery, but like North American or English language rap, Spanish language rap I could say too. Lots of the lines rhyme, or there's plays on words that we intuitively get. Well imagine if there were plays on words and plays on how words change and plays on semantics that you don't get. That's exactly what happens in the Hebrew text of Biblical Hebrew poetry. Not only the parallelism, so words being set in that are, I'm sorry, lines being adjacent with one another, they're playing on words many cases, they might be playing on how words change, But, but we also, they're loaded with metaphors, and many times we can gloss over those metaphors. But think about how weird it would be to not recognize that the whole "hide under his wings" thing is a metaphor. Think about the weird doctrine that could be, you know, made up if we don't understand this as a metaphor. That God has wings or something like this.
Sean: So basically some of these principles you're talking about just transforms and unlocks understanding what the purpose of Psalms and Proverbs and these other books are.
Dominic: Well what I think it helps us do if we recognize that the two things at the very center of biblical Hebrew poetry don't necessarily come intuitive to us. It makes us closer readers of the text. So parallelism and understanding all the different types of how biblical Hebrew poets put lines next to each other recognizing that was fundamental to what Hebrew poetry is, it's going to help us pay better attention to close lines in our English language reading, or our Spanish language, or whatever the mother language is. And recognizing that metaphor is at the heart of what poetry is in biblical-- in the Bible. That's going to help us be more sensitive to thinking through how words are being utilized, either literarily or metaphorically, figuratively.
Sean: Yeah, that makes sense. Now, as an apologist, as I got to this section, I had to read it a couple times, 'cause you went into some depth on the Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12, question, is this predictive prophecy? Now, a ton is at stake for the fulfillment of prophecy, the identity of Jesus, and this is probably one of the longer sections where you really probed into some depth here, which again, as apologist, I appreciated. But tell us essentially why, kind of sum it up why you think that passage actually is predictive prophecy, pointing not towards Israel as a nation, but towards a specific Savior that was fulfilled in Jesus.
Dominic: I'll tell you why I wrote that chapter. Which I was back and forth as to writing this final--
Dominic: Yes, yes, yes.
Dominic: I’ll tell you why. I wrote that chapter because I think sometimes we can fall into prideful and prideful interpretations and complacency with passages that we are familiar with. So what happens is if we become comfortable with a particular interpretation, we tend not to probe it. And this predictive, this idea that Isaiah is specifically talking about Jesus on the cross, which ultimately I do agree with, I think still needs to be probed because there have been a variety of interpreters, people who love the Bible, that have not necessarily viewed it that way. Now, it's also important for me to admit, and I try to do this, that I am a Christian person. I'm not trying to do away with my Christianity when I look at the text. What I am trying to do is say, as a Christian person, we should be honest about what we bring to the text. And what I bring to the text sometimes is a big boatload of pride, and sometimes I don't even know it, and complacency, and sometimes I don't even know it, in my interpretations. I let other people interpret things for me. So instead of letting other people interpret things for me, let's actually dig into one of these texts that's been frequently interpreted and somewhat agreed upon by the Christian community, though not completely agreed upon by the Christian community. Let's actually probe into this and let's challenge myself, I guess you could say. So yeah, that was the reason for doing this. You had another question, but I've spoken a bit, so maybe you can...
Sean: Wait, so part of reading that passage, you weren't even sure going into it if you thought it was predictive prophecy or not. Is that fair?
Dominic: No, not exactly. No, I'm not going to say you're being unfair. I'm saying what I was doing was saying, okay, I generally, I do know what I think about this to a certain extent, but I wanna challenge what I think about this. So I wanna read people that think differently than me. And I actually wanna go through the passages and sort of lay it out. You mentioned that it's a thicker chapter. It's one of the chapters in which I cite lots of scriptures.
Sean: You do, yeah.
Dominic: I cite lots of scriptures. And I think, do my best with them, But it's a frequently, it's a, I guess we can say, a passage that has been interpreted lots, it's alluded to lots in the New Testament, and I wanted to do my best to see and to flesh out how the New Testament authors got there. Because it is not as intuitive as we think. So just very briefly, when we go to church, as Christian people, we hear the gospel, we go to church, this is the story of many of us, or if we grow up in Christian homes, whatever the story might be, We end up in churches where we end up saying, we hear and start to sort of just embrace this Christian terminology, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John the Baptist looks at Jesus and says, “Lamb of God takes away the sin.” What in the world is he talking about? What is he, Jesus is a lamb? Where does he get that from? And would that have been intuitive to everybody? Whether there are certain type of hope, like what type of interaction, type of reading did you have to have of Isaiah if he's exclusively citing him. Or maybe what type of understanding did Isaiah have to have of the Passover tradition in order to say that there was gonna be another servant that was going to suffer sort of like this lamb, which he explicitly mentions, right? Like, all of that I think is helpful to flesh out for Christian readers, not just to prove our point, or to be, I mean, to show that we're right, but to say, actually, we've thought through this and we're connecting some of these dots. And that's what I did with, So Dominic did that with Dominic's self while writing this chapter. And I think I ended up okay with this–
Sean: No, it's better than okay.
Dominic: Thank you, I appreciate it. I do try my best.
Scott: So let's, maybe one final question on this.
Dominic: Party is just getting started, gentlemen.
Scott: I know, but we have plenty of time. But one final question on this. I suspect that some of our viewers and listeners might have had minimal exposure to the Old Testament. and they read your book, listen to the podcast, and think, I'd really like to get engaged with the Old. I really wanna go for it here. But I don't have a clue about how to get started. How would you advise them?
Dominic: Well, first of all, I would, if that story comes to me as a result of the podcast or the book, I will praise God and be very happy, because that's the goal, right? The goal is to get people engaged, to pick up these texts and do their best. It's important for every listener and every person that reads my book, to recognize that we are all doing our best with some of this. So we don't have to have this all figured out. We don't need to have even, we don't even need to understand all of the words to engage. Now, one of the things that I try to repeatedly state is that everyone can be a better reader of the Bible. This is why you as a Christian for many years and you as a Christian for many years, you keep reading the thing, don't you? I mean, and you expect that you'd put the puzzle pieces together a little bit differently the next time that would help you in your personal walk and in your community's walk with God. Like, so we can all become better readers. Now, in terms of practical advice, the first thing that I would say is, the first step to engaging is indeed reading. So how do we start to read? Well, some people would say, you know, start with the book of John. I'm not against that. I love John. He's cool. I would also say I find John maybe the most confusing of the Gospels, to be honest with you.
Scott: Me too.
Dominic: You do too. Okay, fine. So if you are sort of predisposed to encourage people or to start in the New Testament, go for it. Because as C.S. Lewis says, “the New Testament is a bunch of the old in many ways.” I cite this in one of my chapters. But in terms of going to the Old Testament, I really do think that we can start it in Genesis. In fact, the majority of the 50 chapters of Genesis is straight narrative that sets the foundation for the, literally in the historical books until we get to the exile. It's for the most part, relatively straightforward and also there can be– we can help people find relatively straightforward helps with some of the issues. I don't think Genesis is a bad place to start even though there is some confusing stuff, some confusing narratives there.
Scott: Okay, I think that's really helpful. I think that's some people's intuitions about where to start, but it's good to know that that intuition might actually be right.
Dominic: I think so. It becomes more difficult once you get to the second half of Exodus. So the first 70 chapters of the Bible are for the most part very straightforward. They're not easy and this still takes work and interpreting and there's clearly literary devices and figurative language and all these types of things that are happening there. But they're straightforward in terms of the narrative. It becomes more difficult once Moses brings down the Ten Commandments, goes back up and gets the rest of the law and that's where hopefully some of my chapters would help out.
Scott: Yeah, that's great. You know, for our viewers and listeners, one of the things that Dominic does in addition to being a faculty member and author and a speaker is he has also been launching a new initiative at Talbot that we're very, very excited about. We wanted you to take a minute and tell us a little bit about this, Talbot in Español.
Dominic: (speaking in Spanish) So it is a pleasure. It is a pleasure to announce to your listenership, your viewership, that Talbot is now offering courses in Spanish starting in the fall. as part of a certificate program. And we plan on broadening those offerings in the years to come, so that hopefully students will be able to study master's degrees, at least maybe even up to three master's degrees, with us at Talbot, 100% in Spanish. The mother tongue of so many people that live in this area of the country. It's going to be offered 100% in Spanish, 100% online for those in different parts of the world that would like to join us. It doesn't matter what continent, it doesn't matter what time of day, none of this, we're going to have our courses online in Spanish with some of the best Spanish-speaking faculty that you can find out there. So it's a delight to announce that.
Scott: And how, if somebody is interested or wants to recommend this to a friend, how would they go about finding out more about it?
Dominic: Thank you very much. I said that in Spanish, but now I'll say it in English.
Dominic: We have our own website, Talbot Español. And very simple, also Google search Talbot Español, and we will pop up. You can contact me directly, or any of the other people that are on the page. Our administrative faculty, I'm sorry, our administrative staff are also listed on that page, and we'd be happy to get in contact with anyone that has any more questions about Talbot Español.
Sean: So I do have one more. What are the three masters that you'll offer? Now I'm really curious.
Dominic: Um… So–
Sean: Unless I put you on the spot and you're not sure.
Dominic: Well, I do know. Okay. I do know, but this is-
Sean: Secret information.
Dominic: It's not secret. Let me say it and you'll cut it if you have to. Because this has to go through the approval process. We're in the process of the approval process.
Sean: Oh, that's fair. Okay.
Scott: This is the plan.
Dominic: Yeah. This is the plan. Sure. Thank you. Okay. This is the plan. The plan is to offer two different concentrations in a Master of Arts: Bible exposition, and leadership.
Dominic: And then the Master of Divinity, - The General Master of Divinity.
Sean: And then fourth will be in apologetics. And we will partner on that, right?
Dominic: If you wanna do apologetics, we do apologetics. We can make that happen.
Sean: I love it.
Dominic: We can make that happen today if you're serious about it.
Sean: Well, let's talk about it. I appreciate it. Dominic, your book, “Engaging the Old Testament,” is so well done. It's such a helpful tool. Hope our viewers will pick it up. Appreciate you coming on today and bringing some energy and insights and addressing sharp again. And we just wish you the best leading this Talbot in Español. What a ministry there. It's so needed. Appreciate you. Thanks for coming on.
Dominic: Thank you very much gentlemen. Thank you for having me.
Sean: And for our viewers, make sure you hit subscribe. We've got some other content coming up soon you will not want to miss, and we'll see you next time on the Think Biblically podcast.