It is amazing how people use the expression “Old Testament” these days. At one time, the expression “Old Testament” referred to the thirty-nine books that preceded the New Testament in the Bible. Not anymore.
Today the expression “Old Testament” is used as an adjective to modify something that is not good. For example, several months ago when Kansas beat the University of Kentucky in basketball, one writer for a newspaper in Kentucky was very critical of the team and wrote that on that night, Kentucky was “Old Testament bad.”
What is “Old Testament bad”? I wrote a blog giving my ideas of what it means to be “Old Testament bad.” If you want to read “Old Testament Bad,” click here.
In addition, the expression “Old Testament” is used to designate something frightful. For example, a few months ago a writer wrote an article about his childhood experiences. He mentioned that when he was young, he did something that displeased his father. Knowing that his father was going to discipline him, he realized that for him, “The Evening Turned Old Testament.”
But, when does the evening turn Old Testament? I also wrote a blog giving my views on when an evening turns Old Testament. If you want to read “The Evening Turned Old Testament,” click here.
I am sure that very few people are interested in these trivialities, but I think they are interesting. The use of Old Testament in this manner is evidence of how the Bible has entered our culture and has become part of our vocabulary, even though only the persons who use these colloquialisms have an idea of what they mean. And when these colloquialisms are used, it is up to the reader to interpret the meaning of the expression.
Because I know that very few people are interested in these colloquialisms, I promised myself that I would never again write a blog on such a triviality. I have to confess that I am about to break my promise. The reason is that I just found another jewel that demands my attention.
Recently, Stephen Dalton wrote an article for Timesonline reviewing Bob Dylan’s performance at Cardiff International Arena. At 65 years of age, Bob Dylan’s performance was only a shadow of the great performances of his earlier days and Dalton lets his readers know it. He wrote:
Admittedly, there were plenty of Dylan classics in his Cardiff set. But, sadly, many were mauled beyond recognition, with all-time anthems including “She Belongs to Me” and “Positively 4th Street” reduced to toothless cabaret pastiches.
More bizarre still was the shrill yodel that has replaced the singer’s Old Testament rasp in recent years, rounding off almost every line on the same gargling high note. Midway through the show, he began to sound like Crazy Frog’s granddad.
It was very sad to know that Bob Dylan had lost his “Old Testament rasp.” But, what is an Old Testament rasp? Since a rasp is a noise that grates on one's nerves, I turned to the Old Testament to find examples of Old Testament rasp.
I do not think that the “thunder of God's voice” (Job 37:2) is Old Testament rasp because the Lord’s voice is majestic (Isaiah 30:30), but the voice of one’s wife (Genesis 3:17), at times, can be Old Testament rasp.
I am sure that the voice of the beloved (Song of Solomon 2:8) was not Old Testament rasp because there was much love in that voice. However, the voice of the serpent (Genesis 3:1) is a clear example of Old Testament rasp because there was deceit in that voice.
Since rasp can also cause irritation or annoyance, then the deceiving voice of Jacob (Genesis 27:22), the voice announcing disaster (Jeremiah 4:15), the voice heard in Ramah, mourning and weeping (Jeremiah 31:15), the voice of anger and bitterness (Ezekiel 27:30-31), and Esau ‘s voice of desperation (Genesis 27:34) are all examples of Old Testament rasp.
I was not there for Bob Dylan’s performance. But reading Stephen Dalton’s review, it is clear that when the audience noticed that a shrill yodel had replaced Bob Dylan’s Old Testament rasp, the evening turned Old Testament and, in the end, the audience knew that on that night, Bob Dylan was Old Testament bad.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary