Old Testament – Sessions 8 & 9

I am writing about these two together as session 8 was an independent study session. Both covered the idea of messianic prophecy. This was one of my favourite topics we have covered. I’d never looked at the Old Testament in terms of prophecy, and it really surprised me how many prophetic statements there are through it. There are so many verses that appear to tell of the coming of a Messiah.

One of the videos I watched showed how there are some verses in the Old Testament that, without giving people the Bible reference appear to be written about Jesus in the New Testament. I myself would have thought the same thing if I’d have been shown the verse those in the video had. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEUuZg8Rfg8)

When we all met again, we continued with this topic, and looked at prophecies in the Old Testament, and their fulfilment in the New Testament.

prophecy 1prophecy 2

Looking at these prophecies displayed why Jesus was so revered. Obviously I knew he was, but I hadn’t thought of him in terms of fulfilling prophecy before, as every time I had been taught about him, lessons had focused more on the miracles he performed and his death and resurrection. It was nice to have another viewpoint into who Jesus is for Christians.

Today’s session also taught me what the actual expectation of a Messiah is; who they should be/what they should be like: the Son of David; a political deliverer; military leader; perfectly holy; ideal human being; perfect judge; suffering servant; eternal son of God. Working in pairs, we were given one of these descriptions and had to create a learning resource. This worked well as it allowed us to make sure we understood the prophecy and which messianic expectation it related to. I feel this would be a good teaching tool if I had to teach about prophecy.

All in all, these sessions were extremely interesting and helped me find a new perspective on both the Old and New Testament. I’ll definitely do more independent research on this as it has really intrigued me!

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Old Testament – Session 7

This session, we looked at the story of Jonah, which surprisingly, I hadn’t heard much about before.

 

The story tells of Jonah’s struggle with God’s commands after being told to travel to Nineveh to tell the people to stop being bad. Jonah wanted them to be punished, so instead of doing as God said, he tried to escape on a boat. God sent a storm, which resulted in Jonah telling the people on the boat to throw him overboard. God then sends a whale who swallows Jonah, who is then inside the whale for three days and nights. He then gets spit back onto dry land, and carries out what God wants him to do.

After picking out the key events in the story, we explored what the lessons could be for Christians today. We all agreed that it teaches to keep your faith in God, and that God will forgive us when we do wrong, if we ask His forgiveness.

major prophets

We looked at the idea that maybe Jesus’ resurrection was predicted through the story of Jonah and the Whale; Jonah was inside the whale for three days, and Jesus was in the tomb for three days. This really piqued my interest as I had never been taught about prophecy within Christianity. Next week’s session built on this interest for me.

This led nicely onto looking at prophets in the Old Testament, who were people God chose to deliver His word. We learnt that prophets can help us to understand the time in which they were living as they spoke in the context of the time. In groups, we looked into different prophets and created posters to help teach the rest of the group about them.

I really felt like I learnt a lot of new things in this session, as I had never really delved into the Old Testament prophets or a lot of the stories. I feel like teaching about this in a classroom would be really fun as it isn’t too difficult to break down the stories and peer teach.

Old Testament – Session 6

Job bookToday’s session was another really interesting topic, and helped me build on my prior knowledge. We looked at the Book of Job, and how it can be used as an explanation for suffering. What I like about this book is that it is just as applicable in today’s society as it was in the time of Job. It helps answer the age-old question: why do bad things happen to good people?

The book begins by basically setting the scene. I explains that Job is the most righteous person on earth in his day, and that God looks on him favorably, saying that there is no one like him on earth. At this, Satan argues with God, saying that Job is only righteous because God protects him and his family and makes him successful in anything he does.

The rest of the book details how God agrees to let Satan do anything he wants to what belongs to Job (without harming him) in order to test his faith. Job never once curses God or loses faith, however, he does curse the day of his birth. His friends give him bad advice, so God humbles Job, asking questions that only He would know the answers to, in order to show that believers don’t always know or understand what God is doing. Job sates that he has “declared that which I did not understand” (42:3), and God blesses him with double what he originally had. 

Looking at how the questions raised in this book are still very much relevant today was eye opening, as it can be hard sometimes to find similarities between the OT and modern day. It can still be argued, as it is in Job, that suffering is simply a part of God’s test for us to see if we remain faithful to Him or if we decide to stray from His path. A fascinating question raised in the session was, do we serve God for who He is or for what we can get out of it? This point links to both the story of Job (who remains faithful despite getting nothing in return) and to the idea in the last blog regarding the metaphor of God as a vending machine.

I also think that this story would be a fantastic resource to use if I were teaching a class about the problem of suffering in the world today as it is a very accessible story, with a nice clear message.

 

Old Testament – Session 5

This session carried on with the theme of last week regarding communication with God, but this week we focused on the laments in the Bible. This is something that stuck out to me when looking at the Bible. The New Testament seems to include a lot less lamenting when compared to the Old Testament. At first, this gave me the impression that maybe God is simply kinder in the New Testament, but this session really helped me look into the deeper significance these Old Testament laments and what they could mean about the relationship humanity had with God at this time.

A quote we were shown in today’s session from D.A Carson summed up the laments perfectly, “There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but to a faith so robust it wrestles with God”

The laments paint a very honest picture of people’s plight in the Old Testament, and their anger towards God. This however, as I learnt this week, does not take away from their faith or their intimate relationship with God. In fact, it highlights it. A brilliant way of looking at it is that you have to be really close to someone, and have a trusting relationship to be able to express your grief and complaints. This shows how strong the divine-human relationship was between humanity and God, and is an example of how people today could feel closer to God. The laments also show humanities faith that God is benevolent and powerful – they wouldn’t be asking God for help if they didn’t believe that He could help.

We finished with a fun activity that I feel would be a good activity to help teach about the Psalms and what laments consist of when I have my own classes. We all split into groups and had to write our own lament, making sure to include key elements: addressing God; stating the complaint; a request; an expression of trust. Some of the group’s laments were hilarious, and it was a lovely end to the session, while still developing our understanding of this important section in the Bible.

Old Testament – Session 4

Today was such an interesting session! It made me look at how we can read the Old Testament in a certain way, and also helped massively for my assignment planning, which includes looking at an Old Testament story and applying it to a modern day issue.

We looked at something called Disrupted Communication, which I understand to be the way humanity has failed in its attempt at communicating with God. To understand humanity’s failed communication with God, we looked at some stories in the Old Testament where people have managed to form a relationship with Him through faith and prayer. Joseph, for example, never doubted God, never relented in his devotion to God while he endured great suffering, and eventually, God rewarded him.

We also read the famous story of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac. God told Abraham that He needed a sacrifice, and that it was to be Isaac, his son. The way Abraham communicates with God is through appeasement, and agreeing to this sacrifice. In the end, Abraham’s willingness to carry out the sacrifice is enough, and God stops him before Isaac is killed.

We then looked at how human beings treat God. One metaphor that was particularly interesting, is God as a vending machine. We pray, or follow a set of rules etc. and expect God to reward us with something. Like putting money into a vending machine and expecting a treat. This is similar to stories of sacrifice in the Old Testament, humans giving God something (e.g. a lamb) and God rewarding them in return.

However, communication with God was, and still is disrupted, some might say. An example of this disrupted communication between humans and God is in the story of Elijah. He expects God to talk to him through a great hurricane or earthquake, when in actual fact, God speaks to him through a “gentle whisper”. This relates to the idea that God is always trying to communicate with humanity, but we just can’t hear, or are unwilling to hear. Appeasement is not what God requires from us, as we believe, but He simply wants us to listen.

To round up the session, we were asked the question, is it God’s fault that people suffer because he is inactive in the world today, or are we  just not listening to God? Are we doing the same as Elijah did in sitting and asking why God isn’t doing anything?

All in all, today was really useful in helping me to understand the different ways in which God and humans can communicate, and how this could have bearing on both how we read the Old Testament stories and how we can perceive the world today.

suffering and god

Old Testament – Session 3

creation

This session was on the Theology of Creation, looking at the Genesis accounts. We began by looking at the basics of the Genesis story.

The first 11 chapters tell of the beginnings of the world, however, when we look at the accounts, there appear to be contradictions. This has led scholars to believe that the account isn’t the work of one author, instead believing that it was produced by a later redactor who collated stories from several sources into one. One piece of evidence that supports this idea is the fact that different names for God are used in Genesis Chapter 1 and 2 – “God” in Chapter 1, and “Lord God” in Chapter 2.

There are conflicting interpretations of the biblical accounts of creation, the main ones being ‘creatio ex nihilo’, meaning that the universe was brought into being from nothing, and ‘creatio ex materia’, meaning that it was created from pre-existing matter. Also, some take the Bible literally, believing that the accounts are exactly how the universe and humans were created, while some believe that the accounts should be read symbolically.

Next in the session, we looked at how the idea of the world God created being “good” could be perceived. Does it mean morally good, or good in the sense that it is fit for purpose? It could be easier to defend God against the existence of evil in the world if one takes the latter option of the meaning of “good”, as if it were to mean morally good, it is clear that that is not the world we are living in at present. This was a real thinking point for me in that session, as I had never really thought about the way one could interpret “good”. This could be an interesting point to cover when I am eventually teaching my own classes.

Another thing that struck me during our third session, was that Genesis is so much more than the creation story we are taught in school; there are many more stories, such as Cain & Abel and Esau, Jacob & Laban, in which we get an insight into the nature of humanity through Cain.

This week was really interesting, as it challenged my ideas of what Genesis told, and brought new stories to light which never seem to be mentioned as being an important part of Genesis. It has made me look further into Genesis, and I am now writing my assignment on the Genesis story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

 

Old Testament – Session 2

This session focused on two aspects of looking into the Old Testament. We looked at the Documentary Hypothesis (also known as The Four Source Theory), and then looked at different ways one can analyse The Old Testament.

There is a long-held tradition that the five books of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), were written by Moses, however, it is unlikely he wrote the version we have today. There are inconsistencies and duplications, not to mention the fact that he would have had to written about his death before it happened.  This had led to scholars in the last century to assume that the books are a redaction of several original sources. Modern scholars propose four sources: the Yahwist (J); the Elohist (E); the Deuteronomist (D); the Priestly (P). These are proposed because of their specific literary styles and theological concerns. Each source reflects a certain historical situation and community.

The Yahwist 

  • Origin in southern kingdom (Judah), maybe as early as King Soloman or King David
  • Earliest source dating back to the 10th Century BC
  • Theology focused on God’s promises for salvation & importance of cultic worship
  • God referred to as Yahweh (LORD [small caps] in English)
  • Holy mountain is called Sinai
  • God is anthropomorphised – He walks in the garden and talks with Adam
  • E.gs – Story of Adam and Eve, the account of The 10 Plagues

The Elohist 

  • Origin in northern kingdom (Israel) around 9th Century BC
  • More of a focus on morality and Israel’s proper response to God: faith and fear of the Lord
  • Emphasises prophesy
  • God referred to as Elohim (Lord God in English translation)
  • Holy mountain is called Horeb
  • God speaks in dreams
  • E.gs – sacrifice of Isaac, the Ten Commandments

The Deuteronomist

  • Clearest independent source (author responsible for most/all of Deuteronomy)
  • Most likely written in 7th and 6th Century BC
  • Teaches that all the bad things that happened to the Israelites were God’s punishment
  • Deuteronomy is retelling of Exodus-Numbers (Deuteronomy = ‘second law’)
  • Interprets Israel’s history as a cycle of God’s forgiveness and renewal of covenant
  • Horeb is the holy mountain
  • Emphasises law and morals

The Priestly

  • Developed during and after the exile >> 6th Century BC
  • Theology focused on the Jewish people’s religious identity found in proper worship and special laws that set them apart
  • Rejects idea of religious identity being found in a divinely appointed king
  • Emphasis on Temple cult and worship, the southern kingdom of Judah and the role of Levites
  • Talks about genealogy which established different groups in Israelite society
  • E.gs – first creation story, book of Leviticus

After looking at the Four Source Theory, we moved on to look at Biblical literary criticism. This is a careful study of the bible, and can be done from different viewpoints. There are some main viewpoints within this critical biblical evaluation, and this video is an excellent source to help understand the ways in which we can look into Biblical texts:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTss7CEUeGI

I feel that this session will be very useful to look back on, particularly when writing my assignment, as I will be able to analyse whichever Bible story I choose using some of these techniques, hopefully improving the quality of my essay.