The Work of the Prophets

F. B. Denio
1884 The Old Testament Student  
In studying the Old Testament we need to settle definitely in mind what questions we expect it to answer. I presuppose of course that we confine ourselves to questions which it can answer. We may go to it and ask three classes of questions: ist, What can you tell us about the nations that have lived upon the face of the earth ? 2nd, What can you tell us about the progress of the human soul in appropriating religious, and especially revealed truth ? 3d, What can you tell us about God's
more » ... out God's preparation of this world for the coming of Christ and for the establishment of Christianity ? I do not say that no other questions can be asked of the Old Testament. What I do say is that nearly all important questions can be referred to one or another of these general questions. I add that the kind of question we ask should determine our method of arriving at the answer which the Old Testament can give us. These three general questions approach the Old Testament from different quarters. They regard the Old Testament either as general history, as a history of a certain religion, or as a chapter in the history of Redemption. In either instance the historical element is predominant and a historical method should be adopted in investigation. While the historical method must prevail in all fruitful study of the Old Testament, the method of investigating each problem should be determined by the problem. Suppose you wish to study the Old Testament as a portion of the general history of the human race. Then you treat the book as you do any other history, presuming it to be true and testing its statements as you do those of any work. So far as it may be verified, corrected or illuminated by the records of other nations, you subject it to such processes. So far as it furnishes within itself the grounds for such testing, you do the same. All use subject to University of Chicago Press Terms and Conditions ( THE OLD TESTAM3ENT STUDENT. Otherwise on learning its statements you accept them as you would those of any other history. When, however, you have done this, you have gone as far as you can in treating the Old Testament just like any other book. You cannot always place a definite line of division between the use of the Old Testament as general history and the use of the Old Testament in the other ways; yet you can come very near to such a dividing line. Apply this to the existence of that order of men who swayed such power in Israel, the prophets. There was a class of men whose character was distinctly religious, who claimed to have derived knowledge and authority from a superhuman source. These men seldom held an official position, yet they had an indefinite amount of power, sometimes enough to change the reigning dynasty. Often they were, by reason of weight of character, or social position, or by both, faithful counsellors of the king; yet more frequently were they the trusted advisers of the people. The people of Israel were not the only people in the midst of whom men arose with these general characteristics. In tracing the history of this class of men from a purely historical .point we may ask several questions: When did these men live ? What was the nature of the government under which they lived? What were their relations to popular freedom? What was their moral character? What was the basis of their influence over society? How did this influence vary and what were the causes of such variation? What was the final outcome of their labors? Such questions as I have suggested deal with purely historical facts. In other nations there were at times men who like the prophets carried a free lance; who had no official character in either political or ecclesiastical life, yet with a religious character or pretension as the basis of their influence. Similar questions could be asked concerning this class of men, and the outcome of their presence in the world. In the external features there are sometimes strong correspondences between the prophets of Israel and the persons just mentioned in other nations. There is much in the Old Testament the primary interest of which is not distinctively historical. Turning in this direction we find ourselves at once face to face with subjects that are of present interest. I refer not to the question of Higher Criticism as such, but to the subject of Old Testament Theology. This is a historical study, i. e., the elements which it contains must be treated historically or not at all. For the Old Testament contains a record of the life of a race living undet the inspiration and control of certain religious beliefs. The significance of the religion of the Old Testament was for the average Israelite far 50 This content downloaded from 128.135.012. more of the present than of the future. While we must believe the Mosaic cultus to have been, in part at least, typical, the pious Israelite, I am sure, could not have regarded it as other than symbolic, i. e., with significance for his own time rather than for the future. I think that if he could have regarded it as only typical, or even prevailingly so, all significance must in time have vanished from it. So the religion of Israel was a living religion as ours is; it had, I presume, no more regard for the future of this world than ours, and certainly there could not have been so much thought of a hereafter. With these facts before us we may well accept as the definition of the recently developed study of Old Testament theology the following: A historical representation of the religion of Revelation in the successive stages of its development and in the multiplicity of forms in which it appears. In regard to this study the whole definition takes ground upon which an anti-supernaturalist cannot come. Apologetically you prove that the religion of the Old Testament is a part of the religion of Revelation. In the study of the Old Testament as a part of the history of Redemption this apologetic subject is best treated. In common with an anti-supernaturalist you may trace the influence of beliefs upon the Hebrew mind, you may note the various forms in which the Hebrew worshipper was minded to express his devotion to his deity, and the successive elements which entered into his religious beliefs. When, however, you attempt to reason about causes, you must soon part company with the anti-supernaturalist. Thus definite have I been that I might call attention to those features of current discussions which we may judge by purely historical considerations, and also to elements which need sifting according to philosophical or theological principles. The truth is, that much that goes by the name of historical investigation is pure philosophical assumption. It would be desirable, if possible, to fill out a syllabus in Old Testament Theology somewhat as follows: I. Theology-The
doi:10.1086/469504 fatcat:fmdkzijpwvbfliny76hewz2dlu