In retrospect: Thoughts on the Old Testament (1979–2019)

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In this contribution, the author provides the reader with a personal and consequently subjective account of major shifts in his perspectives on the Old Testament during a career that spanned a period of forty years. After a short biographical sketch, the author motivates why he eventually chose the Old Testament as his field of specialization. No fewer than eight factors played a role in choosing the Old Testament as a field of study. First, curiosity played a role. The more Prof. Snyman read the Old Testament, the more curious he became to better his understanding of the Old Testament. Second, he was intrigued by the fact that sermons preached from the Old Testament were few and far between, despite the fact that the Old Testament constitutes the major part of the canon of Scriptures used in the church. Third, the well-prepared and inspiring lectures of his mentor and doctoral supervisor in Old Testament studies, Prof. W.S. (Riempies) Prinsloo, contributed to his enduring interest in the Old Testament. Fourth, the Old Testament was discovered as a fascinating and diverse collection of writings, consisting of a variety of literary genres that spanned several centuries. Fifth, once appointed as lecturer in Old Testament, Prof. Snyman viewed his position as an extension of his calling to ministry. He regarded teaching the theological message of the Old Testament as a new dimension in this calling. Sixth, the Old Testament forms part of the canon of Scriptures, in particular of the reformed tradition, of which Prof. Snyman considered himself to be a part. Seventh, his being part of the academic staff at a faculty required a scientific approach to the Old Testament. The academic environment prompted Prof. Snyman to study the Old Testament and to publish his research results in academic journals. Lastly, the Old Testament is a book that confronts the hard realities of believers’ daily lives; their grappling with the realities of life appealed to Prof. Snyman.

Four major shifts in his perspectives on the Old Testament have been identified. The first major shift requires that the Old Testament should be read as a collection of writings which takes both the literary and historical aspects of text interpretation into account. At the beginning of his professional career, the emphasis was mainly on the so-called text-immanent features of an Old Testament text, neglecting its historical dimension. Prof. Snyman has become convinced that the historical dimension of the Old Testament texts should also be considered. Consequently, this aspect of exegesis was also incorporated in his approach to the reading of the Old Testament. Having said this, exegesis is more than an investigation into the literary and historical dimensions of a text. Exegesis also amounts to a theological interpretation of the text in question. In this sense, exegesis should be considered a creative enterprise where the exegete formulates a theological meaning derived from a text taking both the literary and historical aspects into account. The second major shift asks that the Old Testament should be read as a book with its own authentic message. The Old Testament should not be viewed as the preliminary Word of God to be surpassed by the New Testament. Old and New Testament should be viewed together as the complete Word of God. This shift implies that the Old Testament has to be viewed as much more than merely a document which predicts the coming of the Messiah. The third major shift entails the author’s discovery that the Old Testament is a very human book, written by human beings and directed to human beings. A kaleidoscope of human experiences and emotions can be found in the Old Testament: evil, murder, lies, violence, suffering, death, love, hate, hope and despair, speaking to people in Old Testament times, but also speaking to people in current times. The Old Testament can therefore be viewed as a result of people’s encounter with God in many different circumstances. Yet, the Old Testament remains a book that reveals God to its readers. The fourth major shift marks a change in the author’s understanding of what is referred to as “the inspiration of the Bible”. In the light of knowledge gained about how the Old Testament in particular originated, current theories on biblical inspiration can no longer be upheld. The concept of inspiration should rather be broadened to include the entire process of the forming of the canon of Scripture, the translation, and even the proclamation of the message of the Bible. This article closes with a perception of what the task of Old Testament studies would be in future. It is interesting to note that an Old Testament theology which emerges from the (South) African continent has not been published yet. Writing an Old Testament theology from the African continent will remain a challenge to Old Testament scholars in years to come. Old Testament scholars will increasingly have the responsibility to make the theological message of the Old Testament known to churches and societies in a credible and trustworthy way. Viewed from a hermeneutical perspective, Old Testament scholars may not escape the responsibility to bridge the gap between the Old Testament and current times.

Keywords: historical; inspiration; literary; Old Testament


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In retrospek: Nagedink oor die Ou Testament (1979–2019)

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