The first post is “Preachers and their Libraries,” click here.
The second post is “Ten Books Pastors Should Read - Part 1,” click here.
6. An Introduction to the Old Testament
No one who desires to gain a comprehensive knowledge of the Old Testament for preaching and teaching can live without a good Introduction of the Old Testament. There are several introductions to the Old Testament on the market today, and selecting one is not an easy task.
The problem with recommending a good introduction hinges on the fact that all of them take a different approach. The ideal introduction for pastors would be one that gives a historical and theological introduction to each book of the Old Testament, without majoring on critical and literary issues.
Since the selection of a good introduction is complicated, I have selected two different books, each with a different approach. The reader should to select one of them. The first book is Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003). Brueggemann focuses on literary, historical, and theological aspects of each book of the Old Testament.
The second book is Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994). This book takes an evangelical, conservative approach to the Old Testament while trying to maintain a balance between scholarly issues and practical application.
7. Old Testament Ethics for the People of God
Good books on Old Testament ethics are few. The past decade has seen the appearance of several books dealing with ethical issues in the Old Testament. A problem with recommending a book on Old Testament ethics is that each author takes a different approach to ethical issues. The one I have selected is Christopher J. H. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004). Wright’s book deals with economic ethics.
Another book dealing with Old Testament ethics is Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991). Kaiser’s book deals with moral ethics. This book takes a very conservative view on some of the ethical issues of the Old Testament. However, pastors should read this book only to become aware of debatable ethical issues and then find a better approach to dealing with some of these issues.
8. The Kingdom of God
John Bright’s, The Kingdom of God (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1981), is an old book. The reference to the threat of communism will give away the age of the book. The book was first published in 1953, but it has endured and it has almost become one of those classical books that people should read. The reason the book is important is because it provides a good understanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.
I have made the reading of this book a requirement in my introduction to the Old Testament. And, it never fails: when students read this book, they recognize that the work of the God of the Old Testament continues in the work of Jesus Christ.
9. Preaching from the Old Testament
Since this list of books has been prepared for people who preach and teach from the Old Testament, it is just fair that one book on preaching from the Old Testament should be included.
There is a problem with recommending a book on preaching: those who proclaim God’s Word have different styles and approaches to preaching. But the fact is, that we can learn from others in order to improve our own style of preaching.
Those who want to preach from the Old Testament should read Elizabeth Achtemeier, Preaching from the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1989). This book provides good insights on how to prepare sermons from the Old Testament.
Those who want to study different approaches on how to preach from the Old Testament can also consult Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) and John C. Holbert, Preaching Old Testament: Proclamation and Narrative in the Hebrew Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991).
Of the three books, I consider Achtemeier’s book closer to my own approach. My review of Kaiser’s book will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Review and Expositor.
10. Ancient Israel
A book that is indispensable in the library of any pastor is Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel (2 vols.; New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1965). There are several editions of this book on the market. Be sure that you buy the unabridged two volume edition. Volume one deals with the social institutions of Israel; volume two deals with the religious institutions.
This book provides an almost encyclopedic amount of information on the social and religious life of Israel. Anyone who looks at the indices of the two books will understand the reason this book should be part of a good Old Testament library.
In addition to these ten books, I want to add two more books to the reading list. The first book is Phyllis Trible, Text of Terrors: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984). This book studies the stories of four women who suffered brutal treatment by the men in their lives. The four biblical stories are studied from the perspective of the oppressed women.
The second book is Terence Fretheim, The Suffering of God (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984). This book looks at the God of the Old Testament from the perspective of divine suffering. God is presented as a God who suffers because of, with, and for his people.
Fretheim’s book is very challenging. It is the kind of book one must read consulting all the biblical references the author cites. As the introduction of the book says, the purpose of the book “is to broaden our understanding of the God of the Old Testament by showing the ‘suffering belongs to the person and purpose of God.’” Thus, with twelve books, pastors can make a commitment to read one book a month.
If you notice the books selected for this list, the selection is aimed at providing a comprehensive introduction to the Old Testament. The list contains, in addition to the Bible, one book on the history of Israel, one on the introduction of the Old Testament book by book, one on a historical and theological introduction to the Old Testament, one dealing with Old Testament theology, one dealing with Old Testament ethics, one dealing with a theological commentary of the Old Testament, one on preaching, one explaining the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, and one book dealing with daily life in Israelite society.
Those who make a commitment to read these books with attention to details and a desire to learn will gain a good understanding of the Old Testament that will provide a solid foundation for preaching and teaching from the Old Testament for a lifetime.
I am afraid, however, that many pastors will not read even half of the books listed here. The reason is that many pastors believe that a seminary education is enough preparation for the ministry. The fact is, that a good seminary education is only the beginning of a pastor’s theological education.
Real theological education happens after graduation. In seminary, pastors are only exposed to all the resources that are available to prepare them for the ministry.
Theological education happens in the privacy of one’s study, when the pastor takes time to read, think, and evaluate the information read. True education happens when one builds a reservoir of knowledge that will serve as the solid foundation for preaching and teaching.
The words of the wise can be a good guide for those who study: “Do not neglect the studies of the learned, they can teach you to understand and to have an answer ready in time of need” (Sirach 8:8, 9).
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary