A Theology of the Hebrew Bible

Dempster, Stephen G. Dominion and Dynasty: A theology of the Hebrew Bible. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 2003.

Dominion and Dynasty by Stephen G. Dempster is another great edition in the New Studies in Biblical Theology edited by D.A. Carson. Dempster writes in the preface, “I have been studying the Old Testament for a long time, but, like many scholars, I have not been able to see the forest for the trees.” This quote is in reference to the text of the OT with respect to literary criticism. He says, “This viewpoint is an important one for the literary critic, since it contradicts the reading experience of generations of believers in the synagogue and church, who have on the one hand understood the text as a unity but on the other have often lost sight of the overall message of the Text (the forest) because of all the little texts (the trees)” (p. 27). He gives a helpful illustration by saying, “To use an analogy from the field of photography, if one is constantly using the zoom lens on a piece of sculpture such as Mount Rushmore, one will note the worn surface of some rocks and the sedimentary contours of others. But unless one is able to step back with a wide-angle lens and take in the ‘big picture’, the point oif it all has been lost” (p. 28).

This book is an attempt to look at the forest. Instead of considering the minute details, he considers the “contours” of the entire story of “Dominion and Dynasty” in the OT. In this way Dempster is trying to discover the Bible’s own distinctive theology. As systematic theology attempts to explain and apply the great doctrines of Scripture, biblical theology attempts to consider and explain the the great theological story line of the Bible itself. In context with the above statement about the forest and the trees, systematic theology is the trees while biblical theology is the forest. Both are real. Both have their proper and necessary place. And ,according to Dempster, we must not neglect one for the other.

The thesis of Dominiion and Dynasty is “that, when the Hebrew Bible is read and reread (that is, viewed with a wide-angle lens), the faces of the biblical Rushmore – ‘the purposeful pattern’ will be seen clearly, rather than the ‘textual patchwork’ in the face of the mountain. Since there are some differences in OT order between Christians and Jews, Dempster prefers the Hebrew Canon that Jesus would have read, hence the second part of his title: “A theology of the Hebrew Bible.” In this method, he hopes to “give biblical theology a fresh hearing” (p. 37). One of Dempster’s presuppositions is that the OT is “not a random concatenation of texts, but a Text with a discernible structure, a clear beginning, a middle and an ending” (p. 46). Therefore, he devotes chapter two to the development of this theme. In a very short space the reader will get the whole storyline of the OT in a bird’s eye view. In the remainder of the book (cps. 3 to 8), minus a short conclusion with some thoughts on typology and NT reflections, he follows the major story line of the Hebrew Bible, supporting his thesis in every way.

Personally, as I read through this book, I couldn’t wait for the next time to sit down with a hot beverage and read, read, read. My eyes were opened in many ways to the beautiful forest of biblical theology. Through the genres of history, narrative, genealogies, prophecy, wisdom, and even apocalyptic texts, I found myself understanding the storyline of the Bible more deeply, realizing with more amazement than ever that “all the Scriptures point to Christ.” What an amazing Gospel we see in the dominion and dynasty of the OT! Although the first chapter may be a little technical for a first-time reader of biblical theology, the remainder of the book is not very difficult. Please pick this one up and read it!

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