An Old Testament Theology by Bruce K. Waltke

tsslogo.jpgAlthough I rarely purchase books at conferences, I spend a lot of time in conference bookstores. Part of this is purely because I’ve got some strains of N-E-R-D in my DNA. But I also linger around conference bookstores to watch and listen to what titles excite pastors. Which books get the most play? Which books sell out? Which books go untouched?

Focusing a bit of attention on a conference bookstore can prove revealing.

At Together for the Gospel ’06 in Louisville I noted Mark Dever’s two volumes of sermons throughout the entire Bible were recently released and both were on sale. One volume contained the sermons through the New Testament [The Message of the New Testament (Crossway: 2006)] and the other volume contained his sermons through the Old Testament [The Message of the Old Testament (Crossway: 2006)]. They were about the same size, price, format, and design — presented at the conference in equally tall stacks, sitting side-by-side. But despite these similarities, I noticed the Old Testament volume was selling much quicker than the New Testament. In fact, I had planned to make a rare conference purchase, only to be surprised the Old Testament volumes were soon gone! A pile of New Testament volumes remained on much later in the conference.

Both volumes were well received (as they should have). Mark Dever’s gift of overview sermons is obvious and a great blessing to the Church. But also obvious was a pronounced interest in young, Reformed pastors to understand the theology and storyline of the Old Testament.

I think it’s fair to say that for many pastors, the theology and storyline of the Old Testament is veiled in the shadows. Sure, we understand the first Adam and the second Adam, the first David and the second David, and the contours of the Abrahamic covenant. But do we truly understand how all those (sometimes very odd) Old Testament details fit together?

I’ll be the first to say, No. My understanding of the Old Testament narratives and theology is woefully inadequate.

One new book has set out to help — An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Zondervan: 2007) by Bruce Waltke. At 1,040 pages and 67-ounces, it’s not the biggest volume published this year (the Banner of Truth just unleashed a 100-ounce volume!), but it’s one of the most useful. I would argue this is one of the top-five most important books published in 2007.

Among reformed Old Testament scholars, Waltke is among the best. Just a glance through his biography at the Reformed Theological Seminary website and it becomes apparent his career has been fruitful. This new work is billed as the culmination of his lifelong work.

An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach provides a detailed walk through the Old Testament narratives and theology. Waltke provides exceptional outlines to help the reader follow the flow of events and view the theological value at each step.

I would suggest the best way to familiarize yourself with the content is to browse the book at the Zondervan website here.

Identity Crisis?

With my theological background I lean towards premillenial dispensationalism. Waltke, however, is no dispensationalist, and thinks “classical dispensationalism” – by dividing God’s relationship between Israel, Gentiles, and the Church – has been partly to blame in the contemporary ignorance of the Old Testament (pp. 42-43). I think that’s a fair critique. But Waltke has also learned from dispensational theology and carefully appreciates the continuity and discontinuity with the Old Testament (p. 21). His presentation is sensitive to schools of differing theology.

But even a dispensationalist can appreciate Waltke’s emphasis on the Old Testament and its value in helping us to understand our identity as God’s children.

Our church culture is in a bit of an identity crisis. How do we relate to culture? Where do we fit? What identifies us as the Church? Add this to the Emergent emphasis on embarking on a journey — and that journey being presented as an end in itself — and I think it’s possible for some to say the Church is struggling with an identity crisis.

For the purpose of forming our identity as God’s children, Waltke is especially helpful. Take this one excerpt:

“The Old Testament contains much that seems trivial to the modern Christian. That is because we fail to understand the functions of these texts. Aside from teaching us about God, sin, and the need for redemption, a significant portion of the Old Testament recounts the history of the people of God. These are the narratives that constitute the memories of the Christian community. These memories inform our identity as Christians. Thus, Abraham is our spiritual father. His story becomes part of our past. The exodus, the monarchy of Israel and Judah, and the exile cease to be ancient tales of a distant people, but the triumphs and tragedies of our own history. Moreover, its ceremonial laws, such as abstaining from ‘unclean’ foods are ‘visual aids’ to instruct God’s people of all ages to be pure. …

… the stories of the Old Testament communicate at a level beyond cognitive propositions. They challenge us to identify with Abraham as our father, to share his faith that rejoices to see the day of Jesus Christ, and to look forward to a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God. They engender a transformed self-perception and an altered worldview. This is one of the most powerful functions of the Old Testament; unfortunately, it is also one of the least understood among the community of faith. In sum, a goal of this theology is to help the covenant community understand their identity as the people of God within the context of the memories and hopes proclaimed in the Old Testament. In short, biblical theology ‘is that learning by which a human being is made whole’” (p. 14).

And earlier, Waltke wrote:

“In the Bible we sail on the clouds to heaven, submarine down to the depths of our hearts, and are transported back to ancient kingdoms that serve as paradigms for interpreting the present. The Bible explores and answers with authority the most fundamental issues facing human beings: Who are we? What is the world and our place in it? How can we find happiness in this conflicted world? How do we deal with choices that confront us, and what happens as a result? This is the stuff of great literature, and the Bible is the greatest expression of it. This book is a profession of faith – a reasoning faith, I hope, and reasonable: what Saint Anselm called ‘faith out on a quest to know’” (p. 10).

This emphasis on helping the Church find Her identity – on a journey to understand – is perhaps the great strength of Waltke’s new work. This will happen as An Old Testament Theology equips expositors to grow more comfortable in the Old Testament narratives and encourages them to work through large sections of the Old Testament. Unashamedly, it’s an Old Testament theology for the Church.

“Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to claim that the Bible is the fount of life, the source of identity, and the supreme arbiter of ethics. Therefore, it makes sense that a book written about the theology of the Old Testament should be written for the church. After all, this people has more at stake in understanding the Bible’s message than anybody else – they are the ones committed to live out fully the implications of that message to the point of dying for its truth” (p. 19).


On my shelf An Old Testament Theology will sit next to The Message of the Old Testament by Mark Dever (Crossway: 2006) and Old Testament Theology by Paul House (IVP: 1998). All three are good but I think Waltke will best serve expositors and theologians as they help the Church define Her identity.

J.I. Packer calls this volume “pure gold.” I would certainly agree that Waltke’s new book is excellent. And if I’m reading you correctly, Waltke is one volume that many pastors and Christian readers will find timely and necessary.

Title: An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach
Author: Bruce K. Waltke
Reading level: 3.0/5.0 > moderately difficult
Boards: hardcover
Pages: 1,040
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue (not sewn)
Paper: white and clean
Topical index: yes (extensive)
Scriptural index: yes (extensive)
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Zondervan
Year: 2007
Price USD: $29.24 from Westminster; $29.95 from MB
ISBNs: 0310218977, 9780310218975

15 thoughts on “An Old Testament Theology by Bruce K. Waltke

  1. hmmmm…i wouldn’t have pinned you as a dispensationalist. if you don’t mind me asking, are you a dispensationalist or just have some leanings in that direction because of your background? i grew up in a dispensational-premillennial church but i’m now a decided amillennial… i’d just be curious to know. i would have guessed classical-premillenial. if you’d rather not say that’s fine. i understand the nature of the blogosphere…

  2. also, thanks for the book review. it seems that any time you review a book it shoots to the top of the wishlist…

  3. I have great respect for both systems. I have a hard time buying the recapitulation theory of the development of Revelation. It seems Revelation is pretty clear-cut and straight-forward when interpreted as a linear progression. However, coming to grips with evil existing in the millennium is a hard one, too. Romans 9-11 is pretty clear on the distinction between Israel and Gentile converts. However, Paul’s teaching on the “last trumpet” sounds more Amil than Premil (1 Cor. 15). I hold deep respect for Covenant theology and would agree that the Church finds her identity as the People of God. The more I study the less certain I become and the more I benefit from each system. I guess I would say I’m still undecided but leaning towards Progressive Dispensationalism (or possibly even a Covenant Premil-er like George Eldon Ladd). At this point I have an open mind to objections and always looking forward to learning from each side. T

  4. And thank you, Cameo, for those kind words! I try to be very selective in what I read and review so hopefully TSS readers build a level of trust with my reviews. At the same time I want to pass along all the excellent books I find. So thank you! Tony

  5. thank you for sharing. i appreciate your willingness to learn from various systems; that’s something i could definitely work on. have you read Beale’s commentary on Revelation in the NIGTC series? that work was key in the development of my understanding of Revelation, it also opened up a whole new avenue of thought about Revelation’s relation to the rest of the Scriptures. that’s the book that i recommend to academic types who are working through thoughts on Revelation and/or millennial views. another great book that is a little less academic is “The Returning King” by Poythress. is there a book that you would recommend that has been influential in shaping your understanding of these issues?

  6. At the risk of seeming too rowdy on what I think is my first visit — I wish dispensationalists didn’t always sound so tentative and apologetic in our dialogue with non’s.

    I am a dispensationalist for the same reason that I am a Calvinist; grammatico-historical exegesis.

    If one goes, the other will as well, and much else besides.

    That is, if I can’t take seriously what ~ 2/3 of the Bible says about Israel, I won’t be able to take seriously what the other 1/3 says about me as a Gentile Christian believer. If Jeremiah 31:35-37 does not mean what it appears to say, then I have no grounds for believing that Romans 8:28-30 does, either.

    That’s for starters. (c;

    Having said that: I’ve also dipped into Waltke’s tome, though I’ve made more use of his commentary on Proverbs so far. Looking forward to the day when I will have read it all. He’s a very deep scholar.

  7. has the anti-dispensational back lash made dispensationalists feel like they’re walking on egg shells? part of me wonders if the “tentativeness” that you speak of is because of the way dispensationalists are treated by those who disagree with them (i realize that the discussions are not always kind). another part of me wonders if there is a new approach to talking about these issues where we realize that we have genuine differences but we don’t need to attack each other over them. then there is another part of me that thinks that it comes from a general uncertainty on the particulars of our different beliefs. just some thoughts…

  8. spurgeon,
    do you have any thoughts on Frank Thielman’s New Testament Theology? it looks like it would be the NT companion to this volume. just curious if you had encountered it…

  9. Cameo, whether people respond harshly or kindless really does not change my convictions. I would say Vern Poythress in a litle book titled “Understanding Dispensationalists” was a my first anti-dispensational volume that challenged my presumptions.

    Anyone interested in Amil. needs to read “A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times” by Riddlebarger.

    Also helpful was JT’s “Problems with Premil.” published this Spring:

    On the others side, “Progressive Dispensationalism” by Blaising and Bock is also very excellent at clarifying some of the details of dispensationalism.

    I would say the debate of Disp/Cov. and Premil/Amil are ever-remaining issues simply because one is not a clear-cut exegetical runaway, slam dunk in my opinion.


  10. Great help on deciding to buy this book, thanks to all. For those with an amilenial view, you should read Future Israel by Barry Horner, one of the deepest and profound works against “replacement theology”. Blessings

  11. Just listened to the sermon ‘A Functional Doctrine of Sin’ and found it deeply challenging. I haven’t heard challenging preaching like that for a long time. It is just what I need.

  12. God is pleased when he community of faith discusses his Word. Thank you for facilitating that conversation.

    Regarding Israel and the church–the concern of most comments–may I suggest reading chapter 12 on the People of God in An Old Testament Theology. My understanding of romans 11 does not allow a a replacement theory

    Regarding a Jewish millennium in the Land–the other primary concern–see chapter 22: “Land in the New Testament.”

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