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Summer 2012, Vol. 9

Book Review

Word Without End: The Old Testament as Abiding Theological Witness

Christopher R. Seitz
(Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2004; first published by Eerdmans, 1998)
344 pages

Reviewed by Roger D. Cotton, Th.D., Professor of Old Testament,
Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri

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Christopher Seitz’ book serves as a collection of various personal lectures and essays regarding the theological use of the Old Testament. The editing of these writings to fit the general topic of the book somewhat parallels the way he describes the canonical shaping of the Old Testament books to fit the final purpose of the canon. His approach reflects significant influence from Brevard Childs. Like Childs, he expresses a strong belief in the authority of the Scriptures for the Church, but also an acceptance of the historical-critical method and results.

The issues noted above clearly provide the strengths and weaknesses of this book. The fact that most of these chapters were produced independently causes some redundancy and questions about the relationship to each other. One strength of Seitz’s work is his emphasis on how lay members of the church can benefit from an accurate understanding of the Old Testament text. He insightfully puts historical-criticism in perspective in relation to the current reader-oriented approaches and with the theology of the final form of the text and the doctrines of the Church. However, to get the most out of his writing, one needs to be well aware of the issues and the views of the major scholars. Furthermore, how he sees the critical studies and the final form of the text working together, particularly in Isaiah, is unclear. If the critics provide correct information about the sources and development of a book like Isaiah, Seitz does not give a clear answer as to why one should trust the final form as authoritative Scripture. On the other hand, if the final form is authoritative, then what is the point of doing the source analysis? I disagree with what he considers clear evidence of later writers for Isaiah and the Pentateuch. I do agree with his major implied assertion that if a person believes in Jesus, he or she must listen to the Old Testament because Jesus said that it spoke of Him, and He and the Early Church taught from it.

Seitz articulates questions well, but his weakness is evidenced by not providing specific or clear answers to the questions he raises. He deals with major Old Testament scholars and issues, but when he is done, I am not always clear on what he has concluded. At times, he seems to have a fluid view of the meaning of texts. On the very controversial subject of homosexual behavior, he concludes, “The church is constrained on the basis of scripture’s plain sense to proscribe homosexual behavior among its members” (p. 333-34). He has two interesting chapters on sexuality that, I think, make helpful contributions to that discussion in the church.

One unique essay Seitz included is the issue of whether or not to continue to use the title “the Old Testament” or to change to the title “the Hebrew Bible.” He found the latter to be lacking for several reasons and would rather use the term Torah. Nevertheless, he gives good reasons for continuing to refer to it as the Old Testament.

Seitz does good biblical theology. He includes a very good study of “the city” in the Old Testament. He has two chapters studying the name of God. He comes out strong for the doctrine of the Trinity. Due to his Anglican background, he devotes a few chapters to the issue of the lectionary and how it relates to his concerns for the understanding of and the use of the Old Testament in the church. He makes an insightful connection between the choices of the readings in a lectionary and the understanding of biblical theology. Seitz makes a strong case for a simpler lectionary that uses one Old Testament reading and one New Testament reading rather than two—one from a Gospel and one from an epistle.

He believes this approach would clarify and emphasize the biblical theological relationship between the two testaments. The title Word Without End highlights the concept that the Word of God through the Old Testament continues to speak today.

Seitz’s book has some strengths to offer to students of the Old Testament, especially those who value the final form of the Old Testament canon and how that relates to historical-critical studies, particularly in Isaiah. This book also contributes to any discussion of lectionaries. I am glad I read it, but the author included a lot of detail that did little to advance my understanding. My recommendation for this book is mixed and qualified. Seitz seems mainly helpful to those who want to go deeper in Old Testament critical, scholarly studies, who want to understand what scholars are saying and thinking, and to those who are grappling with their concept of the theology of the Old Testament text and its authority and relevance for the Church.

Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 9:33 AM