Welcome to the symposium on Christopher R. Seitz’s The Elder Testament: Canon, Theology, Trinity (Baylor University Press, 2018).
Have you ever wondered why Christians bother with the Old Testament when they have the New Testament? Or, have you ever heard or thought that the Old Testament functions for Christians as the preliminary chapters in a grand narrative of salvation that climaxes outside its bounds in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? If so, Seitz has written this book with you in mind. Have you ever plunged (or been tossed!) into the world of critical scholarship on the Old Testament and been suspicious or underwhelmed at the depth of theological inquiry therein? If so, Seitz sympathizes but wants to show you how such critical tools can serve a truer theological end. Or, have you ever suspected that early Christians utilized Old Testament texts as mere proof-texts to support their preconceived trinitarian formulations? If so, Seitz invites you to reconsider.
In The Elder Testament, Seitz argues that God’s providential oversight of the composition of the Old Testament (i.e., the Elder Testament; see chapter 1) has built into the text’s words an extensional meaning that enables the text itself “to speak of God, in its own idiom, as the same God to be confessed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (277). This means that the words of the Old Testament are neither limited in their referentiality to the referents in the minds of their human authors nor limited to pointing provisionally towards that which God will more fully reveal in later texts or events. Rather, due to God’s providential oversight, the words of the Old Testament both speak to the concrete realities of the times and places for which their human authors composed them and also speak by extension to the very realities of God (31–33).
Formally, Seitz’s argument has three parts. In part 1, Seitz describes his canonical approach to interpreting the Elder Testament theologically as an approach that takes seriously the literary development of ancient texts as well as their final form and seeks to discover in the combination of both how God discloses God’s self in a manner that is equal to and consistent with yet idiomatically distinct from how God discloses God’s self in the New Testament. Far from jettisoning historical-critical methodologies and opting for a synchronic reading of the Old Testament’s final form, Seitz takes seriously the contributions of critical methods for understanding the Old Testament’s literary history and final form. Yet, in part 2, Seitz assesses how critical methodologies have been used, demonstrating the contributions of critical studies but emphasizing their shortcomings for theological interpretation. Together, parts 1 and 2 of The Elder Testament function as a theologically attuned commentary on critical methods. In part 3, then, Seitz demonstrates his canonical approach in case studies from a variety of time periods, showing how the precise language and formulations from the Elder Testament (e.g., Genesis 1; Psalms 2, 110; Proverbs 8) have pressured later ontological formulations about God, giving special attention to early Christian formulations about the Trinity.
In this symposium, four panelists will engage with Seitz. Dennis Olson, picking up on Seitz’s argument that the Elder Testament speaks in its own idiom about the same God spoken of within the New Testament, questions whether Seitz has overstated the uniform portrayal of God within the Elder Testament and neglected its theological diversity? Moreover, Olson asks, when theological messiness is noted, is it always theologically meaningful and how do we know? Next, Garwood Anderson eloquently and succinctly highlights Seitz’s thesis, that “of itself but not by itself the elder testament bears meaning confirmed but not created by a more recent testament and apprehended by early Christian readers,” but expresses his reservations about abandoning the well-trodden alternative thesis that the ontological contributions of the Old Testament are made thinkable and conditioned retrospectively by the Christ revelation. Next, in a wide-ranging contribution, Hannah Matis builds upon Seitz’s claim that “the incarnation is as much an act of obfuscation as it is of disclosure” (128) to draw Seitz into a discussion on Advent, then invites Seitz into a discussion on the Elder Testament in ancient reading practices and allegorical interpretation, and creates space for some discussion on supersessionism and anti-Judaism (see also Olson’s contribution, briefly). Finally, Don Collett unpacks and engages Seitz’s recurring christological claims throughout The Elder Testament, namely that it is the providentially built-in semantic riches of the Old Testament that reveal Christ’s glory and identity, not the historical event of the incarnation, returning thereby to themes broached by Anderson and Matis.
Join us in the days ahead for the dialogue on The Elder Testament and the elder testament.