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July 1973 · Vol. 2 No. 3 · pp. 88–89 

Book Review

Biblical Theology, Vol. I, Old Testament

Chester K. Lehman. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1971. 480 pages.

Reviewed by Elmer A. Martens

Biblical theology attempts a study of the Bible in categories taken from the Bible itself instead of from philosophical categories or even from systematic theology. Books on Old Testament as well as New Testament Theology were numerous until recently. A stalemate exists in present scholarship, however. A variety of themes has been suggested as organizational centers but there is no scholarship consensus. Most problematic of all is an attempt to present a coherent theology for the whole Bible—a biblical theology.

Lehman ambitiously attempts a total Biblical Theology, in two volumes, the first of which deals with the Old Testament. As an answer to the current stalemate this book does not bring a convincing solution. But since Lehman moves along several channels not customarily followed in biblical theologies, the book makes its own worthwhile contribution.

The author holds a Th. B. from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, having served for 32 years as Dean of Eastern Mennonite College and until 1965 as head of the Bible Department there.

The book, which self-consciously follows Geerhardus Vos’s Biblical Theology in organizing biblical material along the lines of progressive revelation punctuated by the covenants, is nevertheless a considerable improvement over Vos. In each historic period the author presents material about subjects such as God, covenant, man, sin, eschatology, and the life of the people of God. Where Vos has virtually no integral place in his discussion for wisdom literature, Lehman is able (especially by means of the topic “Life of the people of God”) to incorporate wisdom more fully. “I consider it essential to observe along the way what the Scriptures tell about the life of the people of God” (p. 240). This valuable discussion on the life of the people of God acknowledges the pietistic interests in godly living by the biblical writers and gives Lehman’s book a certain distinctive. “Righteousness is the most descriptive word used to express the life of the people of God” (p. 285).

Also of value though controversial are observations such as; the germ of the eschatological idea is to be located in the creation account in connection with the sabbath (p. 54). Capital punishment no longer obtains because in Christ love and mercy annul the law of vengeance (p. 77). Isaiah 61:1-4 is the climax of the Servant of the Lord passages (p. 322). The predicted national restoration of Israel to its land is essentially a spiritual restoration (p. 275). The book contains some fine word studies as for example on tabernacle (p. 138) and on sin (pp. 186-92) including a list of 17 terms for sin in the Psalms (p. 435).

Lehman’s position can be illustrated by noting his stress on the {89} Bible as history (p. 89), the grid for his presentation. The church (so the Apostle Peter) is now all that Israel was under the earlier covenants (p. 119). It is through the New Testament Scriptures that one is led to understand the Old Testament more fully (p. 52), though he calls for care not to read back too readily from the New Testament to the Old (p. 226). While not always convincing in his reply to higher criticism, Lehman is at least aware of problems and proposed solutions. He is cautious and somewhat noncommittal regarding the literary structure of Isaiah; chapters 40-66 are treated separately from chapters 1-39 and for cogent reasons (p. 304). Joel and Obadiah are dated early because of the way they treat the Day of the Lord (p. 259).

One might surface certain problems. While Lehman holds that the documentary hypothesis of JEDP has insufficient evidence (p. 33 ff.), the reader is surprised to find Lehman resorting to it in explaining Genesis passages and also the name LORD (pp. 72-72, 86-87). It is hardly excusable in this writer’s view to discuss covenant without including the insights that have come from the study of ancient Near East treaties in the last 50 years. Lehman is too occupied sometimes with typology and getting New Testament meanings, for instance, for the tabernacle (p. 146). Is the creation story really as dominant in the Old Testament as Lehman suggests (p. 42)? Other Old Testament scholars have noted the preponderance of the exodus theme. One word for sin, pesha, according to a recently published study by R. Knierim, specifies “breach” rather than “rebellion.” Though there is some discussion about war in the old Testament, there is not an entry for “war” in the topical index. One should no longer talk about candlestick (p. 134) but lampstand. The transcription of the Hebrew would be improved by representing the ’aleph and the ’ayin by an apostrophe.

As to format, students will appreciate the clearly marked topics and subtopics within each chapter. Footnotes are placed at the end of the chapter. (Footnotes to chapter 7 consist of Scripture references only.) The book properly includes a select bibliography, both a scriptural and topic index and additional reading suggestions following each chapter. Pricewise the book is fairly out of reach for students. Hopefully a paperback edition will be a future option.

The number of biblical theologies by evangelicals has been lamentably few. While this volume is not startling in originality it is nevertheless a solid piece of work and holds large resources.

It is especially gratifying to see an able scholar of the Anabaptist-Mennonite outlook present a volume on a difficult subject in commendable fashion. Because of its many values this writer lists Lehman’s book as one of six basic texts for his Seminary course “Old Testament Theology.” We shall await Volume II.

Elmer A. Martens
Associate Professor of Old Testament
Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California

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