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A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament

Alec Motyer

Reviewed by: William M. Hobbs

Date posted: 06/04/2017

A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament, by Alec Motyer. Christian Focus, 2015. Paperback, 144 pages, list price $7.99. Reviewed by OP minister William M. Hobbs.

Christian Focus publishes a series of “pocket guides” on various subjects, like this one on the Old Testament by retired Irish Old Testament scholar and pastor Alec Motyer. Now over ninety years old, Motyer is a voice worth hearing. His 555-page commentary on Isaiah reflects the thirty years Motyer spent teaching the text. And his Look to the Rock (seeing Christ in the Old Testament), Preaching? (lobbying for simplicity in exposition), and numerous commentaries (e.g., on Amos, Exodus, Philippians, and Psalms) have established him as a trusted helper to pastor and layman alike. Motyer is that rare scholar who can write plainly, say something quotable in a few words, and write sympathetically to ordinary folk.

In this pocket guide, Motyer begins with this statement of purpose: “Now this Old Testament, above all else we might say about it, is designed to prepare us for the Lord Jesus Christ.” In fact, a central thesis for Motyer is that to know Jesus, we must know the Old Testament. As redemption is its story, he notes several words to watch for like redeemer, covering, and ransom.

Second comes a brief look at the author, God—the creator and moral governor of the universe.

Third, the New Testament warrant for Motyer’s view is summarized in four simple texts: Galatians 3:29 and 6:16, Philippians 3:3, and Colossians 2:11–12. As with the whole book, this section is succinct and much more profound than the novice might realize.

The fourth and largest section is a fourfold presentation of the unity of the Bible: one covenant, one God, one way of salvation, and one Messiah.

Fifth, Motyer tackles several prophets to give the untrained reader some clues as to how to proceed. Then there are the Psalms, constituting the “outpouring of the heart and the well-thought-out intention of the mind,” all under one heading: “Take It to the Lord.”

There is also a little section on prophecy. According to Motyer, prophecy and creation are the Bible’s two-part defense that Yahweh (the Lord) is God. Motyer briefly surveys Isaiah 40–48 to demonstrate the point. Then, working a series of interesting angles (e.g., obedience, sacrifices, city of God, circumstances), this thesis is carried into the New Testament, where the Savior is the fulfillment of all the things. The key help Motyer gives here is structure. He presses the reader to read and reread the text, looking for its structure in order to arrive at its meaning.

Who might benefit from this little book? My ninth-grade Bible students last year would have been much helped. This year’s kids will thank me. It would make a nice study for a Sunday school class. Even the minister who has preached and taught through the Old Testament will enjoy the read and learn something, too.

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