HWA's greatest contribution was respect for Old Testament
The writer is a longtime member of the Church of God who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Gary Fakhoury
PARKSLEY Va.--If one were to survey the readership of The Journal and ask, "What was the single greatest contribution Herbert Armstrong made to our understanding of Scripture?" he might hear many different responses.
Some would suggest the Sabbath and the annual festivals. Others might mention gaining freedom from common superstitions regarding heaven and hell. Still others would cite Bible prophecy or the truth about the Trinity.
But let me suggest that Mr. Armstrong's most far-reaching contribution was that the Old Testament is Scripture for today, that it is in no way inferior to the New Testament but is the very foundation of the New Testament, a text without which the New Testament can make little real sense.
Yet let your average Protestant preacher cite one too many passages from the Old Testament and it is only a matter of time until the church elders pull him aside and demand to know why he has gotten so fixated on the "old law."
For that reason one might not expect such a remarkable little volume, The Old Testament Roots of Our Faith, to issue forth from the Protestant ranks. Nevertheless we have a widely known Bible commentator, Paul J. Achtemeier (with his wife, Elizabeth), to thank for this gem.
Don't skip any pages
The Old Testament Roots of Our Faith is one of those rare books that contain a valuable theological insight on nearly every page. More than that, it is one of those even rarer books that lead a reader to wonder at points if he had ever truly understood the Bible at all.
At just 132 pages The Old Testament Roots of Our Faith is compact and written in nontechnical language everyone can grasp. Yet the theological and spiritual connections Mr. Achtemeier makes between the personalities of the Hebrew Scriptures and their varied experiences, and what would arrive later with the advent of Jesus and the life of the Spirit, are many and profound.
So also is Mr. Achtemeier's grasp of the panoramic sweep of Old Testament narrative and its implications for the Christian message to come. Indeed, this may well be the book's greatest service to its readers.
Recapture true insights
From the outset the author offers up insights that have escaped most of us (or this writer, at least) yet seem abundantly clear upon reflection and further study:
"The stories of creation and of humanity's primeval beginnings in the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis were not written primarily to explain how the world came to be. The Hebrews had little interest in the philosophical question of origin. Rather, these stories were gathered together and set down to explain why Israel had to be. They intended to show why it was necessary for God to enter into history and to begin a divine action by giving his promise to Abraham."
In an economy of words Mr. Achtemeier sums up the major spiritual issues that form the basis of the early chapters of Genesis, which, in turn, form the basis for everything that follows:
"The sin of Eve in the garden of Eden in Gen. 3 is her attempt to escape her need for God. She is created to rely on her creator, but in her conversation with the serpent, she is led to step outside this relationship of dependency and to evaluate and discuss God's motives. She becomes aware of the fact that she may judge God to be wrong (Gen. 3:4, 5).
"Eve's temptation is to rely on herself rather than on God. If she eats the fruit of the forbidden tree, she will know all mysteries and all knowledge. She will be the master of her own fate, the determiner of her own destiny. She reaches out to grasp this power which belongs to God alone, and she gives the fruit to her husband so that he, too, is involved in her rebellion . . ."
The root of all evil
Here, then, is the primal sin, the sin that lies at the root of all sin: the desire for independence from God, who made and designed us to be dependent beings: dependent upon nature for physical sustenance, upon one another for relationships and, ultimately, upon Him for spiritual strength and hope for a future beyond the physical realm.
All these relationships, Mr. Achtemeier rightly points out, were fatally endangered by our ancestral parents' rebellion in Eden:
"The judgment that God pronounces on this couple for their rebellion disrupts every intimate relationship in their lives. Their tie with one another is no longer one of ecstatic joy, but marked by shame and the necessity for hiding their sexuality. The woman, whose created function is to join flesh with her husband by bearing him children in marriage, now has that function threatened by difficulty and pain in childbirth (Gen. 3:16). The man, who was taken from the soil and created by God to tend it (Gen. 2:15), now finds that the ground fights back at him and produces thorns and thistles . . .
"What is more, the intimate relationship between human beings and God is broken by their rebellion. This is the God who had shaped man and woman personally and looked after their every need. They must now hide from God's presence in fear at the sound of God's voice (Gen. 3:8-10). Indeed, they are driven from the garden of Eden, and cherubim and a flaming sword are placed to guard its entrance (Gen. 3:24).
"To put it in other words, human beings have trodden a way which they themselves cannot retrace. The guards are there, and there is nothing the humans can do to get rid of them. Only God can remove them. Humanity has reached a point of no return."
Theologically it's the tiniest of steps from here to the crucifixion.
Historically this would take many generations to accomplish, of course, which Mr. Achtemeier reviews for us stage by stage as we follow mankind through a worldwide flood and the evil that necessitated it, the disaster at Babel and the evil that resulted from it, and, finally, the Magna Carta of divine redemption: God's covenant with Abraham. For it is here that the repair work for Eden begins in earnest.
Inevitability of Messiah
By the time Paul Achtemeier is finished tracing the checkered history of Israel, we are so solidly grounded in the need for, and inevitability of, the work of Messiah Jesus that the New Testament message seems to follow as naturally as rain follows the thunderclap. Such is the measure of Mr. Achtemeier's grasp of redemptive history and the organic wholeness of the two testaments.
Yet no work is without its flaws, and this one is no exception. One of the few features that detract from the work is the author's uncritical acceptance of biblical criticism.
This shortcoming leads him to breezily suggest as fact the theory of a multitude of competing authors of the Torah, for instance.
But these debatable assertions are never fundamental to the essential points he seeks to make concerning the message of the texts themselves. They're no more than thorns in an otherwise bountiful bouquet of theological roses.
The Old Testament Roots of Our Faith confirms much of what we have been taught, and have taught others, over the past half century. By no means will everything in it be new information to many of us.
Yet, for a deeper understanding of the major themes of the Bible and the essential connections between the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, it is difficult to imagine a more helpful, or concise, volume than this one.
The Old Testament Roots of Our Faith can be found through Christian Book Distributors at (978) 977-5000 and christianbook.com and from Amazon.com.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God