Old testament survey

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SESSION 1: Approaching the Old Testament


The Bible is the Word of God. The word “Bible” comes from two Greek words: “ta biblia”, meaning “the book”. This is an expression used by the early Christians from about 150 AD. The Bible consists of 66 books: 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. The Bible is a book of books.



A. We cannot understand the New Testament without the Old Testament (Matthew 1:1).

1. To learn about David, we turn to 1 and 2 Samuel (in the Old Testament).

2. To learn about Abraham, we turn to Genesis (in the Old Testament).

3. Matthew 2:6 is a quotation from Micah 5:2.

4. Matthew 2:15 is a quotation from Hosea 11:1.

5. Matthew 2:18 is a quotation from Jeremiah 31:15.

6. When Jesus was tempted by Satan, three times He said, “It is written . . . .” Each time, Jesus quoted the Old Testament.

a. Jesus regarded the Old Testament as having authority and as the Word of God.

• How should a Christian regard the Old Testament?

b. The Apostle Paul kept talking about “the Law” in the Epistles.

i. What Law?

ii. Paul meant the Law of the Old Testament: the Law of Moses.

c. The book of Hebrews talks about the relationship between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

d. The book of Revelation (at the end of the New Testament) is full of word pictures from the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah (Old Testament books).

B. “Old Testament” defined

1. The term “Old Testament” is a Christian description of the books given by God to the Jewish people that are related to the Old Covenant, which God gave to Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai.

2. The word “covenant” means a special agreement which ties people together. And in the Old Covenant, God tied Himself with the people of Israel.

• It is impossible to fully understand the New Testament without the Old Testament.

C. Old Testament quotations in the New Testament

1. The New Testament contains at least 295 separate references to the Old Testament.

2. The references are introduced 224 times by a formula such as “It is written” or “God says”.

3. This refers to at least 278 different verses from the Old Testament.

4. At least 56 times, the New Testament writers refer to God as the author of the Old Testament verses.

5. There are 41 occasions in the New Testament (when quoting the Old Testament) that the introductory formula is in the present tense, such as “God says” and not the past tense, “God said”.

a. The New Testament writer didn’t regard it as something that was finished.

b. This means that it wasn’t just the Word of God then; it is still God’s Word now.

• Statistics are from Roger Nicole, New Testament Use of the Old Testament in Revelation and the Bible, Grand Rapids, 1959, 1980, pp. 137-138.


A. The importance of history

1. God does not offer Himself to us as an object of philosophical ideas.

2. He comes to help us; He demands a response from us.

3. Histories in the Old Testament are examples of how God has helped people.

• They are an endless display of God in action: saving, judging, and intervening in the lives of people and the destinies of nations.

4. Karl Barth says: “The task of theological reflection and of preaching does not begin at all with abstract ideas, but with the reality of God’s action.”

(Karl Barth, Collins, 1958, P. 31)

5. A people who has no history is like a man with amnesia: a man who has lost his memory.

a. The New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed.

b. The Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed.

c. What we are today is the result of what happened yesterday.

d. What we do today will shape tomorrow.

B. The Old Testament includes several kinds (genres) of literature.

1. The books include history, poetry, wisdom literature, and prophecy.

2. The Bible is a book of organic unity and not a book of uniformity.

• A flower with roots, stem, leaves, and bloom is a tree and not three trees; but it is diverse, not uniform.

3. The Bible uses language in different ways, so we must be careful in the way we interpret the Bible.

• Words must be interpreted in their context: in chapter, book, historical background, culture, and literary genre.

4. We must ask two questions when we read the Old Testament.

a. What did it say to the people when it was written?

b. What does it say to us now?


• We cannot deal with this in detail in this course. However, here are some examples:

A. In the case of Amos, it is obvious that he prophesied during the reign of King Jeroboam II in Israel, 793-753 B.C.

B. When we come to the Psalms, it is more complicated.

1. Some were written by David.

2. Others were written by Asaph, sons of Korah.

3. At some time, they were collected into five books and brought together in what we now call the book of Psalms.

4. You see a similar procession in Proverbs.

C. In Joshua 10:12-13, there is a short poem that was written in the book of Jasher.

1. We don’t have that book today.

2. The book was known to the Israelites in Joshua’s time.

3. It does not mean that we have lost part of the Bible.

4. It means that the Bible was part of a culture, and we should expect to see and hear parts of that culture referred to.

D. In the Pentateuch (the first five books in the Bible)

1. There is a lot of discussion about date and authorship.

2. But again, we cannot go into details here.

E. We shall not be able to look at every book in the Old Testament in this course.

1. The Old Testament is like a palace with many rooms.

2. We cannot explore all of them just now, but we can get inside the building.


A. The Old Testament today follows the names and numbering of books as in the Latin Vulgate, which in turn followed the Greek Septuagint (LXX).

1. The Pentateuch means “Five Scrolls”.

a. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy

b. The name of each book gives the idea of its theme.

2. The historical books

• Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther

3. The major or larger prophets

a. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel

b. The term “major” refers to size of book, not greater importance.

c. Lamentations is included because of its close thematic relation with Jeremiah.

4. The minor prophets

• Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi

5. In the middle of the Bible are the poetic books.

a. They are from many different periods of history.

b. They are put after the historical books and before the prophets.

c. Psalms, Proverbs (the wisdom literature), Job, and Ecclesiastes

d. We have history, poetry, and prophecy.

B. The Hebrew arrangement of the Old Testament

1. The Law/Torah (Pentateuch)

• The five books of Moses

2. The prophets

a. The former prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings

b. The latter prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the Book of the Twelve Prophets

3. The writings: The Psalms, Proverbs, Job, the Five Scrolls (Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther), Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles

4. This Hebrew arrangement is what Jesus used.


In our next session, we will look at the Old Testament as Jesus used it.


1. Does the Old Testament have the same authority as the New Testament? Discuss reasons for your answer.

2. Why did the New Testament writers quote the Old Testament in present tense, instead of in past tense?

3. Discuss the importance of history as it relates to God’s dealing with people, cities, and nations in the Bible.


1. Write an explanation of what the following statement means to you: “A people who has no history is like a man with amnesia: a man who has lost his memory.”

2. Memorize the order of the Old Testament in our English Bible and be able to recite each book in its order.

SESSION 2: The Order of Books and Creation


In our last session, we talked about the arrangement of the books in the Old Testament. At the time of Jesus, the Jews had all of the same books; however, they placed them in a different order.

Let us look at a verse in the New Testament that makes reference to the Old Testament books.

• “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).

• “Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke . . . .’” (Luke 24:44)

The Jewish people at the time of Jesus had all of the books that we now call the Old Testament: the Jewish Bible. But when they placed these books in their special order, they put them in three big groups.

A. The first group was called the Law: what we call the Pentateuch.

1. Genesis to Deuteronomy

2. They called it the Torah, meaning “instruction”; it was the first part of the Hebrew Bible.

B. The second part they called The Prophets, which also included some historical books. They divided this into two parts: the former Prophets and the latter Prophets.

1. The former prophets consist of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings.

2. The latter prophets are Isaiah through Malachi, with the exception of Daniel and Lamentations.

C. Then came the writings, which are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and the Five Scrolls: Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther.

• These are followed by Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 and 2 Chronicles.

The New Testament quotes from all three parts of the Old Testament. In the New Testament, there are 94 quotations from the Pentateuch, 99 from the prophets, and 85 from the writings.

• “From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah . . . .” (Luke 11:51)

• The death of Abel: in the first book in the Hebrew Canon (Genesis 4:8)

• The death of Zechariah: in the last book in the Hebrew Canon (2 Chronicles 24:20)

Jesus recognized the whole of the Old Testament as the Word of God. Why is this important?

We don’t have to go back and rearrange the books in our Bible to follow the traditional Jewish order. The point is that Jesus Christ accepted not just part of the Old Testament, but all of it, as the Word of God.



A. Can we be sure that our English Bible, or the translation into your language, is the Word of God?

• Yes; because we can still refer to the Hebrew Bible, or Greek translation, and the Manuscript.

B. The scribes went to the most extreme lengths to preserve the text of the Hebrew Scriptures.

1. They were completely convinced in their minds that it was the Word of God and that nothing should be changed.

2. “They counted, for example, the number of times each letter of the alphabet occurs in each book; they pointed out the middle letter of the Pentateuch and the middle letter of the entire Hebrew Bible . . . .” (F.F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments. London, 1984, 1991. P. 108)

3. Can you imagine going through the whole of the Torah and counting the number of letters, and then taking your new handwritten copy and counting all over again to see if you had accidentally missed one letter?

a. The middle word is in Leviticus 10:16.

b. The middle letter is a vav in Leviticus 11:42.

4. Kethib-Qere: When a scribe was faced with a variant reading, he simply placed one in the body of the text (Kethib) and copied the variant in the margin (Qere).

5. How well did they succeed?

C. Dead Sea Scrolls

1. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, they were older by one thousand years than the previous oldest-known manuscripts; yet, they were almost identical to any printed Hebrew Bible you could have bought in a shop in that day.

a. There are some small changes in spelling and phrasing, but essentially they are the same.

b. These Dead Sea Scrolls include the whole book of Isaiah and parts of every Old Testament book, except Esther.

2. There were fragments of about 190 Biblical scrolls found in eleven caves. They included 20 fragments of Genesis, 14 of Exodus, 27 of Deuteronomy, 34 of the Book of Psalms, and between 20 and 24 of Isaiah.

a. This showed that the Old Testament has not been changed.

b. It is also true to say the New Testament has not been changed. The evidence for the New Testament is even stronger.

D. Translation: two ways

1. Literal or dynamic equivalence

2. Versions: LXX, Samaritan Pentateuch, Aramaic Targums, Syriac Peshitta

3. The Septuagint LXX (Greek translation of the Hebrew text) was translated from manuscripts of the Old Testament which no longer exist.

• We have all of these evidences that we can look at for verification of the Old Testament.


A. Creation

1. God is Creator: The universe is designed according to God’s intelligence.

a. God is not a cosmic soul within the universe, not an impersonal cosmic force.

• He does not depend on the universe or on anything in it.

b. The universe is the result of the intelligent plan of God, which He created by His own power.

2. Saint Basil: “It is easier to measure the entire ocean in a little cup than to grasp the greatness of God in the human mind.”

• God does not try to put the whole ocean into the cup; He puts the cup into the ocean.

B. “Bara” (create) in Genesis 1:1, 21, 27

1. Man (humanity) is made in the image of God: intelligent, self-aware, having a supernatural capacity, and a moral consciousness.

2. Architect, planner, artist, poet, musician, creator, thinker, and philosopher


Can we trust our English Old Testament Bible as the Word of God in the same way the Jews and Jesus Christ trusted it as the reliable Word of God? Discuss this question by citing evidence.


Make a list of three quotations from the Old Testament that were spoken in the New Testament by Jesus Christ. Choose one from each of the three parts of the Old Testament.

1. The Law

2. The Prophets

3. The Writings


SESSION 3: The Image of God and the Fall


In our last session, we stopped at how God created man in His own image. “Man” means their humanity; it doesn’t just mean man as distinct from woman. What this means is that God sees man as a spirit-being.



• What is it that makes man distinct from other animals?

A. Man has an intelligence beyond that of animals.

1. He is aware of himself and his surroundings.

2. Man is an architect, a planner, an artist, a poet, musician, creator, thinker, and philosopher.

3. Man is aware of his finitude: that he is limited.

4. He is also aware that there is a God who is unlimited.

B. Man has moral consciousness.

• He knows what is right and wrong.

C. Man has within him a supernatural capacity.

• To experience the presence of God

D. Man was not created as an evil, fallen creature.

1. God built into man a capacity to respond to Himself.

2. Man has a capacity to say yes or no.

3. This capacity is the highest dignity we have as human beings.


A. Satan raised a question in man and contradicted God.

1. “Has God said?”

2. “You will not surely die.”

B. The dignity of obedience involves a measure of free will.

• What do you want to be: a child or a robot?

C. The concept of identity

1. How do we describe identity?

2. There are two ways:

a. In the western world: individualism

b. In the Old Testament parts of the world: solidarity

3. Our identity with Adam; our identity with Christ (Romans 5:19)

(See also Romans 5:12, 15, 17-19; 6:3-5, 10, 23)

a. When we receive Christ as our Lord, we are identified with Him and the community of His people.

b. This does not take away personal moral responsibility (Ezekiel 18:20).

c. The context here is the matter of choice.

• Does the individual choose to identify with a rebellious nation or with those who are loyal to the Covenant of God?

D. The progress of sin

• In the next generation, sin went further.

1. Cain murdered his brother Abel.

a. When the vertical relationship with God is broken, the horizontal relationship with our fellow humans will be broken too.

b. Compare the first question in the Bible: Genesis 3:9, with Genesis 4:9.

2. The judgment of the flood (Genesis 6-9)

a. Those who were obedient to God were saved.

b. Those who were not obedient came under God’s judgment.


1. Discuss the capacity that gives man the highest dignity compared to other animals.

2. What are the implications of the fall of man into sin as it affects our identity?

3. How does identifying with Christ affect our community involvement?


Study Genesis 3 and summarize the effects that man’s encounter with Satan had on his relationship with God.

SESSION 4: Babel and Abraham: The Concepts of Covenant


In this session, we are going to look at Genesis 11 and further. Our last session focused on the relationships that people have with God. Sometimes people have relationships of obedience and fellowship with God. Other people have a relationship which is disobedience. The great sin of mankind is to decide for themselves what is right and wrong. Man always asks, Why should God decide for him?

In Genesis 11, there is an example of the same thing. It is the story of the Tower of Babel.



A. The whole thing is really based on a play on words in the Hebrew language.

1. “Babel”: “Bab” is gate, and “el” is God.

2. Bab-el is a gate to godhood.

B. There is “Balal”: meaning confusion (Genesis 11:4).

1. Here they were centering their minds on themselves, on what they would build, and on a name for themselves.

2. In ancient Mesopotamia, there were towers of bricks connected with
idol worship, such as astrology, which had to do with knowing the future and controlling it.

a. Ultimately, what they were trying to do was to become God.

b. The result was the judgment of God, ending in confusion (Genesis 11:9).

3. Again, we see a situation where man was disobedient to God in the vertical relationship, and the result was confusion in the horizontal relationship: between people.


A. The background

1. Abraham came from an area not far from Babel, where the tower was built.

2. This area is called Iraq today.

B. His journey (Genesis 11:31)

C. Abraham’s time and people

1. Middle Bronze II A (2000-1800 BC)

• “And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel: Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the river and led him throughout all the land of Canaan . . . .’” (Joshua 24:2-3)

2. Genesis 12: The call from Ur. Nannar/Sin

• “Nannar” or “Sin” was the god of the moon who was worshipped as the god who controlled the whole territory.

3. Abraham’s faith

a. “And he believed in (leaned on) the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

b. Abraham’s faith was like a journey, step-by-step.

4. The practice of adoption and its reasons (Genesis 15:1-3)

• Tablet from Nuzi in Mesopotamia, mid 2nd millennium BC: “The adoption document (lit. tablet) of Nashwi, the son of Arshenni: Nashwi has adopted Wullu, the son of Puhi-shenni. As long as Nashwi is alive, Wullu shall provide him with food and clothes; when Nashwi dies, Wullu will be the heir.”

D. Covenant with Abraham

1. Genesis 15:18: the covenant with a self-imprecatory oath

2. The word covenant is “berith” in Hebrew; it ties people together.

3. Jeremiah 34:18

4. Hittite oaths of loyalty; Jezebel, Romans and Albans, Hannibal

5. The oath formula: “If I break my words, may the god do this or that to me.”
(Jeremiah 34:18)

E. Application

1. In the New Testament, we are told that Abraham is the father of the faithful: those who believe in Christ.

2. God has come into our lives.

3. He tied Himself to us.

4. He has done it in the New Covenant.

a. Jesus Himself took our nature.

b. When we are born again, we receive His nature.

c. That is the strongest tie or covenant that you could ever think of.

d. This covenant must be understood in order to understand the whole Old Testament.


1. What lessons can we learn from the building of the Tower of Babel and from God’s judgment that followed, in our relationships with God and people?

2. How does the concept of covenant apply to the Christian’s faith?

3. How can you apply Abraham’s journey of faith to your situations today?


1. Learn more about the life of Abraham by studying Genesis 12-18; 21-22.

2. Study Hebrews 11:8-19. Compare this New Testament passage with the Old Testament passages in Genesis, and list some lessons of eternal value that you discover from Abraham’s life of faith.


SESSION 5: Abraham, Israel, Joseph, and Moses


We continue in our studies with the life of Abraham. There are two important things about the life of Abraham. First, Abraham trusted God by faith; that was his relationship with God. Secondly, God made a covenant with Abraham and made promises to him; that was part of God’s relationship with him. God made two promises to Abraham: First, He promised him a son; secondly, He said his descendants were going to inherit a land.

Abraham believed the Lord. But after years and years, he still had no child. In Genesis 16, Sarah, Abraham’s wife, made a suggestion to him. Abraham’s life was a struggle between his relationship with God and his culture.



A. Tablet from Nuzi:

• “If Kelim-ninu (the wife) bears (children), Shennima shall not take another wife; but if Kelim-ninu does not bear (children), she shall buy a woman from the land of Lullu as wife for Shennima.”

B. Old Assyrian marriage contract

1. The old Assyrian marriage contract in 19th century BC describes how Laqipum has married Hatala, daughter of Enishru.

2. If within two years she does not bear him children, she herself shall buy a female slave to produce a child.

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