Word Without End
A review of Christopher Seitz's, "Word without End: The Old Testament as Abiding Theological Witness," by Dr. Richard Hess.
Seitz, Christopher R. Word without End: The Old Testament as Abiding Theological Abiding Theological Witness. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998. xi + 355 pp. Paperback. ISBN 0-8028-4322-0.
Seitz presents a collection of papers and essays largely presented elsewhere and here grouped under three headings: Biblical Theology, Exegesis, and Practice. The first section on Biblical Theology provides an opportunity for the then professor at Yale Divinity School (since the publication of this book he has moved) to resonate with the canonical theology of Brevard Childs and to develop his own accent to this approach. In so doing, Seitz is able to reassert the essential importance of the relationship of the Old and New Testament, with one essay devoted to defending the use of the very term, “Old Testament,” over against “Hebrew Bible” and other terms that are used in modern discussions. In so doing, he limits the use of biblical criticism as a means of defining the problems and as preparatory to the discussion of the meaning and value of the text within the entire Christian canon. Thus the role of study of the Old Testament is not to “read someone else’s mail” but to see it as part of the ongoing revelation of Christianity.
These ideas are carried into his discussion of exegesis, which for Seitz revolves around the book of Isaiah. Although there is some interesting “intertextual” work in relating the the Psalms and Lamentations to Isaiah, the focus of much discussion here has to do with the value of Isaiah as a whole. Seitz recognizes the problems that led to conclusion about three or more authorial sources, problems that were discussed in the precritical era as he shows. Yet he finds more than vocabulary and expressions as a means of uniting the disparate parts of this book. Many of the activities and roles of Ahaz, Hezekiah, Israel and Assyria anticipate the later thoughts and actions of Cyrus, the Servant, and Babylonia. A final chapter in this section is an appreciation of Moberly discussion, The Old Testament of the Old Testament, followed by a discussion of the revelation of God’s divine name to Moses in Exodus 4 and 6. Here Seitz opts for the view that this was not a new revelation of the name (at least not to Israel) but of what the name signified.
The final section is a diverse and important selection of essays on ethical issues facing the present Christian church. It begins with a defense of the use of “Father” as a designation for God based on Jesus’ use of the term. Since Jesus is the only means of access to God for Christians, his terminology must be followed as alone appropriate for God. Human sexuality confesses that we are either male or female, not both, and that the work of Christ has allowed us to participate in the fruitfulness of creation that heterosexual marriage may provide. Seitz returns to this theme in his final chapter where he uses the universal witness of historic Christianity as well as the harmony of Old and New Testaments, as represented in Mark 10 and Romans 1, to categorically dispute any acceptance or blessing of homosexual unions by God or by Christians. The theme of the city in the Bible is mixed. There is much in it that is opposed to God yet it is in the city that the church proclaims its message, assured by the power and promise of its messiah that it will ultimately know victory against the powers that threaten it. Seitz’s view on the “masculine language” of God in the Bible appears to argue that the content (or meaning?) of that language is not derived from the customary “male” meanings of the world around the readers, but from how the Bible fills them out with its own description of God as “Father.” Consideration of the construction of the church’s lectionary involves Seitz as he argues this to be the chief means for a return to some sort of biblical literacy in the Church.
Throughout the volume Seitz addresses the question of the Christian’s access to the Old Testament and at the end he reaffirms this concern. This is a volume of great value for any who would begin to seek to appropriate the Old Testament as Christians at the end of the twentieth century. There is much here that provides a foil to prevailing scepticism, but more important than this is the sense that this book serves as an intellectual rallying cry for all who would seek to grow in the faith of Christianity through the study of the whole of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.
Richard S. Hess
Professor of Old Testament