I don’t know about you, but I spend much more time reading, studying, and preaching the New Testament than the Old. This is not because I don’t believe the Old Testament is the Word of God or has value. To the contrary the Old Testament is God’s inspired Word, the foundation on which further divine revelation is built in the New Testament. The Old Testament establishes principles that are seen to be illustrative of New Testament truths, but most of all the Old Testament is the beginning of God’s redemptive story. It prepares the way for the Messiah through the covenant God made with His chosen people the Jews.
When a friend told me he was teaching an introductory college course on the Old Testament using as his textbook Alec Motyer’s Roots: Let the Old Testament Speak, I decided to buy it because I honestly felt I needed a review of the Old Testament. I’d been preaching on many specific passages of the Old Testament for years, but frankly I “couldn’t see the forest for the trees.”
Dr. J. Alec Motyer, an Irish biblical scholar, educated at Oxford University, was Vice-Principal of Clifton Theological College and vicar of St. Luke’s, Hampstead and Christ Church, Westbourne, before becoming Principal of Trinity College, Bristol. He was born in 1924 in Dublin, Ireland and died in 2016. He was a friend and colleague of Dr. John Stott. In fact, Stott is listed as the editor of Roots and the author of the Preface.
In my opinion Roots is a very fine introduction to the Old Testament. The only flaw I see in it is that out of 390 pages the author only devotes 3.5 pages to the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2, which is probably the most difficult passage to understand and to believe in our modern age. What the Bible teaches about the origin of the universe can even be a barrier for evangelism with some non-Christians.
I like the fact that Motyer begins right away, in the very first chapter, with how Jesus viewed the Old Testament (OT), and he shows how the whole message of the OT moves toward fulfillment in Christ and His reign.
Certain books in the OT are looked at more in depth than others, but they are all covered, and they are all fit into their historical timeline. I truly appreciated that Roots is organized chronologically (historically), not by the order of the books of the Bible, nor by the traditional divisions of many OT introductions, for example, the Law, History, the Poets and the Prophets. Each Old Testament book is clearly placed into its historical framework as the author moves from creation to the intertestamental period.
Though Motyer is a scholarly conservative OT specialist and does indeed deal with some of the critical issues that liberals raise, he doesn’t let these matters cause the reader to miss the central themes of God’s Word.
There are many sidebars on subjects of interest. For example, in the last chapter, “Malachi and Joel: Hoping to the End” there are short sidebars on subjects like “Malachi’s Worldview,” “The Day of the Lord,” and “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament.”
Dr. Motyer obviously has an excellent knowledge of the Hebrew language and Old Testament backgrounds, but he also appears simply to “delight in the law of the LORD.” At times he strikes me more as a preacher than a scholar. Many of the applications he brings out reveal him to be a godly, mature Christian man.
For one example, the author begins his chapter on “The Loving Wisdom of our God” in this way:
“Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13ff) practiced true biblical psychology – through the head ((v. 27) to the heart (v. 32) and so to the feet (v. 33). There is no ‘head knowledge’, but in biblical understanding of things, nothing is known until it kindles the affections, directs the will and changes the course of life. This is what the Old Testament calls ‘wisdom.’”
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