Interview with Dr. Matthew Schlimm, The Old Testament
The OT has often been viewed as strange and difficult, but as Schlimm said,"I refuse to give up on the Bible, no matter how problematic it may be. The Old testament has been my friend since childhood, and as with any good friendship, there are commitments that persist amid difficulties." In our western culture the Bible has been attacked a lot, especially the OT. People have hurled all types of stones at the OT, calling the books evil and suppressive to civilization. I had the honor of interviewing Professor Schlimm, author of This strange and sacred scripture. In this book he wrestles with many of the difficulties found in the OT scriptures. We hope you are encouraged and blessed by this brief Q&A. - Casey & Dan
1) What are the kosher laws all about and are they applicable for today?
Kosher laws say that food matters to the life of faith. In the Old Testament, every meal was a reminder of your identity as part of God’s people. Like Daniel and his friends, you ate different things than other people (Daniel 1).
In different parts of the Old Testament, there are slight variations in what people could and couldn’t eat. Much later, New Testament Christians said that Christians didn’t need to abide by all the same kosher laws, but they should still avoid food sacrificed to idols, blood, and strangled animals (Acts 15:28-29).
Today, the church needs to find ways of recognizing the significance of food to our faith. We aren’t obligated to hold fast to all the dietary regulations of Deuteronomy 14. Nor are we tempted to eat food sacrificed to idols.
However, Christians today should take a stand against food that’s unhealthy for us and unhealthy for God’s creation. God’s reign should extend over every facet of our lives, including our groceries.
2) What does keeping the law mean in the OT?
The Hebrew word for “keep” literally means “protect.” (So when Cain asks about being his brother’s keeper, he’s asking if he’s supposed to be Abel’s bodyguard.) Keeping the law, then, means protecting, respecting, and caring for it. It’s one component of a much bigger relationship with God.
In fact, “the law” isn’t a great translation of the Hebrew word Torah. That word refers to God’s guidance, direction, and instruction.
So, by keeping the law, you live in harmony with the God who made the universe. Keeping the law is less about earning God’s favor and more about being in-sync with God and God’s creation.
People sometimes think of keeping the law as a joyless attempt to follow an endless list of religious rules. However, Deuteronomy 5:33 says, “Walk in obedience to all that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess” (NIV). The vision painted in this verse has to do with cooperating with God and experiencing all sorts of blessings as part of that cooperation. It’s a vision of abundant life.
3) Is Genesis a science account?
Genesis is far more meaningful than anything science can offer us. It uses powerful poetry and symbolic stories to describe the core characteristics of humanity. It teaches us who God is, who we are, and what our world is really like.
Science is good at measuring things. It thrives on collecting data. It excels at testing hypotheses in a laboratory.
But none of us live in a laboratory. We are far more than the data that scientists and marketers collect about us. Things like love and grace can never be quantified.
We need more than science can offer if we’re going to comprehend an infinite God or grasp the manifold complexities of doing right in a fallen world. For such activities, we need the Bible’s stories. They describe us better than we can describe ourselves. Genesis is a collection of these stories. In Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Ishmael, Rebekah and Leah, we see ourselves. We gain the equipment needed for faithful living in a sinful world.
4) How do you understand the violence of the OT?
I’ve had the luxury of living most of my life without exposure to violence. When I read the violence of the OT, it quickly turns me off. I want something more peaceful.
However, most peoples of the world haven’t been so lucky. Violence has been a daily part of their lives. Even when they’ve escaped violence, memories of war continue to haunt them.
The Old Testament isn’t just written for me. It’s also written for the war-torn. It’s written for my students from Africa who have lost half of their families to senseless violence. It welcomes them into God’s people. It tells them that even the horrors of war don’t separate them from God. In the Old Testament, they learn that God keeps working with people exposed to violence.
So, while I don’t personally like the violence of the OT, I think it can be very helpful to those who have experienced violence themselves.
5) How would you answer someone who has a hard time with OT?
Stick with it. Don’t expect to have all the answers. Learn to live with questions. Read it alongside reliable Christians. Envision the OT as a friend from another country who has much to teach you, but requires patience and every benefit of the doubt.
6) What does OT authority mean for the Christian?
In my book, I suggest that Christians should see the Old Testament as a friend in faith. I love that metaphor because good friends exert more authority over our lives than anyone else. Yet, within lasting friendships, there are moments of misunderstanding. But the two people are friends, so they stick with each other even amid communication breakdowns. We need that sort of persistence when dealing with the Old Testament’s oddities.