Whilst preparing to preach through the Old Testament books of Samuel I engaged a number of authors to fill out my understanding of the history and background to the books. During this time I was able to also do a more careful reading of the text itself and a number of things stood out to me. One significant point was the likely time that the final, canonical books were written and compiled. Although they contain contemporaneous records of events during the life of Samuel, Saul and David there are also smatterings of editorial comments and explanations that lend to a much later date for the final composition before being included in what we call the Old Testament canon.
I am intrigued by the authorial intent (human and divine!) of the books as that will provide the greatest insight into understanding the message both for the original audience and what application or implication it has for today’s reader.
It is with this in mind that I refer to the Introduction of The Meaning of the Pentateuch by John Sailhamer. He raises some important points about understanding the Pentateuch that are equally valid in approaching the other Old Testament historical narratives. Substituting “1 & 2 Samuel” for “Pentateuch” and “Samuel, David and Saul” for “Abraham and Moses” provides a very good basis with which to approach 1 & 2 Samuel.
To whom was the Pentateuch written as the norm of biblical faith? For whom was it intended to be normative when first written? Who was its audience? What did it have to say to that audience then, and what, if any, claims does it make on its readers today?
Is the Pentateuch written only for the ancient people of Israel? Is its intention primarily the descriptive task of understanding Israel’s religion under the Sinai covenant? Or was the Pentateuch written to confront its readers now, as then, with the imperative to live a life of faith exemplified by Abraham’s walk with God in the Pentateuch? Is it a “shout out” for Abraham, the believing prophet (Gen 15:6; 20:7), or for Moses, the priest who in the wilderness failed to exhibit his faith (Num 20:12)? How can anyone today read and understand its meaning for his or her life? How can a laws and religious rites as something that must be obeyed?
How can anyone today read and understand its meaning for his or her life?
The goal of a theological study of the Pentateuch is the biblical author’s intent as realized in the work itself. The (human and divine) authors’ intent is the “verbal meaning” of the book. The author’s intent is what his words say as part of the book. When talking about the meaning of the words of the Pentateuch, one should be careful to distinguish this from the “things” that the words point to in the real world. The Pentateuch is about real historical events, that is, “things that have happened” (res gesta) in the real world. Words are not the things themselves. Words only point to things and tell us about things. In speaking about historical events (things), one may easily confuse what an author says about these events with the events themselves. As important as history and archaeology are for understanding the “things” that the Bible points to and talks about, they sometimes get in the way of understanding the “words” of Scripture. The Pentateuch may be compared to a Rembrandt painting of real persons or events. We do not understand a Rembrandt painting by taking a photograph of the “thing” that Rembrandt painted and comparing it with the painting itself. That may help us understand the “thing” that Rembrandt painted, his subject matter, but it will not help us understand the painting itself. To understand Rembrandt’s painting, we must look at it and see its colors, shapes and textures. In the same way, to understand the Pentateuch, one must look at its colors, contours and textures. To understand Rembrandt’s painting, one must study the painting itself. To understand the Pentateuch, one must study the Pentateuch itself.
- A summary review of The Meaning of the Pentateuch by Mark Turner
- A comprehensive Review of the Meaning of the Pentateuch by Dr. William Varner