If you want to understand the Old Testament better (and, well, you should want to understand it better), here are nine books and resources I’m using to study it right now.
You shouldn’t be surprised that the first items I suggest are ways to read the text of the Old Testament itself. There is simply no substitute for the reading of the Scriptures, letting them change your worldview and shape your vision of who God is. Like I said in the title, it’s not just about knowing more about the text, but falling in love with it as inspired Scriptures. I’m sure most readers of the blog will have a Bible, but here are some other exciting ways to get to know the texts anew.
The First Testament: A New Translation by John Goldingay: If you are going to buy anything off this list, I highly recommend this single volume translation of the Old Testament. John Goldingay has spent his life studying the Hebrew Bible, learning it’s ins and outs. He translated the Hebrew text for the “For Everybody” series (probably more well-known for NT Wright’s New Testament volumes), now collected in a single, beautiful, hardcover volume. One perk? The Hebrew names are transliterated more precisely, helping English readers get more of a feel for how the Hebrew text sounds.
The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter: This three-volume translation of the Old Testament is a real treat. Robert Alter has produced a gorgeous translation of the Hebrew text, accompanied here by translation notes and commentaries. Whereas Goldingay wanted to capture the feel of the Hebrew, Alter’s translation is designed to capture the poetic nature of the text.
Old Testament Scripture Journal Set by Crossway: Any reader of my blog should know how much I love Crossway’s Scripture Journals. After a long wait, we have finally been treated to the Old Testament in Scripture Journal form. (When this article was published, only the whole set was available and the individual volumes are about a week off.) With the text of the ESV on the left and a blank, lined page for Journaling on the left, you can interact with the text of the Old Testament far more closely than you can with a regular printed Bible.
Following close readings of the text of the Old Testament, I would next recommend reading texts that explain how and why the Old Testament is important for Christians. Let’s face it: the Church struggles to read the Old Testament, and part of that is probably an inability to understand why we need it.
Reading Between the Lines: Old Testament Daily Readings by Glen Scrievner: So, I cheated on this one, as it releases on Feb 5, and this blog post was written on Feb 4. But this book looks to be immensely helpful, collecting 181 readings from the Old Testament testifying to Christ’s presence and work in the Scriptures before his incarnation.
6 Ways the Old Testament Speaks Today: An Interactive Guide by Alec Motyer: Motyer wrote my absolute favorite commentary on Isaiah, so it’s no surprise that he would write an extremely helpful book on the Old Testament for Christians. Motyer addresses how the Church should interact with the Old Testament from six different angles, each helpful, building on the last point to draw a big picture of its importance for us today.
You might be surprised to find so many books that don’t focus on the Old Testament at all, let alone provide commentary on the text. Those books are extremely helpful and good, but they don’t give you the whole picture. It’s helpful to study non-biblical books to help us understand the world that the Israelites were living in. Which temptations did they face? Why was it easy for them to turn toward idolatry? Who were some of their greatest enemies? These books help illuminate that world, giving us a greater understanding of the world Yahweh revealed himself into.
Behind the Scenes of the Old Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts by Jonathan S. Greer, John W. Hilber, John H. Walton: Greer, Hilber, and Walton have edited a rich volume, featuring notes on geography, people groups, worldviews, and a lot more to continue to help us understand the Old Testament’s thought world.
Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament by John Walton: Most readers are probably familiar with John Walton’s popular “The Lost World of” books. Readers familiar with those books may still find themselves a bit over their head in this textbook, as John Walton moves from his popular level writing to a strict academic level. This book is challenging, but not in a bad way. Those who want to become far more intimately familiar with the thought world of the Ancient Near East will be richly rewarded for putting in the hard work of studying this book.
The World around the Old Testament: The People and Places of the Ancient Near East by Bill T. Arnold: Do you know who the Hurrians are? Are you interested in more information about the Babylonians or Philistines? This book may feel very dry for most readers of the Old Testament, with only a few names that feel familiar. (But most of the broad categories are in the Bible, if you have eyes to see them.) This book is invaluable if you were curious who Israel’s neighbors were.